Watching for adrenal fatigue: I’m a mom and a runner, of course I’m tired!

It’s no surprise that the body goes through a ton of changes through pregnancy and postpartum recovery, especially if you choose to breastfeed during the first year of being a mom. I’ve been aware that adrenal fatigue is a real possibility as a new mom, but I didn’t really know what that meant or what I could do about it.  In all of the doctor visits that I’ve had as a new mom, I have yet to get a very clear answer of what the typical postpartum body looks like from a hormone balance standpoint. (Spoiler alert: before you read through this whole thing, I’ll go ahead and tell you that I do not have adrenal fatigue.)

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About two months from Boston, I realized that my lack of sleep was affecting my training and I needed to scale back my goals and just focus on getting to the start line healthy.

I ask a lot of my body as a mom and as a runner.  First, I grew a human with my body for nine months, and now, I’m keeping that little human alive through breastfeeding.  All through this time, I have maintained running and increased my intensity as I train for various races.  While breastfeeding and running definitely require a lot of energy from my body, sleep deprivation seems to be the icing on the cake.  My little one was waking up to 10 times a night (my rule is to stop counting when you reach double digits), and she is still waking at least once a night now that she is nine months old.

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Yep, this little baby changes everything.

I’m a working mom, so I was burning the candle from every possible direction leading up to the Boston Marathon. (Cadence got colds from daycare and that is partly why she was such a terrible sleeper between 3-6 months of age.  Poor baby!)  I was able to PR at Boston, but I relaxed my goal by about 10 minutes when I realized how thin my reserves had become. After Boston, I went to the doctor for a general physical, as suggested by my husband. At that visit, I learned that I had a hernia, and you can read all about that fun little detour here. I got my results from the general practitioner and learned that my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels were high.  The report sent to me by my doctor suggested that I get retested in a month.

Trying not to be too disturbed by these results (what is happening to my body!?!?), I went for a re-test about a month later, and I learned that my TSH levels are still on the high-ish side, but all of my other hormones are in the right range.  My thyroid is producing the correct levels of TPO antibody, Free T3, Free T4, Thyroglobulin Ab, and Cortisol. This is important because all of the hormones in the body act on a feedback system, and one abnormal hormone level could create a cascade effect on other hormone levels.

Adrenal Basics:

While I learned that my hormone levels are in a safe zone, I decided to refresh my memory on the endocrine system and understand more about adrenal fatigue and thyroid dysfunction (I have a background in biomedical engineering, but I did not picture myself being the subject of this jargon when I was studying it ten years ago!). Cortisol is produced by the pituitary gland, and a high level could indicate the signs of adrenal fatigue.  The pituitary gland produces adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) when a stressor is perceived by the brain, and this chemical in turn causes the release of cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol is good when the fight or flight response is necessary, but it is tough on the body when it is in a constant elevated state.

Constant stress can signal the adrenal glands to overproduce adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones. The adrenal glands, which are the front line in the stress reaction, can then  become depleted. Once the adrenal glands are tapped, it can lead to impairment in the thyroid gland, as hormone regulation is one big feedback loop. There are a lot of symptoms that can indicate that the adrenal glands are overproducing hormones, some of which include a suppressed immune system, fatigue, unrelaxed sleep, depression, and anxiety.

A few things that I am doing to stay healthy:

I didn’t have any of the above symptoms when I was tested, so I was fairly confident that I did not have adrenal fatigue.  That being said, I do not want to get adrenal fatigue, so I made a few changes which also happen to make me a happier, healthier person in the process.

