Bounding up the steep mountains of the nearby trails, in preparation for my first ultra run - Quad Dipsea, I began to deeply reflect about my post-baby fitness. My son is almost 2 years old and the months leading up and many months thereafter, I doubted I’d be able to match the fitness level I had worked so hard for. Due to baby positioning and comfort level, I had to halt running 4 months before he was born. I turned to swimming and calm yoga as my core exercises.
Naively, I thought after my son was born, I could rest 4-6 weeks and get right back to running. Boy, was I wrong. After patiently waiting 5 weeks postpartum, I laced up my Hokas and started to lightly jog out the front door. Not even 1/10th of a mile in, my body said no and started aching. Later I found out I had a tight muscle/nerve issue in my pelvic floor area. Something that many moms are quiet about due to the taboo nature of topic. Here’s my side PSA: Go get PT, new moms! There are physical therapists like Julie Bottaroni who specialize in this area and can help you heal from an assortment of postpartum body mechanics.
Back to the initial postpartum run…
I instantly felt a little defeated. It didn’t feel fair. I was cautious for many months, it was now six months after my last run. Besides running around playgrounds since I was a toddler and some not-so-fun cross country runs trying to keep up with my much taller, leaner best friend, I didn’t start running until I moved to Boston. Since then, after a cross-country move, with the support and practice with my triathlon team, I whittled my 11-minute mile pace down to 8 minutes for long runs.
So what did I do?
I got on my bike. Why? Because as many triathletes will tell you an advantage of our sport is that when we get injured in some capacity, there always seems to be a backup training option. 5 weeks postpartum, I climbed Kings Mtn - about 1800 feet on my bike. 15 minutes slower than pre-baby, but that didn’t matter to me. I felt a little stronger, a little more capable within my body.
After cycling a few weeks, I started running again. No, it was not happening. I ran into the same issues as I had 5 weeks ago. I asked many friends if they knew anyone that were familiar with my common issue. With no specific recommendations, I returned to my previous PT who also did bike fits, recommended his colleague Julie (info above). She was OUTSTANDING. Not only did she work with me for months and [sadly] let me know I couldn’t cycle up hills until we sorted out this issue, she welcomed my infant son to accompany me, as I didn’t have available childcare.
What did Julie recommend?
Unfortunately, strenuous cycling was out, but Pilates, yoga and swimming were in. I hadn’t done Pilates in years but standing in mountain position, I could FEEL my strength returning. I didn’t realize the full power of that pose until I was standing in mat class. I knew it was good for me mentally, as it was a calm, non-intense space and I needed that. Being a new mom comes with many challenges and staying mindful can be difficult at times. At one point, I saw my tri team chatting and cycling by the studio on their usual Saturday morning ride, but I knew what was best for me -- to head into that studio.
Standing in that mat class, not only did I feel strong, I knew somehow that doing this exercise would help me on the trails, when I could return to running. Almost two years later, I do Pilates once or twice a week. I was right - it does.
After healing some of my pelvic floor issues, I returned to running. I slowly built up from running 2-miles at Pacific Grove triathlon, 4 months after my son was born, to running Double Dipsea this past June, with lots of trail races in between.
After I ran Double Dipsea I walked away from the finish line, looked out to the beach and thought "OH yes, I am coming back. For more."
My preparation for Quad has been fun. I ran my first 22-miler in August and trail marathon five weeks ago. My legs felt strong, but more than that, I felt the ‘flow’ - best described by Wikipedia: “In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”