When being a mom stretches you, literally: Part 2, the surgery

Update:  I’ve learned a lot since posting this blog.  Please be sure to read about the whole story from diagnosis, to surgery, to postop, and finally physical therapy.

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It feels like I’m getting ready to write a race recap instead of writing about my surgery.  Both races and surgery do put the body through a certain amount of stress that requires recovery, I will admit that.  Within less than a month, I was diagnosed with a very small hernia from pregnancy, met with a general surgeon, decided to have surgery, had surgery, and have now pretty well recovered. If you want to read about my decision process to have surgery instead of waiting for the hernia to get bigger, you can read about that here.  Now that it is all done, I am very happy with my decision, although I do still have some more recovery ahead of me.

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Ready to go back for surgery.  My two black toenails are a gift from the Boston Marathon.

I’ll start with surgery morning.  I had to be at the surgery center by 7 am.  Knowing that I would not be able to run for a little while after surgery, I decided to get up at 5 am for a last treadmill run.  My husband and baby went with me to the surgery center, and all of the nurses took turns going into the waiting area to talk to the cute baby.  I was quickly brought back to change into a gown and get the IV administered.  Right before they wheeled me back to the OR, the surgeon asked one more time where the hernia was, and said, “Are you sure that’s where it is?”  Really?!  You are asking me this now?

I don’t remember anything about the surgery.  I woke up back where I started in the prep area.  The nurse told me to change clothes, and that is when I saw just how large the incision was on my stomach.  My hernia was about the size of a dime, but the incision was a couple of inches long.  The doctor visited me and told me that the surgery went well.  The fascia did not have a hole in it yet, but it was stretched.  He only had to stitch across the weakened area to reinforce the fascia.  And good news, fascia can repair itself, so the stitches will dissolve, and I’ll be left with stronger fascia (as opposed to a mesh that is foreign).

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The incision is bigger than I expected considering the hernia was so small.

On Friday, the day of the surgery, I felt mostly fine.  I napped and walked a mile with my husband, baby, and dog.  The surgeon had encouraged me to walk because it speeds up recovery, but he restricted me from lifting anything more than 10-20 pounds. My delivery with Cadence was really uneventful with a little tearing and stitches, so I went into this surgery thinking it would be just as simple.  My expectations were a little off.  The first night I tried to get into bed by myself only to feel intense pain in my stomach every time that I tried to lie down.  Crying, I finally called my husband upstairs to our bedroom where he had to lower me into the bed (this would be his job for many more nights to come).  If I even slightly used my abs, it was very painful. Because I am breastfeeding, I took sparing amounts of pain medication, so anyone else having the same surgery might have an easier experience with a little medication. (I also have a high tolerance for pain, so I like to know when I am pushing the limits.)

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I missed being able to hold this little baby the most of all.

One of the biggest difficulties with not being able to use my abs is that we have a 7 month old baby. My sweet husband spent the first few days after my surgery doing everything for me.  He helped me put my pants on, he carried my plate to the table, he put up all of the laundry, he held our baby horizontal across my chest so that I could still breastfeed.  He wins all kinds of awards for best caretaker.

I stayed home from work on Monday (not something that I had planned) because I could not rotate my body at all, which is required for driving.  By Tuesday I was feeling better, but I still could not cough, sneeze, wrap my hair in a towel, etc without a lot of pain.  Exercise is my favorite thing to do, and I was able to get on the bike for an easy 30 minutes on Tuesday.  By Wednesday I was up to an hour on the bike each day, focusing on high cadence and low resistance (per doctor’s instructions).

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Very slow walking around the neighborhood after surgery.

