Why I train for the best – for me and my baby
Updated: Jun 10
Hello everyone! And welcome to my first blog post. Since the photo of me breastfeeding my 3 month old whilst running 106 mountain miles went around the world, I’ve been working to support women, especially mothers have an active sporting life. Sharing my running story, advice and campaigning for change.
What I’ve never really done is share how that photo happened – how I trained and stayed healthy through pregnancy and postpartum. Now I’m 3 months pregnant with my 3rd (eek!) it is now top of mind and I want to share this journey and help other women through the minefield.
6 years ago, falling pregnant with my first son, like almost everyone else my first thought is to google everything I can about what to do. But I’m one of the first of my friends to start a family so don’t have many people to ask. I soon realise I’ll be working this out for myself.
There seems to be an awful lot of advice about what not to do – what will hurt my baby. From what not to eat or drink to not doing everything from painting to changing cat litter or wearing stillettos. Luckily I’ve never smoked, but I’m definitely going to miss having large glasses of red wine alongside a medium-rare steak. And endless cups of builders tea every day. Once I take into account my (large) chocolate consumption (who knew chocolate had caffeine?) my beloved tea is now strictly rationed.
But there isn’t much mention of how to have a healthier baby, better delivery and recovery. What I should DO to have the best outcomes. I don’t understand why there is so little focus on my own health and wellness. If I’m going to be the best mother to this baby, surely I as the carrier and carer need to be in the best shape possible – both mentally and physically?
Pregnancy and motherhood isn’t a test I want to just pass, like pacing a race just to meet the cutoffs or not be last. I want to perform. I want us to have the best result we could. Why wouldn’t I? This is the most important event of my life - the result matters more than anything ever has before.
I’ve been running ultramarathons for several years, including several 100 milers and an Ironman and strength training/boxing alongside. From the outside pregnancy, labour, and motherhood itself just looks like one long endurance and strength event.
Yet all the advice focuses on being careful, to avoid exerting myself physically and at the same time, whilst I’m less active, to eat for 2!
This is 2014, and thankfully some advice has moved on, but this just makes no sense to me. Of course I need to avoid unnecessary risk (goodbye contact boxing) but surely I can do better than that? I wouldn’t expect a good race result if I rocked up at a start line having not trained so why would I not want to prepare in the best way for this journey?
I know I need to stay fit, healthy and strong – for me and for my baby. And I’m going to make my way through this maze by listening carefully to my body. Luckily I’ve had a lot of practise at this – ultramarathons, especially the longer ones, are about listening to your body and giving it what it needs. I know when I can push, when I need to change things up and when I need to fuel. As a side note - I’m not really on social media, so I’m not sure what anyone else is doing or have any external pressure to do things a certain way (I’ll definitely expand upon this in other posts).
My trainer Nick Kinsella researches everything he can too. But apart from not lying for long periods on my back after the first trimester he comes up short for a plan that makes sense for me. There’s a lot of info about pregnancy pilates and yoga programs available but very little about strength or running. So through both pregnancies we just adjust by feel. If it feels good we do it. If it doesn’t – if my bump is in the way, I’m less sure of my balance or uncomfortable, we adjust, changing the exercise in creative ways to work the same muscle group. In my first pregnancy I run until 7 ½ months, then one day it just doesn’t feel right so I switch to hiking.
My first labour is a long one – 40 hours. 28 hours after my waters break son is back to back and not progressing. If he doesn’t the consultant will induce me, or I might even need a C-Section – two things I wanted to avoid if possible. So I climb up and down 70 flights of stairs, 2 by 2 sideways to try to turn him which thankfully works. Could I have done that if I had sat on the couch eating for 2 for 9 months, losing my fitness and gaining excess weight? Could I have carried and lifted him so much without my strength training? And would I have been able to avoid spiralling into the post natal depression which threatened me if I hadn’t gotten back to exercise so quickly?
I can’t know for sure. But what I do know is when I’m happy and healthy I’m a better mum. And a better incubator for a baby. There’ll never be full research on exercise in pregnancy – you can’t ethically test different outcomes on unborn babies. But we already know that doing exercise in pregnancy, you downplay the genetic predisposition for the baby to become obese, develop diabetes or cardiovascular disease, as well as help fetal lungs mature. For mums it has shown to result in less backpain, a shorter labour, with fewer medical interventions, and a quicker postnatal recovery. Healthy mum, healthy baby.
We are all unique and each pregnancy is unique and constantly changing. So there can be no one size fits all rules – only guidance and support. With my second pregnancy I switch running for the stairmill at 5 month but start running again much quicker as I’m physically better prepared (and have a small matter of a 106 mile mountain race on my agenda).
As women we need to be confident to listen to our own bodies – we know them better than anyone, and we care more about our babies’ health than anyone. We need to question the advice given to us – where are the studies behind it? Were they based on women similar to us? What is right for an inactive mother regarding exercise is not what’s right for me. And we need to constantly ask what we can do to have better outcomes, not just how to avoid the bad ones.
I’m incredibly lucky this pregnancy to be working with Emma Brockwell, a specialist Pelvic Health Physio, who is part of the team behind the new return to running guidelines. I had terrible pelvic floor issues after both previous pregnancies, as well as pelvic pain during and after, so we’re working to see if we can reduce both this time. I also have my amazing running coach Edwina Sutton (and a mum of 3) keeping me strong and active this pregnancy, whatever that means.
So here it goes. I’m 11 weeks writing this (though I’ll hold off to post until I’ve told my parents!). I’ll be documenting this pregnancy and recovery on Instagram @ultra_sophie and in more detail here – first 8 weeks post to follow shortly. My goal is only for both of us to be happy & healthy – mentally and physically. I can’t have fixed targets during pregnancy – I can’t predict how my body will grow or feel. And afterwards I have no crazy dream race in the calendar this time, only a desire to get back to doing what I love and what makes me a better mother.
Along this journey I promise to be honest with you, to share how I really feel, what is working and what isn’t. I’m definitely not perfect (my diet currently consists of a large amount of Nutella on toast to offset morning sickness) but despite what it may look like on social media, no one is. So above all else I will be kind to myself. Pregnancy is hard. Motherhood is hard. What use is being hard on myself on top?
If you have any questions please post them on my Instagram @ultra_sophie and I will try and help – or might know someone who can. And please please share your best advice with me there as well!
Because are all in this together. Expecting the best. Training for the best. For ourselves and for our babies.
Love Sophie & bump