At some point in my life I thought I was too good for a one mile run.
I certainly wasn’t always like that. I now manage a running store and most people who have grown to know me in the past eight years probably associate me with Baltimore and fitness, but prior to that I spent most of high school and college a little overweight. I graduated from college in 2002 and started running more consistently to get in better shape because it was cheap, could be done anywhere, and it worked for both overall wellness and weight loss. From there I incrementally evolved into the kind of person who would skip a happy hour with friends because I had only completed one workout so far that day. Somewhere in there I found a happy medium that would take more than a few blog posts to chronicle or explain.
Fast forward a few years and a lot of details and I'm a busy mom, who is single at that. I have a son to support, a job I love, and a village of friends and family to nurture who have helped me step into this single working mom role with grace. To say it can be hard to find time to workout is an understatement. And, even though I am well aware of why I'm not in the same shape I used to be, it can be harder to see the numbers and know that I now run a few miles at a (much!) slower pace than I used to run half marathons. The expectations I had for myself morphed over the course of my pregnancy and first year of life as a mom.
My son was born in June of 2015. I maintained my fitness through my pregnancy by running through five months, teaching two indoor cycling classes a week through eight and a half months, going to yoga if I made time that didn’t conflict with my family or work life, and walking the dog daily. I didn’t and still don’t love talking about pregnancy and fitness as I am not an expert on either. I am not personally fan of the #fitmom craze that swears by a breezy recovery and flat abs four weeks postpartum if you just work hard enough during your pregnancy. (I am not saying all fit pregnancy claims state this but if you search the hashtags #fitpregnancy or #fitbump or #fitmom it wouldn’t take long to see an example). You are working hard building a human, so if you find that stuff motivates you to keep getting after it; great. But if you find yourself feeling guilty, my suggestion is to skip that noise. While nutritious food and maintaining activity are undoubtedly a key role in a healthy pregnancy, the marketing can quickly turn from inspirational and head towards shaming. I tell anyone who asks me for advice: talk to your doctor about your current fitness level, know that the ACOG recommends staying fit by maintaining pre-pregnancy activity with only a few restrictions, and always listen to your body.
Likewise, each woman’s birth experience is different and, for reasons I’d prefer not to discuss with anyone who hasn’t squeezed another human out of her body, it took me much longer than I anticipated to recover from my son’s birth. I remember feeling panicked as I was being discharged from the hospital hearing that I could “start taking short walks” in two weeks. TWO WEEKS? TO WALK? Even during the worst of morning sickness and pregnancy fatigue I hadn’t gone two straight DAYS without some form of activity, let alone weeks. Well wouldn’t you know, two sleep-deprived weeks came and went and my first quarter mile walk was slow and painful. I started to rethink my pre-delivery notion that I’d “bounce back” right away.
While attempting my first few runs postpartum (maybe seven weeks?) I distinctly remember thinking, “I am not sure I'll ever ‘really run’ again.” It was awful and not just in a “I’m not in running shape” right now kind of way. Without going into gory details, my body wasn’t ready. I found any attempts at altering my caloric intake to offset my lower activity levels backfired when it came to feeding my son. I also recognized that some of my motivation for running or losing the remaining weight was simply that I thought other people expected me to get right back into it. I resolved not to allow my perception of anyone’s expectations drive my recovery.
I shelved running for Stroller Strides classes, yoga and some at-home circuit work when I could muster the energy. If I had to guess I probably managed three workouts a week at best. I focused on rest, rebuilding some core strength and generally gave myself a pass until my son was at least nine months old before I cracked down on my fitness. It was a sane and necessary gift to myself. I worked hard to avoid comparing myself to other women running fast or long distances mere weeks or months after a baby. (If that is you- more power to you by the way- if you can do it, go for it). Instead I focused on enjoying how much my son needed me and since sleep came in 30 or 60 minute blocks three times a night and pumping felt like a part time job, intense workouts were not high on my to-do list.
As the nights have gotten relatively easier and I have adjusted to my new single-working-mom schedule, I have become better at finding the time to run. Along the way I rediscovered my inner-fire to keep putting one foot in front of the other. The mid-run mental pep-talks come much sooner than before but everything is relative. For any new moms who may be reading this- I found my grit and motivation didn't make a reappearance until my son was good on solid foods and I was no longer his sole source of sustenance. Sleep, nursing and savoring the fleeting infant moments with my baby always came first and I don't regret it for a second.
