After just getting home from my longest run in almost 18 months, it seems a very appropriate time to write about my return to running journey…… baby one versus baby two!
In my first pregnancy, my definition of a “Supermum” was running the day you gave birth and then back running again quickly and easily, and I thought this was going to be me. In fact, it was absolutely NOTHING like this! There was minimal running when pregnant and what I perceived as a very slow return with a lots of frustrations, tears and wet undies along the way.
I have to say, after a LOT of work, I did get back running and I did an ultra marathon about 17 months postpartum. You may this read that and think, an ultra after only 17 months what is she moaning about. But, for me the journey was wildly different to what I had imagined and it took me that whole time to rehab my stress urinary incontinence (leaking urine with exercise). I am however hugely grateful for my crap pelvic floor as it has led me down a career path in Women’s Health Physio that I absolutely love. And I now know that 1 in 3 women leak urine post birth and it can be treated and I am the perfect example of that (see a Physio!!).
So going into pregnancy number two my expectations were some what different to round one…..but at the back of my mind was always please, please let me run again!
Pregnancy number two started with a lot of morning sickness, weight loss and zero running. When this passed around 13 weeks my old friend incontinence was back! I knew this was common in subsequent pregnancies when the hormones make everything floppy again, but it doesn’t make it any less upsetting. For the rest of my pregnancy, I switched to body weight strength exercises and walking up the Mount with my toddler on my back. So I was certainly “stronger” in this pregnancy, rather than “cardio fit” that I was in my first.
My second son, Freddie, was born by vaginal delivery and things went reasonably well (although you wouldn’t have known this by the swearing at my husband at the time!). I had a second degree perineal tear (I had exactly the same with my first son). 80% of vaginal deliveries result in some degree of tear, but this time I understood the importance of recovering and rehabbing it. I took those early weeks very easily focusing only on pelvic floor exercises and baby cuddles. Running wasn’t even on my mind.
I saw a Women’s Health Physio at 7 weeks post birth who cleared me for running, however I am a big fan of the “Running Guidelines” (see link below) and these recommend to wait 12 weeks prior to running. However I used weeks 4-12 to build my run specific strength (pelvic floor and body weight exercises) and walking in this time so when the 12 weeks hit, my body was prepared to run. The other major challenge as a mum of two was time. It has been certainly much harder than I ever expected to survive, let alone get even 20 minutes of exercise in. But I also recognize now more than ever the importance of finding some small window of time to exercise for my own sanity.
At 12 weeks I started running and it felt awesome. I did a very gradual build of walk/runs (examples at the bottom) and I never ran two days in a row. I also did some hill repeats (running up, walking down) as uphill puts much less stress on the pelvic floor. I built things up very slowly, keeping walking breaks in between the short running sections until I was comfortably running/walking for 30mins.
I am now at 5 months postpartum and can run 8k continuously without pelvic floor symptoms (leaking, heaviness, pain) and starting to feel like I might be getting a tiny bit of fitness back. I manage to get out the door for two or three 30 to 40 minute runs per week and this is plenty for my body and also to still manage family logistics. I fit in my strength work if/where I can but I still make my pelvic floor exercises a priority, always!
This return to running has been much more successful than from baby one. Why is that? Probably due to being much stronger going into the pregnancy, having actually rehabbed my pelvic floor effectively and most importantly having the knowledge and realistic expectations. Perhaps the other reason I see this comeback as more successful is that my mindset towards running is totally different. Now I run to feel good and be a less grumpy mum rather than to hit target times. I am sure the competitive edge will return one day, but for now I am extremely happy for where I am.
If I could give some advice to any running mums out there it would be:
- Be strong – maintain strength through your pregnancy, actually do your pelvic floor exercises and focus on strength in the postnatal period prior to actually running.
- Get the right advice – educate yourself from professional and seek help for any issues along the way.
- ENJOY IT – don’t rush and do what makes you feel good.
Example Walk/Run Progressions
- 1min run, 2 min walk, repeat x 6
- 1min run, 1min walk for 30mins
- 2min run, 1 min walk for 20mins
- 4min run, 1 min walk x 6
- 30min run with 2 min walk in the middle
More information on a basic return to run plan here. I would highly recommend working with a professional to make a plan specific to you.
Run Specific Strength Session
Weighted squat x 10
Static Lunge x 10 each side
Single leg calf raise x 10 each side
Glute bridge x 10
Side lying leg raise x 10 each side
Running Guidelines, Donnelly, Brockwell & Goom 2019