  1. My first test result came back just about the time of my hernia surgery, so I had a mandatory resting period while I recovered.  As much as I hate to admit it, this was probably a really good thing for me, as I tend to go all out, all of the time.  Ben Greenfield advises to avoid excessive exercise, which is hard to do when you are training for your first 100 mile race.  😉
  2. I have also focused on eating more nutritious foods. I eat a lot of food, especially with training and breastfeeding, but I really try to cut out the processed foods and eat a lot of organic, healthy stuff (although I have a weakness for candy bars at night).
  3. I also have made an effort to get to bed earl(ier) every night.  This is so hard for me because I really can’t get much done around the house or unwind until Cadence goes to bed.  That little baby has a ton of energy, and we are busy playing until right before bedtime!
  4. Recently, my massage therapist introduced me to doTERRA essential oils.  I’m still learning about them, but I did find an interesting journal article that found that inhaling the scent of lavender for 4 weeks can prevent stress, anxiety, and depression after childbirth.  I love the smell of lavender, so this was an easy addition to my retinue of healthy adrenal actions.
  5. Finally, this research study in the British Journal of Midwifery found that the release of the hormones prolactin and oxytocin during breastfeeding have an inhibitory effect on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is activated at times of stress, and can reduce the incidence of postpartum depression.  I think this just shows how much our God loves us!  He not only gave us the capability to nurse our little ones for healthy growth, he also made the act protective for the mommas who might so desperately need a little tlc themselves! This infographic is another really neat little snapshot of just how beneficial breastfeeding is to both momma and baby.

I hope my little walk down discovery lane can be of help to another new mom out there who may be feeling a little worn down.  Take care of yourself and be aware of your body!  I think as runners, we are acutely aware of our bodies, but we are also the first to tough out the hard times and push through when we might need to re-evaluate and rest.

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I’m much better at naps now, and why wouldn’t I choose extra time to snuggle with this little peanut?!

Have you had any experiences with adrenal fatigue?

What do you do to relax and reduce stress?

Walking to Run

Walking was my first favorite workout, before running stole my heart.  There is so much that a good walk can provide–time to clear your head, pray, have a good conversation with a friend, smell the roses, feel the breeze. Or read a book.  That’s how I started my walking journey–on a treadmill reading book after book.  I studied through college and grad school while walking on a treadmill, and I planned out my thesis mile after mile. Some of my favorite memories are hikes and walks around the neighborhood with my mom.  Walking is good for the soul.  It’s also really good for running.

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I use clothes pins to hold my books open while I walk or run on the treadmill.  I finish about a book a week this way.

I transitioned from being a serial walker to being an obsessed runner during my training for my first marathon in 2013.  I had never run on a treadmill until near the end of my training when I realized that only running on the weekends wasn’t going to cut it anymore.  Shortly after that, I was hooked on running, but I have maintained treadmill walking at an incline as a staple of my week.

Walking to increase strength and endurance

We all know that exclusively running has its set-backs, like injury.  So adding walking to the regimen is a great way to increase endurance by providing time on your feet and strengthening your legs where they need it. It serves as a way to cross train without stressing the joints that sustain the greatest stresses during a run. When I’m not walking outside or hiking outside, I set my treadmill to an incline up to 15% and walk, walk, walk.

All of my ultra buddies know that running an ultra marathon involves hiking,especially on technical terrain, so having the ability to transition from running to walking is a very necessary skill to finish strong. My very first ultra marathon was the Sky to Summit 50k, and I had not trained for it (I was actually using that race to train for a marathon the next month), but I attribute my treadmill “hiking” for giving me the strength to climb the technical trails for over 7 hours to finish as second female.

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She is the cutest walking buddy that I ever did see!

Walking through an Injury

I recently had surgery, and the surgeon told me that I could walk as soon as I got home from surgery, encouraging me that walking helps promote blood flow, which also speeds up healing.  For the first two weeks, I was limited to only walk or cycle, and this provided me with a great outlet to work out and promote the healing process.

Walking was also a great way for me to continue running through pregnancy because it gave my joints the break that they needed and it kept me in shape to continue running postpartum.  Most of my weekday pregnancy runs ended up being half running, half walking by the end of the 39 weeks.  I used incline to increase the intensity of the work out.

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I went for a walk hours after my hernia surgery.  It wasn’t anything intense, but it did get the blood flowing.

