looking back

This morning I dug back into the archives of my blog, and pulled up the posts from exactly one year ago.  As I read through them, tears literally filled my eyes.  Tears of gratitude, tears of amazement, tears of joy.

I have come a long way.  No matter what the outcome is of my race on Saturday, I have a lot to be proud of, and so much to be thankful for.

This week one year ago, I was 6 weeks postpartum and every attempt to run was a fight.  Every run left me feeling achy and wiped out.  My SI joint was out of whack, my hips and my tailbone hurt day and night.  I was tired.  My core muscles were stretched out and weakened.  I was scared, yet determined.  I believed that as long as I was smart and listened to my body, as long as I took my time and was patient with myself, I would be able to run pain-free and happily again.   It was not easy.  Here are a few of my favorite quotes from these posts:

I am going to go back to the basics, start from square one, with my training.  I am going to be POSITIVE and believe in myself and be patient on this journey.  This experience will make me stronger in more ways than one.  I am going to reclaim my body – my strength – my fitness.

In my experience the best, most wonderful things in life don’t ever seem to come without hard work.  A little (ok sometimes a lot) of pain.  Sacrifice.  So I will hold my head up high, not give up – not ever – and I will believe in myself.  I will trust that there is a reason for the struggle and that it will all be worth it.

I am not a quitter and I am not alone.  I will give this the good fight and be stronger because of it!!!  I WILL NEVER QUIT. 

Here is something that I know for sure.  Becoming a runner is HARD.  Whether you are just getting started or are getting back into it after pregnancy, an injury or time off for whatever reason.  It is hard.  But if we do not give up, if we believe in ourselves and if we are patient, if we listen to our bodies and keep at it, WONDERFUL things can happen.  We will awaken amazing things within us.  We will discover so much about ourselves and what we are capable of.  It will be more than we ever would have dared to dream.

Do not give up on your dreams, in running or in life.  Do not put a limit on what your potential is.  Take it one day at a time, and be open to all of the possibilities.  Have the courage to keep going, and know that you are not alone.  Watch your story unfold.

If you are interested in reading some of these archives, go back to March of 2011.  Here are a few links to some of my favorite posts:

A Plan
Go Girl

Returning to Running After Pregnancy

As my little baby boy approaches his first birthday (he turns one on February 2nd!), I find myself thinking a lot about this past year and what my return to running has been like since adding this little fella to our family.

I ran throughout much of my pregnancy.  I wasn’t fast.  I didn’t go far.  I walked.  A LOT.  But I kept on moving, week after week, even on days when I really didn’t want to (but not always on those days, I rested a whole lot, too).  I didn’t track my mileage or worry about my paces.  Running was about honoring and celebrating my body for all it could do, not about how far or how fast I could go.  It was about taking care of my own body, mind and spirit as well as nurturing the little soul that was growing inside of me.  It was not time for pushing my limits or seeing what I was made of.  There would be plenty of time for that later.

But I dreamed about my return to running frequently while I was pregnant.  And I looked forward to training for and running races again.  I wondered what it would be like to run again after my baby was born.  How long would it take me to build back my fitness?  Would it hurt?  Would I ever be able to run as fast or as far as I had before getting pregnant?  How would I juggle all three of my children, and my fitness and my business and all of my responsibilities at home?  What would my life look like?  There were so many questions, but one thing that I was certain of was that I would figure it out, because I had to, because it was my choice to.  Because it just mattered.  Running would remain a part of my life because it was a part of me.  And I decided that it truly didn’t matter how far or how fast I could run, as long as I could run.

In reflecting on how I was able to get back into running, and what worked for me over the course of the past year, I have come up with the following tips to share.  If you are pregnant now or if you recently had a baby and are beginning to run again, I hope you will find this helpful.

