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…

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.

The new normal

So. With increased total blood volume & ligaments relaxing all over the place, how does exercise fit into all this?

Opinions vary. The traditional advice for expectant women to rest & take it easy is no longer chucked about with as much sincerity as it used to be, thank goodness. But there are plenty of people who say stuff like that to me anyway, when I was marathon training or even when just generally maintaining fitness. It’s easy to forget that exercise isn’t part of a lot of people’s routines at all. “Have a rest! Put your feet up! Just relax!” is the battle cry of people who have never racked their bodyweight across their shoulders & dropped 5×5 like a boss, or ran for two hours without stopping & unravelled all the problems in their mind.

The other side of the coin is aspirational social media/generic internet positivity. “You can do anything! Pregnancy is not an illness!” which must be a terribly grating thing to hear for people who are quite unwell during pregnancy. Although they’ll be stuck in the bathroom most of the time & won’t really care. It’s usually illustrated with pictures like this:

from a website advising no supine positions after 13 weeks (which is outdated anyway) clearly doing JUST THAT

I really hope that’s not been cleaned from the floor

& again, not illustrative of most people’s experiences. Exercise is hugely important for my mental & physical wellbeing, but I’m out of breath sometimes now if I walk up a few flights of stairs carrying a heavy bag. My body is changing already, & my diet is a little different, so my training will have to change too.

Sad face

The internet is fantastic & full of wonderful tips & tricks, but it’s also full of nonsense, & separating the good advice from the well-intentioned-but-terrible, as well as the genuinely bad, can be difficult. NHS, Mumsnet & similar recommend that exercise should be the usual triad of gentle walking, swimming & pregnancy yoga. I have actually been to pregnancy yoga and it was quite nice, although the hippie nonsense relaxation practice has never appealed to me & it’s even less appealing now the guided savasana involves bonding with the baby. At least no one can see my rolling my eyes because there’s an aromatherapy bag over my face. But still.

I love the NHS but they’re obviously terribly cautious with the advice and need to appeal to the mainstream, who tend not to exercise at all. So far I’ve found specific lifting/CrossFit advice for women to be the best, as sensible suggestions about listening to your own body is key. The importance of what a lighter weight means to you specifically is also mentioned in this type of advice, rather than the generic ‘light weight’ or just no heavy lifting at all.

The first few times I went to the gym after finding out about the pregnancy, I did my all usual sessions with no change to the weight on the bar, but then panicked a bit, went too light & wasn’t feeling the benefit. Right now, the intensity depends on the lift I’m doing. Cleans, snatches & deadlifts feel less comfortable already so my weights are lighter for these lifts, & I have modified some of the techniques for more support & less risk whilst still getting a benefit. Squats & overhead lifts all feel fine, so I’m sticking with weights only slightly lighter than my pre-pregnancy efforts.

Listening to my own body is a little bit more difficult than I expected because I’m half a stone heavier than 2 months ago & full of weird twinges. Ligaments hold your uterus in its normal place in your pelvis – in my head it’s like BB8’s retention cables when he’s rolling around on the Millennium Falcon

& when these stretch to accommodate the expanding uterus, it aches a bit. Mostly it’s when I stand up too fast (all the time), forget that I shouldn’t lie on my front (more often than expected) & earlier this week it was when I tried a set of hang cleans with a weight only 5kg lighter than my 1 rep max. I managed three reps before realising it was a bit of a dick move; I’ll try this exercise with lighter weights for the next couple of weeks, as I want to keep to my normal routine for as long as I can.

Luckily, I am surrounded by some incredible women who have been there and done it all. PTs/fitness instructors with pre & post natal specialisations or experience are definitely on my radar at the moment – please recommend resources, people and accounts to follow!

Well.

With two marathons out of the way  by the first half of 2019, I’d always intended a rest & a change in training after the plan was over and done with. I had no idea what kind of change was coming.
Finishing the Edinburgh Marathon with a glance to the finish line & the beginnings of a smile. Stressing afterwards about my slow time, which I’m now firmly pinning on the new knowledge that I’m nearly six weeks pregnant in this photo. I had absolutely no idea. After a very strange couple of months, it’s quite easy to look back now & think how could I not know.
Well, tiredness, nausea and hunger are also pretty common in marathon training & the days following a race. When my period didn’t show up I thought that was due to stress. I didn’t fancy a glass of wine after finishing Edinburgh but I assumed that was tiredness and sunburn. (The more I write this, the more it seems like classic denial…)
But something clearly wasn’t right. Similarly to Kelly, my heart rate was up for quite a few days after the marathon, which isn’t normal. My resting heart rate is quite low, but was still 10bpm higher than usual over a week later. It’s remained around that ever since. I am more obsessed with my Garmin stats than ever.
My menstrual tracking app sent me a helpful notification to think about maybe doing a pregnancy test. I put it off for a few days until realising I had social events coming up that would involve drinking so it might be better to know beforehand.
I took three tests over two days, & reader, they were all positive within what seemed like seconds. Like any millennial with questions, I immediately began googling & figuring out what the hell had happened  & what my options might be. I’ve never been remotely broody or maternal, but since hitting my thirties I had been sliiiiiightly more curious about the potential of children, as well as facing up to the reality of ageing. And always envious of those who seemed so sure of what they wanted, whatever it was.
I’ve discussed these feelings so many times with friends of similar ages and stages who feel exactly the same way – happy as we are, but apprehensive about the future and continually fearful of making the wrong choice. That’s not the same as specifically wanting to have a child, though, which has never appealed strongly.

