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Finishing my first ever triathlon, the Nuffield Health Tri Challenge sprint at Eton Dorney Lake

I love racing. From the moment I finished my first race, a sprint triathlon at Eton Dorney Lake, I wanted that feeling again, and again, and again. I love pushing myself and I just love the ambience at races. The feeling of everyone coming together to do the same thing, the nervous tension, the fun, the effort involved from the person sprinting across the finish in first place to the person walking across the finish line last.

 

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It’s not always about going fast. I just love to take part, even when I am not racing.  Which is why I did a couple of races while pregnant, my last one a 5K at 30 weeks.  I like looking for a challenge in any circumstances. Racing while pregnant was great because I had a very visible excuse as to why I was slow. I had so many people waving at me and telling me how wonderful it was that I was out there.

 

 

Post-partum, it’s a different story.  I don’t have anything on me that tells the random bystander “Hey, I just had a baby, cut me some slack!“, but really the only person who needs to know that I need that slack is myself.

2014

This past weekend I ran the Wellington 10 Miler & Sebastian’s 5K (I only did the 5K!) as my very first race since having Eva 11 weeks ago. This race holds a special place in my heart.  When Tom and I first moved to Wellington two years ago, we noticed signs up in our neighbourhood stating that a race would be held on the roads that weekend.  I immediately investigated further and discovered that the Wellington Runners Club was holding its annual race. Clearly a perfect introduction to our new home – I entered it immediately.

Three days after moving countries and continents, I lined up at the start of the 10 mile course. I had never run a 10 mile race before so wasn’t sure how to pace it.  2014 was a huge year for me – I had come off of many endurance events, including Ironman Lanzarote, the Anglesey Ultramarathon, the London Marathon, the Sierra Leone Marathon, and the SVP100, a 100km ultra marathon. I hadn’t done any speed workouts since the Ironman in May. But, as I’ve already stated, I love to race and I definitely wasn’t going to miss a race in my new neighbourhood.

At the start of the 2014 race

At the start of the 2014 race and 20 lbs lighter!

Unsurprisingly, I went out too fast. I wasn’t used to the Florida heat, I wasn’t really trained for speed, and by mile 7 I was losing ground. I was overtaken by a girl with long dark hair in a plait who ran a very steady pace. I finished 5th woman, and as I gasped at the finish line, I saw the girl again and congratulated her on much smarter running that I had done.  She was wearing a Wellington Runners Club vest and she told me about the club and invited me to the track workouts. That girl was Benjamine.

Meeting Ben immediately brought us into the inner folds of Palm Beach County’s running community. I joined the club and started running the track sessions to try to find some speed again. Ben and I were almost perfectly paced for each other and ended up training for our spring marathons together (London for me, Boston for her). We also ran the Leadville Marathon in Colorado together, along with our husbands Tom and Travis, went skiing,  and spent hours running through swamps all last summer preparing for our respective ultra marathons (Laugavegur in Iceland for us, Trans-Alps for them). We also ran many other local races together, from half marathons to 5Ks to triathlons. Sometimes she beat me, sometimes I beat her, but we always had fun and enjoyed a big brunch afterwards with our men.

2016

Last year I was all set to run the Wellington 10 Miler again when I was hit by the car the day before the race. I didn’t make it to the start line. This year, at 11 weeks postpartum, I wasn’t ready for the 10 Miler, but the 5K looked like a perfect goal.  I’d been back running (or should I say jogging) for around 4 weeks, although hardly anything much – 1.5 to 3 miles max, 3 times a week, plus swimming and daily core exercises. A small slow start, as it should be. Returning to running after a baby is no joke. It’s almost like starting over as a complete beginner, except your brain is light years ahead of your body and gets frustrated that the body can’t keep up. It’s okay to be slow right now. It’s okay to need to take walk breaks. This is normal. This is what I keep telling myself.

My friend Carly – who is 14 weeks pregnant –  was running with her two young girls in her double pram. I think we calculated at one point that the total weight she pushes is well over 100lbs?! She is a hell of a runner. So with her triple handicap, we ran together for the first three kilometres and chatted pregnancy, birth, sport, babies. We kept a nice steady pace and she was the perfect companion to stop me from getting ahead of myself.

