I’m almost 5 months post partum and just ran my first competitive race since 2013. I ran the Cardiff Kook 10k and won in 33:44. I experienced a moment on Sunday that I had been missing for the last 2 years of my life: self doubt. Standing on the starting line, I reflected back upon my last race in July of 2013. It was the Utica Boilermaker 15k and on a hot, humid, muggy morning I found myself in a pack of 8 East African women racing down the streets of Ithaca, NY. These women were some of the best in the world (one Lineth Chepkurui with bests of 14:55 for 5k, 67 mins for half marathon). They outclassed me on paper, in prs and stats. But on that day I raced like I belonged there, getting dropped from the pack and surging back a mile later. I finished 6th in 51:26, 50 seconds behind the winner, and then got pregnant 3 months later and my running career has been on the back burner since.
My return from my 2nd pregnancy has gone smoother than my first. Why? The learning curve. There’s no cliff notes for coming back from a baby and most of it is trial and error, 2 steps forward and one step back. The positive of having 2 babies so close together is the process was so fresh in my mind. The negative was my body experienced far greater trauma, stretching, loss of muscle strength and stability, and I now have to chase a toddler around while raising the newborn. However I also have an army of help. We are fortunate to have a great childcare situation for Riley and found a few amazing babysitters that have worked around our schedule. My team of chiropractors and massage therapists have worked one on one weekly with me to figure out my biggest weaknesses and focus their efforts on strengthening those. It began with my very intrinsic core muscles the first few weeks post partum and as I grew stronger, we targeted the large group of muscles that contribute to core stabilization and general hip and glute strength. My coach Ben, unique to any of his other athletes met with me weekly from about 6 weeks postpartum to 12 weeks so we could approach training at a very gradual progression and had to take many steps backwards in order to keep a minor setback from becoming major. He asked me about my “life stresses” outside of running that I think get pushed aside when women are trying to return to training. For example as I started to get pretty fit around 15 weeks post partum, Hudson entered the dreaded 4 month sleep regression and I went from getting 5 to 6 hour stretches of sleep to waking up every 90 minutes. It was an exhausting few weeks and I had to back off training or else I would have tanked and gotten injured. I rode out that storm and after a few weeks he started to sleep better and I in turn recovered better.
So how did I get to racing 5 months post partum and have the result I did? Part of it was a surprise to me, I’ll be perfectly honest. The other part is since running is my career and my love, the motivation for me to do all the little things it takes to stay healthy and train was very high from the get go. Sure I had days where I was in a sleep deprived cloud but I tried to nap most days at least 30 minutes when the baby slept. I also have the luxury of running being my job so my time management and flexibility allow for a schedule centered around being a full time athlete while also being a full time mom. I still approached the actual training in a conservative manner (for me). I averaged about 60 miles a week for the last 6 weeks compared to a normal 90 mile average before babies. I took a day off every 7 to 10 days, shortened a run if I had pelvic or back pain that didn’t go away. No matter how busy I am, I eat something (anything) within 30 minutes of finishing my run. That part is huge in your overall recovery. Lastly, I believed. I had run performances before children that made me believe when I came back, chasing fast times and the chance of making an Olympic Team was still in my wheelhouse. Yet in the moments standing on the start line at the Kook Run I experienced that self doubt that anyone who has been away from racing for years would. But as soon as the gun went off, the feeling floated away and the confidence I felt at the Boilermaker 15k came back. I belonged out there again and it became a race against myself.
Here’s how it played out: First mile, Canadian runner Natasha Anzures took the lead and I was about 4-5 seconds off her coming through the mile 5:23. Training at altitude you never actually run race pace for very long intervals so this would be the first time my body was running in the 5:20s for longer than a few minutes. The course runs along the coast and mile 2 dropped gradually and I clicked the watch 5:21. I was feeling the rhythm now controlling my breathing and telling myself to run strong and relaxed. A slight breeze from the ocean was blowing in and cooling the 70 degree morning sun. Natasha was still about 5 seconds ahead of me looking strong. As we approached mile 3, I began to feel a pep in my step and I decided to go with it. I caught her around 5k and as we came upon a sharp u turn on the course, I put in a surge to test the waters. She seemed to be laboring a little so I felt this was my chance. I was ready to start pushing the last half of the course as it climbed back up the highway and awaited its finishers. Mile 3 5:21 and as I pushed to Mile 4, split my watch again 5:19. With the course being an out and back, the entire last 3 miles I was running by the runners who were still heading out. This feeling was electric. They were in their own moments, yet cheering and encouraging me as I climbed the grinding hill from 4 to 5, 5:38. By now the racing “hurt” was very much back and I welcomed the pain with open arms. As I crested the hill I could smell home and knew I had just over 6 minutes of running left. I wanted to high five every spectator in that last mile so they could feel the joy I had simply from being back out there racing. I also wanted to keep running as hard as I could to display my fitness. So hearing the announcers I checked my form, said run tall, pump your arms and I crossed the finish line after a very long journey. I didn’t feel like I just ran the 10k distance, it was years in the making.
Don’t worry to those women who affectionately called me “not human” and superwomen after running this 5 months post partum, you’ll take solace or a good laugh in this. As it is my journey to “keepitreal” and remain transparent with my audience I must share how the last mile of the race really shook out. I’m one of those blessed women (sarcasm) who get their menstrual cycle back while still breastfeeding. So 3 days before the race I got my period. No problem I’ve raced on my it before. Yet any woman who’s had children know there’s a bit of stretching and loosening that goes on and let’s just say tampons don’t hold as well as they used to. Sorry to those reading if its too much info. I reached back at mile 5 to wipe sweat off my butt and returned with a bit of red on my hand. Looked down and yes my thighs were covered as was my luckily “red” Oiselle uniform. So if there’s not enough to think about the last mile of a race, I had to try not to focus my attention and let embarrassment of this happening overcome me. So I kept running hard to the finish, crossed the line and immediately found my husband Ben and asked for his jacket to tie across my waist. I’m being approached for post race interviews and using baby wipes to clean myself up. Keep it real ladies!