Dream about your goals.  In the midst of all the unknowns about what life will be like after the baby arrives, it can be motivating and exciting to have a goal to look forward to.  I picked a race that would happen on my 35th birthday, when my baby was just under 10 weeks old.  My goal was not to race it – but to be able to run all 10 miles at a comfortable pace (whatever that pace was, I didn’t care.  I just wanted to run).  I also knew that I wanted to run a marathon during my baby’s first year, and I dreamed about that a lot.  The idea of it scared me on many levels, too.  I didn’t make training plans or map everything out while I was pregnant (no way!), but I dreamed about it and thought a lot about what kinds of things would need to be in place in my life in order for me to accomplish them.   Once Gus was born and I was running again, having these goals to work towards was very motivating to me. 

Be patient.  Relax.  Don’t get caught up in the wonders and worries of how you are going to manage all the changes that are happening in your life.  Trust that your body will heal.  Believe in yourself.  When my doctor gave me the green light to run again (at 4 weeks postpartum) I got on my treadmill to run one mile.  It hurt.  It was insanely difficult.  It was much slower than I thought it would be.  Every single run felt like a marathon and my body took a while to recover after every run.  But I knew that I had to be patient.  That each week I would go a little farther, get a little stronger – as long as I didn’t give up.  It takes time to heal and to regain your strength, but it WILL happen.  Trust in that and be patient.

out for a run with baby

Be inspired by others, but do not compare yourself to others.  Everyone is different.  I have friends both in real life and in the blogging world who were able to run farther and faster than I was, way sooner than I was.  Sometimes their accomplishments motivated me, and other times they deflated me.  I quickly realized that I needed to focus on my own journey and listen to my own body.  Just because someone you know was able to run a marathon 3 months after giving birth, doesn’t mean you should hold yourself to the same expectations.  And on the flip side, if you hear from someone that they were never able to run again after having their baby, it doesn’t mean that you are doomed to suffer the same fate!  Let others’ stories inspire you – don’t let them discourage you by comparing yourself to them.  You are your own person, on your own path.

Do Pilates.  Pregnancy will stretch out and weaken your core muscles – and I don’t just mean your abdominal muscles – your hips, glutes, back and hamstrings are all a part of your core as well.  We have to move our bodies intentionally and really be aware of how we are holding ourselves.  It takes conscious thought.  Check in with your posture throughout the day.  Are you engaging your abs?  Is your pelvis tilting one way or the other?  Are you tucking your butt under or sticking your belly out?  Are your shoulders tensed?  Make the time for strength and flexibility exercises.  Pilates is excellent because you can do it right in the comfort of your own home.  Just 10 minutes a day will make a difference.  Bring awareness to your posture – when you are standing in line at the grocery store, putting your baby in his crib, giving the kids a bath.  When you are running.  Engage your core.  Use it!  It makes a huge difference.  Trust me.

rolling like a ball

Ease into it.  When I first started running again, I didn’t worry about how many miles I was running or how fast I was moving.  In preparation for my first postpartum race, I trained by minutes instead of miles.  For some reason that took some of the pressure off.  I wasn’t worried about being able to run a certain amount of miles, I just wanted to last a little longer each time.  As running became easier and my fitness and strength improved I switched to tracking miles again, but in those first few months going by minutes really worked for me.

Have a support system.  Share your dreams – and your fears – with those who love you.  Be an open book with the people in your life who believe in you and who will encourage you when you’re feeling down and celebrate with you when you accomplish something.  Every run is an accomplishment, in those first few months especially.  I remember coming home from a particularly hard 40 minute run one day, in tears.  I was proud because I had done what I set out to do, but I was also so humbled and scared by how difficult it was.  My husband, who had been trapped in the house in the middle of winter with all three of our kids while I was out, just wrapped his arms around me and told me he was proud of me.  I needed that so much.  He was there for me (and still is) whether I needed a high five or a shoulder to cry on.  My sisters, my running buddies, my close friends – all have been there for me and have believed in me when I needed it the most.  You have your people, too.  Let them carry you sometimes, as I know you will carry them when they need it, too.  That is what we do for the people we love.

i love you, sister

Don’t give up.  You will want to at times.  Many times.  You will get discouraged.  You will probably (most definitely) have setbacks, but you will overcome them.  You are stronger than your greatest fears.  You are stronger than your self doubt.  You will never regret not giving up.

