6 Months Postpartum Running Update: Where I'm at an How I got there
Last week I ran a time trial 5K on the track and clocked in at 20:34. It's the fastest I've run since finding out I was pregnant in August last year. At six months postpartum I'm feeling stronger and running faster than I ever have after pregnancy. I didn't run this fast after my second pregnancy until I was 12 months postpartum. My return to running after this pregnancy compared with my other two, has been very different and it's nice to see that a more conservative approach is really paying off--especially in a world where there's a lot of pressure to bounce back quickly after having a baby.
I feel poised and ready for a solid winter training cycle that should prepare me to chase down some PR's this spring. If I had rushed back into running I don't think I would feel nearly as confident or as strong as I do now. So I thought I'd share what's working and why I am in (what I feel) is a strong place right now.
No Goal Race.
The temptation after having a baby is to immediately pick a goal race, something to "get me out the door" and "help me loose the baby weight," we tell ourselves. This is the first pregnancy where I did not sign up for a goal race postpartum. That doesn't mean I haven't been racing, I have. But my goal race, the one I want to train for and really do well in, is not until May 2016. Not picking a race has taken pressure off, which has allowed me to to listen to my body and address little tightness and pains, rather than pushing through them because I have to be in shape for a race on a specific date.
Frequent PT Visits.
Before returning to running postpartum I met with my physical therapist to get her opinion in addition to the opinion of my midwife. And I have returned several times to address little aches and pains which I know are related to hip, glute and pelvic floor strength (all of which are compromised during pregnancy). If tightness has lasted more than three weeks and I am unable to resolve it with chiropractic care and massage, I have booked an appointment with the physical therapist. Most recently I've returned because of high hamstring tightness that re-appeared after a three week bout with bronchitis. The constant coughing weakened my pelvic floor, which caused issues down the line in my hamstring. These frequent visits mean I leave with specific exercises that target weakness and help me make corrections before they develop into injuries.
Gradual build up.
Everyone's pregnancy, labor and delivery are different and mine have been uncomplicated and pretty straight forward*. I jumped the gun on returning to running after my second pregnancy, resulting in some pelvic floor and incontinence issues. This time around I waited until 4 weeks postpartum for my first run. And that first run was 15 minutes. I spent three weeks only running 15-20 minutes uphill (and waking back down the hill), and I gradually increased the frequency of my runs: one run the first week, two the second, three the third. It wasn't until September (four months postpartum) that I was regularly running more than 4 times a week. The gradual build up and "layered" approach to my comeback have really been an asset and I think have helped developed a strength that I didn't have before.
This is by far one of the most important aspects of training but, if you're a new mom, is the one factor you have very little control over. Thankfully Liam has been a champion sleeper and has been sleeping through the night for about two months. He still occasionally wakes during the night, but his predictable schedule means that I am getting the rest I need. Without sleep I would have no energy (and probably no desire) to run. Sleep is essential for consistency and consistency is essential for making progress with your fitness.
It has been by no means smooth sailing. Really I havent felt like things have been clicking until the last two weeks. And even then, there are days when I wake up and wonder why exactly I'm going out into the cold to run, but for me chasing down goals is a joy.
*I've had three all-natural, vaginal deliveries two in a birth center and one at home. All relatively short (8 hours or less) with no tearing or other complications. The issues I've had related to pelvic floor weakness and incontinence are most certainly caused by running too soon after the deliver of my second baby and are not related to prolonged labor/delivery. Even if you have a smooth and uncomplicated labor and delivery I highly recommend a more conservative approach to returning to running after pregnancy.
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