Returning to Running Post-Baby
It’s been almost two and a half years since I became a mom and there are still moments when I find myself thinking, ‘Wait, when did I become a parent?’ Yet at the same time being co-owner of a toddler is now a huge part of my life and identity.
Returning to the activities that define and bring me joy was not simple, but was an exciting and challenging journey from athlete to mom-athlete with a lot to learn. No new parents like unsolicited advice directly, but here are my top ten tips from my experience returning to life as a professional triathlete.
Top Ten Tips
1. Get the OK from a doctor
Before you start training again, get the OK from a doctor, preferably one who is familiar with mom-athletes. Most will recommend six weeks before doing activities like running, which seems like an eternity initially but it will go by in a flash. Chances are if your delivery goes smoothly you can get out sooner (every pregnancy and child is different), but remember there is no award for who competes or gets out there the soonest after giving birth. The races will always be there—enjoy motherhood first!
2. Train less, eat more
Being a mom is tiring and time-consuming, so I generally train less but with more specificity to get more than ever out of every workout. In addition to being focused and efficient, you have to be fueled properly. It’s super-important for both you and your baby to get the right nutrients and a lot of fluids, especially if you’re exercising. Competing with a baby for meal times is challenging. As a result, I found myself forgetting to eat and drink, and as a result being under-fueled for training sessions and not getting as much out of the workout as I could have. Try to remember to focus on eating enough, and forget about trying to lose the ‘baby weight.’
3. Lower your workout expectations
When I first started training postpartum, I was a lot slower than I was pre-baby, but I did not think about that—I thought about how much faster I was than when I was pregnant. If I got out the door and moved my body at all, I saw it as a successful session, and I avoided worrying about pace, speed, power, and all that jazz. And always remember, something is better than nothing. All those interrupted trainer sessions while my son was napping or snail-slow stroller runs added up. I have a memory from that first winter of pushing my Chariot, in the dark, through puddles and sloppy snow, with the dog on a leash, probably averaging 20-minute miles. The following summer I PR’ed in the mile (4:32) 10k (36:04) and half marathon (1:21:54.).
4. Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t
Yes, I may not be able to train as much or as often as I did before I had a child, and some days it takes me longer to get out the door than I actually have to train, but I almost always have options or things I can work on. Focusing on those things made me less frustrated and more confident.
5. When the baby sleeps, train!
For me naptime meant time to get stuff done. Yes I often wanted a nap as well, but getting those training sessions in after a night of little or no sleep gave me confidence on race day when–guess what–I also did not get sleep the night before. One thing that has improved since becoming a mom is waking up at any time of day and being able to perform.
6. Ask for help
We went eight months with no daycare, no nanny and only hired a babysitter once; we were taking turns and getting a lot of help from friends and family. I am forever grateful for the help I have received and I am amazed at people’s generosity. I had a lot of offers for help at a non-specific time and date—the trick was following through. It took persistence in asking but it worked. That, and lots of visits from the grandparents!
7. Perfect the baby exchange
It’s all about taking turns when it comes to pretty much everything, whether it be for training, eating, working or simply taking a shower. I have done a lot of swim workouts on my partner Ian’s lunch break where I am literally in my swimsuit (with clothes over the top) holding our son on our front porch waiting for him to pull in the driveway, so I can hand him the baby and ride off to the pool. I end up only having about 40 minutes of pool time, but it’s still something.
8. Train from your door
Time is more limited so I don’t want to spend 40 minutes in a car driving to and from a trailhead. I am very lucky to live in Park City where we have so many trails right from town. Sure, I get tired of the same trails but there is value in repetition when it comes to training–I can compare my times and see improvements in my training frequently. So even if you’re just doing loops around the neighborhood or even laps around the block, you’re maximizing your training time.
9. Bring the baby!
Having the option of bringing my child with me while I work out has been a lifesaver … or, shall I say, a training saver. It meant I always had an option rather than an excuse not to train. More importantly it allows us to get outside as a family. We have gotten so much use out of our kid carrier and baby jogger. Who knows, is the fact that I am doing something different (and often harder) than my competitors, a secret weapon? Ever tried cross country skiing with a Chariot? You are in for a tough workout.
10. Pick a race or challenge
A race or challenge the horizon is a great way to motivate you to get out the door when you are sleep-deprived and busy. I did my first race four months after giving birth, which I now realize was very early. My first race back was all about going through the motions and most importantly finishing so I could serve my baby lunch ASAP. For most athletic women, and myself in the future, I think 6-9 months is a better time frame. Either way, having that race on my calendar kept me motivated.
Essential Gear for the Training Mom
Being a multisport athlete means you have to be good at juggling a lot of gear, so that experience before I became a mom prepared me well for the baby ‘stuff.’ I learned quickly I couldn’t head out the door without the milk. Or the diapers, or the wipes, or the change of clothes, or the hat or the sunblock, or the blanket. These were the most important items we needed for the ‘baby on the go’ during our first year as parents:
High Impact Sports Bra
Once the baby is born, it’s almost always about the baby; but we need to remember about mom sometimes. I needed a highly supportive sports bra postpartum and the adjustable straps and back was helpful for my changing size and for nursing. I bought most of the Moving Comfort Sports Bras, what I liked about the Fiona Bra is it’s easy to put on and off.
The Thule Chariot
I love the versatility of the Thule Chariot Cougar 1 Stroller; we have the running, biking, and cross country adapter kits so we can use it for a lot of different activities. Not to mention as a stroller, especially in the winter when it’s great to have a cover. Remember, your child should be able to hold his/her head up before using the Chariot, unless you are using an Infant Sling.
Kid Carrier Backpack
Having the Osprey Poco Premium Kid Carrier allowed us to get out as a family and go places that the Chariot just can’t.
A baby sun hat is super important to protect your child from the sun, especially if you live somewhere like Utah. We got a lot of use out of the Sunday Afternoons Play Hat and loved the strap with a clip, as it kept my son from pulling it off.
Dressing an infant for cold weather is challenging. We got a lot of use out of our Patagonia Hi Loft Down Sweater Bunting for riding in the Chariot, sitting in the baby carrier, or sleeping in a car seat parked in a tent.
Most infant clothes, especially cotton socks, are OK if you live somewhere warm. Wool socks for infants and toddlers help keep feet warmer in the winter. Buy the SmartWool Bootie Batch so you get a few pairs, as they are easily lost!