January 17 2018
Renee DeMarsh thrives on extreme physical challenges. She'll soon participate in the 2018 World Marathon Challenge.
Before I became pregnant, I was a regular runner who enjoyed training for endurance races. Once I became pregnant with my daughter, I instantly became very sick and ended up with severe hyperemesis gravidarum, a type of nausea that occurs during pregnancy and lasted the entire nine months I was pregnant. Due to my level of sickness and my inability to eat or drink (I was also regularly receiving IV fluids), I was unable to participate in any form of exercise, least of all running. For a runner, this is very difficult. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I was pulled from work and put on bed rest until baby Aria was born on June 23.
For anyone that has ever suffered from hyperemesis, you know that, once you have your baby, you instantly feel better and can start eating and drinking normally again. I was ravished after giving birth, and my need to start exercising immediately returned.
At two weeks postpartum, I started walking. Due to my lack of strength, I was at first only able to slowly walk around the block. Over the next two weeks, I worked up to walking 3K a day with my baby’s stroller in tow. At four weeks postpartum, I was given the “okay” to start exercising again, so I started an at-home workout program just to get my body used to exercising.
I started running again when I was five weeks postpartum. This was so incredibly hard. Every step I took, I told myself I finally knew how hard it was for people who have never run before. I think us more seasoned runners tend to forget this: running’s hard. Really, really hard. It’s also hard remembering what you were capable of before and knowing in that moment that you can no longer do those same things. You’re a beginner again.
In my first 12 weeks of running, I ran three times each week for 30 minutes. During those 30-minute increments, I was actually only running for about eight minutes in 60 second intervals—and was completely out of breath. I was pushing myself hard and slowly increasing my running time each week.
At three months postpartum, I registered for my first 5K: The Oasis ZooRun in Toronto. I ran with my oldest daughter Lyla and son Carter, with whom I also run the Santa 5K every year. Along the route, I asked them, “Do you need a walk break?” (I sure did.) They answered, “No, I’m running the whole thing nonstop, Mom,” and they did. Thanks to them, I did, too–even though it was hard. My 8 and 9 year olds were my inspiration to get through that very first 5K.
I contacted my old coach, Rick Mannen, after the race and started working with him again. He said if I was consistent and worked hard, I could reach my goals of running the Around the Bay Road Race in Ontario and a marathon—all while still on maternity leave.
Through many weeks of hard work, lots of dedicated hours and loads of weekly mileage, I was able to first run the Chilly Half Marathon at eight months postpartum. Bonus: I also had a personal best for this run!
Once I reached that point, I decided that I was going to run an ultra. I was going to work hard while raising an infant I adored and reach my goals to show that anyone can do it, as long as they put in the work. I discussed my plans with my coach and it was decided that we could try. We would train for an ultra and see how I felt after running a marathon. If I managed the marathon okay, I could run the Niagara Ultra.
At nine months postpartum, I was able to race the Around the Bay 30K—with a negative split! I was so proud of how far I’d come. I had never run a 30K before.
It’s not easy to raise an infant and re-learn to run at the same time. I live in a small town called Fergus in Ontario, nowhere close to any friends or family. To get in my weekly long runs, I drove 90 minutes one way to my mom’s house so she could watch the baby while I ran. During the week, I waited for my partner Steve to get home from work. Most weekdays, I wasn’t getting out the door until 7 or 9 p.m. at night; this after being up all day and up several times throughout the night. Our daughter was not and still isn’t a good sleeper. In the beginning, she would only sleep for 45-minute intervals after being awake for 19 hours straight.
I was told many times that I was crazy for running at this point, that I needed my sleep; but I needed to run. Running gave me the energy I needed to continue getting through those tough days and nights. I was taking care of myself (and, in turn, my family) by exercising and doing something that truly made me feel better as an individual. On the days I could barely keep my eyes open, I told myself that I couldn’t let my exhaustion get in the way of my goals. I’d already worked way too hard to lose it. So I kept going. I always kept going.
At 11 months postpartum, I ran the Ottawa Marathon. It was hot and incredibly hard, but I did it. I am now a marathoner.
Three weeks later, I completed the Niagara Ultra Marathon 50K with one week to spare before my daughter turned 1 and I returned to work. The run was incredible. It was hot, it was humid and it was beyond hard. Even so, I did it. I cannot explain the happiness and feeling of accomplishment that I have from reaching every single one of my goals.
I wanted to share my story because I want people to know that if you have a goal, you can reach it—even if it seems extreme to others. Even though you may have just had a baby, or are just getting over an illness or just starting out, you are amazingly strong and can do whatever you put your mind to.
I had every excuse not to reach my goals and not step out the front door: I had my new baby and a significant lack of sleep, I was facing extreme weather conditions for training, I was anemic from my bout of hyperemesis and even had a small injury along the way. But instead of giving in to these excuses, I overcame them all.
I’m a mom, a regular person who enjoys running. I’m not fast, I’m not elite: I’m 100 percent average. But I have heart. I promise you that if I can do this, you too can reach your goals!
We are strong and we are capable of anything. I am incredibly proud to now say that, not only am I an ultrarunner, but I became one while on maternity leave and while raising my little girl.