As I write this, yesterday was my 8th London marathon. Somehow I managed to get round at a personal best time. A year ago I was watching the race from the sofa at home, 8 and a half months pregnant, finishing off a box of magnum ice creams by myself.
Now the medal is hanging up with it’s other companions, I wanted to write down a few things that I have done over the last year. This is how I got from day one of motherhood, feeling more physically broken than ever before, to a marathon PB in 11 months. With the hopes that if someone is reading this who has just had a baby, and feels like they have been hit by a truck, or like their body is no longer their own, there is light, at the end of the long sleepless, nappy filled tunnel. You will feel some resemblance of yourself again, and perhaps in many ways, you will be stronger than ever before….
Our son Ted was born at 9.22pm 29th May 2018 after a long 42 hours. He was 9lbs 2oz. I am such a wreck I can’t walk to the car and am pushed out in a wheelchair.
In the first 2 weeks…. I did nothing! Making sure I just looked after Ted and myself as well as staying hydrated and recovering from labour. On one of my first midwife checkups she tells me to test my pelvic floor…. I squeeze and can’t feel anything. My body feels worse than after any ultra marathon I’ve ever run. My tummy feels like wobbly bread dough and my ankles are about 4 times their normal size. Thankfully there are lots of people around to help make tea and bring me cake.
In the first couple of months… I did NO running. I did a lot of belly breathing and pelvic floor exercises which the midwives tell you to do, and kind of explain but nobody really checks if you are doing it right. I started seeing the chiropractor who checked and treated me all over, bearing in mind Ted was quite a heavy baby I needed a bit of adjusting after I had him to get me back into a good alignment. He had a lot of treatment too which has been invaluable. To start with I see the chiropractor every couple of weeks. It is the middle of summer and I am indoors with a baby for 90% of the day. I want to run and feel like I can’t get up the stairs without getting out of breath. I learn how to assess my abdominals for separation and go to visit a masseur friend of mine who has a look at my abdominals too.
After 2 months …. I started heading out for short 30 minute runs in the park about twice a week on my own. Mainly just to get me out the house for some air and time to myself. To begin with I couldn’t run for more than 15 seconds so I would run/walk then come home again. Slowly I built this up over a few weeks to being able to run 2 miles round the park. Each run would be different. Some days I would have lots of energy but more often than not I would be exhausted before I had even started. Again I could only really do this a couple times a week at the most. Breastfeeding and sleepless nights were sapping most of my energy.
3-6 months post birth… Disaster…I run my first ParkRun almost exactly 3 months since having Ted; a very hilly ParkRun in Lullingstone. I finish feeling exhausted but great to have done it. As I walk over to my husband at the finish I realise my leggings are wet. I’ve basically wet myself. I want to cry. I didn’t even notice it happening. I hope that it was just the undulating terrain and promise myself I will do more pelvic floor exercises and surely it will get better. I’m now seeing the chiropractor every 6 weeks or so. Ted is not sleeping through the night yet so often runs are sacrificed for sleep.
At 6 months post baby I take part in a 10k. It’s the furthest I have run in a long time. I run a bit slower than I did at the ParkRun, I don’t wet myself so I hope I am stronger and maybe thats the end of that.
It isn’t. In October starts the XC season and I take part in a meet in Tunbridge Wells which is quite a hilly 5K. We arrive late so I rush to the start, bypassing the portaloos. Within the first 50 yards of the race I feel a trickle running down my leg. By the time I finish my shorts are soaked through. I make a joke of it to my teammates but I am annoyed and embarrassed. My body used to be able to run over 100 miles. Now it can’t go 50 yards without my bladder giving up.
Christmas comes and I ease off on the running and focus on a bit of yoga and stretching. We do buy a fantastic running buggy on Black Friday which means I can now get out for runs whilst pushing Ted.
At 7 months post birth it is the new year and I take part in run everyday January. Thankfully as the days go on and I get the hang of buggy running my legs start to feel slightly stronger. However I start to get aches in my abdominals after longer runs. I haven’t raced hard since the XC incident so I don’t know if my bladder and pelvic floor are any stronger. I decide to get some advice.
I am introduced to a physiotherapist, Alex at Ana Therapies in Gravesend, who I meet through a baby group. I email her to explain my symptoms and I book an appointment ASAP.
On my first appointment Alex takes a thorough history of me and then looks at me with a fine tooth comb from top to bottom. We chat through everything; my lifestyle, pregnancy and birth and even old horse riding injuries, so she can get a complete picture of my physical health.
Alex checks and treats me internally too and afterwards she helps me make sense of what happened in pregnancy and labour and the symptoms I have experienced since. In simple terms, what we think is happening is that when I run, my pelvic floor is so weak that my tummy muscles are being asked to hold everything together. I’m given a regime of exercises to perform to help strengthen my pelvic floor and reduce the stress incontinence. In the following week I take part in a hilly 10 mile trail race. I get round the course with no wetting myself and am thrilled about it. I continue to see Alex every few weeks, where she performs internal physiotherapy as well as treating my abdominals and upper back, addressing my posture which has been affected by over 8 months of breastfeeding.
Now I feel more confident that my pelvic floor is getting stronger I increase my training back to about 5 or 6 days a week.
