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  • Writer's pictureSophie Power

Week 14 - Strava crowns and back pain

So the exciting news this week is I’m the cover star of Womens Running Magazine! I would never have imagined it a few years ago – I thought front covers were for models or elite runners, not crazy ultrarunning mums! What I’ve realised now is how impactful sharing stories of “normal” women can be. I’m far more inspired by a mum who achieves her dreams whilst juggling a life like mine than an elite athlete surrounded by professionals. This is the first pregnancy I’ve been on Instagram and I feel at the same time uplifted by all the positive stories and reassured that motherhood and pregnancy really are tough for everyone.

This week of pregnancy has been one of highs and lows. I start it feeling absolutely bulletproof. So bulletproof I take on a local 2.5 mile Strava run segment as part of a tempo run and smash the record by almost 2 minutes, despite having to keep my heart rate under control. Not something I expect to do 14 weeks pregnant so I allow myself to bask in the glory for a while.

The boys are back at school and nursery which is been such a big relief – they are so happy to be around their friends again and are sleeping better at night. It also means I’m able to catch up on work including being more impactful in my new role as Trustee of Women in Sport. And focus on my training sessions being at the right time of day for my energy – ie the morning rather than squashed into post lunch zombieness. I’m now able to sneak a couple of afternoon naps in – I might be in my second trimester now but I’m still bloody knackered!

On the downside, I’m feeling a bit of back pain so I schedule another call with Emma, my physio. The pain comes during the day in my very lower back. It’s not too back, maybe no more than a gentle throb, but I know how important it is to nip it in the bud now and not allow it to get worse. Certainly not in my lower back which will be under increasing strain as I naturally poke my bum out more to offset a growing bump.

One factor appears to be my work posture. I’m using a standing desk - standing on zoom calls for hours or working from a bar stool in the kitchen as my husband stole my office at the start of lockdown. The longer I stay in one position, the achier it gets. And I’ve started to feel it in my weight workouts too.

Emma wants me to be less static and change position every 20 minutes. Which is a great excuse not to always be on video for zoom calls. I’m now doing posterior tilts before my back gets sore (tucking pelvis in and out), as well as “wall downs” (stand with back to wall, feet a foot away and slowly peel down to touch toes and back up). Also hanging off the back of a chair releasing the chest and back – a form of standing childs pose?

It’s my birthday next week and of course hubby has not thought about a present yet so on Emma’s advice I order myself a proper office chair with lumbar support. Turns out he was thinking of buying me some historic map of where we now live. I think the idea of reduced back pain is far more attractive.

My concern is that my back pain is driven by lack of strength so I ask for exercises to increase it. Now I’m not allowed to do pullups (see last week’s post) I for some reason panic, assume it has already weakened materially and I therefore need urgently to find pregnancy safe exercises. But Emma explains that’s unlikely and actually its my lack of flexibility and poor posture holding me back. Just as I do strength work to make me a better runner, I apparently need to do stretch work to make my body stronger. Damn it.

I am not naturally flexible (not always a bad thing for a runner) but I’m lazy and usually skip stretching after a run. Even though my last injury was caused by my hip flexors being way too tight! I have been thinking about labour though and trying to open up my hips through long static stretches. I spent a lot of the pushing phase with both of my previous labours in a squat position in the birthing pool and I think it really helped. I think it would have help more if I can get into a proper squat so that's another goal for the next few months.

I’m surprised when Emma tells me these long hip opener stretches might not be good for me now – they put my pelvis under a lot of pressure and could lead to pelvic girdle pain (PGP) later in pregnancy. I feel very lucky to have an expert in my corner – it’s the first time I’ve heard this and PGP is one of the things I fear the most. I had episodes at the end of both pregnancies before and it was crippling – I was sometimes reduced to a waddle. I’m definitely not going to do anything that might make it more likely!!

Instead I now have a “circuit of stretches” (I guess yogis might call it a flow but Emma is keen not to alienate me). These consist of Pigeon pose, hip flexor (with arms in the air), calf stretch, then glute stretch (cross one leg over the other). In addition to my posterior tilts and rolldowns during the day. 20-30 second holds max with about 5 reps. I’m aiming to do it 3 times a week on non strength days, in front of the TV. I have very poor form in keeping to any form of stretching program (hence my previous injury). But I’m hoping that committing to them on paper (online?) here I’ll have a better chance. My hubby needs to do it too (he is even less flexible than I am) so we might need a family rule that stretches have to be done before evening ice cream time.

We’re also thinking about when to start using my stability belt for weight training and running. I’m not going to wear it for either just yet, though its lying in my gym ready. I’m not feeling any real instability in my pelvis during weight sessions, so decide not to for now – without the support I’ll be able to increase the strength in my hips a bit more as the muscles have to work harder. I will write a post on my belt as soon as I do – it was definitely my most valuable bit of kit in my last 2 pregnancies! I have a softer belt on order too that is supposed to work better for running so I’ll let you know.

After my Strava segment victory early in the week running has taken a downwards turn. It was probably a bit too much impact to run that fast (including a concrete segment). Oh and in my beloved Hoka Carbon X (which are great for speed… less so for cushioning…). My pelvic floor was not happy for a few days after which meant a ridiculous amount of pee stops on my weekend long run. The wonderful team at Hoka One One are sending me a stash of more cushioned shoes to help with my predicament - I'll update as soon as they arrive!

I think this is my last hurrah for fast running this pregnancy – from now on it’s about being a bit more careful. Measuring in time not miles without one eye on my speed. Doing everything I can to protect myself and stay running as long as I can. Strava crowns will have to wait for the other side of pregnancy!

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