Blog by Erin Groll
There is an indescribably surreal few minutes that occur when you suddenly have a tiny, warm body plopped on your chest. In a matter of seconds, amongst the buzz of the hospital fluorescents and beeping machines everything has changed. Maybe it’s the awareness of the responsibility that you now carry, coupled with the fear of the unknown. Truth be told, you can take as many antenatal classes as you like, read all the books, watch all the videos, but at the end of the day nothing could’ve truly prepared me for the biggest and most important ultra yet.
I started running in my early twenties. A friend of mine lent me a running watch and I became determined to run 5km without stopping and almost instantaneously the bug bit. We’re really lucky in South Africa to be surrounded by running clubs on every corner. I latched on to these clubs and found a beautiful community of like-minded people everywhere I lived, eventually landing up here, in Cape Town. Over the years, the 5km turned into 10km, which turned into 21.1km, which turned into 42.2km and so the story goes.
Running opened up a whole new world for me. I met my husband, and some of my closest friends through this sport. When we discovered I was pregnant, I had this thought that things would be put on a go slow for a bit re. running and then I’d just carry on as per usual. Ha. Completely unrealistic expectation. For some this happens, but this was definitely not my story.
I like to think we were so meticulous about our planning before Evie arrived, but we were in for a big shock. Parenting is damn hard work. There is no time off and it is a relentless game of diagnostics. During those first three months, I was so exhausted I could barely even look at my running shoes. Alongside the severe sleep deprivation and massive hormone shift, I was also adjusting to the new shape that I was carrying. Nothing fitted anymore, my feet had grown a whole size bigger, I was quite a bit heavier and seriously uncomfortable in my skin. I remember looking over the rocks on our local loop and wondering how on earth I ever felt confident to run across it? I was now just an uncoordinated mess and constantly fatigued. The last thing I wanted to do was go and run. Plain and simple, it just felt impossible.
This is where just like an ultra or marathon or any type of race, your crew steps in. You have to have people in your corner supporting you, believing in you, giving you snacks, water and kudos. You name it. My husband and friends gently kept on encouraging me to keep trying to get out there, to give myself the time. I struggled. It felt selfish. How could I leave my baby? Mom guilt is a very real thing and when you’re in it, I can tell you that you are really in it.
My husband and I keep realising that we can always do a little more than we think we can. Emotions change so quickly, just like when you’re running a marathon. The spectrum ranges from: What the hell am I doing/ I can’t do this/ I’m not prepared - to: This is amazing/I love this/I have never been happier! Apparently later on there is also a bit of amnesia that kicks in where you believe that it actually wasn’t so hard, so you sign up to do it again… although we’re definitely not at that stage yet.
I would never have expected that running marathons would have prepared me for motherhood, but they are without a doubt, one of the best mental and physical preparation tools I could have ever asked for. At six and a half months postpartum, I have really started to enjoy running again. Living my mantra of “All movement is good movement / All movement counts” has been essential. There is some kind of magic that happens once I kick myself out of bed. First kilometre or two are shaky but slowly things start to flow together. If I manage 3 runs a week these days, that’s a great week for me. If it’s less, that’s okay too. Being a parent, I’ve really had to learn how to be gentler and more flexible with myself. I know that by getting out, even for half an hour, it makes me a better mother, a better partner and overall a nicer person to deal with.
Some days, after a particularly tough night, I feel like I cannot possibly put one foot in front of the other but then somehow, I do. I remember what it felt like to be 37km into a marathon, hanging in, knowing that the trick is to just keep moving, no matter what it looks like. Things were tough, for a while. I wish I’d spoken about it more at the time, but I’m processing it now and it is getting easier and as wild as this parenting thing is, I really love being a mum and couldn’t possibly imagine life without her.
Next time you see a mum running with a pram on the promenade, take a moment to think of the effort it took to be there and throw some respect their way. I don't measure myself as a ‘good enough’ runner anymore by the number of races I’ve entered, by the amount of kilometers/vert I’ve covered in a week, but more by my mental state. Do I feel okay? If the answer is yes, then I’ve reached all the goals I needed to. :-)