Baby steps: postnatal running and mental health

There are many standout memories from the first few weeks of my son’s life: the first walk in the sunshine, the first time he met his grandparents, my first Mother’s Day card. But one thing I won’t forget is sobbing hysterically whilst trying to sterilise and assemble a breast pump, terrified that touching it with my hands would contaminate it.

There was another incident, around the same time, where I was trying to catch up on sleep one afternoon but (again) couldn’t stop crying. My eyes refused to close despite the exhaustion, and I realised I now hated my bedroom, once a peaceful and comfortable sanctuary but now strewn with screwed-up muslin cloths, half-drunk glasses of water, and piles of stuff that I couldn’t imagine finding the time to put away.

Remember when there wasn’t stuff everywhere

The baby blues come on suddenly and pass after a few days, says every book and website, and it’s a normal response to hormones. But it went on and on, up and down, some days wonderful and other days an absolute pit of despair and regret where I ignored my friends, snapped at my mother and resented everything. I felt stupid, incompetent and ungrateful, and even more so at 4am when alone with my thoughts. Social media was no relief, full of people’s achievements, or their hobbies, holidays and tidy houses. Night after night I sat on the sofa, wondering if I’d ever sleep again, and then deriding my own problems as petty nonsense, scrolling news websites reporting the rise of a new virus sweeping the world.

Time moves on and everyone’s lives have changed. My son has spent half his life in lockdown, seeing his extended family on a phone screen and being primarily entertained by me hanging up the washing. There are benefits, of course – everything is still new to him, so it doesn’t matter that we read the same books and walk in the same park every day. Zoom and FaceTime catch-ups with pals can be muted if he starts to cry, which wouldn’t happen in the pub. And my partner now works from home most of the time, which has good for us all and has been key to helping me return to running quickly and consistently.

I exercised throughout pregnancy and was lucky to have a straightforward birth with no complications. After a couple of weeks I was feeling physically good when walking several miles and was convinced that getting back to exercise would improve my mental state. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this to everyone, but circumstances aligned – enough sleep, feeling physically ready, and decent enough weather – to get me out for a run 5 weeks after giving birth. Buoyed by cheering on Glasgow Frontrunners‘ Couch to 5km graduation run a few days earlier, I’d set no expectations, heading out on a 5km loop near my house that I’ve run at least weekly for the past few years, with enough hills to challenge me and enough traffic lights to allow a brief rest if needed. No longer sure of my physical capabilities, I was apprehensive, but I (slowly) ran the whole distance. For the first time in months, I felt like myself again; like all the extraordinary, irreversible changes in my life hadn’t altered my sense of self so much that running didn’t feel the same. There was still that freedom, that wonderful way that the brain fog clears with every stride.

Cuddles after that first run

It took a week or so before I was recovered enough or well-rested enough to try again, but each time got easier and I’m now running multiple times a week and working on increasing distance as well as pace. I’d entered a few summer 10k races which have all since been cancelled and although it’s disappointing, it would possibly have been too soon for racing and I would have been frustrated at my slower times. But with nearly three months of no running, and a stone and a half heavier than when I was marathon training, it’s going to take a while to get back to where I was. Talking to other Jog Leaders about their experiences and getting their advice has been very useful, and Jog Scotland’s facilitation of a Zoom chat as part of Maternal Mental Health Week was a great way to share stories and talk about the ways in which running has changed for us all recently.

Chatting to women who’ve been there and done that, or who were going through the same things I was, was useful to hear. In some ways, the current situation has made it easier for me – I can run when it suits me and the baby, no longer having to fit in with my partner’s work hours. Likewise when I return to work in a few weeks, I’ll be working from home, and making time to head for a lunchtime run as often as possible.

