As a regular runner pre-pregnancy, being a running Mum was a huge priority for me. It wasn’t about fitness so much, it was about having time for me, my form of meditation and time to reflect or listen to audiobooks or podcasts as I ticked my legs over.
As an Exercise Physiologist I had given a lot of thought to how I would structure my return to running when it came. While I knew I was going to take time off, spend time working on a strong pelvic floor and core and resume slowly, what I didn’t realise was how early in the pregnancy my body would decide running wasn’t working. Being IVF we were in the situation that we knew super early that my exercise intensity needed to back off. I was nauseous almost immediately and while movement helped me feel better at the time jogging just felt wrong from as early as 8 weeks. I persevered with some slow jogs but at 18 weeks I let my body have its way and dropped the running altogether, despite this being a big mental step. I was still able to walk, hit the gym and do yoga right to the very end and through the months of nausea and headaches it became my saviour. I knew that if I was able to stay strong and stable throughout the pregnancy it would benefit both the baby and I, help me with the birth and put me in a good position to resume training when I was physically ready. My mindset was that post birth I would be able to completely re build the foundation from scratch. Start again and not be compensating for injuries, niggles and an upcoming event! Sure my body would no doubt be different after birthing and growing a baby but in terms of mindset it personally really helped.
They say giving birth is never what you expect and in our case that couldn’t have been more true. I had read the books and was ready to tackle the delivery as if it was a race. What I didn’t realise was that my body would have other ideas. At 36 weeks our Obstetrician was concerned the baby had stopped growing. It was an active little thing, to the point it had cracked one of my ribs with the constant kicking and flicking its toes over one of my floating ribs! For the next week and a half we were in at the hospital for regular monitoring with Yoga and plenty of walking slotted in between. At 37.5 days the decision was made to induce and get the bubba earth side to ensure it was ok. We went in to this blindly trusting and as we sat in the waiting room we watched the second half of the Hawthorn vs West Coast game on my phone. We were totally relaxed. The next 29 hours was a blur of drips, gels, a labour exercise circuit (yes my midwife had worked out what made me tick!) and specialists but at the 29th hour things went a little pear shaped and our plan for a natural delivery went out the window with the placenta abrupting and an emergency C-Section being the way our little girl made it to the world in a matter of minutes. She was fighter from the start and the story has a very happy ending. The next few days was a haze of post general anaesthetic & morphine drip but amongst it I have a very clear memory of sitting on the hospital bed on day two doing my pelvic floor lifts. I had been nervous about the possibility of pelvic floor damage, but I hadn’t realised til later, just how much.
Fast forward a few weeks and there was a lot of mental unpacking to do, as well as adjusting to life with a new born. Like many, exercise for me has always been my way of dealing with the day and stressors thrown at me. Give me time to train and all will be ok. As a new Mum, with a C-Section I was taking it very easy and while I was being diligent with my pelvic floor and core work and getting out for daily walks by week four it was becoming pretty apparent it was no longer enough to benefit my mental health. Digging in to my tool kit I realised what was missing and from that day began ensuring I took 20 mins out for me to do a little home based low intensity workout. Some days it was achieved in 5 minute blocks, sometimes with Georgie on the floor beside me, some days I managed 30 mins all to myself. However it panned out, the important thing was that I was doing something and suddenly I was able to feel more like myself again. Walking plus strength and mobility work was now on the agenda. I was starting to become my happier self again.
Over the coming weeks between hours of feeding and washing and nappy changes and getting to know our girl I focused on getting strong. Sure I hadn’t birthed a baby by traditional means, but my body had changed and it had gone through trauma. It was essential I was gentle with it and gave it time to heal. If anything hurt or didn’t feel right I took to time to evaluate why, adjust my technique and go from there. I was focused on building a strong and stable foundation but also one that was mobile and supple. I stretched and rolled whenever I could and used body weight and bands for my workouts and never felt the need to add in weights over 5kg. When I could Georgie was my resistance – all 3 kg of her!
