“Giving birth is like a Marathon” is something you would hear frequently from non-marathon running people. Yes, both are tough, exhausting workouts, with a great reward at the end and a long, painful recovery. So when I ran 12 Marathons for charity in 2018 and got pregnant after Marathon no. 9, I thought I was overly prepared for childbirth and labor. I thought I would easily go through that painful process and have a speedy recovery because of my fitness and mental toughness. And I can say that this was at least partially true.
How Marathon running has helped me prepare for childbirth and labor
Everybody knows that you need to be fit and physically prepared to run a Marathon. Giving birth is not that different. It is a physical workout. Luckily your body will automatically train for birth. Your uterus will go through some “practice” contractions, also called Braxton Hicks contractions, before actual labor starts. This will prepare your uterus, which is in the end just a muscle, for real contractions.
In addition to my natural uterus contractions I tried to maintain my fitness throughout my pregnancy with moderate running, indoor cycling, and strength training. This helped avoiding back pain and excessive weight gain. And my arms and upper body were much stronger to carry my baby afterwards (which you have to do constantly as a mom). Here you can read my blog post on benefits and risks of exercising during pregnancy.
If you have ever run a Marathon you know that nutrition can heavily influence your race. It is recommended to eat a light and easily digestible breakfast low in fiber, and to take in easily digestible carbohydrates throughout your race. In addition you should stay hydrated. So I basically followed the same strategy when giving birth. I still had a light dinner when I was admitted to the hospital (while I had light contractions), and later during labor I fueled my body with a special sports drink that contained easily digestible sugars and electrolytes. I only changed my fueling strategy later when I had to get an IV.
After the race you should try to refuel properly with carbohydrates and protein. And this is also what you should do after giving birth. In my case I chose the healthy, fiber rich options from my hospital menu. The additional fiber was especially helpful to ease up my stool to avoid pain after my episiotomy.
Every Marathon runner knows: training and nutrition are important, but so is having the right gear on race day. And birth is similar in a lot of ways. You want to be equipped with the right tools to give you the birth you want. This could be a birth stool, a big gymnastics ball, a CD player or bluetooth speaker, a chair, a bath tub, massage oil or even just a baby toy to squeeze during contractions. You want to wear something that you feel comfortable in, but that can also get dirty. And just like in a Marathon: Don’t forget that hairband! Because you don’t want your sweaty hair all over your face.
If you remember your first Marathon you also remember the recovery afterwards. It is really hard. You were probably not able to walk for days, and you felt exhausted for a few weeks. Maybe you were in pain, and you could not properly sleep because of all the adrenaline. Giving birth is similar, no matter if naturally or via cesarean. Recovery will take a while, so don’t rush it. Stay in bed for as long as you want and need. Try to get good sleep and eat nutritious and healthy foods. Be proud of what you have accomplished. Soak up that feeling as much as possible. Soon you will be back feeling stronger than before.
Having a good support crew is important for your Marathon. You want people to take your anxiety away before the race, cheer you on during the race when you are feeling low and celebrate with you afterwards. Also for birth you need a support crew. This could of course be your doctor, your midwife, your doula etc. Bust most importantly it is your (birth) partner. You want to work together as a team in this very important workout. Ideally your birth partner should support you with whatever you need and lift your spirits when you are feeling low. Because running and giving birth is really a team challenge.
Nowadays mental training is considered a cornerstone of how professional Marathon runners and other athletes prepare for competitions. Maybe you have seen a professional skier on TV who imagines skiing the race and also moves the body accordingly. And it has been proven that their various strategies of how to visualize themselves in a competition before the event can increase the physical performance. And even though I am not a professional runner, I believe that the right mindset and mental training can improve not only your results but also your experience on race day.
And this is also true when it comes to labor and giving birth. There are a lot of visualization techniques that you can practice before your actual due date. Some techniques are quite simple like imagining a blooming flower or waves in the ocean. Others are marketed with fancy names like Hypnobirthing. I personally read a few books and picked the things that I liked. And I think that it has helped me at least a little bit during my extensive labor.