My mental health is still changeable; I can’t unravel the postnatal hormones from the stress of lockdown and that’s probably not unusual. I haven’t been diagnosed with PND or PNA, but my GP check-up and ongoing health visitor support have both been cut back significantly due to Coronavirus, like a lot of community health services, so for now I’m generally OK. Almost everyone is struggling a bit at the moment, and I am so lucky to have what I do and be in the situation I’m in. Most of all, I am grateful to be back to running, even if it’s slow and there’s no training plan or upcoming races, as it so clearly helps me. Getting out in the fresh air has always been a great mood booster and it’s even more important to make time for that now, whilst staying safe and appreciating the little things in life.

Marathons vs birth: a (slightly) scientific discussion

“She’s run a couple of marathons, I think”

Even with a gas & air pipe clamped between my teeth, I was able to correct my birth partner’s inaccurate knowledge of my running achievements & earned some further approving noises from the midwife in between the general encouragement. I also told her the story of how I found out and how I had kept fit & active during pregnancy. She & the other midwives were impressed, & assured me that I would be absolutely fine to do this if I was a marathon finisher. I was less convinced.

The last calm moment

There’s a lot been written comparing pregnancy, birth and exercise, from the funny listicles to the fairly well-executed science analysing the effect on the body. Basically, marathons and childbirth are both difficult, painful, physically and mentally taxing, and require a decent period of recovery afterwards. This blog analyses it all quite well from a runner’s perspective, & gives a good comparison between tapering/late pregancy and the second wind at mile 25/second stage labour. Getting your breathing under control is key for both activities; struggling with this has let me down both in running and in labour. But visualisation and mantras have helped me for both too.

On balance – based on acute pain experienced & the ability to pack the whole thing in if required – I would much rather run a marathon than give birth. There were plenty of similarities:

  • Copious amounts of Lucozade consumed (& then Lucozade-induced nausea)
  • Sore muscles everywhere the day afterwards
  • A fair amount of self-doubt, although marathon doubt is quite introspective, and like many labouring women I was quite vocal about wanting to give up IMMEDIATELY and go home
  • Jelly babies & fruit pastilles that seem appetising beforehand but are THE ABSOLUTE FUCKING WORST when trying to chew and swallow them during the event
  • Lots of affirmations & positivity from spectators who aren’t the ones putting the effort in
  • Needing to pee but not wanting to take the time to do so
  • When it’s finished, there is such relief you no longer have to keep going

On the other hand, there’s no medal at the end of birth (I did get some balloons), no post-event pub visit (there is tea), and it took a bit longer to recover from. I’ve heard of people being unable to walk properly for several days following a marathon but I’ve always been OK, with just minor to moderate DOMS. Five days after the birth, I walked a slow mile and had to rest afterwards. I’d been used to that gradual slowdown in late pregnancy but it still gave me the fear that I would never, ever recover properly from this.

Happily, each day got easier and despite the awful Glasgow weather, I have walked as much as possible. I now feel close to normal and am looking forward to starting a full postnatal exercise plan very soon.

walking is awesome

However, the obvious difference between childbirth and marathons is that in spite of encouragement and mental strength, if you want to stop running a marathon half way through because it’s too difficult or painful, then you absolutely can.

I had a normal, uncomplicated delivery. This is what medical professionals keep calling it; I am fine with uncomplicated but it was not normal for me. It was scary and painful and at many points I did not feel at all in control of what was happening, despite all of the positive birth books and yoga breathing & other stuff I had done or read in the weeks leading up to it. I was praised for not showing up at the hospital until things were well under way, and that I must have a strong pain threshold. As I’ve been lucky enough to never have had a serious injury or illness, I have no idea what my pain threshold is. For now, it’s birth. I am no longer scared of anything, after the final few minutes of childbirth.

Honestly the best thing about this is how I had neatly placed my trainers in the corner of the room several hours earlier

Despite the pain and fear, I am pleased that everything went OK and that all the science and data about good physical fitness leading to a quick and easy birth was the case for me. Active labour lasted about 6 hours, and the second stage was extremely short and took the midwives by surprise, who were both still getting their gloves on when the baby appeared. I had been determined to keep active and upright for as long as I could, which turned out well as when I did have to lie down for an examination, the overwhelming tiredness kicked in from being awake all night and I would have definitely stayed on the bed if no one had encouraged me to get up again. I didn’t react well to the encouragement but that’s quite normal, apparently, and things progressed very quickly from that point onward.

