How preparing for birth is like training for a (half) marathon

When I was pregnant with my second baby, my midwife told me that preparing to give birth was like training for a marathon. I pretty much blew her off because I’d already given birth (which wasn’t terrible), and it seemed NOTHING like what I imagined running a marathon would be (pretty much like the worst thing ever). I’d already dabbled in running at that point, and I’d even just completed my first 5K a few months before. Completing that 5K seemed MUCH harder than having a baby. It took much more effort to train for 3.1 miles than it did to prepare for my first labor. I’d been a doula for about two years at that point, and I marveled at my clients who told me about having completed a marathon. I figured giving birth would be a piece of cake for them!

Mama 5K Lily at mile 1
Lily at Mile 1 of the Mama’s 5K Fun Run on Mother’s Day


Fast forward a few years, babies, 5K’s and 10K’s later, and I just signed up for a half-marathon. I don’t know what possessed me to do it. Something inside of me whispered, “It’s now or never. Do it.” So I did. It is about 23 weeks away, so, if I were pregnant, I’d be about 17 weeks into this pregnancy. This would normally be the time that I would start to feel better and the realization would hit that I need to get my butt in gear to prepare for labor.

This will be my first half-marathon, and I am pretty nervous. I think that if I prepare for this the way I prepared for my births, I may do just fine. My only goal is to be able to run the entire distance without stopping to take walk breaks. That has always been my goal with every race I’ve done, and so far, I’ve met my goals. I don’t care how slow I go. I don’t care if I am the last one to cross the finish line. I just want to run it without walking.

So what will I do to prepare for this half-marathon? Because I am a recreational runner, I will prepare a bit differently than a competitive runner might. I feel like my style of preparation will be similar to the way I’ve prepared for giving birth. So read on for some ideas on how to prepare for a half-marathon OR prepare to have a baby.


It will be important to fuel my body properly to prepare for each of my training runs just like it was important to fuel my body properly in order to grow a human. For running, proper nutrition will help me have the energy I need to complete my runs and help my muscles recover afterward. For pregnancy, it can help decrease the risk of gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. For both, it just feels better to fuel your body with healthy foods.

Training goals:

  • Try to eat foods that are as close to their original form as possible
  • Incorporate lots of leafy greens, berries, melons, and proteins
  • Strive to eat a whole foods diet (we talk about this in Birth Boot Camp classes)
  • Drink lots and lots and lots of water


Obviously, I will have to exercise regularly in order to prepare for my half-marathon. I need to make sure my body is in the best shape it can be in for such a strenuous activity. I need to be able to increase my endurance and muscle strength as I will be running for several hours in a row. This is very similar to preparing for childbirth. No one knows how long they will be in labor, so you want to prepare for the potential of having what we birthworkers refer to as a “marathon birth.” You may need to change positions a lot, so it will be good to prepare those birthing muscles, such as quads, glutes, and hips. I found that walking 30 minutes a day was sufficient to prepare me for my labors.

Training goals:

  • Follow my 3 day a week running plan for beginners
  • Incorporate strength-training on off days
  • Gradually increase my mileage each week, especially during my weekend long run
  • Extra focus on strengthening my glutes and hips


When I was pregnant, I invested in quality childbirth education classes. I wanted to make sure I was getting accurate information in order to increase the odds of having the birth experience I wanted. I also read lots of books during pregnancy. I am only just now discovering some interesting podcasts and birth videos, but I am still pretty old-school and prefer to get most of my information from books.

Training goals:

  • Read articles, watch videos, and listen to podcasts about how to improve my running game
Mama 5K Lily and I at mile 2
Mile 2!


I must admit, support for running is a lot easier to find than support for childbirth. All I have to do is post on facebook, “I signed up for a half-marathon,” and people respond with, “You are so amazing! That is so awesome! You are so inspiring! Which one? I want to do it too!” Most of the responses I received when I mentioned preparing to have a natural childbirth were, “Why would you do that? You’re crazy! Just wait until you experience that first contraction; you’ll be begging for the epidural. You don’t get any gold stars for having a natural childbirth.” So weird. But I did eventually find supportive people to support my natural childbirth goals. They were just a little harder to find. Once I found them, though, I hung on for dear life. I think having had three natural births taught me a lot about determination, supporting myself, and doing it anyway despite the opposition, that I won’t need as much external support as I used to.

Training goals:

  • Reach out to supportive friends when I begin to doubt myself during my half-marathon training

Mental preparation

I heard a midwife say that giving birth is 90% mental. I listened to a podcast today where the host said that running is 90% mental. At this point, I totally believe it. I trained my brain for labor with positive affirmations and processing my fears along the way, and I plan to train my brain in a similar fashion during my long runs. Lately, my shins have been bothering me during my runs, and just today I told myself, “It’s okay. It’s just a little discomfort, and by mile 2, it will be over. It is only a little discomfort.” Affirmations (and devoting some time to a better warm-up routine) helped my run go much better today.

Training goals:

  • Remind myself that most of this will be brain training
  • Learn how to make friends with discomfort and boredom
  • Teach myself how to not be scared of the pain, and figure out ways to distract myself from it
  • Practice affirmations
  • Define what success and failure mean to me and accept that either may happen and that’s okay
  • Control what I can and surrender the rest
Mama 5K Lily finish
We did it!

Are you planning to give birth or run a half-marathon? Have you found preparing to give birth to be similar to other activities that require lots of preparation? What strategies worked for you? Let me know in the comments!




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