Running Gravel Roads


Over the summer, I began running. We were in the Midwest, and one day I left the house to go for a walk and ended up running instead. Within a few minutes, I was on a gravel road, and all I could see to my left and right were rows and rows of corn. I didn’t know where I was, and none of the country roads I ran across had names—they all had numbers. I ran until the GPS on my phone told me I’d gone a mile, and then I ran back.

Two miles. That’s not very far, and my time averaged somewhere around 12 minutes a mile. I was slow, but I didn’t stop running the entire time. Every time a car came toward me, driving way too fast on the gravel road, I tried to make sure they saw me with plenty of distance, and if they didn’t, I went as far off the road as I could go, short of falling in the storm drain ditch. Some drivers pulled way over, giving me plenty of space, some gave me a friendly wave, and some did as little as possible to acknowledge my space on the side of the road.

A couple times, some dogs chased me, either stopping at the end of their driveways on their own, or heeding the call of their owner, who was usually mowing a lawn.

Those cornfields seemed to call me every morning, and most days I accepted the invitation. This was vacation, though, and I didn’t know what to expect when I returned home to work, to children screaming questions at me, to a schedule, and to my own everyday suburban sidewalks.

I couldn’t wait to keep at it, though. I added some more miles to my run, took some minutes off my time, and tried to learn ways to get better, looking up training programs and figuring out what I would need to do to run a 10k race.

Doing this with my body—running several miles at a stretch without stopping, getting faster, going up hills—seems like a miracle after carrying triplets. I’m often amused by how many times I get asked, “Did you try to have triplets?”

Carrying multiples increases the risks to mother and children in many ways. There is a much higher risk of miscarriage, and there is a much higher risk of preeclampsia, which can lead to seizures or liver or kidney damage and is a leading cause of death related to childbirth. Additionally, most multiples are delivered by cesarean section. These are risks associated with the pregnancy and birth itself. The risks to the babies, once born, are high as well. Most of those risks are from birth defects as a result of being born premature. While an average pregnancy is 39 weeks, the average triplet pregnancy is 33 weeks. No, I wouldn’t put myself or my babies at risk just so I could “get it all over with at once,” (as I have been told many times) or so that I could put babies in matching outfits.

One of the first symptoms of my multiples pregnancy was difficulty breathing. I had a lack of stamina and became winded very easily. This began at about ten weeks and never got much better. My body looked normal, but I had to stop and hold onto handrails, could only walk slowly and could not walk far distances. As time went on, I would become faint if I stood up too long, and my feet, hands, ankles and wrists became very swollen. My wedding ring no longer fit my fingers, and the only shoes that fit my feet were cheap, plastic flip flops. I developed a condition called HELP Syndrome, where my platelet count dropped to dangerously low levels.

Short of a fickle back, my body repaired itself. When I think of what my body looked and felt like when I was pregnant, I’m so happy to be running today, even if my pace sometimes still approaches a 12-minute-mile.

I listen to music when I run, mostly Radiohead, but sometimes soundtracks from Wes Anderson movies. I like to run when the sun is setting or early in the morning. I don’t have any cornfields to look at, and all the dogs that run after me are quickly stifled by their leashes. Sometimes at dusk, I see large, Great Horned Owls flying from lamppost to lamppost, I see a coyote on a hill, or I see bats swooping around my head.

I’m not a very good runner by any definition. I’m slow, I don’t always keep a consistent pace, and my limit seems to be about six miles. But, I always smile and wave when I pass others. I know that when they see me, they don’t see the swollen ankles coming up out of bright blue plastic shower sandals. They don’t see the person who was so winded she had to take breaks going out to the mailbox, who had to lie down in the dirt in the backyard one time to keep from passing out. They see someone out running, with a smile on her face, happy to be healthy.

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