5 Lessons From My Postpartum Return To Running

"I neglected to even begin to consider just how difficult those first few months would be, how exhausted I would be returning to work full time, or the possibility of my body and mind just not being ready to handle that amount of activity."

I've called myself a runner for about 6 years now. In that time I've had brief intermissions from running due to injury, lack of motivation, focusing more time and effort on building strength, etc. The return to running is never easy.

There's both the physical aspects of waking up after an easy 5k to aching quads and tight IT bands and the mental, where you can barely focus to stay on pace for 2 miles and question how it used to be your warm-up for a casual mid-week 10 miler.
 
You tell yourself if you could do it before, you can do it again, and push on until suddenly the aches are gone (or maybe you just wise up and become BFF's with your foam roller again) and your weekly mileage increases and becomes more comfortable. For me, the most challenging comeback has been my postpartum return to running. The hours of blood, sweat and tears (oh, the tears) as I have struggled to navigate my relationship with running once again have taught me invaluable lessons about being kind to myself as I settle into a comfortable pace. I didn't feel prepared for all that I've experienced, so I'm sharing my top 5 takeaways from my postpartum return to running. I hope to help prepare any pregnant mamas for their return and postpartum mamas who might be feeling the same not feel so alone.

 

- It will be an incredibly humbling experience

I'm a planner. I like structure and routine and I like to know exactly how I'll be spending each day (can you say Type-A?!). I'm the type who spends hours over-analyzing my running schedule week-by-week each time a new training cycle starts. So, naturally, to prepare for my postpartum comeback I mapped out my plan for the entire year of 2017...when my due date was February 26th. This included my cross training plan day by day for 365 days with weights, spin, yoga and return to running that concluded with the grand finale of a full marathon in the fall. Just reading that now, years later, makes my head spin. I neglected to even begin to consider just how difficult those first few months would be, how exhausted I would be returning to work full time, or the possibility of my body and mind just not being ready to handle that amount of activity. I could have handled an overly-detailed workout plan in the past, but adding motherhood to the mix required me to take a step back and realize that I could only do so much in a day. It was extremely tough for a "I need to check everything off my to-do list or I can't go to bed" person like me to accept that I needed to re-evaluate my goals and focus on the mentality of 'Start Where You Are' instead of trying to force myself to be where I wanted to be.

"I never realized what an important part running would play in my overall mental health."

- Some days running becomes so much more mental than physical

Being a mom is hard. Being a mom who works outside of the home is hard. Being a stay-at-home mom is hard. It's exhausting to give all of yourself to your children and it's equally as tough to feel the guilt when you take time away from your family to do anything for yourself. When I started running several years ago at the beginning of my health and fitness journey I'll admit it was because I wanted to lose weight. I never realized what an important part running would play in my overall mental health. The mornings I laced up before sunrise to meet friends before returning home to my still sleeping baby gave me the chance to clear my mind and prepare for what the day would bring- like those fun mornings where cutting a banana into pieces results in a 10 minute, full-on breakdown (because bananas don't taste the same when they're broken in half, obviously). The best advice I received postpartum was that you can't pour from an empty cup. In order to give the best of yourself to others, you have to take the time to recharge your mental batteries.

- You become so much more in tune with your body

Raise your hand if you know what your pelvic floor does and why it's important {raises hand proudly}. Now, raise your hand if you know what diastasis recti is and how to check for it {raises both hands proudly}. Had you asked me this question 2+ years ago I would have given you a blank stare, even after having lots of physically active postpartum mama friends (however, active or not, neither of these conditions discriminate). After attempting to train too aggressively for a half marathon post-baby I quickly learned the importance of both from a physical therapist who helped educate me on exercises to help strengthen my pelvic floor, close my 2" diastasis gap and regain confidence during high impact activity (re: no more peeing my pants doing jumping jacks..there, I said it). Not only did I have a greater appreciation for what my body had allowed me to create, but I learned how to listen to my body and advocate for myself when something just didn't seem right.

- You have to focus on being your new self

I spent a lot of time that first year after having my daughter focusing on things like trying to hit that pre-baby weight, those pre-baby paces or fit into those pre-baby jeans. It took me a long time to realize that I had to work on finding my new self instead of trying to be my old self. The best thing I did was reset my running watch. Yes, I'll always be able to tell you my overall half marathon PR and longest distance I've ever run, but there was some definite satisfaction in re-setting the baseline and seeing the notification of "longest distance" or "fastest mile" for my postpartum running journey.

- You'll find a new appreciation for the sport

I'll always remember the day my daughter discovered my race medals hanging on the wall. She stared in amazement at the shiny gold circles hanging from colorful ribbons. I handed her my Gazelle Girl Half/Riverbank 25k Double Down medal and she smiled in amazement. Showing her my medals and buying her Run Squad onesies and baby Nikes is just the beginning. Running allows me to introduce her to the life of health and fitness, teach her what it's like to be strong and persevere in tough conditions, when your muscles ache and your lungs burn, the determination to reach your goals by waking up before the sun to log miles when all you want to do is hit snooze and teach her to appreciate her body for all it can do. Running has taught me a lot of lessons, both before and after having a baby, but what it allows me to show her gives me a new appreciation for this sport.
 

In order to give the best of yourself to others, you have to take the time to recharge your mental batteries.

— Megan Jaromin