Walking as Recovery

If you are anything like me, you barely squeeze in your run before hopping in the shower and rushing off to the day. By allowing your body a proper cool down walk, you keep the blood flowing to the tissues that were just stressed while your heart rate returns to normal. I have found that I am less sore from a workout if I complement it with a good walk afterwards.  (There is a lot of research corroborating the value of a warm up and cool down in reducing DOMS.)  I walked a few miles after the Boston Marathon to sight-see the other finishers, and while I was stiff the day following the race, I was feeling much better than I expected!

Another good recovery walking option is to walk backwards.  For as long as I can remember, my massage therapist, Rena, has told me that I need to be walking backwards to keep me off of her table. I’ve started to do this as a cool-down on the treadmill in the evenings more often, and it feels like a good stretch. (I’ve also tried to walk backwards around my neighborhood, but it makes me feel extremely silly, and I’ve had a few people yell out of their windows to check on me.)  Walking backwards reduces the stresses on your joints, relieves lower back pressure, and increases hamstring flexibility.  Walking backwards is also said to enhance cognitive control, which makes it a good recovery activity for individuals recovering from strokes. I only walk for a couple of minutes backwards, but I have read that 10-15 minutes is the sweet spot.

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Walking backwards on the treadmill is a lot safer than walking backwards on a neighborhood street!  🙂

Other Obvious Advantages of Walking

I’ve listed a few reasons why walking is one of my staple activities, but for non-runners, it can be a life-saver.  The low impact of walking makes it a great activity for individuals already in poor health, obese, diabetic, etc.  It helps reduce the rates of chronic illnesses, and the activity releases endorphins, making both mind and body a better place to be.

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My husband and I walk our golden retriever at the end of every day.  It’s not anything rigorous, but it helps us shake off the work day and get the blood flowing.

So as ultra runners, we walk because walking is part of endurance sports.  When it comes to the 18th hour of running my first 100 mile race, I’m going to be grateful for the hours that I slowed my treadmill, increased the incline, and settled into a good book.

Is walking a big part of your training regimen?

Book Report: First Ladies of Running

I just finished reading Amby Burfoot’s book First Ladies of Running: 22 Inspiring Profiles of the Rebels, Rule Breakers, and Visionaries who changed the Sport Forever.  I didn’t expect for a book to change the way that I view my position as a female runner, but this book made me both proud and honored to be part of the lineage of such remarkable women.

First Ladies of Running chronicles 22 women and the stories that brought them to running in a time when running was a man’s activity.  Some of these ladies joined men’s running clubs (because that was the only option), and trained really hard to be excellent (I was really impressed to read how most of the men welcomed them).  Others seemed to just go out and run sub 3 hour marathons months after just picking up the sport.  Either way, all of these women did more than just run; they helped advance women’s opportunities and promote equality.

I highly recommend this book to any female (or male) runner who appreciates good history.  Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book, although all of the stories deserve special accolades.

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Grace Butcher: “I believe we’re all here to discover our life’s purpose, and then once you’ve discovered it, for Heaven’s sake, get on with it. The saddest words I know are, “If only…'”

Julia Chase: “Running puts you in touch with your primal self and your deepest resolve.  You learn how to deal with pain and other obstacles.  You realize that it’s not important to do conventional things.  You can do whatever feels worthwhile to you.”

Doris Brown: “When you don’t get what you want, you can let it drive you up or down. The more heart and soul you put into it, the better your chances.  Besides, the best things always take a while.”

Katherine Switzer: “It worked just the way my dad said it would. I didn’t have many skills, but no one could match me running up and down the field.  So I learned an important lesson: Running isn’t just about running.  It’s about the sense of empowerment you get from going the distance.  That empowerment can help you succeed in so many other activities.”

Katherine Switzer: “That race fulfilled all my dreams.  In fact, I think the Olympic Marathon was in many ways as important as giving women the vote.  Everyone had come to accept what women could do in the social and intellectual realms, but it took the Olympic Marathon to show the entire world how physical and powerful women could be.”

Sara Mae Berman: “I liked the way that running is different for girls than ice skating, where you have to be pretty, or swimming, where no one sees you sweating under the water, or equestrian events that are so very genteel.  Running takes a lot of hard effort and sweat, and you’re wearing clothes that aren’t much more than underwear. I didn’t run to promote myself, but to promote women’s running.”

