Ask the Coaches: Bounce Back, Baby
This is the next installment of Evergreen Endurance and Cascade Endurance's joint column Ask the Coaches.
Yes, this is a baby tip column. But before those of you without babies roll your eyes and stop reading, the same tips could be for anyone coming back from injury, illness, depression, any chunk of time not running, or any big transition in life.
J1: Be nice to yourself. This is always a good idea, but it’s particularly true if you’ve just given birth, or had major surgery (c-section or something else), or gone through any other major life change (divorce, moving, etc.) We’re not saying you should just sink into the couch never to move again. Exercise is absolutely good for the body and mind. But some of us occupy this twisted ultra world where people run marathons for training, and 100 miles is far - but not THAT far. Remember that even 30 min of brisk walking per day is great. If you can do a little more, that’s great too. But particularly postpartum, don’t rush the exercise. You just created a HUMAN for goodness sakes!
A1: Everyone is different-don't compare. This is basically a piggy back to Jessi’s be nice to yourself. I was so inspired by people who won races a couple of days after giving birth (ok, maybe months), but just like in other parts of life, it’s best not to compare to others. You have no idea what their pregnancy, pre-baby life, child birth, or recovery has been like. That said, there are some great blogs and videos of what is possible, but let it be just that: motivation, not something to make you feel bad. One of the people I really admired ended up dealing with health issues from pushing herself too much, too early. It didn’t change my admiration, but it did remind me that you never know what the other person is dealing with or will deal with; and your health should be your top priority.
Blogs/videos I liked: Jenny Segger (Ultrarunner and coach in BC), Salomon TV on Kasie Enman, Lauren Fleshman (pro runner, mom, business owner, rad person), Liza Howard (set a 100 mile course record with nursing breaks in the bathrooms), Oiselle blog (many runner moms who are badass with real lives/jobs/fears/setbacks).
J2: Check out these trails. If you’re looking to get out but don’t want to be overwhelmed with long drives or super-remote wilderness just yet. These are trails I frequented when getting back in shape after having Rowan - or trails I wish I had known about! They were perfect for that stage when she was still young enough to be carried, but I wasn’t yet fit enough to do anything super strenuous.
St Edward State Park - stick to the upper trails until you’re feeling good enough to tackle the hills down to Lake WA.
Lunds Gulch (benches where you can sit down and take a break for nursing or just to catch your breath)
Paradise Valley - the Mainline Trail, in particular
Icicle Creek (it’s a long drive, but it made me feel like I was really in the mountains! Consider combining this with a family car-camping trip)
Skookum Flats (Do as much or as little as you want)
Tradition Lake Loop (Has benches, which make a great spot to sit down and nurse - I never could get the “hang” of nursing Rowan while she was in her Ergo)
Swamp Trail - Trailside signs tell a story as you go. Rowan has loved this one at every age.
A2: Think of the progress you'll see! It’s so exciting to get running again after being pregnant for so long, that it feels like you should be right back where you were before you were with child, but chances are, it won’t come right back. But, just think of how much better you’ll get so quickly! Sometimes it’s easy to take for granted what we’re able to do, but coming back from having a littl’un is a great reminder to enjoy the process and just enjoy having only yourself to think about for a few minutes.
J3: Master the art of the car diaper change. In our house, this was actually a skill my husband had to master. I grew the baby, and for the first 6 months, I created every ounce of sustenance that went into her little body. So Tom was responsible for what came out.
A3: Find a good bra. I guess this goes without saying whether you’re pre- or post-baby, but I never had to worry about it until I was pregnant and didn’t realize how much I liked not having to worry about it (sorry, I know many women have to deal with this all the time, and I admit, I have a much greater appreciation now). I loved the Moving Comfort bra that had a strap that velcroed on each side in the the front. It was essentially a nursing bra! I would walk through the door and Sam would hand me Fiona. It was perfect, and she got some bonus electrolytes.
J4: Remind yourself that just getting out the door is an accomplishment. I read this somewhere, and I wish I could find the article. But basically it was like, some days you’re going to make it to the trailhead and your baby will have a blowout and you’ll put on the extra change of clothes and then your baby will spit up all over that and then you’ll realize you forgot the Ergo and finally you will just admit defeat and go home. Except that it’s not defeat! At least you got out of the house! Especially during the first 6 months post-partum, this IS an accomplishment. It helped me to read this in a real article published in a real magazine for real athletes.
A4: Supplement with core work. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention something about this, since some “leakage” is fairly common post-partum, but working with a PT (Real Rehab is great) or finding a good yoga class (Eight Limbs has an amazing core class) that combines breath work and core engagement/strengthening will help you get back to running more, and might even make you stronger than you were pre-baby. Your pelvis did an astronomical feat, and it’s ok that it takes a while to get back. But if you don’t address it, it can certainly cause problems later, and if nothing else, makes for annoying runs, always trying to find a bathroom. Despite popular belief, it isn’t healthy to have leakage long-term.
J5: When they first learn to walk… and when they are old enough to want to do their own thing… and pretty much at any age, and in any situation: Patience. (Something I’m always working on!) It’s actually tough to make the transition from carrying baby in a carrier to having them hike along with you. Carrying baby is physically difficult, and it definitely gives you a good workout. You may spend 0-2+ years thinking of “family hikes” as excellent training sessions with a loaded pack! You have full control over where you go. Sure, you spend the entire hike singing Caspar Babypants or playing the “quiet”/LOUD” game. But generally, you go at your pace.
And then suddenly baby wants out of the pack, and you think: Awesome!! I am raising my own little hiker now! And it IS awesome! Except that family hikes change dramatically. No more carrying a heavy pack and “training.” They now become extremely slow meanders down a flat gravel trail.
For me, trail running is about being outside - but just as importantly, for me it’s about being active. It’s important to remind myself that for Rowan, being on the trail might mean something different. She is already more like her Dad in that she loves to stop and look closely at things. We gave her an old half-broken digital camera, and she loves nothing more than to wander around taking pics of everything. She especially loves photographic treasure hunts (and doing a treasure hunt by photo - rather than actually collecting items - is a great way to introduce some Leave No Trace principles!) It turns out hiking is also one of her favorite times to play My Little Ponies.
A5: Don't feel guilty! The fact that you want to get away from your precious baby to go run is totally ok and makes you a better mom. You want to get your pre-baby body back? Yup, that’s ok, too. The biggest surprise for me was how much my body still didn’t feel like my own after Fiona was born. I knew that while I was growing a baby, my body’s main purpose was to grow a baby. I was ok with that. And I looked forward to her being born (for so many reasons) so I could feel in my body again. But then she was born, and for at least three months, my body was still only thinking about the thing that I got out of my body. What?! Running was pretty much the only time I felt otherwise. I’m lucky (or not) to not feel guilty about pretty much anything, but I’ve heard other moms say they felt guilty to want to get away, or take a little break, and it makes me want to scream “HOW CAN YOU NOT WANT TO GET AWAY?!” The flipside is also don’t feel guilty if you don’t want to run. I couldn’t wait to run Decpetion Pass 50k when Fiona was six months old, and while I loved being out there for about 20 miles, then I did not, and had a little breakdown-I just wanted to be home with my little baby. So I dropped, and went home.