I recently visited London, where my husband and I lived from 2002-2004 and where our first child was born. My visit stirred old memories and emotions, as this was the first time my husband and I had been in London without kids since August 9, 2003…the day before our son was born.
There I sat in the runners’ staging area at the start of the 2004 London Marathon, attempting to express breastmilk as discreetly as possible.
I’d gained entry into the London Marathon via the “Good For Age” qualification standards that allow runners to bypass the notoriously unfavorable lottery. I had a qualifying time I earned at the 2002 Boston Marathon. Between my qualifying run and London race day, I’d gotten pregnant and birthed my first child.
Running was the one constant in my life as I transitioned into motherhood while living in a foreign country. I had a fantastic group of friends, but it was the daily ritual of running that kept me connected to my familiar, pre-mother self. Every day, I’d settle my son into the BabyJogger and set out for Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. We became a fixture in the park, our big blue running chariot quite an anomaly.
Of course, many of the park regulars had witnessed my very un-British behavior, as I had run nearly daily all throughout my pregnancy.
“Oh, dear love, what are you doing?” one well-meaning older woman inquired as I finished up a two-mile jog on my due date. She would not have been more surprised if I birthed the baby right then and there. After she admonished me (I’m still not sure for what exactly), I set off for home, running high on the happy endorphins.
When my son was two months old, I was surfing the internet during a middle-of-the-night nursing session and learned about the Good For Age bypass into London.
“That’s it!” I thought.
It was just the goal I needed to set for myself. More specifically, I needed to set the goal of finishing the marathon in the same 3:45 time limit that allowed me the Good For Age entry. I didn’t want to be a fraud!
Over the next six months, I ran hundreds of miles, most of them with my son sleeping in the big blue chariot in front of me. When I would stop to walk or take a water break, he would wake up and cry. As soon as I ran again, he’d nod off to sleep. He was an incredibly effective training partner.
Race day brought a mix of emotions, as it always does. Would my husband survive without me for the day? Would my baby drink milk from a bottle? Would these annoying rainshowers last all day? Would the course be empty of crowds because of them?
I didn’t question my ability to complete the race; I knew my goal was challenging but achievable.
Once the gun went off, the worries fell away. I wanted to soak in the experience of the race, the multi-national crowds out in force despite the weather, cheering us on as we ran by. I managed to find myself running slightly ahead of three men in sarapes—The Three Amigos—who both endearingly and annoyingly played mariachi music at each mile and half-mile marker.
In the final mile of the London Marathon, runners stream toward Buckingham Palace before making a U-shaped turn onto The Mall and finishing about a quarter-mile later. As I entered the stretch just before the turn, a man in a horse costume—complete with giant plastic horse head—galloped past me.
“Oh, no.” I thought.
“If I can birth a human, be his entire source of sustenance, and still train for a marathon, I will not be beaten down the homestretch by a horse.”
This was, quite honestly, the first twinge of competitive drive I’d felt since becoming a mother.
I managed to outkick the horse and finish in 3:44:45.
The eight hours from the time I caught the train to get out to Greenwich for the start until I returned home to our South Kensington flat was the longest time my baby and I had been apart in his entire eight months and eight days of life. That tiny baby is twelve—TWELVE—now, and I still run marathons because nothing else makes me feel so fully myself.