Well, I did it! I completed my first race back after 9 months postpartum. On Saturday 6/16/18 my husband and I raced in the Patriot Half Ironman in East Freetown, MA. I had a lot of trepidation and mixed emotions going into it, as well as weeks of on and off motivation. So here is the race recap, my training to get me to the starting line, and reflecting on the entire experience.
The day before the race I made a packing list for my husband and I of all the things we needed to bring with us for the day. For anyone who has done a triathlon or has a kid, you know that BOTH mean a lot of GEAR! We each had a lot of gear just for the triathlon itself in order to swim, bike, and run, but also for pre/post race, as well as for our darling 9 month old Stella.
During Stella’s morning nap the day before the race, I packed up most of our stuff so I didn’t have to do much of anything last minute (this stresses me out). We carbo loaded up with crepes and pasta, then went to bed late and slept poorly:)
We woke up at 3:59am to Stella, one minute before our alarms were set to go off! For some reason she woke up 3 times that night, which was unusual for her regular once a night feed. I fed her twice overnight, including at 4am. However, I wasn’t planning on this. The plan was to wake up at 4am, load up the car quick, make some coffee, grab the baby and hit the road. But once our baby was awake things took longer:)
We made it out the door just before 5am and got to the race just before 6am. Unloading the car, getting our race packets, and setting up in transition was pretty seamless. My goal was to be as organized as possible so I could mindlessly set-up, then feed Stella before warming up in the water before the race started. I really wanted to get in the lake with my wetsuit because I hadn’t swam in open water or in my wetsuit for 2 years. I like to get the “open water panic” out of my system before the race starts.
However, I tried to feed Stella and couldn’t get a let down. Maybe because I was feeling nervous and stressed, or maybe because I had fed her 2 hours before and multiple times overnight, I just didn’t have enough milk for her. I opted not to bring my breast pump because I’ve never had any issues breastfeeding. After about 20min trying to feed her without success, the race started. It was a rolling start, which means 2 athletes start every 5 sec, versus a mass wave start. This meant I didn’t have to rush to the start line...but I was getting upset and close to tears. I was going to be racing during Stella’s next feeding around 11am, so I HAD to start the race as empty as possible. I knew I would be racing somewhere between 5:30-6hrs at the fastest, and would be bursting by the time I was done.
I didn’t really know what to do. The race had begun and I only had a few minutes before my wave was starting. Then a miracle happened!
My friend Kristin (@sweatcourage), who has a baby 2 weeks older than Stella and was also doing her first race back postpartum, came over and offered me her breast pump. Now THAT is true friendship!
I was able to use her pump and empty out as much as I could for a few minutes. I didn’t end up getting much milk, but at least I knew there wasn’t much in there anymore! Stressed, relieved, and clearly dehydrated, I gave the pump back to her husband Brian and jumped into my wave ready to go! “What the hell am I doing” kept going through my mind. Kristin and I took a quick pic, wished each other luck, and jumped in!
I love the rolling swim start because you don’t end up swimming on top of each other as much. I’m not a strong swimmer and never have been, so I didn’t have high expectations. It was a beautiful morning and the lake felt great. Other than some choppy waves on the way out, I actually really enjoyed the swim.
Once I was in the water and swimming, having a stressful pre-race and rushing to get to the start line faded away. I was alone (sort-of) and it was quiet. I was able to just let it all go and focus on my swim.
Since I really only have one speed (slow), I used the swim as an opportunity to focus on my open water technique and practice sighting. I regularly drift to the right while swimming, so on a counterclockwise course I tend to go a little wide of the course buoys and swim a little extra. It’s also easy to get sloppy when you’re out there. I’m working on my “pull” so I thought about that most of the time.
I got passed by A LOT of people, as I’m pretty much one of the slowest swimmers out there (489/580). One of the last waves to start were the younger men and they quickly cruised by me. I only got aggressively crawled over by two dudes (who I hope had the race of their lives).
On the straightaway back to shore I focused on my transition...wetsuit off, cap and goggles off, dry off feet, socks on, shoes on, sunglasses on, helmet on, watch lap...visualizing is key for me. I scrambled ashore totally exhausted and 8min behind my PR time (and about 4-5min behind typical pre pregnancy time). I thought, OK, we’re doing this, that wasn’t so bad (I even liked it!), let’s keep going...one down, two to go!
I started off too fast on the bike. I knew I was going too fast, but it felt SO good and the adrenaline was pumping. The course was two 28 mile loops of relatively flat terrain with a few rolling hills. My swim was so slow that I was racing among the waves behind me, women over 40 and men under 30. I was getting passed but also passing people (even a couple from my age group!). Mostly I just held steady with a few women who were riding the same speed as me.
Towards the end of my first loop, I realized my average pace was 19.4mph. I couldn’t believe it! I knew I was going too fast to totally sustain my pace, but I was so excited that I could even still bike that fast. My PR for 70.3 was average of 19.3mph, which gave me my first sub 3 hour bike time (in 2015).
I never expected a sub 3 hour ride would be a possibility today. Once I realized this, I got really excited. And as a new mom, of course I teared up a little. Then I thought of Stella and teared up a little more!
As I finished the first bike loop (28 miles), I saw my baby sound asleep in her stroller and knew I could keep going. I needed to just stay steady. I was definitely way more tired on the second loop, and ran out of water at one point. I used GU while riding, and Scratch in one bottle which worked really well for me. I also had to pee and it took about 15 miles before I was able to actually go! Yes, I peed while riding. Yes, I could have stopped to get off the bike, and no, I wasn’t anywhere close to winning anything so saving a little bit of time to pee while riding probably made little difference other than making sure I scooted in under the 3 hour mark. Needles to say, this is something I hadn’t done since Ironman Lake Placid 2014, so I felt like I needed to practice for another future Ironman!
