Last week, Kyle and I did something sort of old to us but also totally new: we ran a 10k trail race in Flagstaff, AZ, about two hours north of our home, around 30 degrees cooler and 10 times more scenic, hilly, and fall-ish.
Making a weekend getaway date out of a race was “old” to us in the sense that when we first started dating 10 years ago, we ran our first half marathon together. Kyle declared after that race to never run again, but he came out to cheer me on for many more half-marathons and my one and only full. He also powered through a few 5ks with me here and there. (I’m sure he’d like me to clarify that it’s not that he CAN’T run, but it’s that he WON’T run.)
Yet this kind of race was nothing like what we’d experienced before. The Flagstaff Marathon (half-marathon, and 10k) was a trail race, and while we’ve hiked dozens of trails since moving to the state, never once had we dared to run them, to spring both our feet off the rocky ground at the same time and let momentum carry us through the mountains. Nor have we ever run in elevation – Norddic Village in Flagstaff is at 8,000 feet elevation, and the race route promised another 1,862 feet of climbing!
Finally, we haven’t done something like this in our parenting bodies. Okay, Kyle’s father figure looks the same as his pre-dad-bod, because life isn’t fair like that, but on the inside, he is just as messed up as I am by sleep deprivation.
Training for, running and completing the race was a meaningful experience that I want to share here because I think new moms could stand to hear some of it. Mostly, though, I’m still trying to figure out my feelings about the experience – which always leads me to writing.
Here’s my recap of why I wanted to sign up for a race for the first time in four years, what training looked like as a tired, working mom, and how it all went down on race day.
Why Sign Up for a Trail Race?
It wasn’t another medal, bragging rights, or even the good cause of supporting Coconino Community College’s cross-country team that drew me to this race (sorry folks, but you still got my money and support!). It was the annoying, never-ending desire to lose some weight.
My body found a sweet spot close enough to my pre-mom weight back in January, about a year after Leo was born. But six months later, my weight went up like seven pounds in what felt like overnight. I was more pissed than I am proud to admit, because why do I still care so much about the number on the scale? I’m still active, I eat well, and I’m overall healthy. I’m not even close to being overweight, but I’m over my happy weight. I’ve been hung up on body image for most of my life. I honestly wish I knew what it felt like to not think about it.
But here we are.
Discipline has been insanely hard for me since becoming a mom. It’s hard for me to accept this because pre-mom Michelle was disciplined to a fault. She stuck to training schedules and writing schedules and gave up sugar and alcohol and gluten and dairy and, in her craziest phases, coffee (gasp!).
But Mom-Michelle can’t go three days without a peanut butter Perfect bar, or two hours without a snack, or stick to a writing project for longer than a month.
I thought signing up for a race that would require some consistent training to complete it gracefully would help me:
- reconnect with my sense of discipline
- lose weight
- feel like my old self
Did it work?
No. Not one of those three things happened. But the training didn’t come without some gains.
Training as a Busy Mom
In July, with three months til Race Day, I started getting comfortable with 2- to 4-mile runs on the treadmill. Running outside in Arizona in July sounded hellish to me, but I’ve always enjoyed treadmill running. I read my Kindle while I run, and this makes the time fly by. I’d go straight to the gym after dropping Leo off at daycare and get my run in.
In August I downloaded an 8-week 10k training plan from Hal Higdon’s website, where I’ve gotten training plans for all my races. I used an intermediate program, because more runs would for sure mean more weight lost.
I wanted to try something different to save time in my day. Leo wakes up at 5am (no joke), so I wanted to make use of those three hours before he goes to school. We usually went for a long walk during that time anyway, so why not save time during my day and run with him? Before he was born, I registered for a Chicco jogger stroller because I knew we’d be walking many miles every week. I hadn’t actually used it for running, but I was ready to give it a go.
The first few stroller runs kicked my butt, at only two miles! It is considerably harder to push a stroller with a small child and all of his snacks and cuddly animals while running, and it’s over 100 degrees at 5am in August. I was exhausted.
But Leo loved when I ran him. He squealed at the breeze blowing his hair back and going fast, and thankfully he has always loved our stroller outings anyway. His amusement for traffic is something I wish I could adopt into my own psyche.
I pushed on, and after a couple weeks stroller running felt more natural. Two or three days a week, we did anywhere from two to four miles together. Tip: Use one hand to push and the other to maintain form. Switch hands often. (This post gave me some good ideas for making stroller running easier.)
That was the most I’d run when Kyle and I took a trip to Flagstaff for our anniversary over Labor Day weekend. We wanted to do a practice trail run, since we literally had never done trail running before, and see how ready we were for this race that was 6 weeks out.
We ran exactly 6.2 miles, a 10k, on a flat trail (separately), and we both felt amazing. We ran the whole thing without a problem. I was happy with my 10-minute mile pace since my stroller running pace is slower. With that training run, we both felt confident that we could complete this race.
