Pregnancy and childbirth are a challenge

By Amanda Broughton

Pregnancy and childbirth are a challenge for anyone, runner or not. If you want to have any hope of retaining your fitness while adjusting to life with a small leaky human in the house, you’ll have an extra set of challenges to overcome.

Some of our members have had great success with their running after having babies. Others are brand new to juggling work, children and exercise. We asked a few parents to share their expert advice on running after having kids.

You would assume that with gaining weight during pregnancy, your running is going to slow down. That wasn’t the case for Scott Ryland.

If your partner is also a runner, pregnancy can be a great opportunity for you to shamelessly chase down their personal bests. Scott doubled his mileage in the weeks leading up to the delivery of his daughter. ‘My grand plan was to beat all of Sierra’s PBs while she was pregnant. I smashed her 10k PB and was 15 seconds off her 5k and half marathon times!‘

Some do struggle with the weight gain. Sympathy eating is one of the great joys of pregnancy. During Jeltsje’s pregnancy with Jelle, she developed a craving for cream doughnuts. Stephen Day tried his best to be supportive – matching her doughnut for doughnut.

Both runners adapted well to pregnancy in two very different ways, and did what was needed to stay healthy both mentally and physically before the birth of their child.

How soon can you run after birth? Advice varies wildly, and will depend a lot on the birth, and how much your partner is able to help out.

Luckily for Stephen Day, Jeltsje took on the feeding duties when their first baby was born. I’d get him out of his cot at 4.30am, pass him to Jeltsje in bed for a breastfeed, and then, seeing as I was awake, throw on my shoes and go for a long morning run. It was an incredibly successful training block for me!’

Most advice says to rest for six weeks post birth. Throwing caution and weak pelvic floor precipitate to the wind, Scott did a race when his baby was just 6 weeks old! ‘Terrible idea, no sleep and no training makes for a tough day, but I did just enough to qualify for the sprint triathlon Age Group World Champs on the Gold Coast.’  

If you’re pregnant or have a new baby, it might be hard to see yourself ever being fit again, will these slow bumbling strides ever feel natural and easy?

Stephen Day’s endurance came back quickly after birth, but it took a while for him to regain his speed. ‘It was about four months after Jelle’s birth that I was able to run my 3000m PB, but 14 months before I could PB in the 800m.’

Scott says it is looking like it will take him ‘significantly longer than Sierra’ to get back in to shape. Comparison is the thief of joy they say. Don’t be too hard on yourself and remember that everyone’s journey back to fitness is different post-baby.

Parents-to-be hear this all the time, ‘Just wait until you have kids, you won’t have time to run!’ So how can you fit in time to train around your family?

Nick Horspool’s strategy is planning training with a timetable. With a runner and a yogi in the house and both parents working, a timetable is necessary to be able to fit it all in.

‘I do my main run first thing in the morning before family is awake. It’s about making sure we balance enough family time with our own activities. We have to be careful with this though to make sure we are not ‘passing each other in the wind’ and have enough time together!’

Another timesaving tactic is to make it look like the run is serving some other purpose, such as a way to commute to work. Stephen run commutes to save on bus fares and is definitely not just leaving the house earlier to escape the children.

Scott found that there was a massive benefit in going back to work – giving him the ability to sneak out for lunchtime training. ‘Not being required to feed a small baby every few hours also helps.’ says Scott, who is not currently breastfeeding.

If you can’t beat them, join them? A great way to fit in exercise around kids is to take them with you.

Nick, who is not sponsored by Thule is a big advocate for running with a pram. ‘This is a great way to give your partner some quiet child-free time as well as getting a run in. I have regularly done runs with both my kids using a Thule Chariot. Both my kids have loved it and when they were younger would often fall asleep in it – the ultimate!’ Nick even did a 35km run along the Rimutaka Incline from Featherston to Upper Hutt one weekend; that is a tough run even without pushing another human in a pram.

Running with the kids isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t easy pushing the ever-increasing load of a child and pram up and down hills in the windiest city in the world.

