As a passionate Marathon runner I was really happy when I got a spot for Chicago Marathon, as it is one of the 6 World Marathon Majors. But then I found out that I was pregnant, and that Chicago Marathon was only 4 months after the due date. I was not sure if I should or could return to running postpartum and run a race so soon after giving birth. But giving up before even trying is not an option for me. So I secretly made a plan on how I could make returning to running postpartum work. And luckily everything worked out, and I finished the Chicago Marathon 4 months postpartum.
Before giving birth
Keep on training as long as possible
I was very lucky that I had an uncomplicated pregnancy. I continued running as much as possible, usually several times a week. Luckily I was able to run a half Marathon in week 24, and ran until I could only do short 2 mile runs until 4 weeks before my due date. I also continued to do prenatal strength training in my regular gym. Through these measures I was able to maintain a basic level of fitness throughout my pregnancy.
However, I had to adapt my training to my pregnancy. For more information check out my blog post on benefits and risk of exercise during pregnancy.
Watch your weight gain
Pregnancy naturally leads to weight gain, but it should not be an excuse to just eat everything that you want. Because you need to lose every excess pound that you gain when you start training afterwards. And every excess pound will make you a slower runner and will put extra pressure yon your joints. So I closely watched my diet during my pregnancy, trying to eat healthy nutritious foods. I was able to gain a maximum of 15 kg during my pregnancy, and to lose 10 kg of them through birth (which was mostly the weight of the baby, placenta and amniotic fluid). The other 5 kg came off slowly and naturally in the weeks after. In the end, I was able to hit the start line of Chicago Marathon just 4 months postpartum with just 0.5 kg heavier than my pre-baby weight.
After giving birth
Start out slowly
Giving birth is probably the hardest workout a woman can do. And no matter if it was a natural birth or cesarean section, recovery takes time. Our bodies need to heal and recover. And we need to treasure the special time we have with this new little human in our life. They grow up so fast and will never be that tiny again (such a cliché but true). So take your time. Sleep and rest (as much as that is possible). Cuddle and bond with your new little sunshine and soak up every moment.
When you get your 6 weeks check-up and the doctor clears you for working out and getting back into running postpartum, don’t rush it. Your body is no longer the same, and therefore you need to be gentle. Try a run/walk strategy to get back into running, or even a beginner’s couch to 5 k program. It might seem to easy on paper, but your body will thank you. You can increase your mileage sooner than you think, and running postpartum will be fun again.
Do your Kegels and train your pelvic floor
Your pelvic floor is one of the key areas to focus on when returning to running postpartum. However it is also one of the weakest muscles after giving birth, mostly because of the pregnancy hormone relaxin. This hormones softens the tissues and ligaments to prepare the body for birth. But this also means that the pelvic floor will get softer and weaker. This is true no matter if you then had a vaginal or cesarean delivery.
So before you get back into running you should start your pelvic floor rehab program and specifically train it. A pelvic floor physiotherapist can help with it, as can certain apps and devices. My favorite one is the Elvie trainer, which I used to get ready for running Chicago Marathon 4 weeks postpartum.
How can you test your pelvic floor if it is ready again? Just do this simple test: drink lots of water. When your bladder is full, start hopping up and down. Start slowly, and increase to little jumps. Hop on one foot, then on the other. If you can do all of this without urine leakage, your pelvic floor is ready.
Set realistic expectations
As passionate runners we often think in goals and personal bests. When getting back into running postpartum, it will not be about that. It will just be about running healthy. Finishing a race postpartum, no matter if it is a marathon, half marathon or just a 5k, is already a major accomplishment, as your body will feel completely different than before when you return to running postpartum. There will come other times, where you can push yourself to a new PB. So relax and enjoy the process. Take it slow. Soak up the ambiance along the way.
Get the logistics right
As runners we think about our gear, our nutrition, our race strategy. As new Moms we mainly think about one thing: the well-being of the baby. So when you plan on running postpartum you want to make sure you have sorted out the baby logistics first, so you can focus and enjoy your run or race.
This might mean something different for everyone. Some Moms will leave the baby with the grandparents, partners or babysitters. Others will want their baby to join with a running stroller, or want the family to join them at the finish line of the race. In my case, I wanted my fiancé to meet me with the baby at the half way mark of Chicago Marathon so I could nurse him. (I had pumped as well, but he was not very good at taking the bottle yet. So a short stop would make me and him feel much better)
Pro tip: if you want to nurse your baby during a race email the race organisers if you can nurse your baby in the medical tents along the way, or if there is a special meet-up area for families after the race. Don’t be shy. I am sure they will be super helpful. I emailed the Chicago Marathon beforehand and everyone was super helpful.