Weeks 1- 6 Baby steps...
So Saoirse has arrived early – 8 days early to be precise and instead of my call with Emma, my pelvic health physio being a PRE-labour call it becomes a post labour call. In fact the look on her face when I show her a baby is my favourite part of the film!
She has a lot of much needed advice for me (mostly to sleep as much as possible) but apart from the not-straining on the toilet part it’s all about listening to my body and doing what feels right. Oh and of course doing my pelvic floors. A lot. Or as she puts it “awakening the area down there”.
I promise my 6 year old I’ll pick him up from school with his baby sister as he wants to show her off to his girlfriends so that’s a hill hike when she’s 25 hours old (just proving why I didn’t need those blood thinners they tried to force on me – see labour post). I’m feeling fairly swollen down there but well able to walk around which is good news. It’s worth it just for the look on his face as his friends crowd around the buggy cooing at her – him making sure they don’t get too close or wake her up. He’s going to make such an amazing big brother.
I spend the next few days with her hiking for up to 2 hours at a time. She loves sleeping in the soft Caboo carrier which is helpful. And when I take the buggy on the school run instead it’s a good workout (the school is at the top of a big steep hill!). Just moving myself again feels so good - though I'm a bit off balance if she's not in the carrier as I'm used to the big bump!
I’m constantly absolutely starving hungry. I remember this from having the boys. My sister-in-law gave me a baby shower present of big bags of chocolate for midnight snacking for my first baby and I thought she was crazy until he arrived and I went through them all within days! My nutrition isn’t great now - I’m fuelling on sourdough and sugar at the moment. This is no time to think about losing weight – that won’t come for a long time but I’m trying to add in more fruit & veg. Or just put some green powder in a shake. Liquid calories are quicker at the moment! Restaurants have reopened after the first lockdown and we have breakfast at the Ivy where I order 2 breakfasts’ worth of food and inhale it all : )
(Update – I’m laughing reading my diaries on my recovery. Every single week I’ve made a note that I’ll sort my diet out the week after. It’s now week 12 and I’m only just starting to improve it to fuel my training better. And because I’m finally getting some sleep. Give yourself a break and worry about your baby until you have the time/sleep/energy to deal with anything else)
I’ve had a rough few days – she’s feeding endlessly, my nipples are cracked and sore and I’m just in need of some headspace. So day 11 my wonderful hubby drags me up to our gym and locks me in there for an hour. I don’t feel a pressure to have a proper workout – my plan was a gentle hike - but as soon as I press start on the treadmill I realise how much I’ve been craving the endorphins.
I keep increasing the incline up to 20% when my heart rate hits 170. During pregnancy anything above 160 felt wrong if I held it for more than 20-30 seconds. Now I can bust 170, be slightly out of breath and feel brilliant. I’m definitely not pregnant any more woohooo!!!!
(I do get a ticking off from my running coach though for busting it and I agree to stick to more sensible sessions from hereon!)
I’ve also started to pump and test a bottle on her. The easiest way to start I’ve found is just to use a squeeze pump – like the Elvie curve (sits inside bra) – or Haakaa (cheaper but can be easily knocked off) when you’re already feeding the other side and the baby has initiated let down (when milk starts to flow). She’s breastfeeding brilliantly so I’m not worried about upsetting this and she takes a bottle first time. Which means I’ll have a longer sleep stretch tonight as hubby can take over a feed!
I’ve been complete zombie with sleep deprivation - had a 2 hr stretch at the start last night then an hour and then she wouldn’t settle. Being able to pump is a complete game changer – 2 nights of 5 hours sleep, with John doing the 2-3am ish feed will help me survive the week. (I’m now using my Elvie electric pump in one side whilst she feeds the other which is much more effective).
I think back to my pre baby days. Mostly those where we lived in Shoreditch and rushed out of bed at 9.45 on the weekend to make last bacon sandwich orders at St John Bread and Wine….
I dare to get back on the bike – sitting on a hard surface for so long was a bit scary but I manage a good session, just going a bit numb towards the end. My hamstring is definitely not healed – this is going to be a pregnancy and hamstring rehab journey! I manage one treadmill hiking session this week as well but no more. If I miss that morning nap slot I’m just too tired the rest of the day and don’t have the motivation.
But there are opportunities during the day to get my heartrate up and these are helping me fill in the gaps when I can’t make time/find the energy for a “proper” session. Hiking quickly up the hill to school, lifting the boys up on my back, lunges with her in the carrier. It all adds up and completely counts as being active.
This week has been an emotional rollercoaster. There have been a few nights where I’ve been crying on the couch at night whilst hubby is on the exercise bike upstairs. I’m stuck to the sofa as she’ll only sleep on me at this time. But I don’t want to watch TV I want to tidy my house which is a mess from Christmas. I want to do some stretches (yes really). I want to just grab a bloody glass of wine from the fridge instead of having a baby gnaw at my breast. I want to get my laptop and be able to work so I’m not so behind.
I’m lucky I’ve done this twice before. I know this will pass. That things will get better and this is the low.
I get my treadmill hiking sessions where I can – 3 this week. This is winning. This hour alone gives me so much relief and leaves me able to face the family chaos. Eddie my coach has put the sessions together based on heart rate - just high enough to give me that amazing feeling at the end without busting myself. I’ve worked out that 1% increase in incline is about 4 bpm change at my speed so I can adjust it up and down as I need to.
I have an online follow up session with Emma to determine next steps. From our initial call I’ve now gotten back into exercise but I’ve only really been doing my pelvic floors and gentle stretching until now. I want to get back into my strength work as soon as possible – but also safely so I need her guidance.
