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Is labour really like running a marathon?

Marathon runner taking a breather with a sign saying 'Sign up again today! Discounted prices'

You will probably have heard people compare labour to running a marathon. During my pregnancy I found myself wondering what the similarities and differences were and whether, after giving birth, I would say the same. 

I completed the Edinburgh Marathon in May 2010 then, over 6 years later, in August 2016, I delivered Tall Boy. I am sure the same stamina that saw me through 26.2 miles in 4 hours and 40 minutes (26 degree heat notwithstanding) helped me survive 4 days in labour. I now consider myself suitably qualified to compare running a marathon to giving birth, so here goes…



You need to train hard for a marathon. Training plans vary but they all require you to put the miles down for several months beforehand. How do you even start to train for labour? You can’t build up to it slowly. Does attending NCT and reading a book count?

When you’re marathon training you can eat what you like, when you like. You burn off so many calories you can replace them without feeling guilty. You may feel like doing the same during pregnancy but at the end of it all, let’s put it this way, your muscle definition won’t be the same if you do.

Your body becomes ridiculously toned during marathon training. In pregnancy everything gets a little softer.

You can change your pace, or even stop, if you feel tired whilst running a marathon (although when I tried after about 24 miles it was surprisingly difficult and my legs kept on going). Once childbirth is in full swing there’s no stopping it (although a dose of codeine and a soak in the birthing pool might slow things down – or was that just me?)

You can make training for a marathon more enjoyable by sharing it with friends. When it comes to the delivery suite you’re on your own, and you wouldn’t want it any other way.


‘Race’ Day

By the time the big day comes round you will have a pretty good idea how fast you will be able to run a marathon and, if everything goes to plan, you should get within sight of your target time. You won’t even know that labour day has arrived until things get going. The start time is anyone’s guess and there’s no way to predict how long you’ll be at it.

You rely on a steady supply of water and energy drinks to provide the fuel you need to get through a marathon. If there’s any chance of a c-section during labour your intake will be limited to the same, regardless of how many bags of Haribo you squashed in to your hospital bag.

During a marathon the crowds spur you on. In labour it’s up to your partner and the midwife to motivate you, and you’ll probably tell them to do one.


The immediate aftermath

Running a marathon gives you bragging rights for life. Giving birth feels like an even bigger achievement but you won’t find anyone waiting at the finish line with a medal or a t-shirt.

Once the elation of completing a marathon passes you get to refuel with a huge meal, then rest. The only people who get to rest after labour are those who give birth at The Portland Hospital, and they pay a small fortune for the privilege.

You can celebrate completing a marathon with a glass or two of champagne. After labour, bubbles of any kind other than the type you find in a bath will almost certainly floor you.

You won’t be able to walk properly for a few days after completing a marathon and you may feel justified in putting your feet up. You won’t be able to walk properly after giving birth either, but you will be required to lug a huge weight around instead.

Ultimately you will finish a marathon at the peak of your physical fitness and once the achy legs heal your body will return to normal. After pushing out a baby you won’t know your body and it will never be quite the same again.

You’ll want to take lots of photos to remember the occasion.  One set will make it on to Facebook, the other most certainly won’t.


The next event

When you stumble across the finish line, or your baby is placed in your arms, you will vow never to do it again. 

But, with the time that makes things blurry, you will start to wonder whether it really was as hard as you remember.

You might even think about doing it all again someday. After all, you’ve done it before.

Then you remember how much time it took to train…

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Becci Johnson

Hi, I’m an almost 6 ft, thirty-something living in Manchester. Writer, blogger & mum to twins plus one.

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