Thursday, January 12, 2012

Returning to Running After Pregnancy

As my little baby boy approaches his first birthday (he turns one on February 2nd!), I find myself thinking a lot about this past year and what my return to running has been like since adding this little fella to our family.

I ran throughout much of my pregnancy.  I wasn't fast.  I didn't go far.  I walked.  A LOT.  But I kept on moving, week after week, even on days when I really didn't want to (but not always on those days, I rested a whole lot, too).  I didn't track my mileage or worry about my paces.  Running was about honoring and celebrating my body for all it could do, not about how far or how fast I could go.  It was about taking care of my own body, mind and spirit as well as nurturing the little soul that was growing inside of me.  It was not time for pushing my limits or seeing what I was made of.  There would be plenty of time for that later.

But I dreamed about my return to running frequently while I was pregnant.  And I looked forward to training for and running races again.  I wondered what it would be like to run again after my baby was born.  How long would it take me to build back my fitness?  Would it hurt?  Would I ever be able to run as fast or as far as I had before getting pregnant?  How would I juggle all three of my children, and my fitness and my business and all of my responsibilities at home?  What would my life look like?  There were so many questions, but one thing that I was certain of was that I would figure it out, because I had to, because it was my choice to.  Because it just mattered.  Running would remain a part of my life because it was a part of me.  And I decided that it truly didn't matter how far or how fast I could run, as long as I could run.

In reflecting on how I was able to get back into running, and what worked for me over the course of the past year, I have come up with the following tips to share.  If you are pregnant now or if you recently had a baby and are beginning to run again, I hope you will find this helpful.

Dream about your goals.  In the midst of all the unknowns about what life will be like after the baby arrives, it can be motivating and exciting to have a goal to look forward to.  I picked a race that would happen on my 35th birthday, when my baby was just under 10 weeks old.  My goal was not to race it - but to be able to run all 10 miles at a comfortable pace (whatever that pace was, I didn't care.  I just wanted to run).  I also knew that I wanted to run a marathon during my baby's first year, and I dreamed about that a lot.  The idea of it scared me on many levels, too.  I didn't make training plans or map everything out while I was pregnant (no way!), but I dreamed about it and thought a lot about what kinds of things would need to be in place in my life in order for me to accomplish them.   Once Gus was born and I was running again, having these goals to work towards was very motivating to me. 

Be patient.  Relax.  Don't get caught up in the wonders and worries of how you are going to manage all the changes that are happening in your life.  Trust that your body will heal.  Believe in yourself.  When my doctor gave me the green light to run again (at 4 weeks postpartum) I got on my treadmill to run one mile.  It hurt.  It was insanely difficult.  It was much slower than I thought it would be.  Every single run felt like a marathon and my body took a while to recover after every run.  But I knew that I had to be patient.  That each week I would go a little farther, get a little stronger - as long as I didn't give up.  It takes time to heal and to regain your strength, but it WILL happen.  Trust in that and be patient.
out for a run with baby
Be inspired by others, but do not compare yourself to others.  Everyone is different.  I have friends both in real life and in the blogging world who were able to run farther and faster than I was, way sooner than I was.  Sometimes their accomplishments motivated me, and other times they deflated me.  I quickly realized that I needed to focus on my own journey and listen to my own body.  Just because someone you know was able to run a marathon 3 months after giving birth, doesn't mean you should hold yourself to the same expectations.  And on the flip side, if you hear from someone that they were never able to run again after having their baby, it doesn't mean that you are doomed to suffer the same fate!  Let others' stories inspire you - don't let them discourage you by comparing yourself to them.  You are your own person, on your own path.

Do Pilates.  Pregnancy will stretch out and weaken your core muscles - and I don't just mean your abdominal muscles - your hips, glutes, back and hamstrings are all a part of your core as well.  We have to move our bodies intentionally and really be aware of how we are holding ourselves.  It takes conscious thought.  Check in with your posture throughout the day.  Are you engaging your abs?  Is your pelvis tilting one way or the other?  Are you tucking your butt under or sticking your belly out?  Are your shoulders tensed?  Make the time for strength and flexibility exercises.  Pilates is excellent because you can do it right in the comfort of your own home.  Just 10 minutes a day will make a difference.  Bring awareness to your posture - when you are standing in line at the grocery store, putting your baby in his crib, giving the kids a bath.  When you are running.  Engage your core.  Use it!  It makes a huge difference.  Trust me.
rolling like a ball
Ease into it.  When I first started running again, I didn't worry about how many miles I was running or how fast I was moving.  In preparation for my first postpartum race, I trained by minutes instead of miles.  For some reason that took some of the pressure off.  I wasn't worried about being able to run a certain amount of miles, I just wanted to last a little longer each time.  As running became easier and my fitness and strength improved I switched to tracking miles again, but in those first few months going by minutes really worked for me.

