At the start of 2017, I was about 16 months postpartum and fresh off November marathon and half marathon PRs, records that had taken a good three years (and getting pregnant again) before finally falling. For the first time in a long time, I decided to forego a spring marathon in the interest of doing short stuff. In essence, for the better part of the last decade, I had convinced myself that I was/am more of a marathoner than anything, that the discomfort from running 26.2 as fast as I could was more bearable than doing the same for 13.1, 6.2, or god forbid 3.1.
The stories we tell ourselves, or hey, let’s call a spade a spade and qualify it for what it is — the limitations we impose on ourselves — seem to have a way of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. For years, I had all but purposely shied away from racing, much less training for, short distances because I was convinced that those distances just weren’t in my wheelhouse because anytime I did them, it just wasn’t enjoyable. Racing any of the PA races with my team was never an option simply because I never felt I was fast enough to do anything productive, lest I forget that I was always training for a marathon and always told myself that I “wasn’t in half, 5k, 10k, or (insert any other non-marathon-distance) shape.”
At any rate, I don’t know why I had decided that a spring 2017 marathon would be an unwise route for me to take — if memory serves, the only time in recent history when I haven’t done a spring marathon was in the throes of pregnancy — but in doing so, it left me with a gap to fill. I felt I was far enough along postpartum to begin pressing things a bit more earnestly, so going after the shorter and arguably harder non-marathon distances seemed to make a lot of sense at the time. Something unbelievable happened, too: I actually enjoyed non-marathon races. It wasn’t until after halfway through the year that I’d get back into the marathon, and it was in that opposing world where I spent most of my time training for the second part of the year.
When I talk about 2017, I can rattle off lots of statistics:
2,501 miles run (not a distance PR, but just shy of the 2,56x from 2014);
winning a couple races (SIB baby mama 10k, Hearts and Soles 10k, East Bay 510k);
running new-to-me distances/races (XC);
and having several non-racing or non-mileage-focused experiences that were still very meaningful (pacing SRM; spectating at BSIM, IM Santa Rosa, and my eldest’s first tri; participating in a Hoka Women Who Fly weekend; the tons and tons of stroller runs; and bike-stroller run-ride commutes with my kids).
I’ll be the first to admit that all that stuff matters to me, but when I think about my 2017, the connective thread between all of it is the community in which this sport enables me to immerse myself. It’s the community that made taking the plunge to do different stuff — stuff that I wouldn’t otherwise be so keen to do — more feasible, a welcome change of both literal and metaphorical pace. There was a time in my life when I’d sign up for a race; show up and do the thing; and then go home, both when I lived in Chicago and since moving to the Bay Area.
My 2017 was basically the polar opposite.
It’s the community in this sport — and the so many people with whom I got to spend time, train, and race alongside — that just makes me cheshire like a damn fool when I think about my running in 2017. Sure, notching personal bests (and working my ass off to get myself to a place where I can do that) is important and enjoyable, but the people, man. The people are where it’s at in this sport.
Rather than belabor every lowlight and highlight of the 2500 miles from 2017, I think the more appropriate way to adequately express what I’m talking about — why this community thing meant so much to me in 2017 — is to show you.
I’m not completely sure what I’m chasing after in 2018, at least not yet. I’m inclined to focus my year in much the same way as I did in 2017, by doing the shorter stuff in the first half and the marathon (SF, CIM) in the second half, but we’ll see.
What I do know is that I’ll be in good company again this year, and that in and of itself is pretty damn exciting.
Consider this your standing invitation to join in the fun anytime.
I’ve had this draft saved on my computer for well over a month now, and I keep coming back to it, editing and revising it, deciding that I don’t like what I originally said or that it wouldn’t necessarily be helpful to anyone. I guess you could say that I more or less had this “grand master plan” of what my “postpartum running from the one-year-out mark” post would look like, and it wasn’t until (and unless!) my thoughts on the screen mirrored those in my head that I’d be sufficiently content to hit publish.
…and in the “yet again, the universe always makes sense” department, I realized that it’s kinda that image, that picture of me having an idea in my head for how I want something to look, working on it, feeling like I am coming up short compared to my lofty standards, and eventually saying eh fuck it this is probably good enough I’m probably overthinking thisand letting go (hitting publish) – that picture, that process, that’s really one as good as any to adequately (appropriately, accurately, pick your starts-with-a-adverb here) to describe postpartum running (round 2) from the one-year mark.
The cliché of how quickly time passes, especially when you have a little one, is a tired cliché for a reason: it’s true. “The days are long but the years are short” – or whatever – but there’s this weird Twilight Zone, time-warp thing that has made this past year both feel like it has flown by and that it hasn’t. Most pertinent to this blog, though, as soon as G showed up a year ago (or 13 months ago, anyway), there began the newest chapter in my “pregnant running” to “postpartum running” story.
