This is Part 2 of a look at running while pregnant and running after birth – my version, anyway.  You can read Part 1 here if you missed it.

I think it’s really important to emphasise that everyone’s experience is different. Just like how some friends ran much more than I did through pregnancy, and others had to stop – same goes for after childbirth. I have some friends who returned to running almost immediately and with hardly any impact on their speed and endurance, and other friends who have found the journey back much more difficult. I feel like I’ve been pretty lucky with a fairly uncomplicated return.. but it was still very hard!

THE FIRST 3 MONTHS

Weeks 0-6

There is no way to soften it – these first six weeks were pretty terrible for me. I had a fairly straightforward natural (no epidural) birth but was on Pitocin which makes contractions more intense, more frequent, and more painful, and I also tore while pushing (I wrote about the birth here). I think I was going through some PTSD after the birth and postpartum depression. I think it didn’t help that I was used to daily exercise endorphins right up until the birth and then BAM, they stopped completely while I recovered. Most doctors recommend holding off on any exercise until 6 weeks after birth, but I had naively envisioned at least being able to go on walks. I couldn’t. I was too sore, too leaking milk, too hot, too incapable of venturing out into the Florida summer. It was bad. Oh, and of course – no sleep! These first 6 weeks were a haze of fatigue, pain, and tears.

Total miles run: 0

12 days old. So, so tired.

Weeks 6-12

At 7 weeks postpartum, my doctor gave me the nod to start some gentle exercise. Things weren’t exactly all healed up, but he knew how important it was for me to start moving again and he gave me a prescription for some numbing gel and some oestrogen healing cream, both of which helped a lot.

My friend Lara (who had her baby 8 weeks ahead of me) suggested we do MuTu together. MuTu (embarrassingly, it’s short for “mummy tummy”), is a 12 week program to recover from pregnancy and childbirth, mostly focusing on exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor and the core. I’ve never been good at doing core work at the best of times, but, like 70% of women post childbirth, I had diastasis recti. That’s where the abdominal muscles move apart to make space for the baby, but then can leave a gap afterwards which can cause all sorts of pelvic floor disfunction, not to mention cause of things like incontinence or post-pregnancy belly pooch.

Diastasis recti is incredibly interesting because:

  • 70% of women have it after pregnancy, and don’t know anything about it
  • it causes REAL problems like incontinence, body shame, uterus and rectal prolapse, core weakness, and can persist for the rest of your life if not dealt with
  • hardly anybody talks about it or even knows about it!

If you want to read more about it, professional runner Stephanie Bruce wrote a lot about it on her blog and became a minor celebrity outside of running for “daring” to go public with photos of her belly after having two babies just 16 months apart. Start with this: My abs are separated, contemplating divorce, or her article My Stomach is All over the Internet in Runner’s World. (She has since gone on to qualify for the Olympic Trials for the marathon, so she is still plenty fast, no matter what her belly may look like.)

I met with a pelvic floor physiotherapist in Toronto when we were visiting my parents when Eva was 8 weeks old. The plus side was that I had no obvious symptoms – no incontinence, no pain – but on the downside, she confirmed that I had a 3-finger abs separation and that I had lost the ability to connect my core muscles with my pelvic floor. The solution: endless kegels, and the MuTu core workout every day. I have since recommended the MuTu plan, or the equivalent, to countless friends postpartum, and especially to runners who are experiencing pain or incontinence while running.

Mutu involved a daily 15 min core workout that was fairly simple, plus as the weeks progressed, an additional cardio and weights based workout three to four times a week, which took about half an hour. So the time investment was around 45 minutes four times a week and 15 minutes the other three days. This wasn’t easy to fit in with a little baby who was still learning to sleep and who was breastfeeding constantly. Once I started running regularly again, it was even harder to fit in because I would need to feed Eva first thing, go for a short run, come back and do the MuTu workout in a race against her waking up from her nap, and then feed her again – most days before I’d even had a chance to shower (and not showering post-run in Florida is GROSS).

BEFORE and AFTER MUTU:  Left photos are taken at 8 weeks postpartum, right photos taken at 20 weeks postpartum. 12 weeks of MuTu workouts in-between, 12 lbs lost. Still carrying an extra 5 lbs at 20 weeks postpartum.

At 7 weeks postpartum exactly, I went for my very first run. It felt amazing. Just 1.5 miles, and at 10:15 min/mile – but the first run without the bump just felt so so good, so liberating, so happy. I think it was maybe only my second time getting out of the house by myself at all, and all 16 minutes of it felt like a tiny reclamation of my life. I ran 1.5 to 2 miles for the first two weeks, every other day, and then brought it up to 3 miles with a tiny bit more speed – not much. I was slow, so, so slow. Depressing. Again, I had naively thought that running throughout my pregnancy might keep me somewhat fit for my return. In reality, I’m sure it did. But struggling to run an 8 minute mile at 3 months postpartum felt pretty terrible. At 11 weeks postpartum, I ran my first race back, a local 5K (and wrote about it here), and another 5K race at twelve weeks postpartum. I was very slow for both, and felt like I was dying. There is a saying…”It doesn’t get easier; you just get faster.” I felt like it didn’t get easier… I just got a whole lot slower!

Total miles run: 48 miles

I was happy to be running again, but I was still running very low mileage, was still carrying extra weight, and was still running excruciatingly slowly.  I felt disheartened and like I may never be back to my “normal”.

I needed to feel more like myself. I needed a goal. I decided it was time to start training for a spring marathon. I would be 8 months postpartum for the London Marathon… time to get busy!

 

Next up: postpartum marathon training.

1 Comment

  1. This was enlightening to read, Julia! I shall definitely revisit it at a future time when it is more relevant. You’re an inspiration.