Stephen tried running with a pram but it wasn’t something he enjoyed so he improvised. ‘A much better approach was to put the baby on the front lawn, under an umbrella, and then do laps around the block, checking if they were still asleep every time I went past.’ Stephen never specified if this was a sun or a rain umbrella but I’m sure it works for all seasons.

Are the glory days all over once you have kids? Or do you come back stronger than ever?

Much like Mary Keitany, Nick found that his running actually improved after having kids. ‘Having time pressures means you are super efficient and really motivated to get out the door. I know if I don’t get out first thing in the morning then I can’t get my main run in, so there is zero procrastination.’

Kids don’t just suck out all of your energy, money, time, and your soul; they give a little bit back too. ‘I find my family extremely motivating in my big races.’ says Nick, I know they have sacrificed a lot for my training and I use this to give me positive thoughts during races. At Gold Coast marathon (Nick represented Oceania and ran 2.18!), Carla my 5-year-old left me a note in my racing shoes with a drawing of me with a trophy, and words saying good luck daddy I hope you win your race.’ Can you get a better motivational thought just before a race?

Being a parent is a full-time job, and it doesn’t stop when you’re tired. When Nick carefully takes off his Nike Vaporfly 4%’s and changes into his Nike Pegasus for the 20-metre walk to the car, he then changes into his dadding shoes. ‘When I get back from my weekend big workouts it is straight into dad mode. Into the shower then back out the door to kids’ activities. No kicking the feet up and watching Netflix for the rest of the day.’

Does your performance improve, or is that just a story to make you feel better? ‘It’s all relative’ Stephen says, ‘I noticed that my times relative to other people in my immediate family improved dramatically. When comparing myself to young babies.’

After his dream run of smashing his wife’s PB’s pre-baby, Scott is finding it hard to get back to that level of fitness. ‘How is my running? So far, worse. Much much worse. But, it’s surely only a matter of time before my Dad strength (and speed) comes in.’

New parents get a lot of advice, what is the best advice you can give to those who are trying to balance running with family commitments?

‘If your partner is in labour, it is probably not worth asking them if you can still go to Karori Park to do a session that morning’ says an anonymous 2.18 marathoner.

‘You’ll be fine.’ Says Stephen, with the wisdom of one who has had three children, ‘It is easy to fit running and children into your life as long as you are not too stressed about nothing else fitting in very well.’

Plan-ahead Nick says ‘Consider how your partner feels and be conscious of this (don’t tell them you had a great 10-hour sleep when you went away for the weekend for road relays!) ‘

Scott’s hot tip is to run track ‘You’re never more than a few hundred metres away from the baby. The best advice I got from Adam Steinmetz was, if it’s less than 10k they’re probably ok by themselves.’ And if they aren’t well you’re going to run a handsome negative split getting home to save them.

What can you do to help yourself to get back in shape quickly, what worked out in your favour?

Breastfeeding burns 500 calories a day, but as he wasn’t feeding the baby Stephen had to change his diet ‘A sad but necessary end to the cream doughnut eating will help.’ says Stephen, as a single tear rolls down his lean cheek.

‘Being the non-pregnant person in the relationship was key to my quick recovery. I’d strongly recommend that fathers who want to remain competitive runners encourage their partners to carry the baby during pregnancy.’

Scott credits going back to work with keeping him fit, as well as not having to return home every few hours to feed baby.

You might be asking, how soon can I start training my baby to run long distances?

Without giving away too many training secrets, Nick’s suggestion is to start off easy with running movies. ‘ Add some home-based core strength, hallway sprints to the bath (fill the bath with ice for an impressive negative split return from the bathroom) then Scottish Night of Miles kid’s races, and build up to the Wellington Kids XC series.’

Stephen reminds us that this article is about your running, not your kids. ‘Never teach them to run. Why would you want a precocious child beating all your best times?’

If you’re reading this while pregnant, or with a newborn baby latched on to your chest, know that one day soon it will all get easier. Don’t worry about it, Stephen, Nick and Scott ran really well after they had kids, so you can too.

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