Pregnancies are known for being wildly different, even when we’re talking about the same woman, and I’d venture to say that postpartum stuff can vary tremendously as well. With my first, I didn’t begin running again until six weeks postpartum, and this was after taking the final six weeks of my ~41 week pregnancy off from running because I had developed some killer lower SI pain that was only going to go away once I had the baby. That postpartum journey with A was good and fortunately without any sort of injury or setback. I had her in the spring of 2011; a year later, almost to the day, I knocked about four minutes off my three-year-old marathon PR, and for those first 18 months (or so) postpartum, I set and re-set PRs in nearly every distance I raced, ultimately bringing my marathon PR down from a 3:37 (2008) to a 3:34 (spring ’12), 3:31 (winter ’13), a high 3:20 (spring ’13), and my current PR, a low 3:20 (autumn ’13, when A was just shy of 2.5 years old). I changed literally everything about how I trained from prepartum to postpartum and was lucky (smart) enough to remain injury-free. Sometimes women can suffer from a bunch of different postpartum-related complications as their bodies get used to not being pregnant anymore, and I luckily didn’t have any of those problems the first time around.
Postpartum running the second time around has been pretty similar in some respects. For starters, I ran longer during my second pregnancy, with my last run about 10 hours before I gave birth, and my midwives cleared me for “activity” sooner, at three weeks postpartum – not at all at my begging insistence, more along the lines of them mentioning to me “oh yea, you’re looking good, go do whatever you want.” Well then … I didn’t have the shitty, ohmygodmyuterusisgoingtofallout feeling I had in my initial postpartum runs like I had before, and generally speaking, I felt great the second time around pretty much from the start. Of course, stupid things came up the second time around that interrupted my running – a double-hernia repair at about a month postpartum and then at about three months postpartum, another outpatient surgery to fetch a runaway IUD that had perforated my uterus and had set up shop elsewhere in my right quadrant (oh, and an unplanned appendectomy, too … BOGO, I guess?), and this pesky GI stuff that I’ve been dealing with actually since before my first born – but all told, postpartum running part deux has been fairly smooth sailing, in terms of the actual physical side of things. Just like the first time around, I fortunately and very luckily haven’t had to deal with post-pregnancy complications (such as DR or uterine prolapse).
When I began running postpartum, I didn’t really start with any hard-and-fast running goals, in terms of weekly volume or speed or anything like that, because I obviously needed to figure out how to be a mom to two kids for the first time in my life. It’s no small order, even if you’re “just” a SAHM. I think this feeling of somewhat detaching from my running – that is, being satisfied with being able to run, even if it’s not necessarily what I “wanted” to or “needed” to do that day – has been key to my first year of postpartum running this time around. I can care, but I can also not. Go have expectations, but also don’t. Make some goals, but don’t really worry about them too much. It’s been strangely liberating and empowering.
Along those same lines, probably one of the biggest lessons that postpartum running part deux has taught me has been to just go with things more often. Cue your inner Elsa, and don’t be afraid to let that shit go sometimes. When you’re figuring out life with little ones at home, you will likely eventually learn that your days and nights don’t always go as you envision. Some drawn-from-real-life examples:
That 5-mile stroller run becomes 1 or 2 because the baby is incredibly fussy, and/or you have to go get your other kid from school because she’s fallen ill.
That predawn run, where you get up at 4 to pump (yup) so you can be ready to run by 5 (yup, there goes an hour), doesn’t happen because the baby literally wakes up as you’re heading out the door.
The long trail run with your friends might not happen because you’ve gotten shit for sleep the past few nights because (insert reason here, probably something related to the baby), and at the end of the day, running for a few hours, while awesome, will not incur the same benefits to you, at this moment in your life, as sleeping for a few more (likely interrupted) hours.
And so on.
With all of these, hmm, let’s call them “life circumstances,” you can choose to just let them go and move on, hoping that tomorrow (or whenever your next opportunity to run comes) will go a little more according to what you envisioned, or you can sulk about things not going your way. It’s admittedly sometimes hard to just let it go – we runners are goal-driven, come hell or high water, for a reason – but it’s been in doing that for the past year that I think I’ve felt my best, both mentally and physically, with my running. I care so much and am so eager to improve, but I’m also very content. So weird. My words are failing me.
