For a long time, running has been like a best friend to me. Always there when I need it no matter what the time of day or night, providing a shoulder to cry on, the opportunity to ponder and problem solve, giggle, focus, hang out for hours almost every day and never get bored.
Pre-kids, I took its friendship for granted. I'd settle into a run home from work, find the zone and sit back and let my brain occupy itself in a way that really only happens when I'm running. For a long time, I've genuinely needed running in my life - whether it's a relaxed few miles around the block or three or four key races over the course of a year on which to focus some training - no matter what the type, it all counts and it all helps.
I was devastated to forego a pacer place in the London Marathon in 2012 due to morning sickness when I was about eight weeks pregnant. I wasn't throwing up but I was feeling exhausted and was struggling to muster up enough energy to have a walk let alone go for a run. I cried and cried - not only because I had let down the Runner's World team at the 11th hour but also because I had been so excited at the opportunity to pace - it would have been quite a milestone. It took a little while to get over it and this wasn't helped by the fact that I had to tell a white lie to friends and colleagues about why I was dropping out when all these people had known what a huge deal it was for me.
So I carried on my break from running until my body was feeling a little more energetic. The more runs I missed, the more I found myself getting crabby and irritable. I didn't have a stress outlet anymore and I really missed it. I tried to think of other means to get my relaxation fix but nothing quite matched the effects of running. The second trimester brought with it more normal energy levels and I was able to get back to a bit of running. I ended up running a little three mile loop around three times per week until I was 39 weeks pregnant. It was fabulous. My body felt well and at no point did I have any pain or twinges, at which point I would have stopped. On every jaunt, I thought of the baby I was carrying inside me, whether she was enjoying it (she would occasionally kick and punch me really hard whilst I was running!).
My daughter arrived and it was then I discovered the advice for new mums was to avoid exercise for six weeks. Ironic really - my de-stresser, my problem solving best buddy had been taken away from me at a time when I needed it most. I craved the fresh crisp air of a winter run. The opportunity to be totally alone. The chance to escape the madness of a screaming newborn, to clear my head just for half an hour. I was desperate for it and it dawned on me how much I relied on running for my mental health.
Those early days of motherhood taught me the important lesson that running keeps me sane. I know this because I felt like I would go mad if I didn't have it. After having my daughter, I went on my first gentle run after about four weeks but it didn't feel right. I felt heavy and unhealed and that I was doing more damage than good. I stopped and waited for the recommended six-week point but even then I was surprised at how laborious my little route felt - much more so than just a few weeks ago with a fully formed baby in my tummy. Once I was able to run regularly again, I signed up to a 10k when my daughter was around four or five months. My first race as a mother was an emotional one. It was the slowest 10k I've ever done but by far the most rewarding. Running and I were reunited again and now it had even more purpose as I could use it as a great way to teach my daughter the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
Post-kids, I need running in my life more than ever. My mind, overflowing with to do lists that never quite get done, would without doubt explode if I didn't have running to rely on to clear my constantly muddied head. Running remains my best friend, my stress buster, my problem fixer. It helps me lead the healthy lifestyle that I want. It defines me, I am Aisling, the runner. The races I've finished, the times I've achieved are mine forever and are etched into who I am. It teaches me about myself every single week - always that I'm stronger than I think - and I am at my happiest when in the midst of a challenging training schedule. Nothing can replace it and my contentment depends on it.
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