I had my post-op this past Wednesday (about one and a half weeks from surgery), and the surgeon said that I am healing well.  He told me that I can do as much cardio as I want, to which I said, “What do you MEAN as much cardio?”  Haha.  He knows that I am an ultra runner, so I hope he chose his words carefully! I am allowed to run, but the surgeon requested that I not lift any weights for six weeks.  I asked if 5 pounds weights were ok, and he again said that I am not to lift weights.  Ok, ok, but running seems to be more strenuous than 5 pounds.  I still don’t feel 100% confident to run, but I am excited to get on the stair climber and try other cardio routines.  I plan to test out running after at least 2 weeks have passed since surgery.

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I still have a big incision on my belly but it is starting to heal and it feels a ton better.

Overall, the experience has been pretty positive as far as hernias and surgery go.  And just like with running, I’ve learned more about my body and grown to appreciate God’s design even more.

I imagine that recovery form a c-section is a billion times more difficult. Does anyone have a c-section story to share?

What I’ve learned about myself: Five gifts of running

There are many reasons why I love to run.  The reward is sweet in so many capacities.  You are probably thinking through the reasons in your head right now.  The escape, the mind-body connection, the feeling of fitness, the challenge of new distances and new paces, the community of friends, the health benefits, the opportunity to see new places.  There are endless reasons why we love to run, and any one of those reasons would be enough to convince us to set our alarms at ungodly hours and push ourselves to the point of pain.

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My husband just ran his first marathon and I couldn’t be more happy!

Now that I am in recovery mode from my surgery, I have plenty of opportunity to think about running.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful to be able to cross train, but both running through pregnancy and now taking a break for surgery have taught me to enjoy every mile. One of the biggest gifts of running is that you can go out on a run and learn something about yourself that you didn’t know before.

These are a few of the things I’ve learned lately:

1. I can set goals and achieve them.  I’ve qualified for Boston twice now, and I know how to follow through with a training plan.  I don’t let discomfort or inconvenience stop me.  I know how to get things done and have discipline.

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Qualifying for Boston at the Kiawah Marathon in 2014

2. I can do hard things.  Like natural childbirth.  My running experience gave me the confidence to follow through with my birth plan, and I am so grateful that running gave me that gift. My body ran a 50 mile race right before I got pregnant and it also kept on running through pregnancy.  Pushing out a baby was an extension of doing hard things, but I’d already proven that I was tough enough for that.

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I had a great, natural delivery, and running helped give me the right mindset and toughness to push through.

3. My body is strong, and strong is the new skinny.  Feeling strong is so much more empowering to me than feeling skinny. I don’t care what the scale says, and that’s pretty liberating. I want to eat healthy to fuel my body properly, and I want to exercise so that I can run far and run fast.

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I love incorporating weights into my training.

4. Being passionate about running makes everything in life more rewarding.  I have something that gets me excited every day.  I love to read books on running and listen to podcasts on running. I’ve got a dimension in my life that goes beyond just waking up everyday and driving to work.

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Running with Cadence is my all-time favorite!

5. Our bodies can do incredible things. I am so much more in tune with my body because I am a runner.  I enjoyed pregnancy and postpartum recovery more because I felt connected to what was happening.  Running helped give me energy and ward off postpartum depression during the early baby days when I wasn’t getting nearly enough sleep.

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Don’t be deceived.  It may look like she likes to sleep, but she really is a party animal at night.  🙂

So, what have you learned about yourself through running that you didn’t know before?

Nutrition with a cherry on top! The miracle of Tart Cherries

Now that I am having to slow down and recover from my surgery, I decided to take a bigger look at my nutrition to see where I can make improvements.  Given that I am a candy-oholic and a dessert-oholic, this is an easy task. I’ve heard a lot of podcasts and read articles that mentioned tart cherry as a superfood to try, but I wasn’t sure that I was sold on the benefits.  As I noted in my post about Diet Cultsthere are a lot of hocus pocus ideas about the value of superfoods, and I thought that tart cherry might qualify.  But it only takes a quick journal search to see that there is a lot of documented research on the efficacy of tart cherry for the athlete.

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These tart beauties have become one of my favorite snacks!