It was nice to start feeling like my old self again as my son needed my milk less, and I realized that I actually wanted to run. Funny enough, right around that same time, a salad started looking appealing again when previously all I wanted was pizza (this is only slightly hyperbolic). Wanting to tackle a run was great, however the practice of actually going for a run was a different story. My legs were heavy, my pace was significantly slower, and a mile seemed to drag on for a day. A two mile run was hard and afterward I felt defeated. Not to mention that as mom-life would have it between baby illnesses, incoming teeth, work chaos and family needs, I might go a week before I found another block of time for a decent run. I still use apps on my phone for quick and efficient at-home workouts in these cases, but in terms of finding the consistency needed to rebuild my running economy, it has been a slow road to recovery.
I made the decision sometime early in March 2016 that I cannot be above a one mile run (or some days a one mile walk). Doing this enabled me to use the 15 minutes I might have before the store opened, or the luck of a light traffic day on the rush to daycare to squeeze in a few minutes of pavement pounding. Soon I found myself running two to three times a week and now, a few months later, sometimes four or five or maybe even every day. Motherhood has been a constant exercise in humility, this one was just more literal than others.
I can run five miles again and some days even do it without stopping (unless my son is in the stroller in which case that’s a part of the deal). Occasionally I even find the time and resolve to run longer or add some speed and hills to my work. To put this in perspective for any moms who may be reading this, my son turned one in June. The road here hasn’t been perfect and I think that is my main motivation to share this. I have the utmost respect for women who are back in fine form immediately after having a baby, but for the rest of us there’s a lot of gray area between expectations, recovery, priorities, rest and sanity.
Some of my postpartum fitness must-haves:
1. A new sports bra that fits. My chest doubled in size. I used the Moving Comfort Jubralee- that thing holds ‘em in, comes in B through F cup sizes and has velcro that allows for pumping and nursing pretty easily. Expect to change bra sizes a few times during and after pregnancy.
2. Comfy capris with a high waist. No one can see the size on the tag so if what you have now isn’t fitting comfortably invest in a new pair. Same goes for a tank top. I think I wore my maternity capris for three months after baby. It was awesome.
3. Other new moms. For this I lucked out when one of my running besties had her son literally 36 hours before me, and I also had four other friends who had babies within a few months of me. I also found local mom groups on Facebook and at Fit4Mom/Stroller Strides classes to be a great community of support.
4. Shoes. I work for a specialty running shoe store so I genuinely believe in the power of well-fit shoes. They literally changed my life a decade ago. Pregnancy can change a woman’s foot size, width and arch stability. Go to a store (perhaps the one I manage) that specializes in fitting running shoes and take the employees’ advice.
5. Jogging stroller. Actual running strollers have different geometries that make it more difficult to tip over and also have some safety features like wrist straps and bells, so investing in a stroller built for the job is a good idea if you plan to run with your child. Please talk to your pediatrician and heed safety advice about when your child is old enough to handle this and prepare your child for the environmental conditions (bundle him or her in warm layers for winter, use hats sunscreen and stroller fans during warmer months and understand how your child’s age relates to unique heat and hydration challenges). As I am writing this I am thinking I will write another post specific to this.
6. At-home workout options. Some of the iPhone apps I use in a pinch when a run isn’t an option are: 7-minute Workout, Sworkit, SkyFit, YogaGlow.
7. Gentleness with yourself. See above story.
8. Sleep. When in doubt pick sleep. Same goes for baby snuggles, you don’t get those back.
About The Author: Deirdre Weadock
A Baltimore native and graduate of NDP and University of Maryland in College Park, Deirdre bought her first pair of shoes from Charm City Run while home visiting Baltimore from her job training dolphins in the Florida Keys. She became a part-time employee and full-time member of the Charm City Run family soon after when she stopped in to replace her shoes. Deirdre was thrilled to help Charm City Run expand to the downtown location as the store manager and coach of Charm City Run full and middle distance training groups. Over the years of involvement she has been committed to the Charm City Run energy and passion for the running community and she is a well-known face at local events. She loves the downtown fitness community and you can often find her checking out any new local studio or gym, but her favorite spot will always be a run along the Inner Harbor Promenade.