29 - 30 weeks. Pregnant women are still athletes. Even injured ones.
Updated: Nov 1
So I’m starting this fortnight with a 3 day old suspected hamstring tear which has been dismissed by a consultant because as a pregnant woman its ok for me just to rest for 3-4 months… For the full rant about this read the 27-28 week blog before.
My finishing note on that one was that I needed to find my Plan B. A way of staying physically strong and mentally happy whilst being pregnant AND injured! Which starts with getting the right team around me to help me recover – and keep me sane along the way!
My husband broke his foot at the start of lockdown (playing aerobie and falling in a hole…) and he had a brilliant physio come to our house. Brett has been a physio for international rugby teams so he understands the athlete mindset – which is not sitting on the couch and waiting till things heal. I was also impressed at his knowledge of training during pregnancy – he saw me wearing my support belt and corrected it to support my hips as well as showing me some exercises to strengthen my pelvis.
So he’s my first point of call for Operation Plan B. By the time I see him (6 days now post injury) I’ve already been training, working out what I can do. On the Friday (3 days post injury) I head to the gym again to work my arms and back. I’ve been neglecting them focusing on the “running” muscles but in terms of what I need to be strong for motherhood they should be high up the list! Moving a baby from one side to the other to breastfeed, or picking them up at a funny angle puts real strain on the back. I actually put mine out just a week after UTMB and was in agony for weeks. And holding babies while they go to sleep (and then when you are too scared to put them down in case they wake) can be a real arm ache. So anything I can do to strengthen up here will pay dividends when she’s born. Maybe this hamstring tear will be a good thing after all ; )
So I cycle through a few exercises in the gym using the cable machine and free weights – pull downs, rows, tricep dips, shoulder presses and cable twists getting a pretty good workout in.
Being injured does make it harder with the kids. When my 2 year old falls over he now holds the affected limb up and asks me to kiss it better. Which I’ve somehow managed to convince him works. So we’re on our way to school and as usual at some point I get “Run mummy run!”. [The school run usually doubles as an interval session for the boys].
“No Cormac, Mummy’s leg is sore”. “I kiss it better Mummy! Now Mummy Run!” Luckily I hold him off until we reach a downhill which I can still just about manage. I’m definitely trading off my recovery for keeping him happy.
I keep testing away – a breastroke kick in the leisure pool with the kids at the weekend is a complete no-go. As is sitting upright for too long on a hard chair or taking normal length strides up a hill. But I’m still mobile which is the most important thing. I also manage a gentle 5 minutes on the cross trainer before my next arms and back session without feeling any tweak. The sensible side of me knows not to push it any longer before I work out what’s really wrong. It’s really no different to the testing I’ve been doing through pregnancy – just listening to my body as it changes from day to day and then often back again.
I finally get into see Brett the physio and its complete night and day compared to the consultant who dismissed me. He immediately asks why I haven’t been referred for an ultrasound – and is similarly critical of the attitudes I’ve been facing. He also disagrees with the consultant as to the location of my injury – its further down my hamstring and into my adductors. He uses dry needling to release some of the muscles that have tightened to protect the injury and immediately I feel I can move better again. But he wants to see the ultrasound to decide the best treatment so I have to go back to the consultant to get him to approve it – then to my insurance to get it authorised then get it booked in. Cue a few hours of calls which could have been saved were I taken seriously the first time….
Luckily I get a last minute slot the next day which (unluckily) confirms a grade 2 tear. My hamstrings under ultrasound apparently look very strong. Which as a runner is a rather nice compliment. The radiologist says it’s a nasty grade 2 but definitely not a 3 so I decide it’s just a normal 2 (not that I know what it really means). Here’s the report in case it means anything to you.
It does mean that for a “safe” workout I know I have to head to the pool – possibly my least favourite option for a workout! I only learnt to swim front crawl properly when I accidentally (after too much wine) signed up for an Ironman a decade ago and decided I didn’t want to drown. But it isn’t something I’ve ever really enjoyed – except maybe at the end of my second pregnancy when it was nice to be able to get my heart rate up a little and feel I was doing something. But as pools have reopened after lockdown and this week everything else is off the menu I decide to book in (and drag hubby as its good for him too). I take a pull buoy (a float that goes between the legs to immobilise them) with me in case I can’t kick but soon discard it. Turns out I don’t really kick when I swim (maybe that’s why I’m so slow…) and the gentle movement on my hamstring feels good. I end up swimming just over a mile (1.65km) in my 45 min session, the first time I’ve been in a pool since Christmas. My bump must be helping as a float.
I’m back in with Brett my physio and the ultrasound results to guide his treatment. The tear is exactly where he predicted and whilst the report is worse than he expected I’m already healing well. Turns out that one positive side effect of pregnancy is your body goes into growth mode for you as well as baby and injuries can heal quicker! Will have to add that to the (rather short) positive list of pregnancy side effects. He uses dry needling and ultrasound again on it which makes it feel almost normal to walk on (shame about baby sticking her bum out and giving me a stitch all day). I can’t pull up on a bike yet but can push down if the seat is comfortable. And there’s a hope of some gentle running if he tapes me up next weekend!! (I realise this is probably him giving me a carrot to do all my exercises).