Obviously I kept my Garmin on throughout in order to record some good data. This is my 24 hour heart rate on the day:

It doesn’t look like I thought it would. The first 10 hours of this (including the lack of movement where the software thinks I was asleep) is labour, clearly showing my heart rate dropping and stabilising when I stopped wandering around the ward and got into the birthing pool (5:30am) and then a slight peak at 9am when the baby was born. The red peaks are caused by having a shower and walking to get dinner, which were the activities that increased my heart rate most as my physical fitness is now ruined.

This, for contrast, is the London Marathon 2019:

Aside from how I am too old to have a peak heart rate of 185, the physical effort looks greater and more consistent for a marathon, and I’d still rather run one.

Garmin data was backed up by the many vital signs checks that we both received over the next 24 hours. After a night in hospital, we were able to come home and a new normal is under construction. At this stage I can just about see how hobbies and interests can be pursued again at some point, and running seems easier than the gym at the moment so I’ll definitely start with that. My small collection of kettlebells and weights that are stashed in a corner of the baby’s room will also be put to use. At the moment, I have to eat and sleep when the baby sleeps, but fingers crossed that a few more weeks gives me the time and space to come back properly. I’m sticking to walks and healthy eating for now, but I have some summer race entries that will need a training plan…

Fitness & pregnancy: what to wear

I have a lot of running & fitness clothes already, but I knew I was going to keep exercising during pregnancy for as long as possible, so investing in some suitable clothing for comfort & support happened quite quickly after a couple of early setbacks.

I pretty much always race in shorts unless it’s freezing, and like many runners I have my ‘lucky’ kit pieces which I’ve worn for good races and subsequently attached a percentage of the success to them. For Run The Blades at just 12 weeks pregnant, I felt really bloated in my race kit and it was the last time I wore my Under Armor Speedpocket shorts as they were sitting really uncomfortably.

pre-race: chunky af

I was able to wear my favourite racing shorts for the Great North Run, but again they were digging in by the end of the race and especially after having something to eat. I also used my FlipBelt for abdominal support as well as to carry my phone & nutrition, but I could tell that wasn’t ideal or sustainable in the long term. So by the Great Scottish Run (and well into the fifth month of pregnancy) I was down to my final fitting pair of shorts: truly ancient Nikes which are usually too big for me but have a good drawstring & are super comfortable. The weather was way too mild for leggings, even at my slow speed, and overheating is worse than a tight waistband so I would have coped anyway.

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club shirt over a maternity vest & the ancient Nikes

But from this point on, winter was on the approach and almost all of my winter kit was uncomfortable or just not fitting at all.

First things first: maternity clothes are annoying to find, to buy and to wear. H&M has been a lifesaver, mostly because there is some decent stock in their city centre store to actually look at and try on, in the midst of a lot of shapeless polyester. New Look has also been relatively OK for basics like leggings but the in-store range is not great and it means a drive out to a shopping centre or taking your chances online. I have had a brief look in JoJo Maman Bebe and Mothercare – bought one nice dress because it was on sale & a top I am yet to wear, but nothing much appealed to me as it’s very mumsy and not really my style. I need skinny jeans, tailored trousers and well-cut tops.

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Normal standard: uniqlo/New Look

There are some really good blog posts out there for women who don’t want to wear floaty kaftans, or leggings and a striped top for five months straight, but the majority of maternity clothes are not awesome. Recommendations to get regular clothes in bigger sizes doesn’t appeal to me – which makes sense, as you’re not just bigger but an entirely different shape – and that wouldn’t really work for activewear anyway, where ill-fitting leggings are way too common for everyone. For activewear, Gap & ASOS were the main recommendations, so off I went for a browse.