Tart cherry is known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and has been proposed as a potential natural substitute for ibuprofen, or other NSAIDS. Right about now, I am pretty familiar with the urge to take pain meds to relieve discomfort from my surgery, so it is good timing to learn more about natural substitutes for pain relief!

Tart cherries are rich in anthocyanins, a class of antioxidant phytochemical found in plant-based foods. All red fruits and vegetables are said to have this property, but tart cherries pack a bigger punch. Tart cherries are known to protect against heart disease, cancer, insomnia, and other age related issues.  Importantly, several studies have also corroborated the efficacy of tart cherries to help protect muscles during strenuous exercise and to facilitate the repair of damaged muscles.  Great news for the endurance athlete.

Research conducted at the University of Vermont on 14 male participants against a control group showed that cherry juice decreased symptoms of exercise induced muscle damage after being consumed twice a day for eight days. Most notably, four days after eccentric exercise, athletes showed strength loss averaging 22% with the placebo but only 4% with the cherry juice.  

Another study, titled “Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial,” showed that endurance runners who consumed 355 mL bottles of tart cherry juice twice daily for 7 days prior to the Hood to Coast relay race, and on the day of the race, experienced significantly less pain after running about 26 km over a 24 hour period compared to the control group. The researchers concluded that ingesting tart cherry juice for 7 days prior to and during a strenuous running event can minimize post-run muscle pain. (I ran a 200 mile relay race in 2014, and I can tell you, any reduction in pain for an event such as that is worth investigating!)

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I haven’t tried the tart cherry juice, but that is next on my list.

So how much tart does one eat?  I found a few different suggestions, but the most consistent serving size that I found was that one serving of cherries is equivalent to ½ cup of dried cherries, 1 cup of frozen cherries, or 1 cup of juice.  There are 100 tart cherries in every 1 cup (8 oz) glass of juice. Study participants most commonly consumed two 8 oz servings a day.  I recently started buying dried tart cherries from Sprouts, and I have no idea how many servings I eat in a day, but I love going to my pantry and grabbing a handful at a time.  I also started adding them to my homemade protein bars.

What superfoods are in your running arsenal?  In addition to tart cherries, I also like to add chia seeds and cocoa nibs to my treats.

Do you take pain relievers before or after a hard workout?  I try to avoid medicine as much as I can, especially while I am still breastfeeding.  It’s tempting sometimes though!

Cross training: learning to love the bike

When my husband and I started looking to buy a house in 2012, we had two primary conditions: 1. our commutes had to be reasonable and 2. we had to have a basement for the treadmill. Since moving into our house, we have accumulated quite a little gym downstairs, and I’ve got to admit, it’s my favorite room in our house.  One piece of equipment that we bought for my husband, but I have since come to really enjoy, is our spin bike.  We bought it second-hand from an equipment distributor, and it has all of the functionality that we need.

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Our home gym is complete with pack and play

Originally, I only used the spin bike if I had an injury or if I detected that I was starting to get the niggle of an injury.  After running through pregnancy and acquiring a stress fracture in the process, I have learned to use the bike to also cross train.  Now that I am recovering from minor surgery, I’ll be on the bike a lot over the next few weeks.

The beauty of riding a bike is that it has minimal impact, so it is perfect as a recovery exercise or as cross-training for running. A leisurely ride after an intense effort or during the day(s) after a hard race can help increase circulation in the legs and improve recovery time. Cycling can also supplement a hard running schedule, so instead of running two-a-days, for instance, a runner could run one work-out, and then cycle for the second “run.”

There are different cycling workouts that are effective for replacing or supplementing running.  One of the benefits of cycling is that when executed with a high cadence, it can help teach your feet to run with faster turnover.  This article suggests to keep the rpms, or revolutions per minute, at 90 to simulate running cadence. It also suggests that 10-15 minutes on the bike is about the equivalent of one running mile, but that calculation is very subjective to effort level.

