What does running look like after pregnancy and baby?

I’m a member of a couple mother runner groups and this question crops up a lot. And you know why? There is very little information out there on what to expect for athletes post-baby. A few of the bloggers are trying to address this, and I thought I would throw my hat into the ring.

I think it helps to see the big picture, so I’ve broken my training down into chunks, including before pregnancy, during, and after baby. This is Part I: before and during pregnancy.

Can you guess when I had the baby?

 

Leading up to pregnancy

I was training for Ironman Florida right up until I fell pregnant. Typical Ironman training – lots of long runs, long bike rides, swims, usually 6 days a week.

Three weeks before Ironman Florida, I was hit by a car while out on my bike, so my training stopped for three weeks while I healed up. Then I got through Ironman Florida as best as I could considering the accident and the time off, and I also fell pregnant right at that time too. This meant I started my pregnancy “training” with taking a chunk of time to heal up properly from the car accident and from the Ironman.

So this is what my ridiculous November looked like, with that spike being the Ironman itself:

 

First Trimester: Nov to end of Jan

Total miles running (after the Ironman): 204 miles / 329 km

Total time cycling – both outdoors and indoors: 22 hours

Total time swimming: 2 hours

I needed to take time off after the car accident and of course the Ironman. So I took 2 weeks off running, instead focusing on yoga. Daily yoga, just about, which was great fun.

Then I resumed running, but all for fun, no goals in sight. I returned to weekly track sessions around Christmas time, but without quite the same push and my times were definitely slower (and that was fine!). I was lucky to feel healthy and fine throughout the first trimester. I was definitely more tired and bloated, but no morning sickness or anything like that.

I did a couple of 9 and 10 mile runs in the first three months of pregnancy. In February, the end of my first trimester, the runs got a bit shorter – usually no more than 6-7 miles. I could still run fast, but it felt a whole lot harder.  I didn’t do any races at all during that time, and if I’m being honest, I felt self-conscious of my growing waistline (but still not visible pregnancy) and my slowing pace.I didn’t feel the need to showcase it to everyone else.

I also stopped riding my bike outside towards the end of the first trimester. After already having been hit by a car… I just didn’t feel the need to take that risk. I couldn’t really be bothered to go to the pool.

19 weeks pregnant running the Shamrock 5K

Second Trimester:  Feb to end of April

Total miles running: 221 miles / 356 km

Total time cycling (indoors only): 46 hours

Total time swimming: 2.5 hours

By now we had told our friends and family about the pregnancy, and it was obvious anyway. They say the second trimester is when you feel at your best, but I had felt pretty good throughout the first, so there was no huge change for me. I just got bigger, and slower. I ran a lot in March, up to 9 miles at a time, and was still doing track, and I even ran two 5K races (at 19 weeks and 21 weeks pregnant) but then I stopped running for a full month because my right shin was hurting me and I was worried about shin splints. I was very concerned about stopping running at that point – I thought I wouldn’t be able to start up again afterwards – but I kept up with cycling and a (very) little bit of swimming.

We bought a Wahoo Kickr at the start of my pregnancy and that allowed me to get in some really good training sessions indoors – although I ended up having to fight Tom to use it all the time! Tom also adapted the bike to my growing belly by flipping the handlebars upside down, which helped a lot!

 

38 weeks pregnant and doing Sufferfest sessions on the bike / Eva 12 weeks old

Third Trimester:  May to 5 Aug (birth!)

Total miles: 126 miles / 202 km

Total hours cycling (indoors only): 36 hours

Total time swimming: 11.5 hours

After the month of pure cycling and swimming, I did resume running, but it was a different beast – suddenly I was much much slower, a heavy mess, and required a support belt for my belly. I had to make peace with 10 minute, 11 minute miles. (Soon, even those paces would sound fast.) I ended up spending a good chunk of May in Canada and the cooler weather made all the difference in the world and suddenly I had a little bit more pace. In a flurry of excitement, I signed up for and ran the Toronto Women’s 5K at 30 weeks pregnant. It ended up being a freakishly hot day but I ran better than I had hope – I wanted to finish in under 30; I ran 26:59. The support on course for a waddling preggo was massively encouraging!

 

And as happens inevitably…  my belly exploded. Suddenly I was HUGE. The weight was piling on, I was running with a bowling ball, but I was still running, with a support belt. Swimming started to feel pretty good in comparison, and it was absolutely roasting outside. Summer in Florida – not nice.

 

I found that I felt different every single day. Some days I came back from a run and told Tom, “That was the last run. It was terrible.” And then two days later, I would feel decent again. If anything, I started to feel better running the closer I got to my due date (and now having crunched the numbers, I see that I ran 50 miles in July, nearly double what I ran in June.) I ran slowly and didn’t bother looking at my watch, but instead tried to complete a steady 5K four times a week. If I felt better, I’d go for longer – including a 10K run at 9 months, which felt like such an achievement! Yes, running 12 miles / 20km a week felt like a lot at that point!

I know some women have been able to run faster and longer right up until the end, and other women have found they can’t run from whatever date – immediately, 3 months, 4 months, 6 months, etc. And I think you do have to listen to your body and do what feels right for you. For me, that included running right up until and during labour: my last 5K after my waters broke, before heading into hospital.