The consultant actually calls me just before the physio appointment to discuss the results. He again tells me it’s a 3-4 month healing process and I’ll need extended treatment. He mentions he had a similar injury, got back too quickly and damaged it again. I tell him I’m not as stupid as he is. Pregnancy has clearly removed my usual politeness filter. Of course I know it probably will be several months to full strength. But there is so much I can do to help it and so much I can do at less than 100% in the meantime. That surely should be his message, not to sit on the couch and wait.
I’m focused on keeping active and gently increasing the intensity as I recover. 2 swims this week and it’s a real boost so see myself getting quicker – from 2’41 per 100m first time to 2’34 then 2’25 – as I remember (sort of) how to swim. I was pretty much the last person out of the water during the Ironman (which in hindsight was a brilliant motivational strategy as I was only overtaking from there) so I’ll never be getting in the fast lane (20-30 seconds per length) but this is encouraging.
I tested a pair of underwater Aftershokz headphones for Womens Running magazine a few months ago and they are saving me from boredom while I rack up the lengths (they haven’t asked for them back so I hope they aren’t reading this!). The slight issue is that they need MP3 uploads for music and the last time I bought music was a very long time ago. So I’m listening to a rather strange mix of old running tunes but it’s keeping me amused. Less amusing is my insane hunger after the sessions. I’ve been getting used to a smaller appetite with the injury making me less active but swimming has reversed that and some! After my first session I actually feel dizzy and need to stop in the swimming pool café for a sandwich before the walk back.
On the bike I do a super slow 20 minute session on the Monday, then bite the bullet and join my normal spin class on Thursday. I stay seated – its too tempting to use my hamstrings to pull up when I’m out of the saddle, and I limit my RPM to 80 so I don’t move too much around. But I get my workout – I get my heart rate up and I end up just 10% down on my usual total output for the class. I’m buzzing all day.
I’m nowhere near back to normal (though what is normal being 30 weeks pregnant?!!) – I can’t even attempt a deadlift and probably won’t be able to for weeks. But that’s not the point. I’m still able to stay strong (and with all of these arms and back weight sessions I’m starting to look like Wonder Woman) and I can get my endorphin fix in spin class. Of course I’m hoping to run again before she arrives. But I’m in a far far better place now than I expected to be after that awful consultant appointment!
10 weeks to go really means I should be getting more prepared on the admin side. The nursery is now painted – we moved house 6 months ago so we’re still midst decorating and I’m just hoping the blackout blinds turn up in time! With this being #3 we almost have everything we need and I’ve gotten a bit emotional pulling out all the things I used with my first 2. There’s something about knowing this is the last baby we’ll have (I’m pretty sure about that!!) that makes me want to cling to every moment with her as the boys have grown so quickly.
I’ve roped my mum in to help with the sort out. Any help I can get means extra rest for me somewhere down the line so I’m just saying yes to any offers – and luckily in our new house my parents are only 20 minutes’ drive away. Before having kids my instinct (as for most women) would be to say no and plough through but I’ve finally realised this is ridiculous! I don’t have to be superwoman! There is no gain from trying to do it all myself. And besides, my mum is way better at getting out the old stains in all the clothing. (And my Dad is way better at DIY than me)
We do have a big disagreement on what we keep for her. My mum has a pile for the charity shop of perfectly good clothes she considers “too boyish” and suggests I buy some more “girly” things for her. She’s apparently had a good old natter with my mother in law who agrees with her. Lucky me. But this “too boyish” pile includes a little romper with “baby pilot” on it. Another with a rocket ship. And some bodysuits with little football, rugby and tennis balls on them.
Why on earth can’t my daughter wear these? Why should she not dream of being a pilot or a sports star? How many girls have had their potential paths edited before they are even born? Needless to say despite my mum dressing me in pink I didn’t turn out a ballerina like her. And I did get my pilots license. But I want to give her the full range of possibilities, just as I try to give them to my sons. My 5 year old is a pretty good ballet dancer so maybe these talents skip a generation. Now to think of it grandmother was a strong cross country runner…
I end the week seeing my wonderful midwife. She remarked for once I wasn’t in in running gear and definitely seemed a little relieved I was injured and not doing anything crazy. But she’s off to her body pump class straight after my appointment and we chat about how to stay motivated to exercise - and alternatives whilst injured.
Many of the symptoms that have been plaguing me are going away. I was struggling to breathe at night for several weeks and having to sleep propped up. But that’s gone for now (I only realised as I re-read past blog posts!). As mostly has my acid reflux (reckon I’m going to get that one back soon though). It shows you just don’t know in pregnancy what will happen – and keeping a symptoms diary is a good way to acknowledge when things get better and relieve the feeling that its just all downhill. I’m so glad I didn’t stop training at the first sign of pelvic pain – this still hasn’t returned and I’ve had several amazing months of staying fit and strong since then.
I have had a rather sore back though – more in the upper than lower which is a bit strange. I’ve been relieving it lying on a lacrosse ball and doing the “thread the needle” pose (yup I had to look the name up). I never thought a yoga move could make me so happy.
I’m trying to start to think about labour and getting ready – doing my stretches to start opening up my tight hips as a start. But every time I do I just think how tired I am and put it off. I’m so tired every afternoon I’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel normal. Maybe there’ll be a week where I get some energy back. But more likely this is me until the end (and then the tiredness will only get worse!). In the meantime I have a very comfy sofa and am thankful Netflix will auto-play episodes of Dinosaur Train whilst I nap.