I continued to do only 2- to 4-mile runs with Leo, ignoring the higher mileage days on my training plan – because discipline, tired, time, and all of the other classic yet valid excuses. This was significantly more effort that what I was doing before, yet I didn’t lose a single pound of weight in three months of running.
Than run was the only training Kyle did. He goes to the gym and works out but still hates to run.
What did I get out of training for the race?
- confidence to run with my stroller
- looking like a badass mom running with a stroller
- confidence in fitting in exercise with mom life and kiddo time
- whatever other health benefits you gain from running that don’t have to do with weight loss
- assurance that I can work out while my child is home. Kiddo being home is no longer an excuse to miss a workout.
- my kiddo getting a consistent message that exercise is a daily routine
- stress relief…on most days
- time to let my mind wander while running. No headphones for me when I’m pushing Leo on a run.
- a reminder that a run isn’t just good for burning calories and dropping pounds, but can serve your mind and body in other ways
- many conversations with the ducks at the boardwalk a mile from our house
I had a lot of anxiety about this race. I usually was anxious with any race, but a trail run at elevation was so unknown to me. Just how hilly would it be? What if I didn’t do well with the altitude? Would I freeze? 6.2 miles is a long effing time to run!
My only goal was to finish as strong as I could.
Thankfully, even with rain in the forecast, the morning of October 15th was perfect for running in Flagstaff. About 60 degrees and sunny. I wore long Lulu’s (the Align leggings) and one old long-sleeve tech shirt from a Hot Chocolate 15k nine years ago, and was the perfect amount of warm. The race was at 9:30am, way later than any race I’d done before, and it was nice to have a good breakfast (always good at Tourist Home Cafe) and enough time to get there without rushing.
I felt amazing during the first mile. Then, Mile 2 felt like it was all an incline. My lungs quickly reminded me that I have asthma – a life fact that I seriously forget because the desert is this asthmatic’s ideal environment. As we kept climbing uphill, my heart beat fast and lungs breathed heavier and I couldn’t catch my breath. I didn’t have my inhaler. My new race goal changed to finishing the race without having an asthma attack. I had one during my marathon and it was not an experience I wish to relive.
I decided it would be helpful to everyone if I walked up the hills. I don’t think I’ve ever walked during a race, but I was more than okay with it here. I was not going to crash in the middle of the woods.
The course was beautiful through the Nordic Village. Aspens and fall leaves and crisp autumn air filled my soul. These are things we don’t get in Phoenix, so this race would serve as a full season of fall for me.
As for the trail part, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t difficult terrain. The trail was wide, and while you had to watch your footing and sidestep rocks and twigs here and there, it wasn’t like running up stones and rocks and cliffs (did I wildly overthink what trail running would look like?). I got by with wearing regular New Balance running shoes, and I noticed the majority of runners weren’t wearing hiking shoes or trail-running shoes.
I finished in 1 hour 11 minutes, and 51st out of 122 total runners. And I sprinted to the finish line.
The race was even harder than I thought it would be. While I’m not mad about walking some, I didn’t like finishing and feeling like the course had beat me.
Kyle, however, finished the race in under an hour, 18th out of 122! And you could see the pride glowing in his eyes. He ran the whole thing – hard – and felt awesome.
“I’m doing the half next year!” he declared. Kyle hates running, mind you. But he seems to love more that he can do well at a race like this without training.
I was so happy for him, and I wished I felt as good about my performance as he did about his. I started to think, it was the hardest physical thing I’d done since childbirth. Then I thought, was this like childbirth?
Giving birth challenged me to the edge. I had no drugs and felt every painful second, and it felt impossible. I still can’t believe this is how babies are born, and that so many of us do it willingly, but that’s a whole other conversation. I remember screaming to Kyle after a contraction, “This is way harder than the marathon!” He told me to focus.
Yet, to the midwives, my baby’s birth looked effortless. I was at the birth center for only three hours of screaming before we met little Leo. The midwives called it a butter birth for how smoothly it went. I would have called it complete torture.
I think this trail race was similar. It felt impossibly hard but anyone seeing me sprint through the finish line would have guessed I had an awesome race.
I think parenting is similar.
It feels impossibly hard, and then we pass strangers on the sidewalk during our stroller run and they say, “that’s the happiest kid I’ve ever seen!” I want to say, you should have seen him at 2am!
The trail race didn’t give me this physically liberating feeling that it gave Kyle or the weight loss transformation story I was aiming for. Likewise, while my laboring and birth went fast and smooth, I wouldn’t say I felt empowered from it like I’ve heard other friends say. Both experiences left me exhausted.
But the race was a reminder to me that I can do hard things.
This seems to be the mantra that all the parenting books imply our kids need to hear, but we adults need to hear it or experience it just as much. Even if I don’t have the discipline or the figure, I CAN do hard things. And it’s okay if it feels hard. Hard things don’t often feel easy.
Kyle and I both want to do this race again. Him for obvious reasons – it made him feel good! But I’ll do it even if it will feel hard again. Because I can. And the shirts were cool.