10 Reasons Running a Marathon is Like Having a Baby [Revisited]


Two years ago, on August 10, 2013, I published this post comparing running a marathon and having a baby. Let's all stop for a moment and appreciate the incredible coincidence of my publishing that post exactly two years to the day of R's birthday on August 10, 2015. What are the odds?

The post was obviously supposed to be funny, not realistic (although some people got kind of uppity about it). Clearly having a baby and running a marathon are not really the same thing, but I had found some similarities that seemed humorous enough to make a post out of.

Now that I've actually been through labor and had a baby, I wanted to revisit that post and see how accurate (or not) it really was.

The short version is this: that post I wrote two years ago is pretty good, and I still agree with all ten points. However, based on my personal experience, there are two stark differences, which I will outline below.

1) Training

When you're training for a marathon, you (usually) have a schedule to follow. Long run on this day, tempo run on this day, rest on this day, etc. You know, for the most part, what to expect from your training. Every week you add another mile or two, and if you do it correctly, your training will prepare you to run the full 26.2 miles. The training and the marathon are essentially the same because when it all boils down to it, you're just running, which you've been doing for months now, only during the marathon it's being timed and you're running faster and farther.

I didn't so much feel like there was any training for labor. The nine months of pregnancy are growing the baby, but it's sure as heck not training for labor. Sure, there are books about labor and videos of labor and birthing classes you can take and breathing coaches you can hire. But at the end of the day, when it comes time for the Big Event, there's no possible way you could have trained for the pain and the emotional and physical toil.

On the day of a marathon, maybe the weather is bad or your shin is hurting and that throws you a curveball, but in general you're running, and you know how to do that.

There's no way to prepare for labor. It just happens, and you do it.

2) The Finish

When you're running a marathon, there's a set finish line. There is one for labor too, but in a marathon, you know where the finish line is. You count down the miles one by one, and each mile is exactly the same distance apart. When you hit The Wall and don't think you can make it one more step, you just think to yourself that you have x more miles and then you'll be done.

During labor, the miles are, in essence, the numbers of dilation, the difference being that the amount of time between centimeters is by no means easy to time. For example, I dilated from a 6 to a 9 in a half hour and then got stuck on 9 for over an hour. That's like running miles 1-26 in a half hour and then taking twice that time to run the last .2 miles. It's like making the final turn toward the finish, only to have the finish line move backwards away from you. Or, maybe just making the final turn and then getting stuck running in place. Either way, it's terrible.

I kept asking the doctor if I was close, if they could see her head, how much longer I had to go. I wanted so badly for her to say something like, "It will take exactly x more minutes and then the baby will be here."

Because when I'm running, I can look at my watch or the most recent mile marker and say to myself, "I'm getting closer. It will take exactly x more miles and then I will be done." When I was in labor, I had no idea when I would be done, and that made it harder to stay mentally invested.

So those are the two main differences. But honestly? I found the process of running a marathon and having a baby quite similar, and for the most part I think I did a pretty good job writing that post considering I had never had a baby!

I'd love to hear what you think! If you haven't read the original post, go check it out and then come back and let me know what similarities or differences you see. Or, is there something else you might be able to compare the process of labor to? A slow death, perhaps?

Jenn @ Optimization Actually said...

I love your comparison post!!! Your 2nd point, about not knowing where the finish line is, I find more terrifying than all the other stuff. Well... vagina tearing is pretty scary, too. I don't know. Both of these experiences sound awful, but I did just complete my first half and the pain and misery are rapidly fading from my mind, so I guess selective memory helps us out here.

Kate said...

It's official. I'm never running a marathon OR having a baby. ;)

Anonymous said...

Love both posts! You have a simultaneously humorous and analytic way of engaging ideas. :)

For what it's worth, here are some of my thoughts on "the training and the marathon [being] essentially the same":

Oddly (?) I consider the difference between a full marathon and a half marathon as the difference between a race you can't generally predict and one you can. One where the training and the race are NOT the same, and one where they very nearly are.

After running four fulls, I've realized that you can hit your training seemingly "perfectly" and still not know how your idiosyncratic body's going to react to the longer mileage, the high intensity, the weather, and the energy "wall" on the day of the race, because there are so many more variables compared to in the half distance. It's one of the reasons my husband, who has a 14:24 5k PR and loves racing even longer distances nevertheless dislikes the full marathon. A half marathon you can race, he distinguishes to me; a marathon, you survive.

While I likely have thirty days till I deliver a baby myself, I imagine I'll have some of the same trepidations as I do before a full marathon, where I've put in the time (practicing, researching, visualizing, eating well, etc.), but could still (as even many elite marathon runners do) fall apart in the real thing. I hope I don't!

Anonymous said...

Haha! :)

Caroline @ In Due Time said...

I love to see the comparison after! It's amazing how running a marathon is a good analogy for so many different aspects of life - including the Christian walk! I guess why it's used in scripture too!!!

Tracy said...

Yeah...the knowing what's going to happen (generally speaking) is the thing I like about running. The not knowing is one of things I don't think I would like about having a baby. Thanks for the confirmation ;)

The Lady Okie said...


Rach said...

Two years to the day!! That's crazy timing! I love hearing your updated view on the marathan vs baby birthing. Both sound pretty miserable to me, ha!

Kerry @ Till Then Smile Often said...

Haha! Yes at least with running you can see a finish line. You can be in labor for hours and for some a day and a half. I'd rather know too.

Torrie said...

YES, and YES! I can't tell you how many times during my labor that I drew on my experience of having run a marathon and made comparisons in my head to help me through the rough patches (since I also did a natural childbirth, and I also got stuck during transition---6 hours at a 7, baby!). It was the craziest thing, but knowing that I had somehow run that crazy distance of 26.2 miles helped me to know that I could do other things like, you know, push out a tiny human (that doesn't seem so tiny when she's coming out!).

Loved this.

Ashley said...

I wondered if you were going to address this! Lol. It is funny that the dates coincided like that, too. I don't run, but I used to hang out with the track team in school (truth: I had a crush on the track team) and I can see the similarities based on what the boys used to say about running. Lol. Oh, and thank you for using the word "uppity." It's one of my top favorite words. :)

Unknown said...

I love how you compare the miles and dilation. I have never run a marathon or given birth, though. So I'll keep it at that. :)

Molly McCarty said...

Oh I was hoping you were going to do this post! I love seeing your opinion on both sides of labor! very nice!

Susannah said...

Is it weird that I would rather have 1083 more babies than run one marathon?

Allison said...

Haha this is awesome. I bet it was funny reading what you originally wrote pre-baby! I agree...you just can't train for labor and I was the same way about wanting to know how much longer!!