Joan Ullyot: “Running gave me great health.  I feel so much better when I’m running.  How could anyone not exercise? It gets me outside every day to appreciate Mother Earth and Father Sky. I had grown up thinking I was terrible at sports, but running taught me that I could be an athlete.  I could be successful with my body as well as my mind.  And it made me so happy.”

Jackie Hensen: “The key is consistency and hard work.  You can’t pass the test unless you’ve done all your homework.  Things can go wrong, and things will go wrong.  You can’t control all the variables in your life. That’s why you have to prepare 100%. You’ve got to give it your absolute best.”

Miki Gorman: “Running gave me so much more self-confidence that my daily life became totally different.  I wasn’t timid anymore. I said what I believed in and what I wanted. I was still shy perhaps.  That is my nature. But I didn’t have fears any longer that kept me from speaking up for myself.”

Miki Gorman: “I learned that the looks and size of one’s body are not important, and that anyone can be competitive.  I gained so much confidence from my running.  I finally realized that being small didn’t have to hold me back.”

Marilyn Bevans: “All my life, I believed if you trained hard, you could get better.  You might never be the best, but at least, you could be learning. At Springfield, we trained hard, and I picked up lots of new training methods. When you have a solid work and learning ethic, it always pays off one way or another.”

Marilyn Bevans: “In my life, it also gave me peace, quiet, and thinking time. When there was a lot going on, it got me out into nature and away from the chaos. It makes you tough, too, from battling with the cold, the wind, the rain, the blizzards, the hills, the heat, and all.  You learn that you can get through stuff. It helps you see what else you can achieve in your life.”

Patti Catalano: “I’d like to think that I helped lay the bricks for other women to follow and to run on. I feel like I was a bridge from some of the earlier women to Joan Benoit. The progress we made is so amazing. When I began running, I didn’t know anything about women’s running. I didn’t even know that we weren’t supposed to be able to run distances. I just wanted to burn calories and get skinny legs.”

Grete Waitz: “The last part of the race in Central Park was very difficult. My legs were cramping, and I wanted to stop. But I didn’t know how to get to the finish except by running there, so I just kept going. It was hard, but at least I didn’t get lost.”

Grete Waitz: “I am in good form and I hope to run well on Sunday.” And after: “I knew I was in good condition, and I felt okay today, so I was able to win.”

Joan Benoit: “Faith is the key to everything. You can never let anyone or anything deter you from your best efforts. There are no shortcuts in life, or in the marathon. The marathon is a metaphor for life. You have to run your own race at your own pace.”

Oprah Winfrey: “Life is a lot like a marathon. If you can finish a marathon, you can do anything you want.”

Chris McKenzie: “If I can carry a baby for 9 months, I can run a 10-k.”

 I admit that I did not know who most of these women were before reading this book, but wow! What an inspiration!

Is there anyone who has been pivotal in helping you love the sport of running? After reading this book, there are a lot of names that I might need to add to my list!

Yeti 100 Mile Training Run on the Creeper Trail: 33 miles to make new friends

A lot of ultra runners joke that they signed up for an ultra race after having one too many drinks.  I signed up for my first 100 mile race at 8 weeks postpartum.  I guess 9 months of conservative running made me a little drunk on the idea of running my first 100.

I signed up for the Yeti 100 Mile Endurance Run in Virginia along the Creeper Trail because it is being hosted by my trail running friends, and I will have so much love and support from the Yeti community along the journey.  The course is meant to be an “easy” first 100 along an old railroad bed, which is exactly how I want to run 100 miles, easily.

On June 4, a bunch of yetis completed a 33 mile training run of the course and I took over 100 pictures.  Don’t worry, I selected my favorite 62 to post here.  Haha.  But seriously, I am using this post as a way to get to know the course and remember it a few months from now when I get ready to run 100 miles of this beautiful Creeper Trail in Virginia.

