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 🙂

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!

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.

Week whatever

Seriously, I don’t know where I am right now. Two weeks post marathon & two weeks pre marathon. Tired, mostly. This week started off meh & ended much better – the nice weather has had an awesome effect on my mood, for sure. I almost forgot about the double marathon thing.

Monday: ‘rest day’, if rest is a 12 hour work day. Bank holidays are great unless you work for an essential service, retail, or in comms for critical infrastructure.

Realised I missed going to pole, so went for a lesson to make sure I could reliably hang upside down without failure. It turns out I have retained a bit of strength, but have lost some skill. Will keep practising.

Haven’t missed the palm callouses

Tuesday: back on the speed work. After running on an achy Achilles’ tendon, I realised I am not particularly capable of knowing my limits. This session felt difficult, & I kept thinking I was incapable before realising that I was only a few days post marathon. The intention was 3 fast km sandwiched between a warm up and cool down at a slower pace – by the end of the second fast km I was unhappy, so kept the rest of it steady. Had a good stretch & a good dinner though.

Wednesday: the plan was an easy six miles. As is usual for working-at-Parliament days, though, I didn’t have time for lunch & ended up going home straight from Edinburgh and having an early dinner. I’d read this great post from Jordan earlier in the day & having had similar feelings during my own speed work the evening before (as well as a similar, if much slower, London Marathon experience) I decided to give running a miss. It was miserable weather & I had stuff to bring home from work, so it all worked out well really.

Thursday: gym time tonight: it’s still super busy at peak times but it was good to just lift & not think about running. 3 miles was on the training plan, but cleans, deadlifts, split squats & planks substituted.

Indoors is better

Friday: didn’t fancy resting, so Cyclebox it was. 45 minutes of hardcore spinning, working my legs without too much impact. Still incredibly tough though – early class means no breakfast, & it’s difficult to last the distance on the sprints. Need more coffee next time, or the 0930 rather than the 0730.

I get to keep an eye on the trains when I’m here too

Saturday: went for a faster parkrun, & happy to see gains on this distance; 26:06 felt quite relaxed. 7 miles in total.

Sunday: a longer but steadier run around Glasgow: 5 miles on my own with podcasts, 6 miles with Frontrunners, and a final couple of miles with the Cyclebox inaugural run club.

lovely colours

Cyclebox’s promise of “just a bit of HIIT” turned out to be repeats of the Kelvingrove steps & some Monument Hill sprints. I will not do this at the end of a long run ever again, but I have ideas for my Tuesday coaching sessions.

After today, I disagree

Total miles: 25. Lowest weekly mileage for some time, but I think the rest & change did me good. Serious shoulder & back DOMS from cleans & deadlifts means it’s been too long away from that sort of workout.

Nutrition: good, apart from a couple of busy days. Plenty of protein, good lunches, less coffee, frequently vegetarian. I am trying to eat less meat & dairy & it’s a challenge.

Feeling: OK. Mood up & down, and despite lots of good sessions I have fallen out of love with running. Work has been very busy & I get stuck in a cycle of getting stressed about being too busy, then annoyed when the run does not go well or eating nonsense. Usually managed to keep off that, & the week ended much more positively than it began. The nice weather definitely helped.

I am not really feeling positive about Edinburgh though, & I cannot be bothered at all with the Great North Run which suddenly seems a lot closer. The dawning realisation, not helped by blog post archives, that I have spent all of 2019 either running, thinking about running, or doing laundry loads made up of sweaty gym clothes, is not good. I am bad at responding to texts & emails. I have forgotten to send birthday cards or even birthday messages & I spent a good chunk of a nice holiday thinking about running, or how I wasn’t running enough or eating too much. I am in a fairly good place, & it’s been a good exercise in discipline & dedication, but marathon training is tough on life. I miss my other hobbies, & sleeping.

But with only two weeks to go, I might as well run the thing. I hope the excitement returns soon. Speedwork will need to be up to standard next week; hopefully I am fully recovered now & can get the most out of the next few sessions.

lift lift lift

This week sees a cut in mileage and an extra day’s rest, which has let me pick up the lifting sessions again & cemented my feelings that, on average, strength training is better than running.

  • takes place entirely indoors
  • doesn’t really matter if you aren’t feeling 100%
  • can still lift if you forget to pack your trainers/sports bra/socks/hair ties
  • Can drink coffee during the session if you want
  • muscles are good

Seriously, I love weight training. I am much better at it than running, although I still sulk if I’m not having a good session.

peaking a few months ago, currently struggling to lift less than this

My body type is much more ‘powerlifter’ than ‘runner’, so no real surprise how much I love it. I have been following specific strength programmes for a few years now. Initially following a split strength push/pull/leg programme, I’ve got more into Olympic lifting recently so my programme is more focused on improving the snatch, clean and jerk movements and each training day involves a combination legs, back and upper body in some way. I prefer this to the split session, as the full-body DOMS is still relatively light. I used to do leg days where running afterwards was nearly impossible, which wasn’t always great but has given me quads & calves that are sometimes a bit of a talking point:

QUADS

There is still a bit of a divide between strength & cardio amongst the committed ones, although more and more people are seeing the benefits of complementary training types, & HIIT, CrossFit & other mixed method workouts are popular. The level of strength training that I do when I am not marathon training is difficult to maintain alongside this much running – I am looking forward to the strength goals I’m going to focus on after the marathons. But strength training is so good for running form – improved core, less fatigue, stronger leg muscles, & lifting is still good for your cardio fitness. It’s good to see so many runners incorporating strength sessions into their training plans, & occasionally too when weightlifters see the benefit of an easy 5km every now & then.

#juststrongteam

I do like being strong, & I am thrilled that more & more women are getting into serious lifting. It’s really important for long term health, as well as functional strength & looking awesome.

I’ve been wearing Just Strong clothing for a few months now & am really pleased with how comfortable it is & how good it looks – & best of all it’s a women-run business. If you fancy some new gym gear, treat yourself here!

Achieving goals makes me feel good & powerful, & running goals are awesome, but picking up nearly double your own body weight is a thrill like no other. I hope I keep getting stronger & those gains keep coming.