Have a support system.  Share your dreams - and your fears - with those who love you.  Be an open book with the people in your life who believe in you and who will encourage you when you're feeling down and celebrate with you when you accomplish something.  Every run is an accomplishment, in those first few months especially.  I remember coming home from a particularly hard 40 minute run one day, in tears.  I was proud because I had done what I set out to do, but I was also so humbled and scared by how difficult it was.  My husband, who had been trapped in the house in the middle of winter with all three of our kids while I was out, just wrapped his arms around me and told me he was proud of me.  I needed that so much.  He was there for me (and still is) whether I needed a high five or a shoulder to cry on.  My sisters, my running buddies, my close friends - all have been there for me and have believed in me when I needed it the most.  You have your people, too.  Let them carry you sometimes, as I know you will carry them when they need it, too.  That is what we do for the people we love.
i love you, sister
Don't give up.  You will want to at times.  Many times.  You will get discouraged.  You will probably (most definitely) have setbacks, but you will overcome them.  You are stronger than your greatest fears.  You are stronger than your self doubt.  You will never regret not giving up.

Running after pregnancy is not easy, but it has been without a doubt one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  It has been so much fun to run and race as a mommy of three.  I believe that having each of my children has made me a stronger, more passionate person and in turn motherhood has made me a stronger, more passionate runner.
the power of three


great tips and absolutely adorable kids! :)

love this! I'm not pregnant, but I think this is also applicable to coming back after injury (so I guess I'm in the pregnancy part right now since I still can't run...)

Agree, agree, agree!! This will be me in the coming week as I wait for baby #2 to makes its appearance. I wogged until 25 weeks when a car accident benched me for good. I'm so eager to get back to it but I also know that it's going to be tough. But I say if you love it, it's worth it!

Great tips! I'm gonna pass this on to my mom friends that are coming back after babies.
Good post.

I really admire you and Dorothy for your running accomplishments both during and after your pregnancies. I am so much in awe!!! I really didn't get my running mojo back until my youngest (now 3) was around 9 months old and sleeping better through the night.

Great post with great advice. It's so hard to try to juggle it all until you get a real routine going, which is why it is so important to cut yourself some slack those first few months. The best part, I found, was that later on, I hit some nice PRs. A little extra red blood still?

Love all this advice. Your kids are beautiful.

This is so beautiful, Jess. I think not comparing yourself to others is SUCH a good piece of advice...and that it will take time to get back. The first month or so after my son was born was great. I lost the weight, was back to almost looking like my old self, was running and happy to not be carrying an extra 25 pounds...but after that, it got tough for a few months. I looked the same, but I was NOWHERE near where I had been in terms of running ability.
Your children are beautiful BTW !!!

Very inspirational!! What beautiful pictures!

That's motivational! I JUST had a c-section (on Wednesday) & haven't been able to run since I was 21 weeks along because I had placenta previa. I have been DREAMING of running the whole pregnancy & a lot of what you said/suggested are very true & helpful. Love this post (and your kiddos are adorable!)

New follower here! Love this post... its so true and well said. I second that with the pilates and need to fix the core. I have been struggling with that for a while and my son is TWO now! YOu look great...I look forward to reading.

I came across this post today and had to comment! I'm in my 37th week of pregnancy, we're expecting our baby boy (first child) very soon, and I'm itching to get back into running post-pregnancy. Reading this was really inspirational and offered a lot of great advice and tips that I'm sure will help me along as I get back into the swing of things post-baby. Thanks for posting, and for inspiring other running mummies!


I'm looking at this as a first time mother of an almost-three month old love-of-my-life boy, and was desperately searching the net for some magical system, schedule, or plan to get back into running, something I hugely enjoyed pre-pregnancy. Just reading your post was supportive, reinforcing that I can do this, that I have to stop worrying about all the "how am I going to manage everything"s, and just "Do". Thank you.

Thanks for this! I'm almost seven months post partum and just starting to figure out a plan. Exercise still hurts as I'm still breastfeeding. Will take it slow and visualize my success and just keep going. Planning for a 10k next October and a triathlon in Spring 2014.

I too will be a first time mother soon! I stopped running at 34 weeks (two weeks ago) and dream of the day when I can run again normally. I really wanted to keep running through the whole thing but just got too tired. I had bursitis and other issues running through this whole pregnancy and kept going. You inspire me! Thanks for sharing. I hope I can be as strong as you when I get back out there. I really like hearing about just counting minutes and not miles. That is how I have lasted running so long as it is. Great tips. I also really like hearing from every other mom about how they are managing!

I felt like you read my mind and typed it out! Glad someone else feels this way. I'm just 5 weeks out and I'm attempting a half marathon next weekend. My only goal is to finish. I know it won't be fast. That's going to be the hard part because I know there will be a ton of people there that I would normally be beating. I get super competitive in my head with others. I try not to show it on the outside though. I am just ready to get there next year already to prove what I really can do!

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