Gap was initially a bit of a struggle as I ordered these leggings because they were cheap, but they didn’t fit very well under the small bump & now I just don’t bother with them. Should probably try them on now for a laugh if nothing else. I did, however get a pair of these Gap over-bump cropped leggings for 99p+postage from eBay and they have been pretty good, fitting fairly well around the waist and hips although slightly too tight on my bowling pin calves.

ASOS came up good for workwear as well as these marvellous leggings, which I hope I can get some extended use out of. With full mesh calves and a really handy phone pocket, I love them and wear them a lot around the house as well as when training. These ones were best for running when I was still doing that, as they are very stretchy and cover the bump well. Getting too hot in full leggings hasn’t mattered either as I slowed down so much.

Tops were generally more versatile, whether roomier race finisher shirts or tighter vests. The benefits of Lycra.

my favourite Under Armor top: November 2018 / November 2019

I did invest in a top from FittaMamma, which has been one of my favourite pieces throughout the pregnancy as it has a strong waistband to support the bump. I’ve even worn it under roomier t-shirts for warmth as the weather got colder, as none of my running jackets zip up any more. Wearing this for running definitely helped me keep going for longer, only cutting the running down when I needed more support than the top could provide. The thick waistband sits comfortably and makes up for the failures of the slightly ill-fitting eBay leggings.

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I also picked up a new sports bra, as my shoulders were hurting in my regular kit within  a few weeks. That’s now less important because I’m no longer running or doing high-impact exercise, but it will hopefully still fit relatively well at a later date as a decent bra is a big financial investment.

Overall I think I’ve done OK, without spending too much money or spending too long trying to squeeze into kit that doesn’t fit any more. The resale value of maternity activewear doesn’t seem great, but I aim to set aside time to eBay everything in a couple of months (or more realistically, it will sit in a corner of the house in a bag for the best part of a year…) I think that the choice and range of maternity activewear is hugely different from even a few years ago, with lots of high street brands doing their own lines, as well as  maternitywear brands and specific maternity fitness brands like FittaMamma. Again, I feel lucky to have the choice; the right clothes have been a huge part of keeping up with training. Growing out of my regular clothes has been a bit depressing and I ended up packing a lot of stuff away under the bed because it made me sad to look in my wardrobe. Getting some nice new activewear definitely helped, and as it might be quite a while before I’m comfortably back in my regular clothes, being comfortable and stylish will remain important.

I am not affiliated with any of the brands in this post.

The end is in sight

Reflecting on 2019, I am feeling a bit melancholy at the moment. I think it’s pretty common at this stage, even though my physical aches and pains are still quite mild and my sleep has improved a lot recently. That marathon training cycle seems like it happened to someone else.

still here

I stopped running in early December, around the 33rd week of pregnancy. Keeping my heart rate low was becoming more and more difficult, and the pace was barely above walking pace, so it’s easier to just walk. Except up hills, they are now difficult. My hips and joints are fine so I don’t have to move to the elliptical yet.

Early on I was committed to staying at work until the last possible moment – I’m still keen to do this, but having the free time and energy to train & stay healthy would also be nice. Work is taking up too much energy, and logistical problems like no longer having a gym near my office have made training consistently a bit more difficult. Xmas is coming at a nice time for a break though. I’m a little envious of people who seem to have unlimited energy to do everything. End-of-year Strava stats don’t help

Although it’s interesting to note that I am at similar fitness levels to two years ago. This year’s training cycle was clearly better than I thought. But I’m getting serious envy and FOMO of everyone’s end of year mileage stats, winter races, 2020 plans.

Lifting is still good, though. I’m down to about half of my 1RM weight, and going for 10-12 reps per set of 3-4, usually doing a full body workout rather than a push/pull/legs plan. Barbells are also mostly out, so I’m reacquainting with the trap bar again.

