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Why Childbirth is NOT Like Running a Marathon

By EmilyBMalone |

Can I count childbirth as my 6th marathon?

I have been a mom for one week, but I’ve been a runner for several years.  Since 2008, I have run five full marathons and many other shorter races.  Long distance running makes me feel healthy and alive.

Over the course of my pregnancy, I heard over and over again, “You’re a marathoner, so childbirth should be a walk in the park for you!”  To be honest, I think I heard this so often that I almost expected it to be true.

Boy was I in for a rude awakening.

Here are three ways that childbirth is NOT like running a marathon…

1.  Marathons have scheduled dates.  Unless you are being induced or having an elective c-section, childbirth is this giant looming unknown that hangs over you and your calendar for months and months on end.  Parents want to know when to visit, people want to know if you’re in labor yet, and all the while you just have to keep saying, “I don’t know when he’s coming!”  Races are different.  You put it on a calendar and it stays there.  Rain, shine, tsunami, whatever – the date remains and you can plan accordingly.

2.  Marathons have a concrete finish line. I know what you’re thinking – childbirth has a finish line too, right?  I mean we all know there is a baby at the end.  But having now been through it myself, I know that this finish line feels more like a mirage or a practical joke than a reality when you’re in hour 50 of labor.  When you’re running, you are passing mile markers knowing that with each one you are one mile closer to the end.  You know there are only 26 of these until the finish.  In childbirth, each passing hour is bringing you closer to the end, but you have no idea how many more it will take until you reach the finish.  For some of us, that answer is 55 – ouch.

3.  In childbirth, you are not in charge. As a self-proclaimed control freak, this was probably the hardest thing for me to accept.  No amount of breathing, relaxing, focusing, or other technique could have prepared me for how out of control my body would feel during childbirth.  Your uterus takes over, your adrenaline surges, and for better or for worse – your baby and your body are calling the shots.  When running, there does come a point when your body may feel like it’s giving up, but for the most part it is up to you to push through.  I have always thrived in situations where I push my body to the limit, but having someone  else in charge humbled me into realizing that childbirth was about much more than me.

At one point during my labor, my nurse looked at me and said, “Girl, after this you’ll be able to run a marathon with no problem!”  I looked back at her and said, “Actually, I DO run marathons, and this is so much harder!”  She was right about one thing though.  Now that I’ve survived three days of labor and delivery, I really feel like I can do anything if I stay dedicated enough to see it through.  Even in my lowest points of labor, and most painful part of delivery, I never gave up or lost sight of the finish line.

Oh, and the biggest difference between childbirth and marathons?  The reward at the end of delivery is so much sweeter than a finisher’s medal.  And that makes all the other differences more than worth the challenge.

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About EmilyBMalone



Emily Malone shares her adventures in cooking and parenting on her personal blog, Daily Garnish. Read bio and latest posts → Read Emily's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Why Childbirth is NOT Like Running a Marathon

  1. Katie KS says:

    I was talking to the mom of one of E’s classmates today who gave birth in her bathroom last month; the baby crowned with her 2nd contraction. She said her first 2 kids were 27 and 40 hour labors – so you never know – maybe the next one will be a walk in the park!

  2. melissa says:

    I’m usually a big fan of your posts but found your attitude toward c-sections judgemental here. Technically I had an ‘elective c-section’ 4 weeks ago today because my son was breech but I would never attach a comment such as “yikes” to the experience. His birth was an amazing experience.

    1. EmilyBMalone says:

      Hey Melissa – I hadn’t thought about it like that. I meant more for the moms who elect to have c-sections out of convenience, certainly not out of necessity. But you are right, and my comment was silly to include with no context. Thanks for pointing it out (I edited the post since that comment was not on topic anyways). Glad you had an amazing birth experience!

  3. JS says:

    I’m not sure to what the “yikes” refers regarding an elective c-section… Just wondering.

  4. SAM says:

    I too was slightly taken aback by your “elective” c-section comment. I’ve had 3 and not one of them was “elective”. All 3 were against my plans and not at all what I wanted. The first was to save me, the 2nd due to breach baby, and My 3rd was after 20 hours of labor that I had worked so very hard to get through without drugs. (yes, my doc allowed me a VBA2C) Most women do not schedule c-sections for convenience, but because something went wrong in the delivery of their 1st child and now natural labor is no longer an option. It’s a horribly painful recovery that takes time to come back from. I really wish there wasn’t this horrible stigma associated with having a c-section.

