Updated: May 12, 2018
Mums on the Run USA is excited to announce a monthly blog post dedicated to the all the amazing moms out there! Each month we will highlight one mother and her experience through pregnancy, postpartum, and journey getting back to running.
It is my delight and pleasure to introduce Kristin Kearney - a dear friend, runner, triathlete, and new mom as our first ever Mum of the Month!! Kristin is no stranger to the struggles that come with motherhood. She truly embodies hard work and determination, whether its training for an ironman or being a mom. She has shared her story for us from the beginning of becoming pregnant, though pregnancy and childbirth, to becoming a mom and parent to her beautiful little baby boy, Conor.
Hi, I’m Kristin!
I am an ironman triathlete and now a new mom. It’s funny, being an “ironman triathlete” used to define me, and now I feel like being a mom comes first before saying that I’m an athlete. My last race seems like it was a lifetime ago. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but wow life is different now and so are my goals and expectations.
Let’s back up a bit here…
In 2015 I was racing the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. It was my second Ironman in 7 weeks, after having just raced Ironman Mont-Tremblant in August and qualifying for the “big event.” I was training 15-20 hours a week while working a full-time job. Swimming, biking and running was my life. I felt like being a triathlete defined who I was and I was 100% ok with it. I thought about how one day I might want to have kids, but it was not a priority, racing was.
Fast forward to summer of 2016, I had a stellar racing season (my best one yet) and worked really hard to get on the podium at my fourth Ironman, Ironman Vineman. I achieved this goal and was the fittest I had ever been in my life. Not only fit for endurance, but also with my strength. I had finally dialed-in things like nutrition and race fueling and I was feeling on top of the world. A few months later in October I got married to my fellow triathlete hubby Brian and we decided it was time to start trying for a baby. I knew this would mean giving up training and racing for a while, but I was ok with it (or so I thought).
I found out I was pregnant in December 2016. I knew something was up when my swim paces were significantly slower and I was out of breath after the easiest of workouts. Sure enough, I was pregnant! Mentally, adjusting to not training as hard or as fast as I used to was difficult for this athlete. I wanted to still be an athlete AND be pregnant. That’s when a huge reality check smacked me in the face, I really had to adjust my expectations, and this was hard. I even signed up for some races, which I ultimately didn’t end up doing. I told myself, I was going to stay as fit as possible when pregnant and I was also going to work on my strength and stability in order to prevent any injury while pregnant or postpartum. I worked out nearly every day of my pregnancy, rarely taking a day off. Exercising is when I felt my best and it was when I didn’t really feel pregnant, despite the slower times.
Running while pregnant.
Having been a runner before a triathlete, running has always been my favorite way to exercise. My goal was to run throughout pregnancy, while keeping the mindset that I might have to give it up at some point during the 40-ish weeks. I held onto the belief that I could try for as long as my body allowed me to.
At around 16 weeks, I started to get some pelvic pain, specifically in the pubic symphysis area. It was like a dull ache, a weird kind of pressure. I was starting to gain some weight and it just felt like a strange pressure “down there.” With the help of my physical therapist, I started to run with an SI belt around my lower waist. Wearing the belt kept my pelvis stable and kept the sensation I was feeling to a minimum. I was feeling the effects of the hormone relaxin, and I just felt more loose and wobbly than before... it was a strange feeling. I describe running while pregnant as: feeling as though you are running in someone else’s body.
I had to remind myself, on days when I felt discouraged, slow, and tired, that it was not “ironman Kristin” who was running it was “pregnant Kristin.” That we were two different people. I had to RESPECT that. Once I respected that fact that I was not running as my pre-pregnancy self and let-go of my athlete self/mind
set, I felt much better. I started to enjoy runs more. I didn’t wear a heart rate monitor the more pregnant I got and I barely looked at my paces. I continued to run each week, trying not to run through pain and stopping when things got uncomfortable. I will never forget having to pee every 5 minutes, THAT was fun! I ran until I was 39.5 weeks pregnant. Running felt the best to me pregnant vs other things like biking. Once my belly got bigger, biking was just super uncomfortable. I was running an average of 15-30 miles a week during my pregnancy. It was a really special way to bond with my baby too. I loved running with him and feeling the kicks every once in a while. I loved taking him places with me. I was due in August, so I had the entire summer to run outside. It got really hot towards the end and resorted to the treadmill. It also made it easier to be close to a bathroom for the very frequent pee breaks!
