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?

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!   

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?

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?

Qualifying for Boston

I ran my first marathon in 2013, and since then I have run 8 marathons and 3 ultramarathons.  According to Running USA, there were about 541,000 marathon finishers in 2014. For most marathoners, myself included, the Boston marathon is considered the Holy Grail of marathon races.

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Nashville Rock and Roll 2013, my first marathon and it poured the whole time!

So, what makes the Boston Marathon so attractive to runners? First, there is the history of the race, which dates back to 1897 as the oldest annual marathon in the world. The Boston Marathon is one of the six world marathon majors. (The world majors include London, Tokyo, Berlin, Chicago, New York, and Boston, and one day I want to run all of them!)  It is also New England’s most widely viewed sporting event, with about 500,000 spectators annually.

Then there is the qualifying process, which is just the carrot that a lot of runners can’t resist.  A runner must complete a standard certified marathon course within a specified period of time, usually extending from September to September the year before the upcoming April race.  The qualifying times were tightened in 2013 due to the number of registrants.  For a female in the age bracket 18-34, which is my category, the qualifying time is 3 hours and 35 minutes.  For a male in that same age bracket, the qualifying time is a speedy 3:05.  The time standard increases by 5 minutes for each age bracket category. A table of qualifying times is below.  It is a big accomplishment for a runner to Boston Qualify in itself, often called a “BQ”.

MEN WOMEN
18 – 34: 3hrs 05min 18 – 34: 3hrs 35min
34 – 39: 3hrs 10min 35 – 39: 3hrs 40min
40 – 44: 3hrs 15min 40 – 44: 3hrs 45min
45 – 49: 3hrs 25min 45 – 49: 3hrs 55min
50 – 54: 3hrs 30min 50 – 54: 4hrs 00min
55 – 59: 3hrs 40min 55 – 59: 4hrs 10min
60 – 64: 3hrs 55min 60 – 64: 4hrs 25min
65 – 69: 4hrs 10min 65 – 69: 4hrs 40min
70 – 74: 4hrs 25min 70 – 74: 4hrs 55min
75 – 79: 4hrs 40min 75 – 79: 5hrs 10min
80 and over: 4hrs 55min 80 and over: 5hrs 25min

Registration opens on a designated day in September where qualifying candidates are able to register with priority for faster times.  The registration period typically lasts over a couple of weeks.  For the last few years, the race filled up before all qualifying candidates were able to register.  The 2015 race cut-off was set at 1:01 faster than qualifying time, and the 2016 race was set at 2:28 faster than qualifying time.  This means that runners need to plan their BQ with margin for the cut-off.  In 2016, 4,562 runners met the time standard, but were still not accepted.  This is a disappointing reality for any runner, especially since the cut-off time is not determined until the actual registration takes place in September.

About 1/5 of the entries are reserved for charities and sponsors with the expectation that these slots will raise about $10 million a year.  There is also a special division for runners with disabilities.

I ran my first marathon in spring 2013, and decided to try for a BQ in 2014.  I chose the February 2014 Run with Donna marathon in Jacksonville, Florida, and finished with a time of 3:34:59, which was one second within the qualifying time.  Knowing that I would probably need more margin that one second, I turned around and ran the Nashville Rock and Roll a few weeks later, but did not improve my time.  Marathons require about a 6 month recovery time if you push your body for a best time, so I took my Nashville experience as a sign that I needed to give my body a break.  In September of 2014, I registered for Boston 2015 with my time of 3:34:59, but the cut-off for the race was 1:01 shorter than my BQ time.

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Jacksonville Run with Donna 26.2

Not to be discouraged, I decided to try again for 2016.  The race period for 2016 was September 2014 through September 2015.  In December 2014 I ran the Kiawah marathon in 3:29:36, which was faster than the required time by more than 5 minutes.  My average pace throughout the race was 7:56 min/mi.  I know that some people BQ on their first try, but it took me three marathons before I understood what it meant to train smarter and pace myself during a race.

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One month after I BQ’d, my husband and I got pregnant.  We had planned to only try to get pregnant as long as I would have time to deliver a baby and still train for the race.  I know, that may sound crazy to plan pregnancy around Boston, but my husband and I didn’t feel any real urgency to start a family right away.  Fortunately, God knew what we needed more than we did, and He gave us the biggest joy of our lives.  Cadence Joy Ussery was born on September 29, 2015.  Six months later, I ran my first Boston Marathon on April 18, 2016.