How Marathon running could not prepare me for birth
I will not lie about it: giving birth is way more painful than running a Marathon. There is no way to describe the feelings if you have never experienced it before. It probably is the MOST PAINFUL WORKOUT you will ever do in your life. But even if it is really painful, there is nothing to worry about. As a woman you will develop female superpowers and will find strengths that you never knew you had. Trust me, you’ve got this.
A Marathon has a fixed distance of 42.195 km. You probably know your pace, and know you can finish it in around x hours. With giving birth it is not the case. If you are giving birth naturally you don’t know when it will start, when it will end and how long it will take. It could be two hours or two days.
For me this was a bit worrying. My baby was already overdue and I was scared to have an induction. Even when it came naturally I did not know how long it would still be until I would be finally be done with all the pain (see point above). I did not know if I still had enough gas left in my tank, especially because I had never done it before. In the end, my labor lasted nearly 24 hours. Even if I have done longer races than a full Marathon and even one 24 hour race, I was completely unprepared for this.
When you finish a Marathon you are happy. Happy that you are done, happy that you have accomplished your goal, happy about the medal you get. But all the joys of Marathon running are so small compared to the feeling you have when holding your baby for the first time. When you hear your baby scream for the first time. And when you smell that precious baby scent for the first time. That feeling of joy is beyond everything you can ever imagine. And it is definitely worth all the long hours of pain and complications you might have gone through to get there.
If you have ever run a Marathon you know that racing is not only about training and nutrition, but also about your gear. Wearing the wrong outfit, getting blisters from the wrong shoes or chafing can not only ruin your Marathon goals but also take all the fun away. So I have compiled this list of the most important Marathon gear essentials. Proven in more than 20 Marathons that I ran, including the 12 Marathons that I did in 2018.
The most important thing to remember is to try all your Marathon gear before the actual event. Always remember the rule:
Nothing new on race day!
So here are my Marathon essentials, that I always pack into my bag when I travel to a race:
Shoes are the first item on my Marathon gear essentials list. Some people might find them optional, as people have run Marathons without shoes. Like Abebe Bikila, who won the 1960 Olympic Marathon barefoot. But as a regular runner I assume you don’t want to even try running that distance without good running shoes on your feet.
Picking the right shoes
This could fill up a full blog post on it’s own. And there are definitely a few out there. How to chose the right shoes for you has become nearly rocket science. I would recommend a simple 3 step strategy to find the right shoe for your needs:
Take your old running shoes to a professional running shop
Have a video analysis done of yourself running in your old and various new shoes
Pick the ones that looks right on video and that also feel good
Training in your running shoes
Even if you have picked the right shoes for you, you still need to train in them (aka run in them properly) before the race. This will break them in so you don’t get blisters or black toe nails on race day. I recommend running at least 100 km over a few weeks in them.
Unless you are up for a nudist race, or chose to run in a costume, a proper running outfit is part of your Marathon gear. It should comprise of running shorts or leggings and a running top depending on the temperatures. As with running shoes there are two important factors to consider:
The right outfit for the right temperatures
Your running outfit should fit the temperatures on race day. As you want to go fast, you should wear an outfit that you would freeze in at the start line. If you are not a little bit cold at the start, you are definitely wearing too much for later on.
But what if I am getting really cold at the start line? There are always options for that. Wear old clothing that you can toss away before the start. Most of it will be collected by charities afterwards. Another option is to wear a thick black trash bag to keep warm.
Another thing that I learned when it comes to Marathon outfits is to always have several options available depending on the weather. The same race can have extremely different temperatures in different years. So bring various outfits to the race in case the weather forecast changes.
Training in your race outfit
The logic is the same as for running shoes. You need to train in you race outfit (that includes costumes) before the Marathon. By running in your outfit you will find out potential problems like chafing or wardrobe malfunctions. You want to sort out these things before the race, and not be surprised during your Marathon.