A study conducted in the UK last year actually showed that high intensity cycling training can improve running performance.  The trick in this high intensity work-out is to limit recovery time between hard efforts.  Cyclists in the study who rested only 30 seconds after 6 × 10-second sprints improved running speed by 3% compared to the control group.  Improvements were attributed to participants cycling at an elevated heart rate throughout the training period, as the 30 second rest period did not allow time for the heart rate to return to normal.

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I rode before and after the Boston Marathon to make sure that I didn’t get any injuries after a tough training cycle with little sleep.

I like to wear a heart rate monitor when I cycle, but I’ve noticed that my legs start to burn well before my heart rate reaches what would be a normal rate for a good effort run.  There are a lot of articles and forums about this, and I’ve concluded that cycling utilizes different muscles than running, and the effort level will therefore be different in running than in cycling. This journal article notes: “muscles adapt specifically to a given exercise task over a period of time, resulting in an improvement in submaximal physiological variables such as the ventilatory threshold, in some cases without a change in V O(2max).” As the body learns to recruit the necessary muscle fibers for your sport, your heart rate will adjust.

There are many different cycling speeds and resistances that can be performed with the bike.  My standard is to ride with higher resistance and include bouts of fast turn-over.  For my surgery recovery, I will have to reduce resistance and rely more on high cadence.  One of my favorite ways to mix up my cycling work-out is to stand and ride.  This helps get my heart rate going and engages more of the muscles in my legs.  I listen to MotionTraxx while I ride, but I admit, I still read on the bike, so my intensity level is not so high that I cannot read and ride.

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This may not give me the same views if I were riding outside, but I’ve got to say, that little baby makes any workout more enjoyable!

What do you use to cross-train? I also have a stair climber and I’ll walk on my treadmill at an incline when I need to cross-train.

Has the bike helped you work through injuries? I used the bike to train during the last two weeks leading up to my 50 mile race in 2015 because I was afraid that I had an injury coming on, and it helped keep my foot protected.

Any favorite cycling programs?

When being a mom stretches you, literally: Part 1, the diagnosis

Update:  I’ve learned a lot since posting this blog.  Please be sure to read about the whole story from diagnosis, to surgery, to postop, and finally physical therapy.

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A few months ago, I noticed a small bump on my belly along the midline above my belly button.  At first I thought, “cool, a seventh ab.” And then after the busyness of Boston, I asked my husband what he thought.  Maybe a vein?  (I have big veins, especially post-baby.)  My husband suggested that I get a physical to make sure all was healthy, so two Fridays ago, I saw my general practitioner.  He told me that my seventh ab was in fact a small hernia, and that the only way to fix a hernia is through surgery.  I wasn’t very familiar with hernias, but the idea of surgery and recovery did not make me very happy after all of my work to get into post partum shape.  I love to run.  Everyday.  And do push-ups and planks and very active things.  No!!!!

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Small ventral hernia

I’m being dramatic, but any runner with an injury knows that it is more than just an injury.  It messes with identity.  (There is a whole other lesson there.)  The GP told me that my hernia was very small and the best thing to do would be to watch it and wait to see if it ever grew or gave me pain.  Some hernias never grow, but most do end up requiring surgery.  I have a ventral hernia, so there is a small tear in the fascia between my abs, and most likely it will grow, especially given my activity level. I asked all three doctors if I had caused the hernia due to running/exercising through pregnancy and running/exercising post partum, and they all assured me that I did not do this.  Sedentary individuals get hernias just as commonly.  When I was pregnant, my belly stretched, and organs shifted so that they put pressure on the fascia. (I mention ab separation here.)

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This tiny little 6lb 4 oz baby is worth every physical sacrifice

I wasn’t satisfied with my GP’s answer to wait until the hernia became more complicated (I hate weakness in my body, and this felt like a ticking time bomb), so I called my OB and asked for a referral to a general surgeon.  Both my OB and the general surgeon agreed that I am a good candidate to have surgery before the hernia grows, as it most likely will grow given my activity level.  It is also good to take care of it before we decide to get pregnant again.  By having surgery now, I will only need a few stitches as an outpatient procedure, while the common procedure for repair is to stitch a mesh across the fascia.