Nothing like having the choice made for you, then.  Once the initial shock had worn off, which took a good few days, I surprised myself when continuing the pregnancy seemed like the right thing to do. The status quo usually appeals to me, although this has the highest of all stakes attached to it.
A few things happened, then: I tentatively went for a 5km run at a very steady pace, & enjoyed it. I stopped drinking coffee & the crushing tiredness set in & I had to go to bed at 9pm most days. ‘Morning sickness’ was more ‘daytime nausea’ & only relieved by constant beige snacks – mostly salt & vinegar peanuts and Babybels – but was luckily quite mild compared to some horror stories I’ve heard.
I read some good books & started drinking small amounts of coffee again. Plenty of other irritating early pregnancy symptoms appeared, but I’ve never done this before & there was always a vague feeling that this was some sort of elaborate joke, or my body playing tricks on me.

Then, there it was.

going from ‘pregnant, apparently’ to THERE’S A BABY THERE

So, yeah. Truly the next level.

The whole summer so far has seemed like limbo, & punctuated with fleeting thoughts of “I wish I’d known that was the last time I would do x/y/z/whatever”. I’m pleased that 2018 was so good in so many ways. I know it seems a bit fatalistic to assume everything will be less good from now on, but as someone who’s never had any broodiness or soft-focus daydreams of parenthood, it’s difficult to change perspective, & I really like my life the way it is. I’m apprehensively happy about where I’m headed, but there’s no void to fill, no emptiness, no desire for change that women getting older are supposed to have.

Luckily, I do have good role models in real life and online. Those I’ve known for a while but didn’t think their situation and experience would ever be relevant to me; those who I’ve recently discovered following this change in trajectory; those who are in the same boat, or have been, but I didn’t pay attention at the time. Reading and listening is good, especially now life must slow down & I am taking more time to rest & relax rather than prioritising exercise & socialising. I’ll never not be honest about how unexpected and unplanned this has been, because I have no idea how things will progress & how I’ll feel further down the line.

Right now, 4 months in, I feel podgy, bloated and hungry. I can still lie on my back comfortably & it’s only then that I notice a bump. Happily, I can still do my usual training, although running is slower & the weights are lighter. I am being sensible, taking advice from the correct sources, & getting used to rest days & naps in a way that has never appealed before. This time it’s serious, though. We need the energy. It’s not just me any more.
Change can be good. Except the change to decaf coffee. Twenty five weeks to go!

Girls who lift

Still described by mainstream publications as the latest fitness trend, #strongwomen are all over gyms everywhere. It’s more and more common for women to focus their training on strength and weightlifting rather than cardio, which is mostly great. When I first started using commercial gyms, 14 or so years ago, the free weights sections were dominated by men & I would not have set foot in there. These days, I’m rarely the only woman in the free weights section & split training is my favourite kind.

I do neglect arm training

I say mostly great. There’s a lot of discussion about how strong not skinny can promote a body shape just as unattainable. A lot of women, especially on Instagram, seem to do a lot of lower body work & there’s still a cultural apprehension around looking too masculine. A PT friend of mine has lots of female clients who are worried about ‘big shoulders’.

baby got back

Despite the marathons, I am more of a lifter than a runner. I first got into BodyPump around 2006, then kettlebell classes around 2012 and proper functional weightlifting in 2015 or thereabouts. These are my favourite gym sessions. I love being strong, I love how a positive mindset and a roar of triumph can assist to get that extra 5kg on the bar for a new pb.

I love deadlifts because they are the heaviest. I love squats because they have made my legs what they are.

I love bench press because it makes me feel like an absolute bro.

Olympic weightlifting is more challenging – it’s dynamic movements, with lower weights (mostly) & you need a good sense of balance and perfect form, as well as getting used to grips that shred your palms way more than standard power lifts. I’ve been training these lifts for about a year now & my form is improving slowly. Before marathon training kicked in, I was raising some decent weight for a beginner – slightly over half my body weight for clean & jerk, slightly under that for snatch (least favourite…)

Right now, after maintenance training for 4-5 months to fit in with running, I can comfortably (5×5) deadlift my own bodyweight, squat 75 percent of my bodyweight & bench half my bodyweight. Olympic lifts are a bit less because my form needs work after so much time out, but I’m incorporating a few snatch & clean reps into training sessions & it’s improving.

Looking back at my training diary from the last few months of 2018, I was training well & consistently & lifting quite a bit heavier than this. I can get that back one day, & I can’t wait.

Lifting goals can stay in place for a long time, more so than running goals. Incremental gains are good, & the most important thing for me is the enjoyment – I always feel amazing after training. It’s a full body workout & even if I don’t get the full 5/8/10 reps, a 10 second pause is usually enough to get there. Running’s not the same. Marathon training was great, & I have learned so much about my strength & stamina, but now I’m fully back on board with a strength-focused training programme & it’s fantastic.