[Side note: Carly ran hill repeats while in labour. She was the inspiration behind my 5K run after my waters broke.]

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Carly, Travis and Ben, with Molly and Skylar in the pram. Molly was very upset she wasn’t being allowed out to run the race herself.

With two kilometres to go, and Carly being blocked by her wide-load pram from overtaking runners in front, I said goodbye and tried to find any remnants of speed in my legs, heart, lungs. There wasn’t much, but I managed to get to my old marathon pace (!) and finished with a sprint when another lady tried to overtake me.

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Ben won it.

Just like any other race, I had to sit down gasping at the finish line. My goal for the race had been to beat my 30 week pregnant 5K time of 26:59, and I succeeded with 25:37. Not a time I would be proud of normally, but at 11 weeks postpartum I was pleased.

Also, most of the faster runners tend to run the 10 Miler rather than the 5K, so it also meant I won my age group and received a handy pint glass for it. Ben was jealous. She and her husband only got trophies for first woman and first masters…!

With Jen Leeds, the head off the Wellington Runners Club, the race director, and overall just an amazing person

With Jen Leeds, the head off the Wellington Runners Club, the race director, and overall just an amazing person

I have a long way to go on the road back to fitness, but I loved being back on the running scene, back in the race, and yes, as embarrassing as it is to say it, back on the occasional podium.

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This is New

I’ve done a lot of running races and triathlons in the last 4 years. This was my first time having to figure out how to do it with the complexities of a small baby. Here is how it worked out:

  • Tom wanted to run the 10 miler, and I wanted to run the 5K. Someone had to watch Eva.  I won. Tom had to stay home with the baby. This does make me sad. I especially love racing with him.
  • I had to feed Eva before the race. Eva is starting to sleep through the night. She WAS sleeping through the night before the race. I had to wake her at 5am to feed.  Do you have any idea how wrong it is to WAKE an 11 week old baby who is sleeping through the night?! WRONG!!!
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Waking the sleeping baby at 5am. NOT COOL.

  • I had to figure out running with boobs filled with milk. Needless to say, this was not something I ever had to think of before. 1) Empty them as close to run time as possible. 2) Wear the most supportive bra you own even though it chafes terribly. 3) Scream when you have a shower afterwards and the water hits your raw chafed back.
  • Remember to wear black. Because I’ve read enough blogs about leaking milk and leaking wee when running postpartum. Neither happened, thankfully. But better to be prepared….
  • I wasn’t sure if I had time to stay for the awards ceremony or if I had to rush back to feed Eva again. Tom confirmed – she remained asleep and I stuck around for my pint glass.

 

Reader, the race is over.

Eva Lake was born on August 5 at 6:15am, weighing 7lbs 5.5 oz and measuring 20″ long.

It’s pretty shabby that I’m only writing this now, when Eva is 11 weeks old, but that’s how long it has taken to find some semblance of normal life.

The best part of her birth story is that my waters broke at 3:30am on 4 August, but with no accompanying contractions. So Tom, Haile and I went for one last 5km run together before sunrise, and yes, during labour.

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After my waters had broken and a 5km run with an unconcerned Haile

The run failed to bring on the desire effect, however, so later that day we found ourselves in the Wellington Regional Hospital with me being hooked up to IV Pitocin.  Have you heard of Pitocin?  It’s a drug that intensifies contractions by about a billion (no exaggeration).  Our “birth plan” (hahahah) was to go all natural, no drugs, just hypnobirthing that sweet baby out of me.  Well, modern medicine says that if your waters break, you have 24 hours to get the baby out before risk of infection to both mother and baby. So they needed to speed things up.  Bye bye birth plan.

I had envisioned myself walking the hallways and breathing the baby down, but instead I was all but chained to the bed and struggling to survive each thunderous, murderous Pitocin-enhanced contraction.  I doubt I’d have made it through without my doula Tina and Tom helping me every moment of the long night (honestly, I don’t know how anyone gives birth without a doula). I’ll spare you the details but it was no-epidural as I had planned (stupid, stupid me) and Eva Lake was born early the next morning. And then my placenta didn’t come out. Which meant after stitching me back up, the doctor had to dive back in with foreceps and pull it out piece by piece (sorry, too much information?).  The result was very bad tearing. I’m only telling you this because that’s what stopped me from returning to sport for so many weeks after (and unfortunately, as confirmed by my OB today, it’s still not fully healed).