After the birth, my ideal is to walk a lot, as soon as I can, provided everything is straightforward. I keep swinging wildly between panic that I’ll never leave the house again and over-enthusiastic grand plans to walk for miles every day to improve my mental health and cardio fitness. Realistically I imagine that somewhere in between will suffice, depending on how it all goes. The pram is good for walking, and might be good for running too in the future. The baby box arrived a couple of weeks ago (See my post here about unpacking) and I’m looking forward to giving the included sling a try as well, as it’s basically a weighted carry and must be good in the same way for your core and back muscles (I confidently strapped on a more complicated carrier at antenatal class and was swiftly told it was on backwards, which doesn’t inspire much confidence, but we all have to start somewhere…)

goals

But for now? I will miss Xmas Day/New Year’s Day parkrun, and mulled wine, and the good cheese, and staying up until midnight to see in the New Year. But there’s really no time at all to go now before my life’s turned upside down, and I’m determined to enjoy myself as much as I can regardless.

Have a lovely Festive break, however you spend it 🙂

Baby box unwrapped

Not strictly running or fitness related, but do bear with me…

Scotland started providing free baby boxes in 2017. I’ve always thought they were a pretty good idea – the evidence behind their benefit has been slightly misrepresented and politicised over the years, but the general idea is fantastic. Also, who doesn’t like free stuff? There have been a couple of stories in the press about charity shops being inundated with the contents, but that seems quite reasonable – clothes in particular quickly become obsolete and not everyone wants a big cardboard box. I have cats, so I see plenty of future use for this beyond putting the baby in it. It’s basically like a double-size document box and so it’s my absolute storage dream.

It’s a big box. I only got about a day’s notice via text that it was going to arrive, and had resigned myself to driving out to Cambuslang to collect it from the depot but it randomly got redelivered at a time I was in to sign for it. Hooray.

As well as the tangible STUFF, there are plenty of leaflets, vouchers and things to read, download or save for later.

Well, yes. Not really my thing. The sentiment is lovely, but I’m not Scottish & Scots is not a written language so really I need someone to read this to me.

Gender-neutral colours in a range of sizes, which is the kind of thing I would certainly buy anyway but I know a lot of people aren’t keen on green, white and mustard babygrows. Apparently the clothes can be unpopular because people like heavily gendered clothing for their children, which is a shame. Me, I like an easy life and intend on keeping this child in washable cotton for as long as I can get away with it.

Lots of different types of things – long and short sleeves and legs – with cloud, star and giraffe patterns. Also a fuzzy jacket with ears, which is delightful.

I can see mittens & socks getting lost quite easily, but will try and keep them in the house at least. Bibs & hats are a bit easier to manage.

A nice blanket, a towel and fitted sheets for the mattress in the base of the box.

The important stuff. I have a room thermometer already but a bath temperature gauge is an excellent idea and an ear thermometer is just generally handy. Also pads, for the random bodily fluids. Can never have enough of these, apparently.

Can never have enough books either. More packs arrive later when age appropriate. Apparently I am going to have every That’s Not My… book I’ve ever bought returned to me which will be useful for starting the library collection. I am so grateful for being a child bookworm & it’s something I hope my child enjoys too.

Ducky sponge, sheep teething ring, cow… whatever that is. All good creatures. Not entirely sure what the cow is for but I’m sure I will find out.

Play mat and changing mat. Not yet unfolded as I worry I will not refold them properly.

“Please don’t do this again.” But seriously, a useful reminder that women can be fertile frighteningly quickly after birth and it’s good to be prepared.

I am very sold on the idea of hands-free baby transport, but my enthusiasm faded away a bit at antenatal class after I put a sling on backwards. However, this length of cloth looks very straightforward & has full instructions just in case. I will definitely invest in a different sling in the future if we both get on OK with it. A pram on public transport always looks a bit cumbersome, and I use buses and trains mostly so this will definitely be handy.

And there we are! Lots and lots of useful things for both of us. Never thought I’d receive or want to receive one of these, but now it’s in the middle of my living room. Things change.