My surgeon has told me that I will be restricted to only lift 20 pounds until I am cleared at my post-op visit (Cadence is only 14.5 pounds, so this was a relief).  I am also only allowed to get on the bike or walk until I am given the green light.  The timing for a break is probably as good as it is going to get.  My body could use the rest, and I am about to ramp up my training for a 100 mile race at the end of September.  I’ll follow the doctor’s orders, but no athlete likes to scale back training.  This will be character building (or more likely my husband will discover a whole new character in me once he sees what I’m like without my endorphin fix).

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Not so tiny anymore!  Seven months!

When I first found out about the hernia, I prayed for God to take it away.  (I know, why waste a miracle on something so insignificant.  But running is important to me.)  Then I realized how much God had already answered.  He protected me physically during rigorous training for Boston at a time when I was not getting nearly enough sleep.  He protected my mind from worrying about the hernia during the Boston race, so I was able to fully enjoy that great moment in running.  I raced at a sustained physical effort for the entire Boston Marathon, and the hernia didn’t get any bigger.  I wouldn’t have gone to the doctor if my husband hadn’t encouraged it, and I am so thankful that I will get this all resolved while the hernia is still small and my recovery will be speedy.  This rest period seems to be just what I might have needed.

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I debated whether or not to go into details about the procedure, but I’ve benefited from hearing other momma’s stories online, and maybe my write-up will help someone else who noticed a seventh ab too.  🙂 If you want to read the follow-up after surgery, you can find that here.

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Stretch! I’m still amazed at this process.

Anyone else sacrifice a part of their body to pregnancy? 

What are some coping mechanisms for having to rest?  I’m going to focus on better nutrition.

Being a Mother Runner: 10 things I’ve learned about postpartum running (and how crazy cool our bodies are)

I continue to be amazed at the human body, especially after having a baby and breastfeeding.  As I’ve said before, running makes me so much more aware of my body, and postpartum running is no exception.  I returned to running about four weeks postpartum, and it didn’t take long to realize that I was returning at a faster pace than my pre-pregnancy self. (Don’t get discouraged if you have had a slow return!  Everyone is different!)  I have a biomedical engineering background, and I love to understand the science behind what is happening to my body (part of why I love running), so below I’ve listed my top ten favorite lessons about my postpartum running journey so far at seven months in. Just like every pregnancy is different, every postpartum experience is different too. I’d love to know how much you relate to my journey. If you are not a postpartum runner, you may still enjoy learning about how our body uses biological feedback to keep things running!

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1. The Golden Leash: When I was pregnant, I was aware that it would take a little work to get back to my pre-pregnancy state, but I did not at all anticipate how breastfeeding would delay any possibility of truly returning to a pre-pregnancy state as long as I was still “growing a baby” through breastfeeding.  First, I’ve always enjoyed being small chested, where cheap sports bras were sufficient.  Not so with breastfeeding. I cried at my first attempt at a run when I realized how uncomfortable large, unreinforced breasts are (sorry to my big chested friends!). Supportive sports bras have since fixed that problem, but I am still aware that the added weight can affect my stature and create added stress to my back (that varies depending on the last feeding).

Perhaps the biggest component to consider with breastfeeding and running is the energy expenditure required to sustain a baby through breastmilk.  This research article found that about 26 ounces of breastmilk requires about 625 calories. Fueling properly for a run means that it is necessary to both eat enough fuel and hydrate a lot.  If you read my Boston Marathon write-up, you’ll see that I produced a lot of breastmilk throughout that marathon day.