Following a specific training plan is tricky with a baby. I plan my training week around when my mum can have Ted for enough hours so I can get out for a long run of between 10-20 miles. On the other days I either run round the local lanes with the buggy or do some simple interval sessions on the local rugby pitch. On difficult weeks where my Mum can’t have Ted I split up the long run day with a buggy run in the morning and then some miles on the treadmill when Ted is in bed. In-between I might take Ted for a walk in the rucksack for extra weight training. All the time I am training of course Ted still takes priority. If he gets upset in the buggy or has days where he is unwell, running comes to a halt. Most of my running is done in the morning after breakfast and then we have the rest of the day to play, go to baby groups, visit friends and family and run errands.
Slowly I feel that I am getting stronger. The abdominal pain I felt after running at the start of the year goes away. I continue to practice my pelvic floor exercises and, very luckily, win an Elvie pelvic floor trainer in an instagram competition which is a great tool to see how much stronger I am getting. When Ted is 10 months old, I have a day out at a UK Athletics conference in London. I have been breastfeeding up to this point and decide that this will be a good time to wean Ted off me for at least one feed in the middle of the day to give me a break. Over the next few weeks Ted slowly becomes more interested in feeding from a bottle. Ted is on the 98th percentile for weight so a very heavy baby, and holding him to feed is starting to get difficult particularly when we are out of the house. I gradually swap all feeds over to formula (except those at night) and am amazed at how much more energy I have now my body isn’t feeding a growing child.
I build up my long run distance over the next few weeks as well as continuing to add in short faster sessions a couple of days a week when I don’t have time to do much else. Due to not having much childcare in the week I only get up to about 17 miles for my longest run. Normally I would run a few training runs at 20/22 miles in the lead up to a marathon. It makes me slightly nervous but I know I can run the distance, and I hope that pregnancy and the training I have done has made me stronger in other ways.
We have a club handicap race at the end of March which is a chance for me to push myself on the road. It’s only 5 miles and I haven’t had a chance to race since my 10 miler in February so I am interested to see how I do. As Andy is in charge of timekeeping I run pushing Ted in the buggy. It takes me just over 40 minutes. The next week I run the same route without the buggy and manage about 4 minutes quicker. It’s a real confidence boost that the added intensity of running with a buggy is paying off in my road running.
With 2 weeks to go to London Marathon I have one final weekend of running planned. We stay with our friends in the Lake District and Andy and I both get a chance to do some running in the hills. We have the perfect weather on the Saturday to get round Newlands Horseshoe and it feels a welcome change to use my hill running legs again.
When the London Marathon week comes around I feel happy and confident in my training. The main goal is just to get round. The race is 11 months after having a baby and I should be pleased enough with just getting to the start line in one piece. In my mind I can’t help but hope that I could get under 4 hours if nothing goes wrong.
My place in VLM was originally a good for age place which I qualified for in 2017. At the time I envisaged that I would be running it in 2018 and would aim for 3hrs 30. Hence London Marathon put me in a start pen at the very front of the race. I hang about at the back of my start pen and let everyone get going ahead of me. The first few miles fly by and when I look at my watch I am running at a pace much faster than I should be. It feels ok so I decide to keep it up. I am surprised to go through 13 miles at pretty much a half marathon Pb time. I am worried my legs are going to break but at the same time I am now interested to see if I can maintain the pace.
As expected my legs start to get tired at around 16 miles and I do slow a little. I think back to the pain I felt 11 months ago when I was in labour, and how this is a piece of cake in comparison. I try to keep consistent and in the final few miles, I do the maths and realise I am on for a sub 3.40 finish. The last mile, as always, feels like forever and I finally cross the line at 3.35.26. 3 seconds faster than my personal best time set 2 years ago. I am pleased to have a pb, but even more pleased to start and finish uninjured, and without wetting myself!
It feels like only yesterday that I went out for my first, exhausting 15 minute run/walk after having Ted. I remember coming back red faced and dejected, and saying to my husband that I would never be able to get back to my previous fitness. There were some mornings where I would get up after a sleepless night and somehow I would manage to get out for a run and it felt great. But I also remember getting up some mornings after a sleepless night and wanting to go for a run, but instead preferring to stay on the sofa, eat brownies for breakfast and have cuddles with Ted whilst watching Hey Duggee, which I felt was important too.
When I was pregnant and we were preparing to have Ted, we took part in a Hypnobirthing course. On it we talked a lot about having trust that your body will do everything it needs to, to get your baby into the world; to go with the flow, keep calm, don’t worry and trust the process. And that’s kind of how I felt during the marathon. Although my training had been far from perfect, I had full trust what I had done and trust in my legs getting me to the finish line. I had (almost) 100% trust in my pelvic floor holding out for 26 miles. And I wasn’t wrong.
When travelling home from London with my running club friends I joked that if you want to get a pb in a marathon, you need to have a baby. Obviously that’s not always the case. But after my experience over the last 11 months, I do think that parenthood (whether you are the one who carries the baby or not) is such a tester of your strength and your tenacity that whatever physical challenges you set yourself afterwards will come more easily.
This is of course not a step by step guide on how to go from giving birth, to running a marathon in less than a year. This is what I did, and what worked for my baby and I. What I do hope to convey is that although it is absolutely not easy, and it takes lots of commitment and patience, it is possible. I couldn’t have achieved it without the right help and guidance from chiropractors, physios and specialists in women’s health. I really encourage all mums to get themselves a thorough post natal check carried out by a professional, regardless of how long it has been since you had a baby.