Yes, some people also think underwear is optional. Especially if the undergarments are part of the running shorts. But I really disagree. First, the underwear in your running shorts might not be the right one for you. Second, if you are a woman you definitely need a good sports bra to support breasts. As with shoes and running outfits you need to test your underwear before race day. I personally am a big fan of Runderwear, a British startup that makes really soft and comfy running underwear.
Running socks are an often neglected, but very important Marathon gear item. With all the developments in recent years socks have become a major part of the running apparel industry. The options nowadays are endless: short, long, thick, thin, colorful or plain black. One of the most recent developments is the use of compression socks to enhance performance. If you want to keep your old socks, but still want to try compression gear, you can also wear compression calf sleeves.
GPS sports watch
If you want to run a Marathon for time and aim for a new personal best, a GPS sports watch is also a Marathon essential. In the past GPS watches were heavy, huge and fairly ugly, but recently the manufacturers have focused more on design. The options nowadays are also endless. Most GPS sports watches also include a heart rate monitor, either with a chest band or a visual one included in the watch. When choosing a sports watch you should look at the following factors:
size and weight
features like Wifi, Bluetooth, multi sport functions
Running belt or pouch
If you decide to carry various items during your race, like your mobile phone, gels or even just a tissue, you might find that the pockets in your running gear are too small (even if you are lucky to have some). So you might want to consider a running belt or arm pouch. The choice is completely yours, based on what you feel more comfortable in. I personally have chosen a running belt that not only fits my phone but also some gels and where I can attach my race bib. You can find it here.
Alternatively there are also pouches that you can wear on your upper arms. Some people find them more comfortable than belts, but usually they only fit a mobile phone.
Note: bringing your phone to a race is a controversial topic. Yes, listening to music with headphones is often forbidden at races. But even if it is I bring my phone to take a lot of pictures before, during and after the race. It is an essential part of my Marathon gear because I love to take pictures as a souvenir. Plus you get to see them on my blog later on.
Depending on the race you might want to bring a hydration kit. In some races, like longer trail races, hydration packs are even mandatory. In others like the NYC Marathon only bottles are allowed. As with everything, there are advantages and disadvantages when bringing your own hydration kit. Even if it could slow you down, it will keep you hydrated in hot weather. Plus it is good for the environment as you are using less plastic bottles or cups at the water stations.
Hydration kits come in various options and sizes. You can run with a water bottle in your hand, wear a running belt with bottles or even a hydration pack on your back. Just make sure that you cleanse and dry them thoroughly between runs.I personally use this race vest/hydration pack from Inov8 because of the 4 pouches in the front. (Yes, I always carry a lot of stuff)
Accessoires like hats, gloves or sunglasses
Depending on the weather you might need some accessories to protect you from the sun, rain, heat or cold. This could include sunglasses, hats, gloves, rain jackets or a scarf. I recommend investing in a few that have been especially designed for running. Yes you could wear your normal ones, but it is nicer if they are moisture wicking and light weight. My personal favorite are tube scarves, as they can be worn as scarves, beanies, headbands or wrist sweatbands.
If you have ever had a really bad blister, or chafing, or even bleeding nipples as a man, you know how painful it can get. Chafing can really ruin your race. So how can you avoid it?
I recommend applying a lot of anti chafing balm to all the potential areas affected, like between your thighs or around your armpits and even your most sensitive parts around your underwear. For feet I would either go with balm or special blister plasters. If you are a man, putting tape or plasters onto your nipples is also a good idea. Ladies: you don’t need to cover your nipples if you are wearing a good sports bra, but applying balm around and under the bra seams is a good idea.
I personally like these brands for blister plasters and anti-chafing balm. But there are also low cost options like normal tape and Vaseline. Whatever works for you is great as long as you stay chafe free!
