Six things I did to help me return to running post pregnancy
Updated: Jan 11
At the start of 2022, I had a newborn baby and not a lot of expectation about a successful return to running.
But as I began to adjust to being a mum of two, the desire to get back out there increased. I ended up having a very successful year, running close to my PB for the half marathon and marathon. And closing out the year with a PB for 5km.
I wrote an extensive post about the physical side of coming back, using a pessary and how my pelvic floor handled the transition. Here are some of the practical things I did to help get back into it.
Get a coach
I had procrastinated on this for a long time because I wasn’t sure I could give control of my running to someone else. I have followed programs in the past, but had the most success when I coached myself. It had crossed my mind that I might have maxed out my self-coaching success, but I was a bit skeptical about trusting someone else to give me training that would be right for me.
But this year, I found myself in a situation where I just didn't have time to plan out my training. In the past, I've spent a lot of time thinking about what training to do, analysing my program, looking at Strava, reading running articles and working out sessions. But with two kids, there are only so many things I can fit into my life. And I realised that working out what training to do wasn't one of them.
I was still struggling with the idea that I might know myself better than anyone and thought I might find it hard to commit to the training someone set for me. Eventually I realised that I wanted to know that someone was writing a program that was specific for me, and was interested enough to see if I was actually doing it. I wanted to be coached, not just sent a program.
I asked around for recommendations and when I finally made the decision to go for it, it was a huge relief. I have spent exactly zero time this year thinking about if I'm doing the right training. It has been so nice to tune out and just run the sessions that are sent to me so I can focus on the other things that I want to give my attention to (my kids).
Train to your current fitness level, not your aspirational one
I distinctly remember a few sessions in April and May last year, where I had started back speed training and was running those sessions as fast as I could.
Absolutely. As. Fast. As. I. Could.
I thought it would be the fastest way to get fit quickly, and it wasn't like I had never run those paces in the past. I might start off a rep thinking I'm going to run it semi comfortably, but then find myself a bit quicker than I expected, and then keep pushing for the rest of it.
The result? Finishing each rep like I want to fall in a heap and dreading the last couple of reps in the session. One session I couldn't actually do and had to change it mid way through.
I suppose I had forgotten that I'd had a baby five months earlier. That I only ran 10-15km a week in my third trimester. That I didn't run at all for 10 weeks after my little one was born. And that I probably shouldn't be trying to run paces that weren't reflective of my current fitness.
Apparently I needed someone else to tell me, because when I started the program from my coach a few weeks after that, the paces set for my sessions were much easier. I did the first few and they felt much more comfortable. In the past, I probably would have thought that I knew better, and ran faster. But I made the decision to stick to the program, so I stuck to it. And I ended up getting really fit. Maybe the fittest I've ever been.
By going easier in those sessions, my body was able to recover instead of being run into the ground. And when I allowed myself to recover, I also got the benefit of making small fitness adaptations from the sessions I was doing. Over time, those small adaptations added up and brought to me a much higher level of fitness which translated into the ability to run the paces I was struggling with in the early part of the year.
It was a big lesson for me when rebuilding after a break, that you can't jump straight back to the paces you ran before. You might be able to hit them for some or all of a session, but you will likely be running at an intensity or effort level that is above your current level of fitness, which will result in difficulty recovering.
This follows on from the previous one, and was almost forced on me last year because I was rebuilding fitness. But forced or not, I think it was extremely beneficial for me to go at an easy pace for most of my runs last year.
My pace did increase as my fitness increased in the early stages of starting back running after baby #2 was born. But I always aimed to keep it feeling very comfortable, and that generally saw me sitting in the 5-5:30/km range or a little quicker if I got rolling. What I have noticed now, is that I'm still at that pace for my long and easy runs, but my heart rate is lower.
When I'm tired from being up overnight or being out all day with two kids (which is often), I go as easy as I need to on these runs. And it gives me more time and space to make sure I recover for the harder sessions.
Choose your activities wisely
When I was pregnant, I knew that as I get older, the opportunities to get faster won't last forever. I also knew that I was going to be stretched very close to capacity with two kids to look after, and that there is only so much I can fit into my life.
The conclusion that I came to was that for this next part of my life, almost everything that wasn't running and family had to go.
What does that mean exactly? It sounds hard, but it basically means that I'm giving myself one activity outside family life in order to give myself the best opportunity to do it well.
For 2022, I decided no face to face coaching sessions. No getting hooked on tv shows and staying up late to watch them. I didn't update my blog, or didn't put subconscious pressure on myself that I should be posting. I even spent less time updating Instagram. When I was pregnant, I powered through 6 or 7 jigsaw puzzles in my collection because I knew I wouldn't have the opportunity to do them for a while. I think it helped me get more rest, not feeling like I had constantly had things I needed to do.
In the last few months since I ran Melbourne Marathon, I've started doing some coaching sessions. I've been up a bit later watching tv, or spent too long scrolling on my phone when everyone else is asleep. And I'm back at work, but there isn't much that can be done about that. I can feel the difference though, I'm a lot more tired.
It has definitely reinforced one important lesson since having my second baby, that we can't do everything. Especially if we want to do it well or do it without feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
I was very lucky last year to be able to train for a couple of months while me and my husband were both off work. But that isn't normal life, and it will never happen again. It definitely contributed to the amount of running I was able to do with young kids, and it's going to be more a juggle this year with more pieces of the puzzle to fit in.
We have already had a bit of help from friends, family and neighbours to look after the kids for short periods of time while we run. And that is something we will continue, because one thing that has remained the same for me since I became a parent, is that little bits of time for myself make me happier and more engaged overall.
I'm not sure there is much more I can elaborate on this one, except do it as much as possible! It's not easy to do with a baby or young kids, but for me it was a case of as much as possible, going to bed at the same time or just after they did. It means I don't have much time of a night to do much else, though it's never 100% of the time. Sometimes I stay up later than I intend to.
But for a big chunk of 2022, I was too tired to stay awake much later than my kids anyway. And even though I was woken up during the night, going to bed early still meant I got a reasonable amount of sleep. Hopefully it's one thing I'll get more of in 2023.