When you’re a runner, and probably a bit of a Type A, becoming ok with doing less than you envisioned can be a lot easier said than done. It’s so satisfying to check-off boxes each day, log lots of miles, and watch the numbers rack up week after week. My experiences this past year have taught me that if you’re parenting little ones (and still wearing all the other hats that life gives you), sometimes something’s gotta give – especially if you’re finding that you’re feeling mentally or physically burnt-out or just tired as hell. Running is supposed to be fun. It’s not supposed to be another life stressor. Like I said before, if I can run for an hour or sleep for an hour, and I got shit for sleep the night before, I’m at a place in my life where I will enthusiastically sleep for another hour and not feel bad about it. At earlier stages in my life, I would be riddled with guilt over my irresponsibility. No more. I so do not believe in training at all costs. I don’t know that I’ve ever bought into that mentality – all those ideas that the ridiculous fitspo memes unfortunately perpetuate – but after having my second kid, I’m more of a non-believer than ever. I’m human. I’m cool with that. Sometimes, a lot of times, I fall short. I miss miles. I skip workouts if I think it’s the right call or, hell, if I feel like I need to be lazy one weekend morning (looking at you, Saturday’s workout). It’s all good. I’m alright with it, more now than I have ever been. I want to check-off all those boxes as much as the next runner, but if I can’t (or choose not to), no big deal. Life goes on. It’s not going to break my training/race.
Looking back at the past year, when I ran the Berkeley half marathon at about three and a half months postpartum, I told myself that if I did it and felt pretty good in the thick of it, that I’d consider a spring marathon. It went better than I anticipated it would, so I figured that a spring 26.2 would be fun. Running while pregnant (both times) allowed me to re-harness my love of running just for the sake of running, but now that I wasn’t growing anyone, I wanted to return to the structure that marathon training dictates – while still being comfortable letting plans fly to the wayside if I needed to. It’s a bit of a juxtaposition – wanting to train for a marathon because I like and thrive on the structure but remaining willing to tell said structure to eff off from time to time – but it worked for me.
In my first marathon postpartum, at 7 months, I virtually tied my PR with a high 3:20 (fifty seconds slower than my PR, and on a pretty warm day), and not long later, I comfortably helped pace a woman to her first marathon finish and BQ at a 3:30. I could have been pissed about coming this close but still falling short of my PR attempt at Modesto, but honestly, I wasn’t. I ran a time at 7 mos PP that it took me 2.5 years to reach after having my first; c’mon. Of course I was going to be happy with that. About 9 weeks later, when I ran another marathon as a comfortable LR and helped pace a woman to her first marathon finish (natch) and BQ (3:30, baller), when I was beginning to feel kinda mentally burnt-out, I was again thrilled with how my running was shaping up so soon, relatively speaking, after G. I couldn’t have run that pace a year after having A, and I did it less than a year after having G and while still also BFing exclusively. Why wouldn’t I be happy with that?!
With all of this, I’m not insinuating that I’m any better a runner than I am; instead, I’m sharing my experiences because I’m trying to harp on the importance of having some perspective in your postpartum running. It’s up to you whether you find value and worth in comparing your postpartum performances to your ones pre-baby, but if you do, please please please remember how much your life and body have both changed so profoundly and dramatically in the process. Becoming a mom isn’t a handicapping attribute to sport, despite what you might have gleaned from Olympics commentators, yet at the same time, it’s unrealistic to think that becoming a mom doesn’t change your running (or your body) in some long-lasting ways. Having two kids now hasn’t written off my will to compete (with myself or with others); if anything, being able to nearly-PR my marathon 7 months out makes me really excited to continue on this road (or trail, sure) and see where it ultimately leads. I have goals and ideas and dreams and aspirations, but like I’ve explained, it’s all day-by-day. I’m along for the ride as much as anyone.
With all of this in mind, then, if you’re reading this and you’re postpartum, I think the biggest takeaway I can give to you (and to myself) related to postpartum running is to just relax.
You’ll develop your speed again (and at least anecdotally, from virtually any mother I’ve talked to who ran pre-pregnancy and has continued to run postpartum, you’ll probably get faster. Chalk it up to using your running time more wisely, I guess?).
You’ll develop your strength again (and here, you’ll probably be able to throw down more. Hauling around children does wonders for your strength, if not also leaving you a little creaky from time to time).
You’ll develop your training volume again (if you want to. Your world is different now. You might want to, or you might not. Different strokes).
I don’t think there’s any real value in giving yourself a deadline of when you want things to happen. Put in the effort, be ready and willing to work when your body is capable of handling it, and just let things unfold. Don’t think that just because X hasn’t happened by your arbitrary date that you’re somehow incapable of realizing the goal. This shit takes time – all good things do, right? – and again, with postpartum running, you’re figuring out how to “do” your life again. It’s tough. It’s incredibly rewarding, but it’s tough. I don’t know when you can say that you’ve figured it all out because if babies/kids are good at anything, they’re pros at disrupting schedules juuuuuuuuust when you think you’ve got everything figured out – they change so much and so quickly – but hey, parenting, running – take it in stride, ya know? Literally and metaphorically. Step at a time, mis amigas.
I implore you – just be patient. Chances are, you’re doing a better job than you realize. If today is rough, it doesn’t promise that tomorrow will be, too. One bad run doesn’t mean that the entire week will be garbage. Every day is an opportunity – as after-school-special cheesy as that sounds – and you’ll figure it all out. You’ll be fine.