  5. JS says:

    I’m actually one of those mothers who is having a purely elective c-section! I chose this option because I’d rather have 15 or so well-controlled sutures across my lower abdomen than face 30-100 stitches in my nether-regions and a lifetime of possible fecal and urinary incontinence. I would never have selected this option but for the fact that my obstetrician assured me (and I independently confirmed) that an elective, scheduled c-section is clinically safer for the baby than a vaginal birth. Yes, there’s a higher risk of fluid in the lungs with a c-section, but there’s far less of a risk of hypoxia, shoulder dystocia, heart decelerations, placental abruption, etc.). Check out: (People seem to conflate the safety of an elective, scheduled c-section with that of an emergency, the-baby-is-already-in-distress c-section.) Anyway, a c-section — including one that is elective — is a perfectly reasonable birth option, and one that shouldn’t be judged.

  6. snakecharmer says:

    I know what you mean about people commenting that you should have an easy time in labour because you do *insert activity here*. I belly dance…I teach and up until recently I performed professionally for various occasions. I love it! During my first pregnancy, everyone would say something to the effect of ‘well you’re a bellydancer and you have super strong abdominal muscles so labour should be a breeze for you!’. Ummm…I wish! It really wasn’t and no level of effort to ‘dance’ through my contractions or breathe made the experience much easier (a bit…but not to the level I thought it would). Baby and your body are totally in charge in labour and mentally, you are just along for the ride!

  7. Jules says:

    Obviously the two experiences are very different, however, I think that strength you gain from each one can seriously help you through the other.

    I was big into Spinning class before and during my pregnancy with my daughter. I would really push myself, and I remember putting myself back there while in labor. I had an instructor who would say “You can do anything for a minute!” This became my mantra while in labor. I didn’t know how long each contraction would last, but I figured it was about a minute, and as I imagined that time going by, I got through each one. I became a certified Spinning instructor after my daughter’s birth.

    Likewise, when I started running long distances, I told myself that if I could push and re-position for hours to give birth to a son who was coming out shoulder first, I could most certainly run for that long.

    So, I agree that the two experiences differ, I can’t imagine me succeeding in either one without what the other taught me. Endurance sports made me a better laborer, and being a mother made me a better runner.

  8. Jen says:

    I’m due on December 15th and was kinda hoping that my marathon experiences would, in fact, help me through labor and delivery. I’ve been reading your blogs since I got pregnant and this is the first time that it rubbed me the wrong way. I feel bad that you had to power through 55 hours of labor, but I’m trying not to let your birth story scare me.

  9. ldancer says:

    Snakecharmer, I’m a bellydancer too, and I think it helped, but in odd ways. Standing and doing figure-8s during most of my labor was the only tolerable thing. When I was pushing, I tried one undulation, but quickly discovered it was a waste of muscle effort. I think where it helped was in being able to follow the “choreography” of the delivery room – I was able to very quickly do what the midwife and doula coached me to do, in a very orchestrated way, because I could visualize it easily and understand it on a muscular level. Beyond that, while I’m sure one’s fitness level can help with endurance and pain threshold, there’s no guarantee that it will. There’s a lot of luck involved. I know some pretty hardcore fit women – bellydancers, Pilates instructors, weightlifters – who’ve had 24-hour unproductive labors ending in emergency c-sections, or had other issues, and I know sedentary women who had fast labors. I still advocate working out through pregnancy, because it’s so good for everything else, but I hope that women aren’t beating themselves up if things don’t go as they hoped – “But I ran/powerlifted/did yoga the whole time”. It’s an out of control process!

  10. Rachel says:

    Jules– You will do great! I think my running helped me with labor not in the ways I thought but because I have the kind of mental attitude– to keep going– that is also required with birth. But I can tell you that the moment you cross the finish line of birth you have WAAAAAY more a sense of accomplishment and joy than crossing any running finish line. You can do it. Birth is not scary– it’s beautiful and your trophy is meeting your new baby!

    Congrats again, Emily!

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