It’s been a while since I started my postpartum journey return to running. In fact it’s been a while since I’ve written anything at all. Things went crazy busy during the latter stages of my pregnancy, life happened, blogging didn’t seem to be a priority as such. Fast forward to Christmas and baby Harri Rees made his arrival on the 17th December, via planned cesarean section (My fourth c-section) A happy, healthy 8lb 9oz bundle of joy. Now Harri has turned four months old, I have been running and now feel like I can actually talk about my return to running, because I’ve been through it.
So what is the right way to return to running after having a baby? Truth bomb, there is no right way or more specifically, no structured, generic right way. Because no one else has gone through the exact same thing your body, and your mind has been through. There are of course things you can do to help safely return to return to running. But it should be taken more as a guidance. No one knows their own body as well as you do. Just as every pregnancy, every birth is different, so is the recovery. You’ve grown and birthed another human. You are the most qualified person to know what you and your body are capable of. Having said that, obviously a sensible head helps when coming back to the thing you love. And Patience. Lots of that. It’s also worth checking out a women’s health physio, should you want qualified reassurance about returning to running, or physio exercises relevant to you. Your postpartum 6 week check at doctors, doesn’t actually involve any physical checks to ensure you are healed up ready to go running. So if you have had a complicated birth, tears, cesareans, suffering from diastasis recti or even none of those things, go see someone who can physically guide you! Full disclosure, I didn’t go and see anyone, but I know lots of women who have and it has worked for them!
For me, as it was my fourth c section. I was prepared for a longer recovery and I was fully prepared, although not accepting of the fact it would probably take me longer to don the running daps than it would of been giving birth naturally with no complications. I was wrong. I was surprised to find that this one, was the best for recovery. I have no idea if it was because this was the only pregnancy I was active in. I stopped running at 30 weeks, because it was just too uncomfortable, but I remained active in other ways. Maybe it was just luck, or a good surgeon, as to why I recovered so well. You know the surgeon is pretty special when they ask if you want your three previous section scars to be turned into one to make it neater. Or maybe it was because I was chasing around after my other children and making sure I moved following Harri’s birth. We were soon out walking gently with the pram. It started as a shuffle for 10 minutes but soon built up.
How do you know you’re ready?
Before I even attempted my first run (which was 6 weeks postpartum) I made sure I could do a few basic things. The same kind of basic things you should be able to complete before returning to running following an injury. It’s a very similar process funnily enough.
Walking. I was walking every day. I had built up to being able to walk for over an hour at a brisk pace, over varied terrain with no pain or discomfort in any way before I even considered running. This included pushing the pram, and using a wrap to do some walks baby wearing (which was also a great reminder of lack of core strength to begin with!) Walking was such a key to returning. If you cannot walk without pain, there is no chance your body will be able to withstand running. I absolutely loved the walks with Harri. I varied them, some days we would walk more briskly, some days I went out for longer but not as fast, some were on trails with the carrier. It was great for both my physical and mental health in those early weeks.
Jump, Jump around. I was playing around with the kids, playing football, lifting them up etc pretty soon after the cesarean. From around 5 weeks postpartum, I didn’t even notice I was was doing these things, and certainly didn’t feel discomfort, and importantly, no pee accidents. It matters! I had built up my core and pelvic floor exercises and was able to complete these competently.
Take it steady. And then some. Especially with a cesarean. It’s major abdominal surgery. If you feel any pain, whatsoever, back off for a couple of days. This is where patience really does pay off. Carry on pushing through and you will cause more problems for yourself long term. There’s a balance in making sure you are being proactive in your recovery and doing too much that it is detrimental to your recovery. I never pushed past any discomfort. I only felt an ache or twinge now and then, but that was enough for me to back off, and try again in a few days. That worked. Your body isn’t daft. It sends you pain signals for a reason. It’s our brains that can be a bit silly, pushing through.
Don’t rush back because you see Susan on Facebook has come back the day after having her baby and is nailing 10ks. Susan is not you, and for all you know, could be very unhappy because it’s uncomfortable. Or maybe not, because she’s super human. Don’t pay attention to the Sheilas either. The ones that tell you if you run a step before your baby is a year old, your insides will fall out. Ok, so these are the two extremes, but hopefully you get my point. It doesn’t matter what Susan or Sheila are doing, or even if they’ve got an opinion on your own journey. They are not you. this is by far one of the biggest things I had to deal with upon my return to running. I guess with Social Media, you get drawn into the comparison game, you invite criticism, or judgement. You create it as soon as you start carrying another human inside of you, everyone has an opinion. The only opinion that matters is your own when it comes to what is right for you. Maybe your partners too. Sometimes.
Anyway, I digress.
So what was the score with returning to running when I felt ready. Well it started with run/walk intervals. My first run, was just 30 seconds of running repeated after long walk breaks. It was to test the water, to see if my body was actually ready for high impact or if I just thought it was ready. I wasn’t sore following that, or the next day, so the next run was a longer run, 1 minute run/1 minute walk, the next 2 minutes run/1 minute walk. and so on. Slowly increasing the run sections until I was running half a mile, then 8 minutes etc Every other day, not running two days consecutively. After 3 weeks of run/walk, and solid progression, we switched to normal running without walk breaks, but again reverting back to heart rate to ensure I wasn’t taxing my body. Back to basics, build up the fitness in a safe way. Everything has pretty much been easy running ever since. By week 5, I was running consecutive days and starting to increase the distance of my runs. Each week my mileage has increased, and now (week 12) I am running daily, my weekly mileage is up to 30 miles, and I am doing 1 x session each week. This week was a 10k tempo and it felt amazing! Yes, it’s taken me 12 weeks to reach this point but I think being so cautious and sensible (for a change) really has made all the difference. It has also made the process much more enjoyable. It’s taken out frustrations and negativity, it’s taken away pain. It’s just been fun, building back up within my means.
Please, don’t forget strength work.
This has been huge in my return. From basic body weight strength building up to weights and more range of movements as I healed from the cesarean. There are lots of movements you can do to help your core and pelvic floor. Bridges, leg slides, clams are just a few of my favourites from the off. Although I will let you into a little secret. It’s not so much a secret, because most of us whether we have had a baby, returning from injury or just an average run most days runner have the same secret. My core wasn’t completely ready for a return, and is still a work in progress. I don’t think in my whole time as a runner I have ever had the perfect core! I put it into the myth bag alongside activating glutes, perfect running form and all that jazz. They are things we strive for, but that’s part and parcel of being a runner isn’t it? I had a small lapse in strength training during one of the early weeks running. I did that thing us runners like to do, feel good and drop the strength/rehab. Cue random knee pain. I backed off immediately whilst I could feel it, picked the strength back up and have been good since then! It was like a little mini alarm, reminding me to behave!
So there it is, my experience of returning to running after having a baby. A brief version, but hopefully of some use. I know many of you who have read this will have followed along the YouTube series (Kellogs On The Run YouTube Channel) where I was vlogging my return to running, and this will pick up again. The start of the Coronavirus pandemic we are all currently in put a little halt to the weekly filming whilst we all found our feet, and juggled home schooling, work, a huge life change and all the other adaptions we are all gong through. I’m hoping to form a good balance between Vlog and Blog…. because I enjoy doing both! For now, it’s continuing to build the base during lock down under the watchful eye of the other half The Welsh Runner and hopefully continue getting stronger until we start Marathon training, IF the Autumn marathons are on! We shall see. But for now, it’s all about that base!