Returning to Running: Postnatal Exercise
By Harriet Macready
I’m not au fait with blogs (writing or in fact reading them) so I apologise in advance for my ramblings below. I joined the Virtual Run Project (VRP) in order to get back into my pre-pregnancy jeans among other things. As a mum of two now, it felt more important than ever that I got back into shape to allow me to keep up with the small humans living with us and ultimately, to allow myself some me time – even if it is on the road and not in some fancy spa somewhere.
Emma asked me to complete a blog post for the first four weeks of the VRP; however, I feel I should probably say a little bit about the 34 years that came before this venture before I get into the nitty gritty of training.
I’ve always been fairly active even if I haven’t ever been an amazing runner. If someone was to ask me, I’d say I’m a sailor and a skier before I even consider running but some of my earliest memories are of my dad and me going out for a jog in the woods or on holiday.
In 2013, I decided to run the Pilgrims Half Marathon in Farnham. I’m not sure what made me do it but I trained hard (with the help of a certain Mrs Footman who incidentally made me vomit at the end of a 10k local event much to her delight) and I completed it. Did I enjoy it? No. Was it the start of an amazing running addiction? Again, sadly not. In fact, it put me off for a long time.
Fast forward seven years and I find myself wanting to get back into it but this time I want to do it sustainably and make it a way of life rather than a fad. The only trouble is, I’ve since had two children (one caesarean – Elsie, age 3 – and one VBAC – Iris age 2 months) so the journey back to fitness and peak performance (as minimal as that might be) needs to be slow and steady.
Martin was a little wary that I was coming into this after very little exercise prior to January 2021. I found out that I was pregnant the week before lockdown 1.0 so the most I did in the 10 months leading up to the VRP was my allotted daily exercise slot, which generally consisted of a very gentle walk with my family or a trip to the local park with my daughter to push her on a swing. Because of this, my first week’s training was intervals of one minute running and three minutes walking. I’ve started the Couch to 5k initiative more times than I care to remember therefore this style of training is an old friend.
Thankfully, despite very little activity leading up to the VRP, it felt good – maybe even too good. I was out of the house with zero children, my husband was incredibly supportive and holding the fort at home and I was able to complete the running sections easily. Was it a false sense of security? Maybe, but I had done the hardest part which was getting out there and it didn’t feel like I’d given birth two months ago – win!
Last week felt great and I was looking forward to seeing what was in store next. Two minutes running and two minutes walking looked like a big jump on paper – I was going to have to run twice as far as I did in week 1 – but it was more than achievable. I was starting to enjoy going out for my runs and I had cross training sessions to complete in between, which was ideal as my eldest daughter just so happened to start nursery on the same day that the VRP started, meaning I was already walking 1hr+ each day for the school run.
One thing that was on my mind before starting the VRP was how running would impact on breastfeeding. I struggled endlessly to feed my first daughter and I was worried that somehow running would decrease my milk supply when feeding was going so well with Iris. If anything, exercise appears to have increased the supply, which I’ve put down to the endorphins being released as I exercise. Poor Iris has taken one for the team and ensures that it doesn’t get too painful by guzzling the lot. She looks like a little sumo wrestler as a result.
This week saw my running time increase to three minutes. I wasn’t sure whether my postnatal body was up to the challenge after so long sat on the sofa but I managed it. The first run felt tough on my knees and my mind (I found I was checking my watch endlessly to see when my minute recovery was coming). When the second run came around, something strange happened – it was beginning to feel like the norm. My body wasn’t continually fighting against my decision to start running after giving birth 10 weeks ago anymore. Emma described it as the “magic of running” but I must admit, it didn’t feel that good. Then the third and final run of week 3 arrived. I finally understood what she meant – I was out running but I wasn’t checking the watch or thinking about it, I was just doing it. I was – dare I say it – enjoying myself!
I was really looking forward to seeing how my body would react to the training this week (five whole minutes of running followed by a 90 second recovery) after the success of week 3. It would be my first ever real snow run – I was intrigued to see how my feet/legs/trainers would react to the new surface – and, having previously spent three seasons in the Alps, I couldn’t wait to get out in the stuff. At this point, one of the drawbacks of returning to exercise after giving birth came into play – the baby. Elsie had passed on her first nursery disease – the dreaded cold – to her whole family, including Iris. Iris, being new to this common virus, decided she was going to scare the pants off her mummy and daddy and stop breathing at various points throughout the morning. The result was a trip to paeds A&E which put a halt to the first day of training. Children, who’d have ‘em?
Thankfully, she was quickly given a full bill of health, so I was back to my training schedule (just one day out of sync). The longer run didn’t go unnoticed by my legs or my mind but I got through it without too much of a battle. As the week progressed, the longer running intervals became easier and, once again, I found myself enjoying the time outside away from a toddler and a baby. None of my postnatal niggles were niggling me and my head was telling me I was doing the right thing.
I’ve signed up to continue the VRP through February and I really can’t wait to see what’s in store over the next four weeks or indeed how I will respond to the increasing intensity of the training. I originally signed up to kick start me into getting active, but it has turned into so much more. With the amazing YNM family and VRP community on Facebook, my mum bod is well on the way to being my bod again!