Also, I thought I had quite a few stupid questions about parenting and felt like a bit of an idiot, so the reminders to not put the lid on the box when the baby’s in it, or keep it next to an open fire or on a precipice have given me more reassurance that there are no stupid questions.

The arrival of the baby box means not long until the arrival of the baby. I’m starting to struggle a bit now, physically. After the clocks went back and I had a couple of busy weekends, running fell by the wayside a bit & I have not really managed to get it back. Consoling myself with the knowledge that December is the best time to have a chill-out anyway (unless you run cross-country, I suppose) and I really don’t want to slip, fall or hurt myself. Also, walking moderately fast is enough to get my heart rate up to a decent level, so cardio fitness is basically being kept up, I just need my head to catch up with it.

I’ve already got more aches & pains going on, & whether that’s to be expected at this very late stage or is a result of cutting down the exercise, I’m not sure. But I am still hitting the gym a couple of times a week, and walking lots in between. Going to try swimming once I’ve finished up at work too. Change is OK.

Data is beautiful

Sundays are strange now. Even if it wasn’t a long run day, I would usually go to running club and brunch afterwards. More recently it’s been a gym day. Today it’s been neither, & although I was awake before 8, the dull skies and rain made it very easy to take a cup of tea & breakfast back to bed.

Running has taken a back seat recently due to dark evenings and busy weekends, but I’m aware that every week I don’t run, the more likely I am to not get back to it. There has been plenty of walking, which is apparently just as good for keeping up cardio fitness. A few months ago I was sceptical of this, but these days the data proves it.

This graph shows my heart rate getting consistently up to around 140bpm with a day of nothing but intervals of steady walking. Fair enough it was a busy day of doing things, but usually I would get to about 100bpm with a very brisk and uphill walk, and this is off the scale. Resting heart rate has increased from 45-50bpm to around 70bpm and I’ve never felt so unfit in my life. Keeping an eye on data & metrics does attract eye-rolls from certain people, but it has been useful for me to see the slow decline and keep an eye on my fitness in this temporary weird state.

In the past few weeks I have felt physically out of breath from periods of walking too, as the space available for my lungs & diaphragm keeps decreasing. I went on an 8km hike around my favourite loch last week and was pretty tired by the end of it, & very glad that I’d changed course from the planned 20km hike due to snow & poor weather.

still amazing, though

Next week I’m planning a couple of steady treadmill running sessions, to keep out of the rain & so that I can keep an eye on speed & heart rate a bit better. Lifting still feels good, but my big lift loadings are now around 50% of my 1RM and I aim for 30-50 reps over 3 or 4 sets. My muscle tone is holding up fairly well, and although my abs are still just about holding it together, the next few weeks will be the challenge to that. Will be making an effort to cat/cow every day, not just on yoga day…

Checking in

Over half way now: the spare room still has my weights & stuff in it (“you can’t keep calling it the spare room, Heather…”) & I am enjoying the space before it gets taken up by a cot & a pram & whatever else. Still not sure how to explain it all to the cats.

I have news for you, my friend

People keep asking if I am going to buy a running buggy. I am now an expert on prams* so the answer is yes, probably, when I have replaced the ££££ I have already shelled out on miscellaneous nonsense so far, & figured out how to run again. No point in splashing out until I know whether running will even be an option.

*up until a month ago, I thought a car seat was a carrycot, a carrycot was a pram, & a travel system was a separate thing

It’s also time to slow down a bit. A moderate workout gives serious DOMS, & a couple of days of work travel can ruin me for the rest of the week. I am yawning my head off at 9:30pm even after an average day.

I am enjoying the shopping, although my bank balance disagrees.

what else for a tiny marathoner

So what am I missing?

Fast (ish) running. Natural but frustrating, even though I’ve never been a particularly fast runner. Keeping an eye on my heart rate isn’t always working as it always goes high at a moderate effort (and then recovers really quickly). Running once or twice a week right now, and fitting in Cyclebox once a week or so if I need it. This is enough cardio.