Emma stresses the most important thing is not to do any more damage! So no “doming” (or coning) is allowed - where the intra-abdominal pressure is too much for my Diastasis Recti. She has a look at me doing simple ab exercises and as soon as I start a crunch my doming is pretty obvious. No crunches for me for a while! And definitely none of my beloved pullups! Whilst some stress is good to heal the gap – this is too early.
I need to incorporate my pelvic floor work into my strength work to be most effective – squeezing my PF as I exhale doing weights eg coming up from a deadlift. When I’m just doing squeezes, 5 seconds is enough for now.
I also need to change how I’m doing some exercises – avoiding having weights over my head for example like I would for triceps – holding a weight above my head in both hands and bending my elbows back. This is putting too much pressure on my abdominals. So Emma changes this exercise to use the same body position as doing a row on the bench position (body parallel to the floor), straightening the arm backwards.
For strength work we’re looking at major muscle groups but bodyweight/light weight/band instead of the heavier weights I’m used to: backward lunges, bridge, hamstring curl with resistance band, squats. Deadlift starting with resistance band due to hamstring injury.
It seems simple. I write it down and stick it on the wall to remember. The only issue is at the moment I’m really struggling to find time for anything – the only extended slot is in the mornings when she will reliably nap for an hour. I’m so tired that the last thing I want to do is climb 2 flights of stairs to our gym!
I break it all down – what can I do in the kitchen / while playing with Saoirse on the mat / with her in a carrier. It doesn’t have to all be done at once and by doing bits and pieces every day I feel I’m making progress. Even if my 2 year old asks me why I’m walking around the kitchen funnily..
My pelvic floor is a different matter – I’m still leaking when I stomp down the hill with the buggy. So definitely no chance of running! My 2 year old can now run faster than my powerwalk so I have to keep him in check on the road home. It’s hard to explain to him why I can’t run – through pregnancy at the end I told him it was because I was carrying his baby sister and when I tell him no he says “not have baby in tummy now mummy – RUN!!”
So finally 2020 is out of the way. Though I still have the boys at home for 2 weeks with nothing open (thanks lockdown), and no prospect of sending them off for playdates.
I had prepared well for post-baby arrival – accepting every offer of help from playdates for one of the boys, to watching Saoirse while I trained to especially having my parents around to support me. This week that all ended when we went into “tier 4” and Christmas was cancelled. My mum is vulnerable and cases are rising with the new strain so it’s not worth the risk. Even the best laid plans…
So I’ve had to accept I can’t get done what I want to. That I have to prioritise the boys (Saoirse just gets dragged along). It seems nurseries are still opening Monday – so that’s Cormac taken care of and I just have to homeschool Donnacha for a few weeks (months?) until schools go back.
Training wise I know what I should be doing I’m just not doing it. I forget my squeezes most days, have barely done a weights session – the craziness of Christmas has left the house in a state and I feel I’m spending any time I have tidying/catching up . I am getting a night or two unbroken sleep every week though – 6ish hours which is amazing luxury when john does the 2am feed.
With so little time to train – every second I have I’m chasing that endorphin rush from cardio. And when I do do my weights I’m rushing through every set not getting the benefits. I know it would be better to do half of it and breathe properly, engaging my pelvic floor.
But I don’t, I try to finish as many sets as possible - trying to still ”achieve” or complete my plan. Even at the time I’m doing it I know that in my head this isn’t the right way but I keep going. I’m addicted to the heart rate increase, to the feeling of a workout.
I’m all a bit lost so I call Eddie, my coach for a chat. Eddie is an amazing runner, with 3 kids who ran for the Great Britain 100km team. She also had several years of injuries when she returned too fast too soon after one pregnancy. So she has been here before.
Eddie tells me she wants me to focus on strength, and build back slowly. But she also knows for my mental health I need an endorphin rush. It feels so wonderful for her just to say that - to vocalise my feelings. And knowing she knows how it feels to be crying on the couch with a third baby, frustrated that nothing is getting done. Understanding why workouts are skipped/split in two/extended for the excuse to get more time to myself!
We have a great chat about my running philosophy. About what I want from running this year. And about what I need during my recovery. I still don’t know where I am physically – that is for my 6 week pelvic health check next week. But I want to start thinking ahead – setting some ideas out to motivate me through these difficult weeks.
For an elite runner, a coach would be looking to make them the best runner possible – targeting a specific race and working towards it in clear training blocks all with a purpose. I’ve always been wary of this. Yes I want to run well, but running does not define me. I’ve seen friends get caught up in ever chasing a marathon PB –travelling to beautiful cities to race but returning home disappointed if they don’t achieve a time goal, for whatever reason. My running is for me - not against time barriers or other runners.
If I think about where I would be most “competitive” against others – it’s probably ultra long ultras – 24 hours or more on non-semi technical terrain. But what I really love to do is escape onto the fells and have a great day /night / day out. Seeing the sun rise over the mountains having run through the night. That's what I'm dreaming of at the moment. And this dream is helping me through these difficult weeks.
So we set my first goal race as Lakeland 100 miles. 105 miles with almost 7000m of climbing when Saoirse will be 7 months old. Far more sensible than me taking on UTMB when Cormac was 3 months old! With this I have time to get strong again, recover properly. Eddie gets to work on the plan. I really feel I can be running again quickly just as last time - we just need to get Emma’s sign off to start at my 6 week check in a few days. I have a 50km ultra pencilled in for 6 weeks time and I'm hoping to be on the start line!
(Spoiler alert…. There’s a spanner in the works)
Here's what I ended up doing weeks 0-6. Every recovery is different - this is just mine but shows the slight ramp up from 1 to 4 sessions per week over the time with adding in the core and weights.