Creeper Trail

My husband and I arrived around 10 pm on Friday night, and we stayed at the Hampton Inn in Abingdon.  Cadence was a good sport for the drive, but our 5 hour drive quickly became 6+ hours with all of the baby stops to nurse, get dinner, change diapers, etc.

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We met the group at 8:45 am on Saturday at White Top Station.  The Creeper Trail starts at White Top Station and ends in Abingdon, Virginia.  One leg of the course is about 33 miles, so the 100 mile race will go from White Top to Abingdon, back to White Top, and end again in Abingdon.

Jason, the Race Director and king of the Yetis, gave instructions and tips at the start and along the run.  He mostly just encourages as much fun and beer as possible, which is just another good reason to run 100 miles.

The trail is mostly crushed limestone, and not technical, so it is really easy to fly through the first downhill leg of the race.  Jason cautioned us to take the first 33 miles slow and easy, even though we will be tempted to fly.

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Near the top of White Top Station is a side trail where you can get a view of a Christmas tree farm.  I stayed with a larger group of trail runners for the first few miles.

Within the first few miles we spotted a really pretty waterfall/rapids area and decided to dip our toes (except for Jason, who got all the way in the water).

And then we were off again!  I ran with Kristen and Sean (bottom of the three pictures below) after about two hours of running, and I stayed with them until we reached Damascus.  It turns out that Kristen is a pretty badass mother runner!  She has a 16 year old, a 4 year old, and twin 2 year olds!  Sean is pretty badass himself, having run Western States and Leadville, among other tough races. What a fun marriage they have!

There is an aid station at mile 6.3 (which is also 60.5 and 73.1), which is around this area.

Then we came into the Taylor’s Valley region.  Jason warned us that as beautiful as this area is, at night it can be creepy because there is a dog that barks.

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Having much fun!  I had such a great time running both with groups and with individuals. So much to talk about on a run!

Apparently you can get a killer fried bologna sandwich at the Creeper Trail Cafe.  This is about 10 miles from White Top. Kristen and I decided to pass on the opportunity.

The first half of the trail felt much more shaded by dense trees.

Before reaching Damascus, the trail runs along the highway. It’s not as aesthetic, but it does serve as a good way to break up the scenery.  Somewhere between Taylor’s Valley and Damascus, I tripped on a rock and supermanned across the trail. This is probably the worst fall I’ve had running, and the dirt is still embedded in my hands five days later. (But no permanent damage and I’m ok!)  There is a fresh water spring piped out of the side of the mountain along this road.  I used it to clean my wounds, but it is also great to refill water packs.

Yay!  Damascus!  This is about at the halfway point.  There are a few little shops and some small restaurants.  There is an aid station here at mile 17.4 (which is also 49.4 and 84.2).

When we got to Damascus, I said goodbye to Kristen and Sean and found a bathroom with a bench to pump at the Sundog Outfitters store.  They were incredibly accommodating to me, and I had no problems pumping and dumping with the hand pump that I carried in my pack.

I picked up a flatbread sandwich at Subway and walked and ate until I met up with some of the yetis who had stopped for lunch.  I walked with them for a few minutes (long enough to catch Jason chasing lunch with a shot of fireball).

Then Sam and I decided to head off and run our way to the end.  I had met Sam in the early miles of our run, but lost her when she sped up to the front.  Lucky for me, she took a break in Damascus to find tacos, and I was able to catch up with her.

Sam and I ran together from Damascus to Abingdon, and I am so thankful to have met my new friend!  She knows so much about running and so many other interesting things in life.  She’s also a really strong runner, and it was great to be paced by her.

The second half of the course has a lot more farmland, and there are bigger stretches of exposed trail where the sun can get pretty hot.

Moo!

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We came into Alvarado at around mile 25.  It was starting to get pretty toasty here.

This trestle crossing alone makes the whole race worth it!  There are 141 trestle crossings in the race, making scenery big reward for the hard work.

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Sam and I tried a timer on the camera, but I was a bit off.  This river is so beautiful!  I am thankful that I had my friend to share it with!

