Pregnancy Versus Marathon: Which Is Harder?

Paula Radcliffe won the New York Marathon 10 months after she gave birth to her daughter Isla, but she says no matter how hard she trains and no matter how hard running is, "nothing compares to pregnancy."


Both Radcliffe and my running hero Kara Goucher are pregnant and due on the same day in September. Both are still running harder than most, though running less than they used to, and both are world class runners. What is interesting is the way these two intense, incredible runners, who can both withstand hours of pain and pounding on the body, are humbled by pregnancy.

"Originally I thought I’d keep up the same workouts, just with slower times. But I soon realized that this was just not going to happen," Goucher told New York Runner.

As someone who both runs and mothers and who has run pregnant for 18 months of my life, I can say I totally agree. Pregnancy does change the game. Physically there has to be a bit of a surrender.


For many, both pregnancy and running a marathon are on the life goal lists. Most of us will never run a marathon as fast as Radcliffe or Goucher, but most people, given the right training, are physically capable of running a full or a half marathon.

I've trained for and run one full marathon, 90 percent of a second, and two half marathons. I've also run countless 5 and 10Ks, 10-milers, 5-milers, and everything in between. I keep a turtle's pace compared to Goucher, who ran a 2:25 marathon, but my 3:48 marathon put me in the top couple hundred female finishers in my marathon. I'm a decent runner. I'm by no means going to be competitive against Division One athletes, but for a mom of two who runs in a very amateur way, I do all right.

That said, I still think pregnancy and birth are harder.

There are some similarities:

My first marathon was a lot like my first pregnancy. There was an enormous build-up, a ton of preparation, gear, and nerves. And when the time came, I performed almost exactly the way I had hoped. My time was good, especially for a first hilly marathon, and I nearly met the goal I had set for myself (to qualify for the Boston Marathon).

My second marathon was a mess. This I would liken to the mom who wants to have a natural birth, but who ends up having an emergency c-section. All the factors -- extreme heat, sunshine, hills, my bladder -- conspired to make me drop out of the race at Mile 22, knowing that I wasn't going to run my goal time.

My second labor was as good, if not better, than my first. Go figure.

The prep time for a marathon is four months. For a baby: nine months. Both wreck your body, but you bounce back much faster from a marathon.

All births -- like all marathons -- are different. Some are fast, some are slow. Some women deliver with no drugs and judge those who get them and some don't.

Yes, there are many similarities. But a child is the end result of pregnancy and because of that, I have to go with Radcliffe on this one:

"Nothing compares to pregnancy."

Have you done both? What do you think is harder?


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