Running after pregnancy is not easy, but it has been without a doubt one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  It has been so much fun to run and race as a mommy of three.  I believe that having each of my children has made me a stronger, more passionate person and in turn motherhood has made me a stronger, more passionate runner.

the power of three

Nursing & Marathoning: What Works for Me

It is hard for me to believe that my sweet baby Gus is already just over 8 months old.

He is pure sweetness and joy and I am madly in love with this little man.  I cannot imagine my life without him in it. As his mother I aim to do all that I can do to keep him healthy, safe and happy.

When I became a mother for the first time in 2005 I read everything there was to read about having a baby and taking care of your baby.  What you are supposed to do and what you better be sure not to do.  It was exhausting, confusing and anxiety-producing!  There was so much advice out there and so much of it was conflicting – I was overwhelmed.  Thankfully I have two older sisters who became mothers before I did.  I remember both of them telling me not to worry – that I would have instincts and that I would be a good mother.  I just had to trust in myself and do my very best.  I would not leave my baby in the grocery store, allow her to fall down six flights of stairs or give her a bouncy ball to choke on.  And if any of these things DID occur, it would be okay.  It was all going to be okay!

I remember hoping that I would be able to be a nursing mom, but since I had never tried this before I told myself that I would do my very best and if it didn’t work, so be it.  I didn’t and don’t see anything wrong with feeding your baby formula.  I just felt that if it was something my body would do and my baby would do, I wanted to do it.  When Abby was born it was hard to nurse her at first, but we found our way and she nursed for 10 months.  I was a full-time working mom and it was not easy to keep up my milk supply, but I did it.  I got pregnant with my son Will when Abby was just 8 months old.  Will never would take a bottle and I nursed him until he was 15 months old.  He had (and still has) a lot of dangerous/life threatening food allergies and I had to restrict my diet because he was nursing.  It was really really tough to wean him because he could not drink dairy or soy and he would not take a bottle.

When Abby and Will were young babies I did not run consistently.  I did a few 10 mile races but wasn’t really trained for them at all.  Running was on the back burner in my life when my oldest kids were babies and I was ok with that, or at least I thought I was.  When Will was around 2 years old I fell into a deep depression.  In the span of about one month we moved into a new house in a new town, I had a miscarriage and I lost two friends very tragically (one passed away from breast cancer on September 12, the other died suddenly in a horrible accident on October 12).  It was a dark time for me and I was feeling lost and lonely and negative.

After about 6 months of feeling this way, I started to run again.  I began to train for a marathon for the first time in over 4 years.  The heaviness in my heart began to feel lighter.  I was healing, the fog was lifting.  I was emerging out of my darkness.  Running brought clarity, hope, light, creativity, peace, acceptance – all back into my life.  I was happy and I was aware that running had a lot to do with it.  I understood then that when running is really a consistent part of my life I am my happiest, strongest self.  I vowed to do my very best to keep running in my life in some way shape or form – no matter how hard it is to strike a balance sometimes.  It is never as hard as feeling so strangled and helpless as I do when I am deeply depressed.

So when I found out that I was pregnant with baby Gus (an unplanned and very huge surprise), I knew I would be committed to my running not only throughout my pregnancy but also once he was born.  I also knew that I would plan to breastfeed him as long as he was cool with that.  Thankfully the two of us figured it out pretty quickly and he loves to nurse.  Gus is now over 8 months old and I have been exclusively breastfeeding him since the day he was born.  I have also trained for and run several races, including a marathon, and I am getting ready to run another marathon in a little over 2 weeks from now.  I have been asked by several people how I am able to breastfeed while training and racing, so I thought I would share that here.

I do want to make sure that everyone knows that this is just what has worked for me and my baby.  The best piece of advice I feel qualified to give on this front is that you need to listen to your own body and to your own heart.  This is a very personal thing.  What works for me may not be the best thing for you, but I hope that you will find this helpful if you are a nursing mom or if you are pregnant and want to continue to run after you have your baby.