Crossing through lots of farmland.  Beautiful but hot! The elevation starts to go slightly uphill around mile 27.  There are no tough hills along this course.  Just gradual down, and gradual up.

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I ran out of water about 6 miles from our finish.  I was trying to be brave and act like it was no big deal, but I was hurting.  Between the heat and my boobs diverting all of the liquid in my body to produce breast milk, I was thirsty!

Luckily, we came across an extremely charming cabin with an equally charming older woman who generously filled my hydration bladder with fresh, cold well water.  Mmm mmm!

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So then I ran with water sloshing in my belly for the rest of the course. There are lots of bikers and some horse back riders along the trail, and everyone is so nice.  Different sections have different concentrations of people.  The last aid station is at the Watauga Trestle which is at mile 29.4 (which is also 37.4 and 96.2).

And then we reached the end of our ~33 mile training run along the Creeper Trail!

We’ll be seeing this view twice on the day(s) of the race! 30 hour cut-off!

Here is another one of my new friends, Jenny, who finished just after Sam and I completed the course.  We all sat around and talked about running after finishing, and this lady has quite an impressive resume!  Not to mention that she is just as sweet as she is beautiful!

And here are the real railroad tracks that led us to a cool drink!

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So that’s it!  I am so thankful that I was able to join the yetis for this great training run!  I feel so much more prepared for the race now that I have experienced the course. I know I have some work to do as I focus on training, and I can’t wait!

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This is the elevation profile.  We’ll run down, up, and back down.  Look out quads!

See you friends on September 30, 2016!

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Has anyone else run a 100 mile race? 

What did your training look like? This is going to be an interesting training season for me, as I balance having a baby, work, and training.  Thankfully, my husband is super supportive of me.

Breastfeeding and Running: an endurance sport of its own, Part 2

This is part two of Breastfeeding and Running.  You can read the first part of this post here.  I joke that breastfeeding is an endurance sport of its own, and it’s partly true.  Breastfeeding demands a lot on the body, and it requires proper fueling in order to “finish well”.  Part 1 describes more of the initial things that I discovered as a breastfeeding momma, and Part 2 gets more into racing and training.

Training and Racing

I am eight months postpartum, and I have been training and racing since 8 weeks postpartum.  At eight weeks, I ran a half marathon, and since then I have run two marathons, one 50k, one 10 miler, and a 10k.  Everyone is different, but I have not experienced any dips in my supply through training and racing to this degree.  If anything, I have been able to pump more milk in the days after a race, and I attribute this to an increase in the endorphins from the run. Did you know that endorphins raise the body’s level of prolactin, and these endorphins can actually pass through the breast milk to the baby?! Pretty neat, huh?  Just another reason to go for a run!

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I ran my first race at 8 weeks postpartum on very little sleep!

I have heard some reports that lactic acid can increase in breast milk after high intensity exercise, but Cadence has not shown any preference whatsoever.  This study found that lactic acid does not impede infant acceptance of breastmilk, but every baby is different, and if you find that your baby does not like the taste of your workout milk, you may need to pump and give a bottle of stashed milk. You may also try wiping the sweat from your skin, as the baby may taste your sweat and have an aversion.  Again, Cadence has never indicated that she notices that her momma is all sweaty and hot, so you may not have any issues either!

I have yet to pump in the middle of a race, as the longest race that I have participated in so far was about 5 hours (50k).  For this race, I pumped at my house prior to leaving, drove 30 minutes to the course, ran, and then pumped in my car directly after finishing the race.  It was probably about a 6 hour space of time at a little over 3 months postpartum, and my breasts were full, but not uncomfortable. It is amazing that in the midst of pushing my body on a run, it continues to produce milk for my little baby! During the Boston Marathon, I pumped/nursed about 29 ounces from the time that I woke up to the time that I finished the race and pumped again. That is a lot of milk production combined with a marathon, but it just goes to show that women can race and breastfeed at the same time!  (I PR’d at Boston 6 months postpartum.)

