In the circles I frequent (especially the ones on social media) there are lots of new mommas, especially new mommas who happen to be runners and triathletes. A pretty frequent topic of conversation has been “what will running be like post-partum” and “what doctors and health care professionals don’t tell you.” While there are lots of women out there who bounce back to running and training with what appears to be preternatural ease, I think a lot more women struggle (and struggle in silence).
First things first. Pregnancy and child birth are hard. Recovery from both are hard too, especially if you have complications in the birthing process. I had a cesarean section and while it was great for planning purposes and ensuring that Ivy was safe and healthy, it wreaked havoc on my body. For the uninformed (or just curious) during a cesarean section an incision is made through the skin, the abdominal muscles are pulled apart and then a second incision is made to the uterus to remove the baby. Neither the procedure, nor its aftermath are pretty (well Ivy was pretty but my body, not so much):
Post cesarean section, I felt pretty good, but how I felt did not correlate to the shape my body was in. Not only was I carrying a ton of additional weight (which I still continue to carry 5 months post partum), I also developed what I can only describe as an inner tube of fat hanging around my lower abdominal. I’ve taken to affectionately referring to it as my “joey pouch.” In addition my breasts were (and are) larger and my hips had widened even further (which is kind of crazy given I was hippy to begin with). In the my first month post partum I walked a lot. Over 100 miles. It didn’t help with weight loss, but it made me feel better. At six weeks post partum I was given the green light to start running. I was ecstatic. While it was great to be running, it was also demoralizing that nothing fit. Nothing. Spandex can only stretch so far. I truly felt that I was too fat to run.
After a month of working up to four slow miles and gaining confidence that every person I passed while running wasn’t quietly judging me, both my knees started to hurt. A lot. I have high a high pain tolerance but I couldn’t stand it anymore so I went to the doctor. Knee tendonitis (likely caused by pregnancy related joint laxity, super tight hip flexors and psoas and, well, too much weight). The month of November was spent doing PT, swimming and biking. I was three months post postpartum and felt like I was getting absolutely nowhere. To make matters worse, it felt like no else hit these kind of speed bumps. My social media feeds were filled with new PRs, flat stomachs and race registrations. Who wants to listen to someone whine about a sagging stomach, bad knees and sleepless nights?
Finally at the end of November I cleared to run again. Hooray. On Thanksgiving Day Ivy and I ran a 5K together in 36 minutes. Let me repeat that 36 minutes. My pre-pregnancy PR was 22:XX, so we were running about 4 minutes per mile slower than my best. As awesome as it was to finish, it was also devastating. Its hard to feel optimistic and confident was there is so much doubt. I was able to run consistently through the month of December (it helped that my mom came up from Florida and stayed with us for that month). Running 3-4 times per week for a total of 15-20 miles and a long run of 6-7 miles was good for me both physically and mentally. As long as I could stay out of my head (and stop comparing myself with the “old Kelly”) I was doing well.
On Christmas Day I ran another 5K in just (barely) under 30 minutes. Better but still so far away from the mythical “where I should be.” While I felt better about my time, pictures from the race killed any sprout of self confidence. I looked like I was smuggling a fanny pack under my shirt and two ham hocks in the legs of my tights. Not a pretty picture. One step forward. Three steps back. Despite my wobbly mental confidence, I did a pretty good job of staying consistent in January with a few blips — Ivy had a bad cold, I had a very nasty stomach virus and had to travel to Tulsa for several days. Even so I kept up with training and reached about 8 hours a week of swimming, biking and running. I even had what you might consider a break through run — a training run in which the pace averaged under 10 minutes per mile.
While it was awesome to see improvements, this is post-pregnancy running. One step forward. Three steps back. While I was in Tulsa I, twisted my ankle and fell (yes, I was wearing heels — I know I should have been wearing sensible shoes). By the time I got back to Connecticut my knee had swollen up like a balloon. I’m now on day 5 of no training and am fairly certain I hyper extended my knee. I have a 10K at the end of the month and a half marathon in March and I have no idea if I’ll be ready for either.
So when someone asks what post-pregnancy running looks like, the only truthful answer is “it depends.” There are plenty of people out there who can jump right back in. Awesome. There are others who decide that running is no longer a priority. Good for them. Then, there are those of us in the middle. Struggling, clawing, waging battles for small victories. Does it get easier? I hope so, but I don’t know so. I know that I’m trying. I know that Ivy is healthy and happy and a ridiculous, expressive, funny baby. I know that Ryan is trying his best to support me even if I can be extremely difficult (big surprise, me, extremely difficult). And finally I know that no matter what happens in the next day, week and month, there will always be races to run, PRs to chase and goals to achieve. This is what post-pregnancy running looks like.