Caffeine. So bad. I have a couple of filter coffees a week & those days are *chef’s kiss* even when they are usually saved for stressful work days.

Sleep. I know it’s a cliche but I didn’t expect the crap sleep to start so soon, it kicked in quite early & was mostly about anxiety & a racing mind. Now it’s more about discomfort, or for NO REASON AT ALL I AM JUST AWAKE AT 3AM. I am good at sleeping on my left side but I must be a thrashy sleeper most of the time: several hours of not moving much can wake me up with a killer ache in my hip & I have to get out of bed to alleviate it. I’m a 6am riser during the week & still quite early at weekends – a marathon training habit that refuses to die – so my sleep is quite diminished. It’s manageable for now because every 10 days or so I have a huge crash & go to bed at 8pm. I think I am now just permanently tired.

Tying my shoes easily. Enough said.

Cheeses. I have ordered & sent back blue cheese dressing several times, because I am stupid. I have also been merrily eating unpasteurised Parmesan until a few days ago because apparently I can’t read either. Christmas will be tough because cheese is a staple. I am going on a proper Brie binge in the new year.

Those are the big things for now, as I approach the six month mark & start to worry about fitting behind the steering wheel.

But yes: still running (slowly, not far), lifting (not heavy, no snatches), spinning (occasionally dropping a sprint) and going out (if I can be home by 10:30). It’s still good.

Running for two

Are you still running?

Is it safe?

Are you sure?

Several times a week, this happens.

Running is fine. CrossFit is fine. Depending on your specific circumstances, almost everything is absolutely fine.

As I’m lucky enough to be healthy, I wanted to keep up my race commitments this year as much as I could. Mostly because entry fees are steep, & I’ve already lost out on two race entries in the last 12 months due to circumstances beyond my control. So I’ve still been completing races (but not racing) 😀

Edinburgh Marathon doesn’t really count because it was so early in the first trimester, but I am slightly pleased to know that my breathlessness, perceived effort & generally feeling ‘off’ was probably due to making a human from scratch rather than not training well enough. I look forward to telling my offspring that I ran a marathon with them when they were an embryo.

Run The Blades was already entered, & was never going to be a pb effort for the distance even if I was at full fitness: a hilly trail race on a midsummer Friday evening has enough factors making it difficult . Never at my best during evening races, it’s tough underfoot, has a lot of narrow sections and a selection of steep & long hills. I stayed very steady and kept an eye on my heart rate, dropping the speed if it got too high. Which it did, but I am sure a one off is fine. I am sure that hill is more than 30m elevation.

Great North Run was unexpectedly hot & as noted in the debrief, probably a bit too far. Had it not been a race I would have called it a day at 10 miles. The evening & the next day was quite like post-marathon stiffness, which worried me a bit, but with proper rest and stretching, I was back at the gym a few days later.

So far, running’s been consistently ok. Perceived effort is difficult to manage, mostly because working harder for a slower pace is messing with my brain a bit. I thought I would get frustrated with going slower – parkrun is the worst, as all my local ones are 3-4 laps and I am getting overtaken a lot – but it’s for the right reasons. In the couple of weeks when I felt very tired and nauseous, gentle running or training in the gym made me feel better, which was a great help once I’d actually managed to get out the door. Iced water also really helped, as my sense of smell was very heightened & the chemical scent of room temperature tap water was very unappealing.

My last race this year will be the Great Scottish Run 10km, tomorrow. It’s a race I’ve done every year since I started running properly, except 2018 when I failed to start due to not feeling well on race day, and I missed it a lot. Things can change on a weekly basis in terms of how I feel and what I can achieve, but for now it seems like a good way to end the season: seven races, over half of them pregnant. Back in December, when I was planning my marathons & everything else around them, I had no idea it would end up like this. But I’m grateful for every day I feel able to exercise, & much stronger & happier for doing so.

