11 Ways Running a Marathon is Like Childbirth

While I was pregnant, I always had a feeling that labor and delivery would have many similarities to running a marathon. With 7 marathons under my belt, I felt like I had pretty good mental and physical strength, and an idea of how to handle pain and push through things that felt impossible at times. I hoped my running experiences would help me get through the natural and unmedicated birth that I wanted.

Running at 36 weeks pregnant

Running at 36 weeks pregnant

Once I gave birth I realized that I was right- running a marathon had many things in common with giving birth, at least in my own personal experience. However it wasn’t until last week when I ran my first marathon after baby that I discovered just how similar the two experiences were. Here are 11 ways running a marathon is like childbirth for me.


1. We prepare and plan as best we can but anything can happen on race day/birth day. To prepare for a natural childbirth Kevin and I took Bradley Method classes for 12 weeks. Marathon training is typically 16-20 weeks long. During that time you are careful to take care of yourself, learn as much as you can, strengthen your body and your mind, and prepare for different possible scenarios. But when it comes down to it, ANYTHING can happen on the big day, and sometimes you need to be flexible and adjust your goals. This has happened to me in many marathons and it happened to me when I was in labor and needed Pitocin to jumpstart things. Flexibility, a positive attitude and an open mind are key.

Trying to get things started after my water broke

Trying to get things started after my water broke

2. Both marathons and childbirth require physical and mental strength. In order to get through my marathons and labor, I needed to use both my physical strength- stamina, endurance, every muscle in my body; and a ton of mental strength- patience, will, determination, and focus. They were both physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. I remember thinking to myself while squatting through the final contractions before Kevin was born, thank goodness for my strong legs and for continuing to run and strength train through my pregnancy. I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten through it without being in good shape.

3. Take it one contraction/mile at a time. One of the things that got me through the hard parts of labor was Kevin reminding me to only think about the contraction I was experiencing at that time and focus on getting through it, rather than how much I still had ahead of me. I used this in the OBX Marathon when I started to feel daunted by how many miles I still had to go. I told myself only to work on mile 18. Then mile 19. Then mile 20. Breaking it down into smaller pieces made it so much easier for me to handle mentally in both the marathon and childbirth.

4. Just keep moving. This was so important for me in both my running and my labor experiences. One of the keys to a natural birth is to move as much as possible. This allows your body to do the work it needs to do to get the baby down and out. Just sitting in a hospital bed and not moving makes that more difficult. The same is true in marathon running. Even if you have to slow your pace or walk, as long as you just keep moving forward you’ll be closer to your goal, whether it’s a baby or a finish line.

Walking the hospital stairs in early labor

Walking the hospital stairs in early labor

5. It’s important to fuel and hydrate throughout. Obviously this is important while running a marathon, but for me it was also important during birth. Kevin and my doula were constantly refilling my water cup and had me drinking in between every single contraction. I also snacked throughout labor on a Larabar, Honey Stinger Chews and pumpkin muffins. I am positive I would not have made it through laboring all night long without giving myself the energy and fuel that I needed (He was born at 7:49 a.m., almost 24 hours after we had gotten to the hospital).

Drinking water like it's my job!

Drinking water like it’s my job!

 6. Blood, sweat, and tears… and puke. I experienced all of these during childbirth and have also experienced them during marathons. In both cases it was not a pretty sight. I’ll spare you those pictures 🙂

7. There will be a time where I think I can’t do it. For me, the end is always the hardest part. The last few miles are where I usually “hit the wall” in marathons, and the transition stage in birth right before pushing is absolutely the hardest thing I have ever experienced. Everything hurts. It feels like it will never end and I can’t imagine actually finishing- it feels impossible. The contractions keep coming one after another and in the marathon every step hurts.  Thoughts of quitting go through my head and I doubt myself and my ability to finish what I started.

8. Support is everything. There is no possible way I would have gotten through pregnancy and birth, marathon training and the marathon itself- without the people that supported me. In birth it was Kevin, my doula Marisa, and our awesome birth team of nurses and midwives. It was also our family and friends sending us well wishes and support. In marathons it’s those same people who care about me and want to cheer me on, plus all the volunteers, spectators and fellow runners. It would be even more difficult to run a marathon and give birth completely alone without that support. I couldn’t even imagine that!


9. I have to “push” hard at the end. Obviously push has a double meaning here. In my experience, the final pushing phase felt good to me in birth. I knew I was almost there and was going to make it. It was almost a relief. In marathons, it’s that last push in the final mile of the race. Seeing the finish line (or in my case during birth, my baby’s head in a mirror) motivates me and I try to finish strong.

Screen shot 2013-11-15 at 9.20.41 PM

10. The pain is temporary and the reward is sweet. During childbirth and this past marathon, I kept telling myself that the pain I was feeling was temporary and wouldn’t last forever. I focused on the fact that it wasn’t going to last forever and that I would get an amazing reward at the end- whether it’s a baby, a medal, the feeling of pride and accomplishment, or the awesome high and endorphins that you get once you are done.


11. I am extremely sore afterwards. After giving birth every part of my body hurt. It’s been the same in my marathons. Both childbirth and marathon running take a toll on the body and require rest and patience to recover. The first few days afterwards are the worst, but slowly I start to feel like my old self and begin to think that I might want to do it all again someday 🙂

I know everyone’s labor and delivery is different, but while running this past Sunday it really struck me how similar these two experiences were for me. Both marathon running and childbirth have showed me how strong I am and that I can do anything- nothing is impossible anymore. I am so thankful to have these experiences and wouldn’t trade them for anything. I can’t wait to go through them both again someday!


2 responses to “11 Ways Running a Marathon is Like Childbirth

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more! I haven’t raced since having my little one 4 months ago but looking back at my previous races, it was very much like childbirth. Especially being flexible as my delivery did not go anything like I had planned. But I had to roll with it and not be disappointed because in the end, I got my little man!

  2. Pingback: Childbirth: Pain, disassociation and altered states of Consciousness: Birth as a hero’s journey? | magicalbirth

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