I met Carrie through my running group, Liberty Athletic Club in Boston Massachusetts. We meet weekly to do track workouts, and she and I always seem to have a lot to talk about, whether its running, triathlon, life in general, or motherhood! She was one of my very first friends to have a baby and successfully return to running. I've asked her to share her story because she makes it look easy, but it hasn't been. Becoming a mother and now being a mother is a challenging and incredible experience. Carrie has embraced the journey. She is a smart and successful mother, runner, wife, lawyer, teammate, and friend, and has a grace about her in all that she does. I am proud to introduce her as our JUNE Mum of the Month! (and yes, I know it's taken a while to get this up!)
I consider myself a serious-recreational runner. I've been running since I was 13, and must have hundreds of races and many thousands of miles under my belt - though I've never been the kind of runner who keeps track of those things. I currently run about 3 times a week, but often enough it's only once or twice (or, who are we kidding, sometimes not at all!), and there were stretches in my pre-mom life when I consistently ran 4-5 times a week.
I run because I enjoy it; because it connects me socially with many friends who are runners; because it's one of the most efficient ways to keep fit; and because it feels good to set and work towards goals, even if I don't always accomplish them. I'm about a 4-hour marathoner, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less, and my 5Ks have run the gamut from the high 21's to the 25's. All of this is to say that I'm a decent runner, and a committed runner, but by no means a terrific one. I don't run to win races; I run for myself - and the one thing I knew when I got pregnant with my first was that I didn't want that to change.
I had no idea what to expect during my first pregnancy. Though I didn't give it a ton of thought, I knew I wanted to continue running as long as possible and to resume running postpartum. But I also knew that no matter what I did, things would be different. I continued running distances and paces that felt good - slowing down and reducing distance gradually over time in response to how my body felt. I distinctly remember a few runs in the later parts of my pregnancy that just didn't feel right, where I ended up walking home wondering if I was done running. But then a couple days later, I'd feel great! I ended up running until I was 36 weeks, at which time I just knew my body wanted a rest. Nothing hurt, really, but I also wasn't comfortable, and it occurred to me that running was no longer enjoyable. Although this laissez faire approach might not be for everyone, I'm glad I hadn't set an arbitrary goal based on what I'd read about other runners' or even my good friends' experiences. Every runner - and every pregnancy! - is different, and one of the smartest things we can do is listen to our bodies and trust our intuition.
Fast forward a few months, and that approach served me well when I attempted my return to running. I had had an uncomplicated and non-traumatic labor and delivery that mostly involved a couple hours in a labor tub and then getting out and pushing (ok, so it's never quite that simple, but on the whole, I was pretty lucky). The day after we were released from the hospital, my husband and I walked with our newborn in the stroller the mile each way to the pediatrician's office, and from then on I walked all over town with my baby. I felt good! I was exhausted from lack of sleep, but within a couple weeks my body felt ready to be active. I diligently waited until my 6-week midwife check-up, where I got the usual ok to resume all normal activity.
I knew immediately on my first run back that things didn't feel right. I gave it a couple days, and tried again. Same thing. Nothing hurt, really, but I felt a lot of pressure and discomfort. Thankfully (I promise this is not a paid promotion!), I was able to get an appointment pretty quickly with a pelvic floor specialist at Marathon Physical Therapy. She did a thorough evaluation, and though there was nothing wrong, exactly, she also remarked something that sticks with me to this day: pregnancy and childbirth - even an uncomplicated one like mine - place enormous stress on and cause damage to our soft tissue, and it is reasonable to expect soft tissue injuries to take 12 weeks to truly heal. Sure, at 6 weeks, I was fine to resume yoga, and walking, and light swimming, but to resume running and all the pressure and impact it entails? Too soon.
It was hard waiting an extra 6 weeks to resume running. But when I ran again several weeks later, it was like night and day: my body felt great, dare I say even “normal.” Sure, I was slow from not having run in months, but I felt strong, and light, and, most importantly, ready.
My return to running went better than I had ever expected. My approach to running changed drastically. In the past, I ran almost every run at an easy pace. I’d run 4, or 6, or 10 miles, all at roughly the same comfortable pace. And I had time: I could spend an hour or two running without giving it a second thought. But now, I had an infant whom I cherished, and time away was scarce. I quickly worked my way up to 3-mile runs at my old easy pace. From there, I realized I had no desire to run longer - to be away for longer. Instead, I ran faster. And faster. Eventually, what in the past might have been considered my tempo pace or even my race pace, just became my pace.
I returned to my full-time (+) work as a lawyer, and traded my old leisurely evening runs on trails and greenways for speedy runs home from work on crowded city sidewalks, dodging throngs of Red Sox fans and tourists, my small backpack packed full and heavy with a cooler and breastmilk and pumping supplies, trying to reach my son's daycare as quickly as possible so I'd get there before they gave him that last bottle of precious pumped breastmilk. Oh, how our motivators change when we enter motherhood!
Right around my son’s first birthday, with just those few short but progressively quicker runs each week as training, I ran a 5K race and surprised myself with a glorious PR! Although it hadn't necessarily been a goal, this milestone assured me that my running may take on different forms, but will continue to be satisfying and rewarding as I navigate the ever-shifting stages of motherhood.
Around that time, I was able to drop pumping and lighten my load, but the backpack runs continue to this day as the most efficient form of running imaginable (I can run home in less time than the train!). Even on weekends, I only do short runs, not because I couldn't find the time to increase my mileage, but because my priorities have changed - and no doubt will again - and again - in the future.
I'm thrilled to share that our family is growing again; I'm about 6 months pregnant with our second! I'm still running, but this time around I feel even less pressure than I did with my first. I have confidence that I'll trust my body to know when I need to stop, and when I'm ready to start again.
I will heed the wise words of my trusted PT, and know that I might not be ready to run at 6 weeks just because I've been cleared to do so. And I know that I'll make a comeback, whatever form it may take!
Looking back, I realize I had never felt as strong, or as tough, or as fulfilled, as I did on some of those early backpack runs from work to daycare, as I was literally carrying my son's sustenance on my back and in my body, running the fastest I ever had in my life, simultaneously bridging my identities as a lawyer, as a runner, and as a mother. Life as a working, running mom with a toddler and an infant is going to be even crazier and busier than ever before. I'm up for the challenge, and I know I can do it