When it comes to being a marathoner while nursing my baby, there are several things that I have done that I think have made it a success for me: 

I have amazing family & friends:  From the very beginning, I had the love and support of my family, friends and running buddies.  If ever I have been unsure of myself I have turned to them throughout this whole journey.  My husband has believed in me from the start.  My running buddies have been patient with me and were happy to run on “my schedule” especially in the beginning when I was new to the routine.  I have a wonderful and amazing friend in Dorothy – she has been down this road before and has always been so happy and generous to share advice and support when it comes to any topic but especially when it comes to being a running, nursing momma.  (side note, you can also read a great post she did on being a nursing marathoner HERE).  I could not have accomplished all of this without the support and encouragement of my loved ones.

I have an electric breast pump:  I bought a very nice, gently used electric breast pump at our preschool’s rummage sale when I was pregnant last year.  It was in mint condition and retailed at Target for close to $300 (I got it for $30).  I purchased all brand new tubing and accessories for it.  This pump has been sooooo helpful to me.  I don’t think I would have been able to do all the running I have been doing without owning this pump.

My baby will take a bottle:  When baby Gus was a few weeks old I gave him a bottle for the first time.  I would use my pump about once a week and feed him the milk I pumped out instead of nursing him.  I wanted to be sure that he was comfortable with drinking from a bottle, not just so I could go out running but also to make sure he would take it if my husband and I were out on a date or if I just wasn’t home when he needed to eat for any reason at all.  At first he was confused by it, but it didn’t take long for him to get with the program and now he is completely comfortable with taking a bottle from me, his dad, his big sister or brother or whoever.  This is great because I do not ever worry when I am on a long run or at a race – I know my baby is being fed!  I know not all babies will accept a bottle – my son Will was one of those – so I am thankful that Gus has been on board with the idea from early on.

I store my milk:  Once Gus was sleeping more and on a more regular feeding schedule, I began to pump every evening around 9:00pm.  My body became used to producing about 4-5 ounces a milk every evening.  I store this milk in the freezer (it will keep for 3 months) and keep about 6 ounces in the fridge at all times (where it will stay fresh for one week).  This ensures that there is always milk for my baby in case he needs it when I’m not home.  In addition, now that he is eating solid foods I use this milk in making his foods – mixing it with fruit, veggies and cereals.  If you are storing your milk in the freezer, be sure to label it with the date and store the oldest milk closer towards the front so you use that first.

frozen milk – oldest stored at the front

I found a good sports bra:  I never really needed to worry about having a “good” sports bra in the past, because I just didn’t have a lot to carry around up there.  While pregnant I doubled up on my Target bras and wore two of them at a time when I ran.  By the time Gus was born those bras were completely stretched out and my chest had also grown substantially, so I knew it was time for some serious “over the shoulder boulder holders” if I was going to be running a lot.  After lots of research and trying them on, I purchased the Moving Comfort Fiona bra.  I got the first one at my local running shop and then ordered three more from Amazon because I got a much better price (and free shipping) that way.  These four bras have been invaluable to me!  The adjustable straps are awesome.  I chafed a little on extra-long runs but Body Glide took care of that and I don’t have problems with that anymore.

ahhh Fiona, how you have helped me

I stay hydrated:  As you know, it is extremely important to be well hydrated when training and racing.  When you are a nursing mother, it is even more important.  I know that my body is working hard to produce the main source of nutrition for my baby.  This requires me to eat and drink well.  When I am sweating for hours I have to be sure to replenish my fluids and to drink a lot before I run.  This summer I became addicted to nuun.  I happen to love the way it tastes and because of that I have been good about hydrating before, during and after my runs.  My milk supply has never suffered with all of the running I have been doing and I really believe this is because I have been so good about my hydration.