Once my running distance went way down, I started to focus on strength training. I knew that being strong would not only help me in labor, but it would help me postpartum when trying to come back after having a baby. I focused on strength training 2-4 x per week. Doing lots of stability exercises, while being careful not to strain my core too much. Having been aware of abdominal separation (diastis recti) I wanted to do everything I could to prevent that from happening. Early on in pregnancy, I gave up any core exercises that would make my abdominal muscles “push out” or “tenting” as they call it. I was careful to not get out of bed by doing a sit up, but instead I rolled out of bed to the side. I stopped doing things I loved such as planks, since I didn’t want to put too much strain on the area.
Again, it was about “letting go.”
Now was not the time to work on my six pack. I also did lots of glute exercises, to help prevent the “mom butt.” I did lots of
bridges, single leg deadlifts, band walks, squats, lunges, etc. I swear my legs looked stronger when I was pregnant than when ironman training. The day before I went into labor I did 100 squats! In addition to strength work, swimming felt the best when my belly got bigger. I was in the pool on an average of 4 x a week when I was pregnant and I loved how weightless I felt. I swam 2,500 yards the day I went into labor.
Speaking of the day I went into labor…
My water broke on my due date, August 25, 2017. After that happened, we went to the hospital and I was mentally preparing for what was to come. I knew I could be in for a long labor, since I heard the first one usually is. I treated it like getting ready for an ironman. I had taken labor classes, read books, talked to multiple friends about their experiences, but nothing prepared me for what was about to happen, I had to just go through it. Every labor is different. Everyone has their own story. My labor ended up being extra long and after ~ 40 hours of trying as hard as I could, it was time to talk about a c-section. Something I had feared all along, I didn’t want a c-section. I didn’t want to be cut open, I wanted to try harder, longer, but Conor had other plans. The safest and smartest thing to do was to
have him go “through the window” so that’s what happened.
A healthy baby boy, Conor Benjamin, was born at 5:01 PM on 8/27/17, 7 lbs 11 oz. I had been monitored for a “small baby” so I was shocked at his size!
My 2-day childbirth class at the hospital I delivered at spent all of FIVE minutes covering what to expect with a c-section. One other pregnant girl in class even had to leave the room because it was too hard to listen to? (I thought, are you serious? This could happen to you, it could happen to anyone). All I remember learning about in class was about cauterization… and it’s true. You really do smell your skin burning when they are making the incision. I’m talking about this because no one else ever does. Thankfully my husband was there to remind me to breathe through my mouth, in and out. Another thing I wish I had known is, you feel things. You don’t feel pain, but you feel pressure. You feel the baby lifted out of you as if a weighted vest is taken off your stomach.
Since I thought I was going to have a vaginal delivery, I was in no way prepared for the recovery that I was about to face with a c-section. No one talks about it. I thought I would be having a vaginal birth recovery and that is all I was mentally prepared for. I also was not prepared for the emotional aspect that would come with having an unplanned c-section.
The emotions were real. I thought I was giving up. Like with an ironman, I didn’t want to give up with labor, I wanted to keep trying. But this was a different race. I was not in control. I had to give up and surrender, it was about the health of the baby, not winning a competition. And as it turns out, my pelvis is not designed to birth a baby that way.
My recovery in the hospital happened over a 4-night stay. The silver lining of the extended stay was, more help breastfeeding, more help with nurses while you are recovering… oh and the nursery where my baby could stay for a few hours while my hubby and I got to sleep (USE the nursery, trust me). Since I had not learned much about the recovery of a C, I was not in any way prepared for the amount of soreness I would feel. I will never forget my first trip to the bathroom, once my catheter was out. I needed two nurses to help me out of bed, then they had to sit there while I peed – which feels really weird after the catheter (no one tells you that either). All modesty was now out the window, I didn’t care at that point.
There was not much education from the nurses on how to properly get out of the hospital bed. My incision hurt like hell and getting out of bed took a nurse and/or my husband to help me.
Thankfully, my PT gave my instructions on how to roll out of bed and this really helped. There was also no advice on using an “abdominal binder” to help with the incision soreness and holding everything together. I couldn’t help but think about all the women that aren’t told about something like this. I also wondered why they don’t hand these things out AT the hospital, in addition to nursing pads, disposable underwear, etc. it should be routine for c- sections I thought.
