Until recently, if asked I would tell you that the longest endurance event I had trained for was a marathon. Admittedly, even for that, I didn’t train as hard as many would advise I should have, yet I pulled through unscathed and smiling. As I write this, I am 30 races into my run103 mission, a mission that now includes five 5Ks, two 5milers, two 8Ks, three 9Ks, seven 10Ks, a 12K, nine half-marathons and the aforementioned marathon. Along with these road and trail events I have done hours and hours of cross training – weight lifting, body weight and resistance exercises, yoga and more. Exactly what was I training for with all this, the zombie apocolypse? An ultra? An obstacle course race?
No. I was getting in the best shape of my life to take on the craziest, most rewarding and certainly longest endurance event of my life to date: childbirth.
As with other events I have tackled, when the starting gun, so to speak, went off at 36 weeks, I had not yet reached my ideal training capacity. The day we went to the hospital was also the same day we were supposed to take our first of four last-minute childbirth classes. Despite my lack of formal training, this was one event where I most definitely had the confidence that I would be able to go the distance and finish strong. I knew that my lifetime as an athlete would come into play. Little did I know that my more recent years of experience as an endurance athlete would become key in making my dream of a natural, painkiller-free birth come true. From the moment I knew something wasn’t quite right to the time I first held Mini Beastling in my arms was just under 39 hours. To my knowledge, most 100 mile races give their participants 24 hours to complete the course. I am glad that this was no 100 mile race, as we would not have made the cut-off.
It wasn’t the fact that I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat proper meals and had instead packed Skratch Labs hydration and Clif Bars (which to be honest, fueled my husband through this event.) It wasn’t the breathing through the contractions, exhaling at the peak of pain like I would through the hardest part of a rep (though that helped.) No — it was the ever-popular endurance athlete idea of “Embrace the suck” that truly helped me. Allowing myself to fall into my own head was integral. As the pain grew and the noises that escaped me became more animal like, I focused on my goal. Every time I thought that might need to ask for “a little something” to take the edge off, I fought my way through another contraction and thought, “If I could handle that one, then I can handle more.”
In my head, I coached myself. I told the nurses about “embracing the suck” as we discussed my hope to have an unmedicated childbirth. Their praise that I was calm, collected and a textbook example of a wonderful natural childbirth became my labor and delivery room version of race spectators cheering with cowbells and comical signs. As I heard the cry of newborns coming through the wall, I focused on that thought: soon, it would be me hearing that little voice for the first time. I had made it this far. I could push on further.
After over 24 hours of allowing things to progress naturally, I was given pitocin in an effort to keep contractions strong, get them closer together, and get my baby girl delivered safe and healthy. Nearing exhaustion and having sustained only on water and hydration with electrolyte mix, I knew this was go time. Admittedly I was worried that I might be too exhausted to make my “no meds” dream come true if we waited too long. I don’t know if my labor and delivery doctor was a coach or athlete in her lifetime, but either way she certainly became one in the heat of the moment! The way she spoke, how she encouraged, the way she got me to push myself harder than I thought I was capable. Every time she said “A little more, a little more,” and talked me through, telling me she knew I could give a bit more, I did.
“She’s got a full head of hair! Do you want to see?” Um, no, thanks. That’s great information, but I’ll see when I am done. I’m kind of busy here. I couldn’t hear the music playing in the background. I could barely register that others were in the room. My eyes were squeezed tightly shut. Then, finally, after what seemed like ages, there was one last push. The room breathed a collective sigh.
It’s like I could finally hear properly again, could finally open my eyes and see. As I caught my breath, I heard the most wonderful sound in the world as they placed a tiny, squirming, warm baby on my chest. Flooded with endorphins, I felt nothing but joy: I had done it. She was here, and I could finally meet this little person I had carried with me for months, talked to, dreamt about. I wrapped my hands around her tiny body and laid my eyes on her little face as she screamed out, announcing her arrival to everyone within earshot.
I will never forget that moment. The relief that it was over, that she was perfectly healthy, that I was now a mother, the tears of happiness in my husband’s eyes. Everything about that moment will forever be frozen in my mind and in my heart.
On August 4th, 2015 at 11:40am, we crossed the finish line. Thank you for changing my life, for reshaping my world, and growing my heart, dear sweet Mini Beastling. You were the greatest reward at the end of the craziest, longest endurance event I have ever taken on, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.