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Tips for returning to running after having your first baby

Updated: Jan 5, 2023

Here are some of the things I learnt in the early stages of running after my daughter was born.

Embracing the treadmill – I usually hate running the treadmill. Hate it! I find it so boring, count down the minutes I have left, try to distract myself with various things around the gym, and find the repetitive nature of it can make my niggles flare up.

But since having a baby, there have been many times when the only way I can get a run in, is to do it on the treadmill. Since I would prefer a treadmill run to no run, I’ve made myself embrace it. I still find myself counting down the minutes, but progressively increasing the pace and playing around with the incline has taken some of the monotony out of it.

And when I can see my fitness coming back, and I’ve managed to get into a routine of going at a time when my daughter will be more than likely sleeping in the creche, it works pretty well.

Preventing injury – I have definitely had feelings of impatience since I’ve been back running and found myself feeling frustrated when I haven’t been able to do what I did before. But I think the only thing worse than slow progress is no progress, and an injury would definitely mean no progress.

My body is different to what it was, so it has been important to build back gradually, do my strength work and check in with the physio to make sure everything is on track. There have been a few times where I felt little twinges or things that felt a bit different to usual, and I approached it the same I would coming back from an injury, monitoring it and going a bit easier for a few days if needed.

It can be hard not to expect your body to do what it could before. Reducing running or taking a break because of pregnancy probably means you aren’t recovering from an injury when you start back. But just because your feet and legs are in working order, you have still had a break and need to take the time to build back up to where you were.

It’s not like it was before – I have talked a lot about how making running a habit helped me improve and that consistency is key. For me, that generally means doing the same type of session, at the time, on the same day each week. Something which is not always possible with a baby!

With a small human relying on me, I’m not able to just get out of bed and head out the door for a run anymore. There is more planning involved, and I have to be a few steps ahead in arranging how it’s going to work. This is especially true when both parents are runners and trying to fit in some training.

I have a rough schedule of times when I can fit my runs in, but it’s never guaranteed and it has changed multiple times since I started back running. In the last week, plans have changed due to heat, poor sleep, babysitter availability, feeding times and clashes with activities for my daughter.

Since things can often change last minute, if I have an opportunity to go, I go! If my husband is home, my daughter is fed and we don’t have anything on for the next little while, I’ll walk over to the gym. Or if I have a free morning when I wouldn’t usually, I’ll book a session at the creche.

It’s important to make sure this doesn’t result in overdoing it, or changing my schedule so much that I don’t recover or do hard sessions back to back. But it can be helpful for increasing volume in a tight schedule, and banking some runs in case a planned run for later in the week doesn’t end up happening for various reasons (too hot, baby needs you, just plain exhausted).

It also means that, even though I have a rough idea of how I am going to train for a marathon, I haven’t planned out my full program since things are often changing. What is working now might not for much longer, for example, hot lunchtime intervals while our little one waits in the pram are probably a limited time only thing.

I still believe that habit, routine and consistency have helped me achieve my best results over the years. But at the moment, being flexible and trying different things has meant I can get a lot more running in. It’s definitely not like it was before!

Help from friends has been amazing – This can be quite a personal thing because it involves leaving your baby with someone, but if that is something you are comfortable with, then it can be a huge help.

I have had a lot of friends offer to mind Beth for half an hour or an hour so I can get a run in. I was a bit unsure at first, but the way it usually works is that they walk with her in the same place I am running. I’m never too far away. I so laps of a path nearby my house, which is not the most exciting way to run, but it’s more interesting than the treadmill. I also carry my phone in case I need to come back, but I’m usually only a few minutes away anyway and see her a few times during my run.

We are always told it’s good to accept help with a new baby, and generally I think this means help with meals, ironing, cleaning. These things are great, don’t get me wrong (and we definitely appreciate the meals we were given). But the thing I have loved the most is people hanging out with Beth so I can run.

If someone offers, I usually try to take it, especially if it means swapping out a treadmill run. In some ways I am surprised that so many people have wanted to look after her, maybe I’m lucky she’s such a charmer. But it has sometimes been the difference between getting a run in and not getting a run in.

Lucky to have helpers!

Pace doesn’t matter – This has always been a challenge for me, because I am quite driven by running quickly. It’s not that I struggle to go easy on recovery days, but that I know what kind of pace I would usually do for each type of training run and like to be in that range.

At the moment though, I’m way off it. It has bothered me a few times, mostly at parkrun when I get a bit of FOMO and want to push harder. But generally if I’m out for any other run, I’m not too concerned about what pace I’m running.

In some ways, this surprises me because it’s the opposite of me. But I know my fitness is down on what it was and I have to keep my expectations realistic. Even in my last few parkruns, while quite away off my PB pace, I know I’m running as fast as I can, and that’s enough. Sometimes it’s nice just to be running!

Mum guilt is real – I had heard all about mum guilt, but it was a different thing experiencing it. I feel guilty when I drop my daughter off at the crèche. I spend most of my longer runs on the weekend wondering if she’s hungry, if I should get back faster or not run as far. During the races that I’ve run, I’m always looking forward to the points where I see her along the way so I can say hi. And sometimes I feel like running means I do too many activities for myself and not enough for her.

It definitely adds another thing to think about when I go for a run!

To make it easier, I try to book the crèche for her nap times. Sometimes it works out so she’s dozing off when we get there and still asleep when I get back. I know she has a good time hanging out with my husband during my long runs. And I try to balance my runs with activities for her, even if it’s as simple as going to the park.

It also helps to remind myself that going for a run makes me happy, and we get to spend the rest of the day together. I think the mum guilt will always be there though!

It’s really tiring – As in, really, really tiring. It might beg the question then, why do it. And on mornings when I’ve been up for 2 hours with a wide awake baby, I often ask myself that same question.

But then I remember that I would be getting up anyway. And if I’m up, I may as well do some exercise. And I always feel better afterwards, even if I often also really want a nap (that probably won’t happen).

It’s definitely a fine line and it’s important to make sure you aren’t too fatigued. As with any type of training, it’s important to listen to your body and take a rest day if you are really tired. But on the days it’s just low motivation I definitely feel better once I’ve got it done. And hopefully, one day, I will get more sleep! (Ha)

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