I had to keep reminding myself that I had just had MAJOR surgery. Things like, coughing, sneezing, getting up and down from the toilet, bending over, picking things up, were all nearly an impossible feat. Everything seemed to hurt my incision and I was so afraid of tearing it open. It was really hard on me because I could not pick up Conor from his bassinet, I couldn’t walk around holding him, I couldn’t get out of bed with him. The only time I could really hold him is when I was nursing him or he was sleeping on me. It was flat out devastating. My husband got to do all of the things I couldn’t do, and it broke my heart. It also really messed with my head. Those post-partum hormones were ragging and now I couldn’t pick up and hold my baby on my own? Talk about gut wrenching. There were also feelings of guilt, feeling sorry for myself, that I was robbed of having a "normal childbirth experience," that I couldn’t do that my body is “supposed to do.”
Once we got home, the healing continued. I knew my healing and recovery would take longer than a vaginal birth, but I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I healed. I started with short walks within a few days of being home.
I had to learn to be gentle, to practice grace with myself. This was not going to be easy. It was, in fact, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
I had to be patient. I had to trust myself. I had to learn to use my legs a lot for things like picking up the baby – which took weeks to be able to do, and I relied on my husband a lot. I am breastfeeding, so this was an added challenge with the incision site – it took a long time to be comfortable with the nursing pillow and this was an added challenge while trying to learn how to breastfeed.
It took about 5 weeks for my incision site to not feel sore on a walk. This being said, I was not in a huge rush to get back into running. For those 5 weeks we took lots of walks together as a family and it was some of my most cherished time as a new parent. By week 7, I was given the green light to start exercising again. For 6 weeks I was told by my post partum PT, to not do ANYTHING except walk with the baby. I couldn’t lift weights of any kind, no core work, no swimming, no biking, nothing.
I didn’t mind this break because I was just enjoying Conor so much and I knew I had to heal. For once in my life, I wasn’t in a rush.
Running started slow, real slow.
My first run was 1 min of running and 1 minute of walking two times. I ran for a total of two minutes. It felt really weird and I didn’t feel like myself at all. It was hard not to get discouraged, but I remained patient. I continued to follow the plan of easing back into running and did the 1 minute running, 1 minute walking plan until I got to around 40 minutes total (20 minutes total running). This took about 8 weeks or so. There were days I thought I could go longer than one minute at a time, but I told myself not to rush things, that it would be worth it in the end. I was right. By the end of my get back to running program, I was running 20 minutes straight, PAIN FREE. Before I knew it, I was doing longer runs, but kept
things conservative. I was fearful of injury and I wanted to the smart thing. Conveniently, doing “longer runs” coincided with going back to work full time, so this was a nice stress reliever for me.
Here I am 6 months post partum and I’m finally feeling like my old running self. I’m hitting faster paces and it feels like I am back to how I was pre-pregnancy. The hardest part honestly is not the actual running, that comes easy, it’s adjusting my expectations. Being a working mom makes it harder to get the workouts in. I try to fit in running during lunch or after work on most days. Running is the most convenient workout because you can do it anywhere.
When it comes to biking, it’s a little harder to get those workouts in because they are longer in length and my trainer is set up at home with my bike, not at work. Getting swim workouts in is nearly impossible since I am with Conor before and after work. I don’t want to miss out on time with him to get my swim workouts in, so I’m doing those mostly on the weekends.
There are days when I miss the ease of getting long workouts in, where a long
swim, bike or run was all I had to worry about for the day. Those workouts also used to be the highlight of my day. Funny how things change. I am still nursing Conor and hope to continue to nurse for as long as he wants it, or as long as I’m able to.
I really enjoy our morning feeds and I’m not willing to give those up just yet to get a workout in. I won’t get this time back.
What the future holds...
When it comes to my future and racing. I’m undecided. I have plans to race a half ironman in June and maybe an additional race or two after that. Honestly, I’m not super motivated to race a ton at the moment. When I’m ready to get back into racing a lot, I’ll know when the time is right. It might be months, it might be years and that’s ok. I’m going to see how training goes this spring and that will help determine my next steps. For now, I’m going to just enjoy my little guy as much as possible.
I cannot wait for the day when I get to see him at the end of a finish line. Now THAT I can look forward to. Everything else will fall into place…
You can find out more about Kristin on her blog sweatcourage.com and follow her on Instagram @sweatcourage.