For those who feel the way I do about running (stated above ;), you understand the craving to return to it as quickly as possible post-hiatus, whether the break was due to injury, life changes, or, in my case, birth.
(Note: Returning to running postpartum depends largely on the level of one's activity during pregnancy and pre-pregnancy. Click here to read how I stayed fit throughout pregnancy. Please keep in mind that each pregnancy, woman, birth, baby and life are different. My purpose in writing this is to provide a community, a platform, a guide for postpartum women returning to running. What inspired me to do so were the many postpartum running blogs that provided me with a sense of comfort, understanding, perspective and direction.)
My first son, Avie, now four years old, was born naturally at home with zero tearing or complications. I returned to running 10 days after delivery. It was not a gentle run/walk but an explosive energy burst of 2.7 miles that felt good in the moment but not so great afterward. The running prolonged postpartum bleeding to last for seven total weeks (the normal is four to six weeks), and I dealt with joint laxity and resulting injuries. Yuck! This time I approached it differently.
After giving birth to my second baby boy, Grey, on April 2, 2017, I returned to running in the same fashion that I tapered my running toward the end of the pregnancy. In other words, I began by run/walking. Like my first son, I had Grey naturally at home without tearing or complications. This time I dehydrated and encapsulated my placenta, which assisted in ceasing postpartum bleeding. By day 20 postpartum, I went for my first run. No bleeding, injury or joint laxity occurred, so I continued to run. Below I give you a brief breakdown.
This is what my build-up from run/walking to running looked like:
Day 20 Postpartum: 2.5-mile run/walk
Day 21 Postpartum: 1.8-mile run/walk
Day 22 Postpartum: 2.08-mile run/walk
Day 23 Postpartum: Rest/Yoga only
Day 24 Postpartum: 1.3-mile run/walk with Avie (four years old) and stroller
Day 25 Postpartum: 1.91-mile run/walk with stroller
Day 26 Postpartum: Rest/Yoga only
Day 27 Postpartum: 3-mile run
Day 28 Postpartum: 2.62-mile run
Day 29 Postpartum: 1.05-mile run/walk with Avie and stroller
Day 30 Postpartum: Rest/Yoga only
This is my weekly mileage, from six to 11 weeks postpartum:
Six weeks postpartum: 9.86 miles
Seven weeks postpartum: 12.16 miles
Eight weeks postpartum: 13.5 miles
Nine weeks postpartum: 15.26 miles
Ten weeks postpartum: 15.49 miles
Eleven weeks postpartum: 15.1 miles
Tips for Postpartum Running:
1. Begin low and slow.
The slow, low mileage brought me back to running and racing shape much more quickly than jumping into it like I did after my first birth. So far, I have only run up to 20 weekly miles and feel fantastic.
2. Take to the trails.
Another key factor to my easy return to running is my chosen terrain of dirt! It's soft, forgiving and simply more pleasurable to be in the woods. At age 11, when I began running, I only did so on dirt roads and on trails. While running on roads is convenient, my transition back to what I grew up mostly doing has felt natural and refreshing. Farther, I notice that when I run on pavement, my joints become unhappy (stiff and sore). So, take me to the woods!
The postpartum period of a woman's life might be one of the most vulnerable, fragile, exhausting and overwhelming times. Being amongst women just feels good! Three months after having Grey, I did something I've always wanted to do - I formed an all-female trail running group. We call ourselves the Trail Tribe, and we run in the woods at the nearby state park. I look forward to my time with these women in the woods like I used to look forward to Friday night sleepovers in grade school! I love these women. Some are mothers, some aren't. A 30-year age gap exists between some. Many haven't run on trails before - now they love it and do it on their own. Some run 6-minute miles and some 12. But on the days when we run, we stay together. And we share one common thread that binds us - running. It's our dharma.
4. Honor where you are.
Does your knee hurt? Do something about it. Do you only feel like running twice this week? Then only run twice. Does it feel as if you'll never run fast again? So what! Do you feel like running fast? Don't be scared - try and see how it feels! Birth is a huge event, so respect what the body tells you and breathe into it.
5. Minimize goal setting.
Or don't make them at all. This leads me to the rest of the story - my first postpartum race.
When Sarah, one of the members of the Trail Tribe, told me about a nearby 5K trail race she was doing, I leapt at the opportunity to join her. I invited some other women, and our fellow Trail Triber, Shane, signed up, too. I rallied my family, and we made a weekend of it. We reserved a campsite for two nights and took off!
On Sunday, August, 20, at four months postpartum, I lined up for my first race, the Laurel Hill State Park Mountain Laurel 5K. I had zero qualms about racing and also zero goals.
Then I was there. As we stood at the starting line, my thoughts drifted to my father, who died in 2013. The first race I ran after having Avie was also the first race after my father's death. That's when my dad began to show up in my life, as my guardian angel, or my race angel, one might say. His birth year ('52), by chance, turned out to be my bib number in that first race, in which I took second overall female. It happened again one month later, and this time it was his birth month and year (2-52). Then he made it a regular occurrence at all of my races - it happened a third time and a fourth, and even with the Pittsburgh Marathon.
When the race began, Sarah, Shane and I took off, along with Sarah's husband, Rob. Even though my bib did not turn out to encompass my dad's birth date this time, I was still giddy and grateful to be healthy and running on a spontaneous note - I hadn’t planned to race until the Rick O'Donnell 5.22 Mile Trail Race (chosen because of the affiliation with my dad’s birth year) on September 17 but was excited to be doing one sooner, because I felt ready.
Somewhere around mile one, something ignited within me. I began the race like I do all races - slow and methodical - then I felt it. The need to fly. I changed gears and broke off from the group. I had failed to activate my Garmin (thank you, mom brain, ha!), so I was not sure my pace or mileage.
It didn't matter, though, because I had found the flow, the place in racing where time stands still, where all noise ceases, where thoughts are suspended and the body seems outside of itself. Nothing exists but the moment, and the moment is captured by this edge of pushing oneself (just how fast can I run a 5K at this very moment in my life?) and hearing only the breath, fueling the lungs to their capacity.
I crossed the finish line knowing, and feeling surprised, that I had secured first overall female. After recovering and hugging my boys and husband, I strolled to the boards where times were posted.
I knew I hadn't set my personal record (PR) of 20:12. Still, when I saw my time, my heart skipped a beat. I felt a lump in my throat. There he was. My father. It was his seventh appearance at a race. His birth date was 2-15-52. My time was 22:55. #52. Always there.
Ahhh... I run for the flow described above, and now I run to see him. I set up the encounter when I signed up for the 5.22-mile race mentioned above. Because I already had my magic number of 52 within the race distance, I did not expect anything else awe-inspiring to occur. But it did. I'll tell you about it in the next blog post.
Until then, I love you, dad, and thank you for being there every time.