Lastly, breastfeeding is a golden leash when your baby eats every three hours.  I’ve given up trails for the most part other than special occasions (drive time is too much), and I have had to set my expectations for long runs to either be broken up to nurse in between, or I just run for about three hours at a time.  But, the rewards of breastfeeding far outweigh any challenges to that are imposed on running!

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Pumping at work is a blessing and a curse.

2. Nutrition and Hydration: This follows breastfeeding but it deserves a separate bullet point because it impacts my life so much, especially as an endurance runner.  I am hungry all of the time!  Between my work-outs and breastfeeding, I have to make sure that I get the nutrition and hydration that I need. I really like Matt Fitzgerald’s agnostic diet approach to eating a balance of foods.  I go to bed with a big glass of water by my bed, and first thing in the morning, I drink another big glass. I am very aware of getting the protein that I need, but I also focus on good carbs, vegetables, and fruits.  I also eat a lot of chocolate candy and desserts, which is something that I am going to work on. As for carbs, I have started eating only whole grain breads that have been made with freshly milled wheat.  Freshly milled grains contain 40 of the 44 nutrients essential to the body, and I feel so much better putting good nutrients into my body.  Luckily for me, my mom mills her own wheat and has started feeding my bread habit, literally!

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Freshly milled wheat makes for delicious, healthy bread

3. Blood Vessels: During pregnancy, blood volume increases up to 40% to help provide nutrients and oxygen exchange for a growing baby. Along with an increased blood volume, blood vessels remodel to redistribute blood flow to the baby.  Once the baby is born, blood volume decreases pretty quickly, but the vessels remain in place until the hormones and chemicals signal for them to return to their pre-pregnancy state. While the vessels exist in the body, they are able to provide greater oxygen exchange to the muscles, potentially creating a better running environment in the body. I found that I was faster postpartum, part of which is attributed to the increased blood flow in my body.  Anecdotally, I have been told that it is possible to maintain some of this vascular advantage if you use it.  So run!

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I ran a half marathon with my husband 8 weeks postpartum.

4. Hormones and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS): This entry could be very long, so I’ll stick to estrogen and DOMS.  Hormones are what signaled your body to create an environment to grow a baby, so it is no surprise that hormones have a huge influence postpartum.  There are many hormones that affect the postpartum body, but one of the first effects that I noticed had to do with estrogen.  During some of my first strength training sessions postpartum, I noticed that I was much more sore than typical.  Come to find out, postpartum and during lactation, estrogen levels drop significantly.  It is estrogen that protects muscles from delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, so what I was feeling was exactly right given my hormone levels.

5. Sleep, what’s that?: Similar to hormones, this entry could be super long, but I’ll save that for another post.  The book Sleep for Success by Dr. James Maas states that well rested athletes are about 20% quicker at performing physical tasks than those that lack adequate rest.  There are critical muscle growth and recovery steps that only occur when the body is able to enter specific stages of sleep.  Sleep is an area in which I have been deficient since Cadence was born.  Between being a typical baby and catching colds at daycare, it is a rare, good night for Cadence to go 5 hours without waking. We had a few months where Cadence woke up 8-10 times a night, and I was waking up to care for her at night, running in the morning, and going to work throughout this period.

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Don’t be deceived.  Sleep is not something that comes easily in our house!

6. Gait changes- the things your jeans won’t tell you: Researchers have found that postpartum runner hips can remain wider even after having delivered the baby. This article describes a study that found that the pelvis remains unstable for up to a year after birth, and this instability can cause pain and injuries, as the connective tissues and muscles were stretched during pregnancy. Squats, planks, and bridges help activate the muscles to help strengthen the areas that were weakened.  I have included these moves in my weekly strength work, but every now and then, I still notice that my inner thighs are strained on a run.

