Enduring a mile (or a centimeter)

March 26, 2012 at 6:00 am

My husband ran the Boston Marathon back in April of 2008, and I was so inspired by it that I (very briefly… ha!) decided I want to run it as well. So a week or two later, my husband and I decided to see how fast I could run a mile. We ran a warm-up mile at a medium-effort pace, and then I threw myself like crazy into the second mile. It was misery. It was horrid. It was an intense mental tug-of-war between “I can do this! Keep going!” and “What was I thinking?! I have to stop!” But somehow I kept going.

After finishing that run, I thought a lot about the experience. I speculated that it was probably like a mini-marathon—a condensed version of the marathon experience. And I also recognized that the same things that helped me to navigate the journey of childbirth also helped me to get through that mile (and would probably help me get through a marathon as well, if I ever actually get around to running one). Here’s a play-by-play:

1) In the beginning, chatting works wonders. The first part of that mile, I kept telling my husband to “Talk to me!” When he was talking to me, running felt easier. The conversation was a welcome distraction—especially when it was about topics completely unrelated to what we were doing. The same was true in childbirth. Talking was extremely helpful through the early intense contractions (around 4 cm).

2) Eventually, chatting is not possible. Somewhere in the middle of my mile, a switch flipped. Suddenly I reached a point where I didn’t want to talk. I couldn’t formulate sentences or contemplate options. All I could think about was my own body and enduring to the end. Distraction was no longer helpful. Instead all words had to be pure fuel—encouragement, positive energy. I pulled into myself, but I could hear my husband’s occasional words of encouragement: “You’re doing awesome! You can do it!” Those simple statements carried me on. This was eerily similar to the way I have felt as I have navigated “transition” (7 to 10 centimeters dilation) giving birth. The same things that helped me get through transition were the things that pulled me through that mile—minimal distractions and lots of quiet, gentle encouragement.

3) What you say to yourself matters most of all. In the midst of my misery, when I felt like I couldn’t possibly push myself any harder or faster, I found my mantra: “The faster I run, the sooner I’m done.” As soon as I spoke it out loud, I felt an instant surge of energy and was able to leap ahead, lengthening my stride and picking up speed for several yards. Whoah. So cool. The words you speak to yourself have so much power—for good or bad. Make those words only positive and you will find power within yourself to do anything—be it finish a mile or reach 10 centimeters in labor.

4) There’s nothing more motivating than the finish. When my husband said, “I can see the finish!” I felt instantly encouraged, “You can?!” Thank the heavens! Once the finish was in sight, I knew I could make it the rest of the way even though my strength was spent. This is much the way I felt when I had reached full dilation in labor and was ready to push—pushing was like seeing the finish line. Somehow the pain seemed less intense because I knew I was so close to the end. (Pushing during my fourth birth was a different story though… yikes!)

It was fascinating and helpful to me to recognize that I had done hard things in the past and found the strength to endure. I have given birth four times without pain relief. If I can do that, I can run a marathon. And, if you’ve ever done something difficult and intense like running a marathon (or even a mile), you can definitely get through childbirth. And, I guess, the ultimate point is that if you can find enough strength within yourself, you can do anything. Anything.