For almost three years, a six-mile section of the local cross-county bike trail has become one of our family’s daily destinations. Nate and I started walking on the trail back in the summer of 2011 during my pregnancy as an alternative to running on an indoor treadmill. Before this, I had never been enthused about running outside, but I was no longer able grind out a six mile treadmill run, and walking (more like waddling) for an hour in place was incredibly boring. So Nate and I began walking together on the trail every evening after work. Even though I was on my feet for 8-9 hours during the day, I still wanted to get out in the fresh air, and this was a great way for us to unwind and reconnect after a long day. That fall was unseasonably warm and we were able to walk about 4.5 miles almost 5 days a week through early November.
As the days grew shorter and colder and my belly grew bigger, we became both excited and anxious about what was in store for us in the coming months; as an expecting/new parent you really have no idea what to anticipate. I have never been the type of person who tries to make perfect plans (No ten-page birth itineraries here!) and tried to go-with-the-flow through most of my pregnancy and preparing for Caleb’s arrival. The one thing that seemed to naturally kick in during the later months of the pregnancy was my motherly intuition. As corny as this may sound, I envisioned Caleb walking with us each evening. Similar to the instinctive “rocking” motion parents naturally develop to calm their baby, I imagined him being soothed or entertained by the steady, routine rhythm of our steps. Some evenings I would even daydream to a time in the future when our boy would be walking or running along with us.
Caleb was born in early December that year- a full week after his scheduled due date. Though he kept us anxiously waiting for an extra seven days, his eventual arrival mirrored his personality –quick, joyful, and eager to take on the world. Caleb’s birth came at a busy time of year during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. As Nate can attest, the Christmas season is already a stressful time for me. Every year I really struggle with finding a balance between focusing on the true, Christian meaning of Christmas, while not acting like a Scrooge, cursing anything to do with presents, decorations, and the commercialization of the holiday. Between two hour feedings, a lack of sleep, and battling post-partum hormones, I wasn’t exactly in the Yuletide spirit that year. (How many wives cry and curse out their husband for the Pottery Barn quilt and shams they specifically asked for? This one did!) I was more than ready to start anew in 2012.
Like most fitness nuts know, taking a day or two off every week for “rest and recovery” is torture. Yes, we’re told it’s good to give your body a chance to rebuild and rejuvenate; and yes, I generally do have better workouts after a break, but disrupting my normal workout routine and being less active for a day is tough. Needless to say, after nine months of rest and “light workout” days, I was itching to get back to exercise as soon as possible. At five weeks post-birth – on a crisp, early January evening at dusk, I was back out on the trail raring to go! But while my mind was geared up for exercise, my body lagged behind. I will never forget how I felt on that first night out. Bundled up in a cozy fleece and proud that I could fit into a pair of non-maternity leggings, I turned up the tunes on my IPod, took a deep breath of the biting air, and began my jog. In my head, I envisioned an hour long run- maybe grinding out 4-5 miles to my punk-rock workout mix- feeling sweaty and exhilarated at the end. In reality, though, I made it about half a mile but had to slow down to a walk because I was so winded. As I fought back the tears and nursed an aching abdominal cramp, I became discouraged for a moment; I thought I would never get back to my pre-pregnancy energetic and athletic self. Luckily it was a fleeting thought. Instead, I had a mini pep-talk with myself and vowed that no matter how long it took, with determination, drive, and patience, I would get my body back to where it was a year ago – Baby steps, Jenn. You’ll get there, but it might take baby steps.
I finished my arduous workout that evening and was right back at it every evening for the next two months. When Nate got home from work, I handed Caleb off to his Dad and hurriedly got to the trail to get my walk/jog in before the early sunset. Luckily, the abnormally warm weather continued that winter and exercising outdoors was tolerable. In fact, as a first-time mom experiencing many new feelings, thoughts, and emotions, running in the crisp temps provided a time for release and reflection about my new life. On most nights I was so deep in thought that I didn’t realize how my stamina and endurance were steadily increasing with each passing step.
By March, the weather was warm enough to take Caleb for runs in our jogging stroller. Going from full-time work in an office setting to balancing full-time mom duties AND my job from home had been a huge adjustment; I welcomed the warmer weather as an opportunity to get us both out into fresh air. My previous (and preferable) exercise routine used to be in the late afternoons before dinner. But like many other parts of our life, Caleb’s arrival brought new adjustments and schedules, and workouts were moved to the mornings! Even though Caleb was so little and couldn’t communicate with me, it was a great bonding time for the both of us. Like that motherly instinct I felt walking with him in my belly, my rhythmic running seemed to soothe him and create a sense of peace and closeness between us.
Fast-forward two years- Caleb is now over 2 ½ years old- and we still head out to the trail almost every morning. Averaging about five hours a week, we have logged about 600 hours (and a crazy 3000 miles!) of jogging time together! In the first year, I lost 50lbs of baby weight and continue to be more fit and active than I was before my pregnancy. Each day, as my body grows stronger, I gain more energy and confidence – not only as a mom – but as a woman, and the type of role model I want to be for my baby.
And my baby isn’t really a baby anymore, rather an active toddler with bug bites and bruises, talking up a storm as we run through town. As we cross an intersection and speed up to make it through the crosswalk before the light turns green, ‘Coach Caleb’ yells, “Run, Momma, Run” and “We Made It” as we glide across the street just in time. Recently, he’s even been practicing his “running” in our yard and saying he’s going to run with his Mama on the trail. As I watch our enthusiastic little guy toddle off, I envision the day we’ll be pushing each other to run farther or faster. But then I remind myself- Baby steps, Jenn. Savor this moment, it will be gone before you know it.
The trail following The Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park was my most favorite workout spot following the birth of my son. Running alone provided a much needed time for thought and reflection; together, Caleb and I bonded as we ran about five miles every day through the town of Vienna, VA. Because I’m a nerd, I plotted out my distance based on the mile markers on either side of town. In the beginning, slowly adding to my run in