I am running again! To backtrack a bit, I ran all the way through my pregnancy, until the day I went to the hospital to give birth. I averaged about 20 miles a week toward the end and my runs were 1-2 minutes/mile slower than my normal easy days (which are already very slow/easy compared to my workout/race days).
So this post will outline what has worked for me in the past and what seems to be working for me in the present. I’m not saying this is right for everyone, but it’s a glimpse into my journey back to running. I would strongly urge everyone to listen to their body and not get caught up in “this person started earlier/later than me”. It’s definitely better to start cautiously slow than to come back too fast.
How to decide it’s time to start running again:
- When your body feels normal again – After carrying a baby for 9 months, everything in the general stomach area feels a bit jumbled and out of place. It’s been making room for this giant thing growing inside and it takes a little while for everything to navigate back into place. For me, this usually takes a few weeks.
- When you stop bleeding – Did you know a mother will bleed for usually 2-6 weeks after having a baby? I had no idea when I had my first child. I always figure my body is getting back to normal when the bleeding stops. With my first child, this was 4 weeks. With my second, it was 3.5 weeks, with my third, it was 3 weeks.
- What does your doctor/midwife/healthcare professional say – While I do believe in finding a good healthcare professional, I know many women struggle with someone who is stuck in the past, thinking running isn’t good during pregnancy or for a long time after. I’ve always had a return to running plan (based on what I’m writing here) and I always tell it to my healthcare provider instead of waiting for them to tell me what THEY want me to do. And I’ve always gotten the green light. I try to take control because I’m the only one who truly knows how my body feels. And I personally wouldn’t run if I didn’t know my body was ready because a HEALTHY return to running is more important to me than a few extra days of running that will result in injury or other bodily harm.
- When do you feel like it – If you are exhausted and struggling to make it through daily life and have no desire to run, it might not be a good time to start. If you are itching to get back out there and are feeling great, go for it! If you are itching to get out and run and you are feeling horrible, it’s probably still a good time to go for it! I know the first few runs for me are always very freeing and exciting because it reminds me of my “normal life” before this new addition and gives me a better sense of myself and that everything is going to be OK!
With my first child, I took 4 weeks completely off running. With my second, I took 3.5 weeks. With my third, I took exactly 3 weeks off. So what did I do before starting running? Well, I guess that’s pretty obvious – love on my new baby and try to figure out our “new normal”. Of course with kids things are always changing and just when you think you have some sort of pattern or schedule, the kid throws something new at you! But there was definitely plenty to do in those first 3 weeks and while I missed running, I was completely ok without it too!
I wasn’t completely away from a fitness routine while I wasn’t running. With all 3 of my kids, I sort of instinctively started doing really simple ab work from day 1 or 2 postpartum. When I say simple, I mean VERY basic. I would concentrate on my abs (truly sitting there and thinking about them activating for a moment) then focus on pulling them together, up and in and holding. The first day, I really couldn’t even locate my abs to be honest, but I still worked on trying to find them and going through the motion in my mind. The next day I could do it a little.
And I kept going from there. While loving on my little guy, or while playing with/reading to my other 2 kids I would continue working on engaging my abs. At 5 days postpartum, I did 10 minutes of mind/body balance yoga. At 1 week postpartum, I added in some balancing on the bosu ball (My balance is really horrible right now!), some clamshells, and bird/dog. I’ve continued on this routine about 4 times a week since.
In terms of running, I’ve been back to it a little over a week now. I have done between 2 and 3.3 miles a day, until last Saturday when I ran a “long run” of 5.2 miles with friends. And yesterday I did the same 5.2 mile loop with my friend Kate. I’m just running easy and although I’m pretty exhausted (from having a newborn and 2 energetic kids at home with little sleep!) the running feels great!
It’s definitely different this time. When I had my first child, I came back to running feeling like a stranger. My first run felt awkward. It was as if I was watching myself in a dream – I didn’t feel like a “real person” doing “real running”. I didn’t have any goals, I didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t have any running mom mentors or examples to follow. (This is just one reason why I think social media is awesome. As much as people, myself included, complain about the “comparison trap”, it’s so nice to have other examples to follow. You can learn from other people’s success and mistakes and know you aren’t alone.) After my 2nd child, I came back to running easier but it still felt foreign. I got back into workouts and built my mileage faster than after my first child, but I still came back slowly, cautiously, and smart. (I hit a big half marathon PR at 15 months postpartum, 1:15:59!)
This time around has been completely different. I started back running after 3 weeks off and from my first run, I felt like I hadn’t missed a beat. Well, I feel out of shape for sure, but mentally it seemed as though I had just run my normal trails the day before. I felt completely “with it” mentally and emotionally and it was such a great, and unexpected feeling.
As far as fitness goes, I have a long way back. As far as my body goes, same thing. I’ve noticed my balance is horrible. Just standing on one leg can lead me to topple over if I’m not paying attention. If one of my kids holds onto me for support while I’m squatting to tie my shoes, I’m going to fall down for sure. I’m not normally a person to get on a scale, and I don’t care how much I weigh, but I have a general idea of my weight because of doctor appointments and I’m about 12 pounds heavier than my normal racing weight right now. My body wiggles and jiggles everywhere except from my knees down, my elbows out, and my neck up. I don’t say that to sound insensitive. I told that to some girlfriends who lightheartedly joked with me that wiggles and jiggles are just “the norm” for them while running even when they are in shape. I think it’s important to mention since some women have a baby and expect to be back to their normal body ASAP. It just doesn’t work like that, especially not if you are getting back into shape in a healthy way.
The most painful wiggles and jiggles come from my much larger than normal breasts! Even though I pump until there’s nothing left immediately before my run (both for relief when running and also to build my supply for freedom to race and travel later), I still can’t believe what a huge difference I feel in my chest when running. I’m used to being a B cup and now I’m a full C/D cup. This added weight gives me shoulder and back discomfort. I know lots of women deal with this normally so I shouldn’t complain. I’m just saying I really feel your pain!
I also have a good 3-4 finger width ab separation (diastasis recti). I’ve had this problem after each baby and have been able to keep it under control doing exercises such as the ones in Steph’s post. I highly recommend this post! I will talk to my midwife at my 6 week appointment to make sure nothing crazy is going on this time and hope they pull back together with time (and lots of work!)
For now, I continue base building. Thanks for reading and following along! I hope the tips are helpful!!