One of the key factors during this time was seeing a pelvic floor specialist who did a thorough assessment of my core. I was sent home with homework and reassessed a couple of weeks later. I was signed off and cleared as being ready to up the intensity… as long as I took things slowly. For anyone who knows me, I have a strong tendency to be like a bull at a gate so slow and steady is definitely something I have to go in to mindfully!
On Monday the 10th September 2018, 15 weeks to the day after having little G I called in at the park with a sleeping baby and our staffy on the lead. I can’t remember if I went there with the intention of running, but regardless it happened and it felt great! With G parked in under a tree I jogged 200m around the park, then walked 200m. It was slow but it was glorious and the Strava data was hilarious! From this day forward I can honestly admit I had to consciously hold myself back. Sure I wasn’t running fit and I felt had a new body to get used to but it felt good from the start. I slowly and steadily using our tried and trusted run walk technique and progressed my way up to 5km. Surprisingly the first 5km didn’t feel too hard, but like it often is with anyone building their distance up getting to 10km was a much tougher journey. In actual fact over my entire journey back to marathon distance it took me longer to build from 5km up to 10km than it did getting from 20 – 40km.
I had set a big, and possibly crazy goal of doing the Great Wall of China Marathon in May 2019. So starting back running, it was with this in mind and I had 11.5 months to make it a reality. I was confident I had enough time to get run fit as long as I stayed injury free. If you missed my previous blog on Conquering the Great Wall of China you can catch up via my blog page (and spoiler alert I made it there and over the finish line!)
While my return to running was partially about achieving a Marathon goal for my 40th birthday it was more importantly about feeling like myself again and from speaking with other Mums I know this is something that comes up a lot – a loss of identity. Running helped give me back me. Even if I was out with G in the running pram, I was still doing something for me and even when the runs were tough or cut short or stop start it was a run and something was better than nothing. Those first few runs on my own I was like a kid in a candy store and I remember messaging Coach Chris after the first one telling him I had I completed 5km non-stop because I had forgotten to stop!!
While physically my body was different and I had some obvious work to do in terms of rebuilding my running strength and stamina the issue of time and guilt were bigger challenges. As I built my distances and worked towards marathon distance getting away for longer durations was definitely a mind game. Like many Mums I was working around breast feeding and sleep settling and while my Husband was super supportive I was always mindful of how long I was away. I had big ideas at the start of this training journey to hit the trails for my training when I could get out alone or to take G in the Baby Bjorn and hike up Flinders Peaks but the reality was that a 3 hour run with travelling was a 4.5-5 hour commitment and the time away created to much stress. Add to that the fact that Georgie just wouldn’t settle in the car and those hikes went out the window! Part of why I chose the Great Wall Marathon was that it was climb focused, not speed and while in the theory that allowed me to put less pressure on my body to regain speed and intensity, living in a very flat part of the city hill training ended up adding another challenge. I found myself running repeats on any stairs or inclines I came across, I ran with the pram A LOT for the added strength training, I did lots of laps on the closest undulating trail to my home and I included 4 mobility and stability sessions every week. I was able to do these while G was asleep and I know that in the end they were a huge component of my success on the Great Wall.
The return to running journey has been so worth the effort but the path was far from smooth. With a baby things obviously don’t go to plan and as a perfectionist I had to get used to not always being able to tick off every session exactly the way Chris had programmed it. Through all this having my program set out for me and knowing Chris had my back made such a difference to my mental state. I trusted in his processes and knew that on the hard days something was better than nothing. We had endless weeks of illness, selling and moving house, child care to adapt to, returning to work, broken sleep and of course life and social commitments but we all have challenges and as long as the controllable’s were controlled I was able to deal with the rest. With the support of my little team I was able to successfully get back to running and ironically I am running better now than I ever have before. With the right program, support crew, guidance and patience it has all been worthwhile.
At GoRun Australia we are really excited to be working with a collection of people who want to get back to their running, whether that is post baby, post injury or just after an extended break from exercise.Our coaches Kylie and Chris have helped 100’s of runners successfully navigate their way back into their running over the past 4 years and would be delighted to help you too.