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.

08. November 2016 · Comments Off on Zombie Mums’ Run · Categories: Race Report, Run, Sportlight on.... · Tags: , ,

I’ve just had a wonderful visit with my friend Juliane, her 2 year old son Joey, and her friend Barbara. They flew in for the weekend from the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

Tom and I first met Juliane in 2005, when we were all working in the BVI. She forced me to run back then, and I hated it – as detailed here. In 2013, I went out to visit Juliane and her family in the BVI, and together we ran a BVI Athletics Association 5K race on Tortola:

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I’m wearing the long socks. Juliane has a pink bra and a grey cap.

As it happened, this was Juliane’s very first race (first of many!), and it was also my first race in the heat (also the first of many!).

After Juliane heard that I ran a 5K race last weekend, she asked if I could find a race for the two of us to do together again. A quick google and I found the Phantom 5K held at the Palm Beach Outlets. Juliane was arriving on Friday late in the evening and the race was early Saturday morning, but it would work.

…and then her flight was rerouted to Orlando due to a fire at Fort Lauderdale, so it ended up being after midnight by the time she got to our house. With her two year old. I asked if she was sure she wanted to race early the next day – “absolutely!” she said.

Just to make sure we were well and truly exhausted, our babies both picked that night as the one to be difficult.  Eva needed feeding at 4am and it wasn’t long before I heard Joey up too. So, 3.5 hours sleep before the race. When we arrived at the race venue in the dark and saw all the Halloween decorations, we declared it the Zombie Mums’ Run rather than the Phantom 5K. We did a half-hearted lap around the car park to warm up and both declared ourselves spent. Juliane couldn’t stop shivering in the “cold” 26 deg / 79 F (that’s what so many years in the tropics will do to you!) and bounded off as soon as the gun went. I tried to run steady and managed pretty even splits, as slow as I was (now at 12 weeks postpartum). The course was two laps around the Palm Beach Outlets car park, not the most glamorous of runs.

Juliane finished in 23:11 and came second in our age group, her best time since Joey’s birth, and I ran 25:01, which was a good improvement over last weekend’s race and enough for third in the age group. It’s going to be a long road back to fitness….but I’m taking it day by day.

The next day, Juliane, Barbara and I enjoyed a 10km easy run through the local bird sanctuary – my longest run since Eva’s birth. It feels so good to be back out there.

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Eva: for photo purposes only

 

01. November 2016 · Comments Off on Flying high! · Categories: Holidays, Run · Tags: ,

When Eva was 8 weeks old, we ventured on a flight to Toronto to see her grandparents and then onwards to the wedding of our close friends Ben & Travis on Mackinac Island, Michigan.

We were nervous about flying for the first time with Eva. We needn’t have been.  She was a little superstar. The flight to Toronto was 3 hours and she fed, played and slept. Not a problem. Who knew the plane offered an in-flight service of milk on demand?

The trip happily coincided with the arrival of Hurricane Matthew, although Tom was upset not to get to go windsurfing in it….

After a brief stint in Toronto, we flew up to Sault Ste. Marie at the top of Lake Huron, rented a car and drove southwest to St. Ignace, MI, where we then caught a ferry across to Mackinac Island.  Mackinac Island is completely car-free. Bicycles and horses only! A beautiful place, just 8 miles around.

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The Grand Hotel, where the wedding took place

We had a couple of days to explore the island, go for some little runs and walks, spend time with the other wedding guests and eat fudge and drink hot chocolate (both sold at nearly every shop along the main street). It was the first time really that we had been out and about all day every day with Eva and it was great for us to see that we could do it.

The wedding itself was fabulous.  Ben looked every bit the beautiful bride and Travis very dashing. We felt honoured to have been invited to the very small and private wedding and to get to meet all of Ben’s family visiting from Switzerland.

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Mr and Mrs Cardinal!

As for Eva, I fed her quietly at the back throughout the whole ceremony and she never made a peep.  She was still in her pyjamas and was wrapped up in blankets as it was pretty cold (poor Ben in her sleeveless dress!) with a strong wind. Once we headed inside for cocktails, we changed Eva into her party dress. Unashamedly for the photo opportunities!

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We also got to see our friend Angie, who was looking fabulous at 7 months pregnant.

 

 

Once the Cardinals were safely married, we headed back to Canada and immediately drove north to my parents’ cottage on Georgian Bay. The weather varied greatly – some days we were in shorts, other days it was close to freezing. Don’t worry, Eva has ALL the clothes.

 

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The cardigan was hand-knitted by the fabulously talented Katie Smith in London.

I can’t decide whether I prefer hipster baby or snow baby:

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Up at the cottage, we enjoyed a number of runs, ate ridiculous amounts of chocolate, walked in the woods and took Eva on her first boat ride.

All in all it was a very successful trip and I loved the cooler weather. It was empowering to see that we could bring Eva to new places and we could all cope.  All part of the road back to normalcy.

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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!