Debrief: Great North Run

I randomly popped a ballot application in for the Great North Run at some point last year – can’t even remember when. It’s clearly an awesome race & the largest half marathon in the world, but it’s never been a bucket list one for me. I know plenty folk who’ve ran it, including a friend who raised money for WWF by running with a life-size stuffed panda on her back, & my cousins, who’ve ran it several times in a big group to raise money for a local charity. It’s always had a good report, despite the course congestion, & it’s fairly close to home. I like all these things.

The email came in with confirmation of a place back in February, but I was heavily concentrating on something else & it barely even registered. I think I did an insta post or story about it, but September seemed ages away, and at that point in marathon training I was running 13.1 regularly as an easy run or in the rest weeks, so it didn’t seem like that big a deal.

Fast forward a few months and it was a lot sooner & I was not massively prepared for it. There’s been no training plan, except maintaining fitness as much as I can. There is no goal in mind, aside from completing it, but even then I’m not going to push myself to keep running if I need to slow down.

such bridge, tho

This way of thinking is not how I usually run. It’s different to Run The Blades, which I undertook at 12 weeks pregnant, because I’m now more or less halfway through at almost 20 weeks & running is getting a little more difficult every time. I haven’t really mentioned this race to many people, & those who did know mostly assumed I was going to drop out or defer the place.

But despite slowing down quite a bit, I didn’t see any reason to not run. I was lucky enough to have lots of friends and family running it too, it’s a very inclusive race that caters well for a lot of slower runners, & there’s no merit in not trying. Mostly, I have no idea what life will be like in September 2020 so it’s a much better idea to have a crack at it now, even if slow.

Lol at being in the 1:50-1:55 finish wave, though

I’m writing this on the train home, tea in hand. Tyneside is close enough to Scotland to be there, raced & back in 24 hours, which is good. Today has been the furthest distance I’ve run since knowingly pregnant, & I was quite apprehensive about it. Most people are very supportive, & those that aren’t aka my mother are just concerned. I get that. But I might never get a chance to run GNR again & I’m not chucking an entry fee unless I absolutely have to.

So. Full sun was forecast and was very much a feature of the day. Not ideal, but I sought the shade at all times, made use of almost every water station & every shower, & will be forever grateful to the good people of Tyne & Wear who stood in their gardens with hosepipes. Higher temps definitely slowed me down a lot & I walked several times, always keeping an eye on my heart rate and perceived effort.

I had genuinely considered wearing a long sleeve top

It was quite difficult & I am more than happy to admit that. With hindsight, I wouldn’t do this distance again at this stage. It was a long way & I currently feel the same as I’ve done in the past after running a lot further. I’m sore everywhere & I want a warm bath & some more tea & to not be at work for 8am tomorrow. I felt fine when actually running, though, so I’m guessing how I feel now is just heightened fatigue rather than unusual or dangerous. & baby’s currently fluttering away in there, which I started to feel a couple of weeks ago, so that’s good. I am going to take a few days recovery & make sure I get plenty of rest too.

Random points:

  • I don’t realise quite how much I’m flexing the bump until I’m tired & stop doing it. Right now it looks huge because I’m sitting down & have eaten loads of snacks all day
  • Number of women who slowed for a chat before overtaking, or said nice things: loads!
  • Number of mostly men people who elbow-barged me out of the way: also loads, unfortunately
  • I walked about 7 times for 1-2 minutes each time, usually during a hill or when my watch peeped at me for a high heart rate
  • Comparable to London in terms of route congestion, iconic bridge moment, crowd cheers & good marshalling. The end/event village was absolutely chaotic though & would put me off running or spectating again. Volumes of people meant no phone service & it was really strangely laid out.
  • I will have actual nightmares about the mile 9 portaloos 🤢

All in all, I’m glad to have been able to run this but as above, had I not had the race entry ready to go, I wouldn’t deliberately take this distance on during pregnancy. It might be bad timing, & even a couple of weeks ago might have been better for me, but we’ll never know. For now, I’m grateful that all I’m feeling is mild discomfort, tiny fluttery kicks & a crazy desire for sleep.