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I had to pack my breast pump as part of my race day gear for the Boston Marathon

Nutrition and Hydration

I have found that maintaining my nutrition has been the biggest component to keeping my supply consistent.  I do not notice a dip in breast milk with prolonged exercise, but I do notice a dip if I am not eating a lot of food.  (Everyone is different, but lots of food is the key for me.)  It also goes without saying that hydration is a key component for being able to produce breast milk, but if I drink a lot of fluids without the calories included, I notice a few ounce reduction when I pump at work.

From what I can tell, every four ounces of breast milk is about 88 kilocalories (KellyMom records one ounce of breast milk at 22 kcal.)  This article estimates that the daily energy expenditure for exclusive breastfeeding is about 626 kcal per day for 25 ounces. That translates to about 100 kcal for every 4 ounces. As we have already discovered through pregnancy, every woman is different, but it is evident that the calories required to produce nutrition for your baby also require a lot of calories from you!

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Part of being a working mom is that I have to pump at work, but this means that I GET to feed my baby breast milk while she is in daycare.

For some women, breastfeeding makes it easier to lose the pregnancy weight.  For others, the body retains fat stores as a protective effort to ensure that the baby will always be provided for.  I did not have a problem returning to my pre-pregnancy weight quickly, but if you do feel that you want to try to diet while breastfeeding, this article found that a caloric deficit of 35% did not affect lactation (I have found the opposite to be true for me).

When I talk about nutrition and breastfeeding, I wish that I could say that I am a healthy eater so that my baby only gets the best.  Part of that statement is true: my baby does get the best because our bodies give our babies just the nutrition that they need (did you know that your baby’s saliva goes into the nipple, and the body can detect what antibodies your baby needs on a daily basis?!). However, I am a candy-oholic, so my nutrition is a mixture of good fruits and vegetables, plus a few candy bars.  Either way, I make sure to snack a lot and get in the calories that I need.

Ergonomics

This section was a sidenote, as I tried on my hydration vest tonight and realized that I have to loosen the straps to fit around my large breasts.  I used be a very happy flat chested runner, sports bra optional.  Now I can’t head out the door without lots of compression.  Large breasts add weight, and with breastfeeding, this weight can vary depending on how recently you nursed.  If you ran through pregnancy, you know the affects of added weight when it comes to pace.  This article notes that an additional ten pounds can result in a cost of 20 seconds per mile, so 2 seconds per mile per pound.  I have easily pumped a pound of breast milk at a time!  From my chest!  A large chest can also cause your posture to hunch forward, which makes the running stride less efficient.  This article discusses large chested running, but with breastfeeding, the implications can vary with the time of day.

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Most of my training runs end with a nursing session.  Cadence does not seem to mind a sweaty momma!

 

If you are new to your running and breastfeeding journey, please be encouraged!  I have found breastfeeding to be the most rewarding thing that I have ever done, and the sacrifices only make me a better runner and a better mother.

Has anyone else had similar experiences with breastfeeding and running? 

If you have already weaned, did you notice a big difference in your running after you stopped breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding and Running: an endurance sport of its own, Part 1

Early in my breastfeeding journey, I set a goal to try to breastfeed Cadence for a full year.  We’ve made it eight months (eight months!), and I have found breastfeeding to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, albeit a huge sacrifice and a lot of work. I knew very little about breastfeeding when I was pregnant, and the reality was pretty shocking to me at first.  All through pregnancy, I had the idea in my head that I would be able to get my body back after pregnancy.  Little did I know that breastfeeding is just an extension of growing a baby, only the baby is outside of the womb instead of inside.

I mentioned breastfeeding in my post, Being a Mother Runner: 10 things I’ve learned about postpartum running (and how crazy cool our bodies are) but I’ll go into more detail here and hopefully share an experience that may help you. This is a pretty big subject, so I’m breaking the topic into two posts.  You can read Part 2 here. Note that I am not a doctor, and you should always talk to your doctor about any questions you may have.