I set a plan, and then I am flexible:  When I first started running after Gus was born, I would feed him or I would pump right before I headed out the door.  In the first few months he was eating every two hours and I felt like my milk would come in almost immediately after I was done feeding him!  I ran a 10 mile race when he was 10 weeks old and it was logistically kind of hilarious.  I fed him before I left for the race, I pumped in the car before going to the start line, I pumped in the car after I crossed the finish line and then I fed him when I got home.  Crazy?  Maybe…but worth it.  Now he is eating more like every 4 hours so I have a lot more flexibility.  When I go out for long runs or big races I feed or pump before I leave and then I feed or pump when I get home.  It just depends on how the morning goes.  I set out a plan for my husband so he has an idea of when the baby will need to eat and then we just go with it.  No matter what there is always milk for him in the fridge/freezer so I can always feel relaxed about that.  Sometimes I will feel my milk come in when I’m out on a run, but it is not so uncomfortable now.  My body is in a rhythm now and it is all working out just fine.

I remember when I first started running – I felt like I was embarking into uncharted territory for myself.  Yes, I was a runner.  Yes, I had nursed my other babies.  I was confident I could do both of these things but wasn’t so sure how it was going to pan out doing them both at the same time.  I took it one day at a time though and it worked out.  I had my moments (and still do, sometimes) of feeling overwhelmed and questioning my sanity, but when it comes down to it I would not have it any other way.  Running is an essential part of my life.  It helps me to be the best mother that I am capable of.  I do not want to make compromises in this area of my life if I don’t have to.  So I figured out a way to make it work.  And it’s working!

another 5K PR

Last week I was in the dumps.  My lower back was hurting and I felt anxiety about it, wondering is my running a hindrance to getting back on track, or is it helping to make me stronger?  The doc says to continue to run but do it carefully, really listening to any aches and pains.  So I ran a handful of slow miles last week and did strength training and Pilates, too.  I felt my strength – physically and emotionally – returning.  My pain subsided and my spirits lifted.

Saturday morning I ran a local 5K – the We’ve Got Your Back 5K in Reston.  The irony of the reason for this race isn’t lost on me — after a week of back pain I am running a race all about spinal health!?  Meant to be, if you ask me.  Anyway, I ran this race last year and set a PR at the time of 25:22.  When I PR’d a few weeks ago with 25:16 I decided I needed to do this race again this year so I could really measure my fitness (although they did alter the course slightly).  Since my back pain had dissipated but not disappeared I ran the race cautiously on Saturday.  My goals for the race were to run smart/really listen to my body and to enjoy myself.  I accomplished both and I set a new PR!  24:52.  I felt great – no pains or aches and I can honestly say I had a lot left in my tank when I crossed the finish line.  I was the 4th female in my age group and 17th overall female (out of 192).  These things make me smile because I know I’m overcoming the issues I’m facing and that I’m stronger because of it.  Just like any mountain we have to climb, right?


I’ve been feeling really down these past several days.  My back has been getting better but it still hurts.  I ran on Monday night for the first time in a week: three slow miles.  When I was done I felt achy pain but nothing sharp so I went home and stretched and iced it.  My understanding of the situation is that my psoas muscle (which connects from the lower back to the top of the thigh bone) is really tight on the right side which is causing my SI joint in my pelvis to be out of whack, which led to the ligament sprain.  Essentially everything that is connected to my pelvis is in some way irritated – a domino effect.  All the muscles around my lower back are tight and sore.  Grrrr….

The good news is that yes I KNOW it could be a LOT worse.  The bad news is that it is making me feel depressed anyway.  This whole experience of getting back to “normal” after having a baby has been quite a journey.  I feel like this must be in some ways what it will feel like when I’m getting up in years…struggling to be strong and to prevent injuries like this.

On another note, I am still sticking to the sugar-free and gluten-free diet.  This is miraculous, considering how sad I have felt.  I did eat an entire bag of tortilla chips the other day though…yes they are free of sugar and gluten but they are not healthy.   I have to laugh about it though – sometimes food is comforting and eating large amounts of it is comforting!  I weighed myself on Monday and there were no changes, up or down.  Since I was sick and didn’t get any running in for a whole week, I am calling it a success that I didn’t gain any weight.  I’m feeling good about my food choices and letting the tortilla chip binge slide.  No need to kick myself while I’m down!

Here’s to a better week this week…and to picking myself back up, emotionally and physically.  It is a beautiful day and there is much to celebrate and be thankful for.  I’m going to focus on the sunny side of life today and try my best not to eat another entire bag of tortilla chips :o)