7. Pace, because life certainly doesn’t slow down now that you have a baby: Don’t be discouraged if you did not return to running at a faster pace.  Many women take years to get back to their pre-pregnancy pace depending on each individual pregnancy and postpartum experience.  I have found that I am a bit faster post-partum, and I’ve enjoyed exploring the reasons why.  As I mentioned with the blood vessel entry, added vessels can contribute to increased speed.  Two other notable factors can also contribute to faster postpartum running. Most women who deliver babies take a break from running during their recovery, short or long, and this time of rest is said to help the body recover from any overtraining issues, thus making for a stronger comeback.  I waited 9 days before I returned to working out, so I am not certain how much I took advantage of this factor.  The other factor that can help increase pace is hard work.  After having been pregnant for 40 weeks, I appreciated every postpartum mile that I worked to get back into shape.  I have returned to running with a renewed motivation and appreciation for running, and a faster time is just the icing on the cake.

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I got second place female at a local 10k five months postpartum.

8. Priorities: Having a baby has undoubtedly changed my priorities.  I am a mother who runs.  I’ve learned to give myself more grace and to not pay as much attention to the numbers.  Most days, I’d rather run with the jogging stroller at a slower pace with multiple stops than to go out on a fast run. My family is my number one priority.  But I also still love running, and keeping that part of my identity has been really important to me as I adjust to being a new mom. As a new mom, it is important to prioritize time for yourself, whether that be through running or through reading a good book.  I believe that running has made me a better mom and wife.

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I love running even more as a mother!

9. When things come apart, diastasis recti: An undeniable change that occurs during pregnancy is the balloon shaped belly that women acquire over time.  Growing a baby stretches everything and shifts all of your organs inside of your abdomen.  When the muscles on either side of the belly shift apart, the gap in between is called diastasis recti, or ab separation.  All pregnant women will get ab separation, but some of them go back to normal quickly, while others always have a little gap between their muscles.  Specific core work can help the body to return to normal more quickly, and it is advised that you do not start any exercise routines without first talking to your doctor. I followed my doctor’s direction with exercise throughout pregnancy and afterwards, but I still have a little gap of ab separation.  I learned last Friday that I also have a very small hernia, which is where a weakness in the fascia between my abs has acquired a small hole.  (I’m having surgery soon to fix this.) Despite being intentional to improve diastasis recti, I still have some work to do.  The hernia is not at all related to my exercise routine.  It just happens.  And sometimes that is how things are.

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The hernia is really small along the midline of my belly above my belly button

10. Prayer: Running has always made me feel closer to God, but I especially feel like that now that I have been blessed with our amazing baby.  I like to use my time on my runs to pray to God, and I always feel a renewed clarity and hopefulness after a good run.  God wants to know our hopes and dreams, even if we only pray for a good run!  As silly as it seems, I have prayed many times for God to make me a good runner, heal an injury, or calm my mind for a race.  When I give glory to God during my run, I view it as a form of worship to the One who created our bodies to run.  After learning about all of the amazing ways that our bodies are able to respond to pregnancy and postpartum recovery while running, how can we not worship Him?!

Are you a postpartum runner?  What are your biggest lessons learned on this journey?

Baby Miles: Running through pregnancy

Running has only been a big part of my life for the last couple of years (my husband bought me a Garmin in 2014 and he created a monster), but I’ve always loved to be active with exercise.  That’s why I knew that when I got pregnant, I would want to stay as active as possible. The problem that I found was that there is very little information online (imagine that! normally there is too much!) about exercise and pregnancy.  Sure, there are plenty of articles saying that 30 minutes three times a week is okay, but I had just finished running my first 50 mile race when I got pregnant, and 30 minutes of light cardio was not going to cut it.

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First, I talked to my doctor, and I recommend that you do that too above all else.  Even though it can seem so abstract that there is a little human growing in your body, that little baby is your number one priority!  You have a new race, and this race is one that will be the most rewarding yet.