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Breastfeeding Cadence has been one of the most special things I have ever experienced

Hormones: first the basics

Hormones are what triggered the cascade of events that told your body to start forming your little baby in your belly, and they are what also tell your body to start lactating. When you first start to produce milk, your body is taking signals from your hormones.  After you deliver the placenta, your estrogen and progesterone levels drop drastically, which triggers prolactin to be released. Prolactin is the hormone that maintains milk production.  Another important hormone involved in breastfeeding is oxytocin, which is released to help with milk let-down.

After lactation has been established, the body starts to produce milk based on when the baby empties the breast (supply and demand), as opposed to being solely hormone driven. Even with supply and demand driving milk production, prolactin remains high while you continue to breastfeed, and this suppresses ovulation. While ovulation is suppressed, normal estrogen levels are decreased.

Relaxin is another hormone that was increased during pregnancy, but remains in the postpartum body as long as the mother continues to breastfeed.  Relaxin makes tendons and ligaments more elastic, or “bendier”, so joints may be looser and balance less stable.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

I started lifting weights within two weeks of having Cadence, and I noticed that I was much more sore than typical. This was surprising to me because I had lifted weights throughout pregnancy.  I have since discovered that it is estrogen that protects muscles from delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, and estrogen levels are decreased after giving birth. Estrogen levels will continue to be suppressed during lactation.  I am now eight months post-partum, and I do not notice DOMS quite as much.  I do not know if my estrogen levels have increased, or if I don’t remember what normal felt like. Probably a little bit of both!

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I found that I was more sore when I lifted weights after giving birth

The Full Cup

My first experience running post partum left me in tears for a different reason than I had ever imagined (because I was totally unprepared for breastfeeding). I am an over producer, and my breasts were always full for the first few weeks.  Running with my old sports bras did not give me nearly the support that I needed.  Very quickly, I ordered maximum support sports bras, and I’ve been good to go since.  I have heard of people wearing two bras at once, but I have not needed to do this.  Before longer weekend runs, I make sure to nurse as close to my departure time, and I also like to pump any excess milk.  This can make my body think that it needs to produce more milk for the imaginary baby, but it is worth it to me to run less inhibited by big boobs.

The Golden Leash

Breastfeeding is a huge blessing, but it is also a huge sacrifice.  Newborns eat about every two hours, and infants eat about every three hours.  Cadence is eight months old, and she still eats every three hours, giving me a few longer stretches at night.  I have learned to relax when a workout gets interrupted by a hungry baby, and my runs typically don’t last longer than 3 hours out the door.  I love to trail run, but my trail running is mostly limited to the few local races where I don’t have to spend the night away from home.  That is my choice, as my husband is perfectly capable of giving a bottle.  I work during the week, so pumping and bottle feeding are not my top choice for Cadence on the weekends if we don’t have to go that route. (My husband has encouraged me to get out for longer periods of time on the trails for my sanity’s sake though.)

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One of many interrupted workouts.  Now I consider myself lucky for more time to snuggle.

Sleep

Speaking of nursing every 3 hours, that also impacts momma’s sleep!  According to KellyMom and every other source out there, breastfed babies often wake more at night.  Their little bodies are able to digest breast milk within two hours, and they are more likely to wake up ready for a midnight snack.  My baby was a pretty terrible sleeper until after she turned six months old.  Every baby is different.  I thought that I would have a mental breakdown from my lack of sleep, and there is no telling what my body was having to do to keep up with my workouts during that time.  (I was training for the Boston Marathon, and ran it at 6 months postpartum.)

Cadence was constantly sick for the first three months after she started daycare, and I was up with her 8-10 times a night, every night, for months, while training, and going to work.  I would never recommend that you forfeit sleep if you do not have to, but if you are a mom to a bad sleeper, please be encouraged that I made it, and you will too!  Moms are made of tough stuff!  All of that being said, sleep is extremely important in keeping your body in homeostasis, reducing stress and allowing your body to recover from having a baby, and repairing any muscle damage and/or growth.

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I love my mornings with Cadence, especially the first feeding of the day when she is still so sleepy and all smiles. I wouldn’t trade this time for the world.

I’m going to stop here and continue later this week with the second post.  I’d love to hear if your experience has been similar to mine!