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.
To read more from me, please visit my blog www.mummyontherun.co.uk or follow me on Twitter (link in profile), Instagram and Facebook (mummyontherun2016).