Fun 5K after my waters broke, but before things really kicked off

Total pregnancy sport:

Running:  551 miles /  887 km

Cycling: 104 hours

Swimming: 16 hours

Total weight gain: 50 lbs / 23 kg. Yes, the weight kept piling on despite staying active and eating normally. And I won’t lie – it really freaked me out. I didn’t recognise myself and I felt heavy…my feet ached and by the end my hands, feet and face were all swollen.  Wedding rings came off well before the third trimester.

I reiterate that this was my experience. Another friend ran 60-70 miles a week for her entire pregnancy, including a 70 mile week the week her baby was born (she was also back running 2 weeks later – people, this is the stuff of legends), and only gained 16 lbs total. Another fit friend had to stop running at 24 weeks, but kept active in other ways.

Coming up next: What running looks like postpartum (for ME) – the first six months. If you’re new to this blog and you want to read about the actual birth in the meantime, you will find that here.

I feel like I’m running the longest race yet.  I’m nearing 36 weeks so the end is in sight… and yet like the last 5K of a marathon, it still feels like a long way to go. And it’s always pretty awful when you have 5K left to go in the marathon and all the spectators are shouting “you’re nearly there! almost done!” and you think…. shut up shut up…. I have so far to go……

I recently enjoyed reading professional triathlete Rachel Joyce’s blog post on entering her third trimester. She is around 6 or 7 weeks behind me when it comes to the bump and (irrelevant but fun) we have the same birthday. Her bump is also teeny tiny.  Not so surprising I guess considering she is a professional athlete. Meanwhile I was out and about this week and had nearly a dozen people come up to me and ask if I was due that week, if I were overdue, if I were carrying twins, and so on……  oh the fun!

I am still running. Like molasses, but I’m getting out there. I know I look ridiculous but thankfully the upside of the intense heat here is that I can only consider running before sunrise, so not many people get to see me to point and stare……  This morning I managed 5 miles in the heat, whoohoo!  I felt great and then Tom took a photo and I couldn’t stop laughing….

Let’s play spot the differences:

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Nearly 36 weeks

But I’m not running much.  A few times a week is a good week, and i’ve been hitting the pool more instead. Which is still so hot that I swear you can see the water bubbling at times.

I would actually like to try my hand at another 5K race but we are now out of season here in disgustingly drippingly hot south Florida so I haven’t managed to find one taking place in the next few weeks (if you know of one, please tell me!). I’m on a bit of a deadline so it’s not much good when Active.com tells me about September or October races.

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I lost my goggles and swim cap at the pool yesterday. Gutted. Particularly because the swim cap was a gift from Leanda Cave‘s sister Melissa (who is half fish), so obviously it imbued me with superpowers – now gone forever.

A number of people have asked me what the belly support band is that I’ve been wearing to run.  It’s called the Gabrialla Maternity Support Belt and I inherited it from my sister who used it all day every day during her later pregnancy.  I don’t find it that comfortable to wear, but I think it does make a huge difference when I run and I wouldn’t really consider running without it now.  It costs USD $31.74 on Amazon. It is VERY sexy.

 

I was heartened to see that even a professional triathlete doesn’t necessarily take all the huge changes to her body in her stride. Rachel Joyce writes,

My bump has only recently formed as a “bump” but before that I would call it a paunch. I remember one day around 15-16 weeks where I stood in the change rooms in my swim suit feeling a little self conscious about my new shape, and for a moment I was hesitant about heading to the pool deck. I’m thankful that I have never really suffered with body image issues but that day I did waiver a bit. I have found a few strategies are good in this situation: a sense of humor, reminding myself that my body is doing a pretty freakin’ amazing thing and now is the time to be kind to myself….

I know all about that hesitancy and adapting to the “new shape.” I used to think that you could regulate weight gain during pregnancy through diet and exercise, but I’ve since learned that it largely appears to be out of your control.  While I’ve obviously massively lowered my training volume and intensity throughout the last 8.5 months, I am still very active and I generally keep to a good diet without too many excesses. And yet the weight just piles on as it pleases. The downside to gaining so much weight is that holy crap, my feet hurt so much!  Tom keeps reminding me that it’s like I’m carrying a huge rucksack at all times (ugh!). All I can hope is that my body knows what it’s doing to make a healthy baby, and that it will all come off afterwards – fingers crossed.

And to help me achieve that, I’ve signed up to the London Marathon (April 2017) and have just submitted entry for a semi-elite place at the Tokyo Marathon (Feb 2017).  Fingers crossed! Both of which I had to miss this year due to the pregnancy. Maybe I’m naive to think that I can do either of these races so soon after having the baby, and of course I will have to play it by ear. But at least if I’m registered, it’s a possibility.

On that note, one of the biggest mental adaptions for us at the moment is realising that Tom and I won’t really be able to do the same races anymore. We’ve done so many together and it’s been so much fun, but the reality is that going forward, we are going mostly going to have to take turns.

 

NON-Sport alert

As for non-sporting news, well, I’ve been busy with my very nerdy sewing hobby, making a quilt for the baby. I was especially chuffed to special-order custom fabric from Spoonflower using a photograph Tom took years ago of our cat Ballon’s eyes.  Turns out she approves of the quilt:

 

 

Ps…. if you were wondering how the amazing Lara is doing after reading about her sporting achievements in my last blog post, at 41 weeks 6 days, Lara gave birth to a beautiful healthy girl named Sasha Dae! Hurrah!