Now as I head into the last stretch of this pregnancy, weeks during which climbing up and down the stairs is the extent of my exercise routine, I find myself thinking about running again. I don't have any illusions or delusions of supermom grandeur; I know from past experience that running, real running, will have to wait until I'm well past the initial post-partum months.
What has captured my mind in recent days is the memory of running, the memory of long runs when I went out strong and hard with fresh legs only to find myself mired in the no-man's-land of hard final miles under the hot sun or in the cold rain.
There was the marathon I ran years ago on a scorching October day; in the late teen miles, I passed no less than a five or six other runners who were seeking medical assistance from the ambulance crews that dotted the roadways. I plodded on, slower than the proverbial tortoise, watching as dozens of others simply stepped off the course and sat down, defeated.
There was the long run in the Pennsylvania hills where my parents lived, a run on an overcast March day which felt delightful until the steady rain blew in sideways as I trudged up yet another steep slope. Somewhere between mile five or six, I realized I'd missed the turn for my loop and would need to add an extra mile or two to get back to their house. My legs were chapped and numb from the cold rain, my shoes were sodden and heavy, and I was tired, so tired as I kept my eyes and feet focused on shuffling up the next hill crest.
There are other runs over the years that I remember as well: runs in picturesque settings in the different cities where I've lived; runs with Knute, who has always graciously shortened his long-legged stride to match my short, choppy one; runs with the insane canine posse where I risked sudden shoulder dislocation every time a rogue squirrel or chipmunk darted across my path.
But it's the hard runs, the hard miles, that I remember in vivid detail, from what I was wearing to the sights and sounds that surrounded me to the fatigue, exhaustion, and despair that threatened to stop me dead in my tracks.
And yet, I kept running.
These last weeks of pregnancy feel much the same. These weeks are the hardest miles of this journey to a new baby. I am tired and slow; my body aches. And I have moments looking into the future of raising another little child when anxiety tries to sneak in and set up residency in the back of my mind with it's monkey-like chatter of What Ifs and Just You Waits.
And then I remember this truth: while there were many, many days and nights of hard miles during the years of raising little ones, there were also days that were the sweetest ones of my life.
Blowing bubbles for the dog to chase just to hear baby giggles.
Swinging at the park higher and higher and higher because our feet can touch the sky.
Snuggling under a cozy blanket together reading a huge stack of picture books over and over again.
Being there, present and loved.
And so now, as I cross out another day closer to the due date on my calendar, my ankles swollen and my muscles strained, I do what I have always done in the midst of the hard miles:
I go forward, one foot in front of the other, knowing that the hardest miles in life are the ones that give a life true meaning.