But I did get this:

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Taking Eva home from hospital at 2 days old

I found going home with a brand new little baby very difficult, especially when I couldn’t even take a walk outside for over a month. I felt like I had been playing a game throughout my pregnancy – how much can I do? How long can I keep going for? But once Eva arrived, reality hit hard. How much could I do? Nothing, just feed her and hold her and try to stop her from crying.  That was the first month and the straight truth was that I was not in a good place for a long time.  There were a lot of tears.  I don’t mean from Eva (although there were plenty of those too).

I had a big blobby postpartum jelly belly, a body that felt destroyed from childbirth, the brutal burning summer sun which meant I couldn’t even venture outside with her, and a helpless hungry newborn. Tom was (and is) amazing. He didn’t blink when I cried for the 15th time each day and he approached baby care as an equally shared responsibility (as it should be, but still not so common to see in action I think). I’ve read that the first 3 months of the baby’s life are known as the “fourth trimester” because essentially they should still be in the womb in terms of their capabilities, but they have to come out earlier due to the size of their heads versus, ahem, the size of the exit pathway. Everyone told me that at 3 months old, everything would get easier.

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Scenes from 4am, just a few days old.

Slowly things came together, as friends promised they would.  I attended some new mothers’ support groups – it’s amazing how much better you feel when you realise that other babies, and their mothers, cry too – and we slowly learned a bit more about Eva and she learned to negotiate the world.  Now at 11 weeks she is doing great, sleeping through the night frequently and giving us big smiles.  It’s amazing what a difference it makes once the baby starts smiling.  It’s a real game-changer.

39 weeks pregnant, 1 mile ocean swim with friends

At 7 weeks postpartum, the doctor told me I could resume gentle exercise, with the caveat that things were still not all healed up – so take it easy.  I started out in the pool and was shocked to discover how much easier it was to swim without a huge pregnant belly. Same with my first run.  Although I was still as slow as can be, I was already a minute faster a mile without the belly despite being massively unfit. Relief!

I gained a lot of weight while pregnant.  43 lbs / 19.5kg [Edited – later consideration of numbers showed I actually gained 50 lbs / 23kg]. They say you’re only supposed to gain 25-35 lb. As active as I was, there was no way that was happening – the numbers on the scale were on a very steady ascent.  That was with running, swimming, cycling, walking and yoga for around 10 hours a week.  My friend Cathy was kind enough to point out that I fell pregnant right before/at Ironman Florida, so I was at racing weight rather than “normal” weight, so I do need to take that into account. Easier said than done.

Nonetheless, post-baby, I was, and am, dealing with a lot of extra weight slowing me down, plus I am massively unfit from all the time off and minimal real training during pregnancy. Which is difficult both physically and mentally.  But I’m trying not to worry about it, and hopefully once I resume proper training, it will trickle away…. My chocolate binges probably don’t help.  My current return to exercise is running and swimming a few times a week, as permitted when Tom can look after Eva, and doing core exercises every day. I’m looking forward to getting back on the bike soon, but my nether regions aren’t quite ready for that yet. My good friend Lara (she of 40 weeks spin class) and I are holding each other accountable to do the MuTu 12 weeks core & diastasis & pelvic floor workout.  I hate that sort of stuff and I never do it normally (OH! That’s why my core is so weak!). Although Lara is in Toronto and I am in Florida, we text each other daily to confirm we have done our sets for the day. Lara, I love you. Yes, it was her idea.

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Eva’s first swim

We have even taken Eva swimming, and she seems to like it – see above! (Lovely scar on my arm from the hit & run one year ago.)

And we have taken her to brunch in Palm Beach:

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But her favourite place of all (other than suckling my boob) is on the quilt I made for her:

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To be continued:  travelling abroad with Eva, my first runs, my first race back!