It is no surprise that (expecting) Moms require more vitamins and nutrients during pregnancy and breastfeeding than before, as they are growing and feeding another human being. But how much can be a bit confusing sometimes. That is why I have decided to write this overview on all the vitamins and nutrient intakes recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
When it comes to pregnancy nutrition, there are generally three types of food groups to think about. The good (what you should eat during pregnancy), the bad (what you should avoid during pregnancy) and the ugly (what your body is craving anyway).
When I became pregnant I was of course full of emotions, most of them positive. However I also had some questions and fears. One of those was how my body would deal with the pregnancy, if I would gain lots of weight and if I would get stretch marks. I had gotten a lot of stretch marks when I gained weight during puberty. And the scars still cover my legs and booty.
After lots of research on stretch marks and several months of pregnancy later I am still free of stretch marks. And I’ve decided to share all the knowledge I gained with my readers.
You can’t change your genetics
Stretch marks happen when your skin has to expand beyond it’s natural flexibility. Most of the time this happens during growth or weight gain. Both men and women can get stretch marks, although women are more likely to get them.
Women’s connective tissue in their skin is just on average weaker, causing the skin to be less stretchy and flexible. Therefore they are more likely to have cellulite or stretch marks.
The bad news first: how likely it is for you to get stretch marks is determined by your genetics. And you can’t change your genetics per se. So if you have had stretch marks in the past, you are more likely to get them again. However this is not the end of the story.
… But you can work with your body
The good news is that there are several things that you can do that help you prevent stretch marks or lessen the appearance of them. Most of these tips and tricks are easy to implement and inxpensive. However they require some sort of discipline and consistency.
1) Gain weight gradually
If you had a healthy bodyweight before you should gain a total of around 10kg to 15 kg during pregnancy. Although weight gain during pregnancy is healthy and normal, it is not an excuse to just eat whatever you want. Besides the fact that gaining too much weight during pregnancy is unhealthy and not recommended, gaining weight too fast and too much can cause stretch marks.
So one of the best tips to prevent stretch marks is to gain weight gradually and stay within the recommended ranges.
Important side note: Gaining too much weight too fast could also be a sign of excessive water retention. This can be a symptom of preeclampsia, which is a dangerous pregnancy condition. Monitoring your weight can also help you see the signs of this condition early.
2) Massage your belly regularly
There are a lot of creams, oils and lotions out there that promise you to prevent stretch marks. And while no study has proven yet that the miracle potion for stretch marks exists, there are some benefits to it. Regular massages help to make your skin mor flexible and your connective tissue more elastic.
In addition the oils and creams can help to make the scars lighter and less visible. Although they will not disappear completely.
Here are my favorite oils for a regular belly massage:
Bi-Oil is the absolute classic remedy for scars and probably the most popular one. It comes in various sizes and I especially love the 60ml travel size.
Retin-oil from skin-care start-up Deciem contains retinol, which helps especially when the stretch marks are already there. However it is not a good oil to use during pregnancy, but more for after giving birth.
The main reason is the key ingredient Retinol. Retinol is a form of Vitamin A. Overdosing on Vitamin A can cause birth defects of the fetus. Although the dosage of Retinol in the oil is fairly low, and first studies have indicated that topical application of retinol is safe during pregnancy, there is still not enough scientific evidence to recommend it during pregnancy.
I would therefore stay on the safe side, and use this great product after you gave birth to your little one.
3) Wear a special support band to prevent stretch marks
I am currently testing and wearing the belly support band from Secret Saviours. It has small rubber spots on the inside. These spots help to “grab” the belly and support its weight and therefore also the lower back. The claimed result: 82% of women who have used this kit have not developped stretch marks. So far I am among these 82% and I will continue to report on this.
The kit comes with a day gel, a night cream and a waist band. There are several sizes of belly bands and colors available so it always fits your belly perfectly.
Do you have any tips on how to prevent stretch marks? Leave me a comment below!