scorecardI ran the Boston Marathon 8 months after I gave birth to my first child. It was my comeback race.
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I ran the Boston Marathon 8 months after I gave birth to my first child. It was my comeback race.

Gabrielle Russon   

I ran the Boston Marathon 8 months after I gave birth to my first child. It was my comeback race.
LifeScience4 min read
  • I'd been a regular runner ever since my 20s. It gave me time to think and helped me relax.
  • But during my pregnancy, my runs had slowed to walks, and after my son was born, I missed it.

I'd finally gotten some alone time as a new mom. I laced up my running shoes and picked out my perfect playlist. I found my rhythm as my feet hit the pavement, my adrenaline kicking in as I told myself, "This is my comeback."

Eight months earlier, I gave birth to my son, Boomer. I had been a burnt-out journalist but the pandemic made everyone do unexpected things, so I quit my job at the newspaper. I was tired of deadlines, furloughs, and the never-ending fear of layoffs. I was ready to go on a different sort of adventure — I wanted to become a mom, and decided to start a family.

I'd been an avid runner for years, but pregnancy changed things

Prior to giving birth, I had been a runner since my 20s. Running was free therapy. I ran to forget about unfaithful boyfriends and demanding editors and a bank account that always seemed to be trending in the wrong direction. Being outside and running with a good playlist brought me a peace I couldn't find anywhere else. The harder my feet worked, the more I relaxed.

During my pregnancy, I ran early into my second trimester and then I slowed to a walk when it felt too uncomfortable to go fast. Even the day my water broke, I had power-walked five miles around my neighborhood. As long as I was in motion, I was happy, although I daydreamed about my running comeback and crossing the finish line at my next marathon.

Now, as a new mom in her late 30s, I was picking running back up to prove to myself I was still the old me.

I started running again

After a relatively complication-free birth, I started running again six weeks postpartum with my doctor's blessing. My first attempt was only down my street and back — a mile — but the trek felt endless. My legs were weak as I shuffled down the sidewalk and my old, shabby Target sports bra wasn't doing the trick. I felt defeated. The old me had never felt so far away. Running felt like a chore, like the joy had been sucked out of me.

However, I kept going. I went out for a run again. And again. A few times a week, I laced up my shoes and slowly, my one mile route evolved into a 5K. I also invested in a better sports bra that gave me the support I needed.

Even so, I still felt like a zombie at home. My son wasn't sleeping through the night, and the freelance writing assignments I was picking up were exhausting all my extra energy. But something happened by the time I had been running several weeks postpartum. My hormonal, postpartum anxiety-ridden brain was quiet and at peace the longer my feet pounded the pavement. Gone were the churning debates in my head over whether I was a good mom and if my house would ever be clean again. Running just let me be.

A half marathon led to a marathon, and the rest is history

I had signed up for the half marathon I normally ran every Thanksgiving two months before my son was born as a motivation to prioritize exercise postpartum. When the time came to run and I crossed the finish line, I felt like a champion wearing my participant's medal. Maybe it was the runner's high, but I felt ready to attempt a 26.2-mile. I signed up for my first post-baby marathon in January 2022. I had less than four months to prepare.

My long runs grew longer every Sunday. My body felt strong. In the brisk Florida winter, I trained up to 19 miles at a time. It felt good to be alone with AC/DC and Kesha playing in my ear while my husband watched our sleeping baby at home.

On my refrigerator, I recorded every workout on a piece of paper, tallying up every easy run or every long run that sometimes took me more than four hours to finish. It put everything in perspective, how far I had gone and how hard I worked. Eight months after giving birth, I felt ready for my comeback race. And I had chosen arguably the greatest race of them all: The Boston Marathon.

Before the race, I FaceTimed my son who was back in Florida with my husband. I pumped in the private lactation tent just before the start line. Then I was off.

I knew I was in trouble early on. The rolling hills outside Boston felt like mountains for someone from flat Florida. But I also couldn't stop smiling. It felt like being in the Tour de France, the streets packed with enthusiastic crowds.

I felt the camaraderie from other female athletes who read the back of my shirt, which said "First Marathon Post-baby!"

While we ran, they congratulated me and shared their own stories. I heard from one woman who told me she just discovered she was pregnant, and another who lamented about the same postpartum anxiety I felt. We laughed about how as first-time moms, we could easily cancel date nights with our husbands but our long runs were sacred.

The marathon route felt so long, and then suddenly, it was over. My finish time was just a number; what mattered more to me was the journey.