As I said, I did not find many articles online that satisfied the level of fitness that I was trying to achieve, but I did try to find resources online.  I also read a book called Exercising Through Your Pregnancy that describes the physiological changes that occur when pregnant and exercising, which I found to be empowering when there were so many unknowns going on with my body.  Finally, the biggest source of knowledge regarding running through pregnancy was from friends who had blazed the trail for me already.  I joined a Baby Center running mama forum, and I talked to the few friends who I knew who had maintained my kind of mileage during their pregnancies.  These connections were invaluable, and that is what I hope to instill to you through this post.  I’ll write a post later about the science stuff behind pregnancy and running (which is really very cool), but for now, I just wanted to highlight some of my experiences of pregnancy.

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25 weeks pregnant while running in hot Hilton Head

As I said earlier, I had just run a 50 mile race the week we conceived.  I was in peak shape, so I was able to run at a higher level at the beginning of my pregnancy.  They say that it is fine to resume your current level of activity, but do not take on new levels of fitness once pregnant (i.e. do not sign up for your first marathon after you see the double lines one the stick).

At 7 weeks pregnant, I ran a trail marathon that I had already signed up for, and although I had just run 50 miles a month before, this race was an extremely different experience.  I had talked to my doctor several times to make sure that all would be fine for me to participate (notice that I say participate and not race!), and they assured me that no harm would come to the little bean in my belly.  It took a little swallowing of my pride to finish that race in a slower time than my pre-pregnancy body would have run.  No one knew that I was pregnant, so it just looked like I was struggling on the hills, drinking tons of water, and peeing a lot in the woods, all of which was true.  But I am really glad that I didn’t let fear win that race.  By running that marathon, I set the tone for the rest of my pregnancy.  I would enjoy feeling my body with each mile, and I would feel a special connectedness with the baby who was along for the ride.

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I never took a run for granted, knowing that with each week, my discomfort level might increase.

I exercised for at least an hour everyday, which is my typical workout regime, but my intensity level dropped with each week.  The first trimester was the most challenging because relaxin was coursing through my body making me feel fatigued and light-headed.  The second trimester felt like night and day with resumed energy and a tiny little baby bump.  The third trimester was like a balancing act between my growing belly and the rest of my body.  I learned to take a lot of breaks, run close to bathrooms, and cross-train.  Strength training was also a big part of my pregnancy routine, although I never lifted heavy weights.  I made a point to do push-ups and planks each week, even as my belly was expanding and the weight was increasing.  By the end of my pregnancy, I had run 1,152 miles, and walked/cycled/stairclimbed/hiked at least twice as many.

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At about week 20, I developed a stress fracture in my ankle.  My gait had changed, and my body had not adapted to it yet.  This is when I learned the value of cross training and gained a new love for the bike.  I also started taking calcium supplements, as recommended by one of my running momma buddies.  A month later, I was back to running, albeit with a slower pace and a little more caution.  Other things that made running more comfortable for me were to run in compression socks.  I was pregnant in the summer, so hydrating well and running earlier in the morning were important.  I would run from park to park so that I could stop to go to the bathroom.  While I love the trails, I stayed off of them once I got a belly because I am very prone to tripping.

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Planking with Maggie

I met some great friends through my pregnancy journey.  Every week I attended two different pregnancy fitness classes called Oh Baby Fitness in Atlanta, and I made some of my best mom friends through those classes.  I also learned which exercises were best for my pregnant body.  The thing that I value most of all is that I learned more about my body by being a pregnant runner than I would have discovered if I had not exercised. And I believe that exercising through pregnancy helped keep a lot of the bad pregnancy symptoms to a minimum.  My energy levels and my mood were much better with a good run.  And I also felt prepared when it came time to give birth that my body had the strength to labor and my mind had the mental toughness to endure.

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This was my last pregnant run a day before Cadence was born at 39 weeks.

Running through pregnancy was one of the most rewarding things for me during pregnancy.  What other things do you find to be rewarding in your pregnancy? 

Anyone run through more than one pregnancy?  I’m hoping that baby #2 is just as easy of a pregnancy, but I hear they can all be different. (For the record, I am NOT pregnant with #2 yet!)