By the end of the second loop I was so excited that my time was going to be sub 3 hours. I was fading, and my watch went from averaging 19.4 for the first loop, to 19.2 towards the end of the second loop. I ended up averaging 19.0 mph over 56 miles, way faster than I thought I could do it!
I have been riding indoors on a trainer since pregnancy, but have only done a couple rides outside. My longest to date postpartum was 30 miles a few weeks ago. I rode 25 miles a couple times while in Arizona in March, but other than that, short rides indoors. My bike speed is coming back, but my endurance is nowhere near where it needs to be for a half Ironman.
I knew this as I pulled into transition, afraid that I left too much there out on the bike course for the run. I knew my run fitness was the only part of this race I truly felt prepared for, but as I got off the bike and ran into transition I nearly toppled over. My legs were SO tired. For a few seconds I actually thought I was going to drop my bike and fall over, but I regained my composure and slowly jogged across the grass over to my spot at the racks.
I told myself, “this is going to be tough, but there are two down and just the run left, and you know you can do this.”
I had visualized my transition again as I finished the bike.
Helmet off (I have forgotten to do this before and started running with it on...no surprise there!), sunglasses off (switched to my Goodr glasses that look way cooler than my bike ones:), shoes off. Glasses on, number on, shoes on, GU in back pocket. Lap watch. Go.
As I hobbled out of transition, I saw baby Stella with her aunt and uncle on the sidelines cheering me on. This gave me such a boost! I stopped for a quick kiss and pic and check-in, then hit the road.
Ouch. My legs were so sore already and my quads were cramping on both sides. My calves were also feeling really tight and just as fatigued as my quads (clearly doing too much work on the bike…). I remember thinking, “I really wish I had practiced running off the bike…” but with an infant at home, my bike rides were almost always over when Stella woke up. I think I did one post bike ride run in Arizona while visiting my parents. That was not enough for this race!
However, I made it to the run and was so happy to even get to this point in the race I didn’t care that my legs were toast. I knew I could get through a half marathon. I’ve done enough racing and enough marathons to know my limits.
As horrible as my legs felt, I knew they might start to loosen up after a couple miles, and my first 2 miles were 7:55 pace! I felt exhausted, and it was ~85deg, but I only had one pace. I couldn’t speed up, and slowing down felt exactly just as bad, so I just kept going.
I passed maybe two people on the swim, and only a few on the bike, but know I was picking people off. Mostly men who had passed me on the bike, HA! I also knew that my husband Dan was behind me and had started ~20min back. I knew he would swim faster than me, maybe bike faster, and if he was having a good day would be catching up with me very soon.
(I didn’t know this at the time, but he was 4min behind me off the bike.)
Every mile was slower than the last. My legs were cramping ~2 miles, but a salt chews helped a lot. I had also missed a pumping session around 11am and my milk production did not slow down despite the race. My boobs were uncomfortable to sat the least!
I stopped to go to the bathroom at mile 4 because I had started to get the shivers. I was either overheating, or really had to pee. I felt much better and glad I gave up the 30-40 seconds to go. However, the shivers were from the heat, and I knew I needed to be very careful. I’ve overheated during a race before and did not want to repeat that experience!
Not that I could have run any faster or slower, at that point, but even trying to push myself further would not have been safe or successful!
I chipped away at each mile, stopping for water, ice, and sometimes flat Coke when they had it. I find towards the end of a long race its hard to digest anything anymore, and the thought of more sport gels can be sickening at that point. Flat Coke eases my stomach and gets enough calories in to finish the race.
I still hadn’t seen Dan. Was he right behind me? Was he ok? I was kind of hoping he would catch up to me and we could finish the race together. I had already accepted the fact that he would probably beat me, even though he trained even less than I did. Somehow he has a way of pulling it together on race day.
I overheard someone say during the race, “yeah, I’m just going to take what I can get…” and I thought, me too! I’m so happy to even have made it to this point in the race, and so happy with my bike, that I will take whatever I can get from these legs.
I knew I was going to finish, and didn’t care about my time at all by that point. Just keep moving.
All I could think about was Stella. I missed her and I wanted to see her. My boobs felt like they might explode. It was like running with rocks on my chest that were getting heavier and heavier. It wasn’t painful, but it was not comfortable!
I focused my mind on keeping a good cadence, and maintaining good trunk rotation with every step. Rotate, rotate, rotate. Maximize your form, don’t waste any energy. Thinking about this and my next cup of ice kept me busy. Thankfully it was a pretty flat course!
The turnoff for the finish line wound around the parking lot and down a field past the lake. I rounded the corner into the finishing chute and ran as strong as I could. I saw Stella on the sidelines and was so happy I was able to finish for her. I couldn’t wait to pick her up in my arms, and to finally feed her!
It was such a sweet finish for me. Not my fastest half Ironman, but it was my second fastest! Tired, dehydrated, and happy, I drank as much water as I could, ate a little snack, then hobbled out of the finish area to see my sweet Stella!
I nursed her while we waited for Dan, who had hammered the bike (huge PR here) and was now walking the half marathon. Poor guy just hit the wall and had nothing left in his legs! But I beat him fair and square!
I finished with a time of 5:42 and 9/29 in my age group (my PR is 5:27)
Swim: 47:12 26/29 in my age group
Bike: 2:56:41 10/29
Run: 1:53:28 5/29
After the swim I was 489/580...yikes...but ended up 140/580 overall by the end. Not so bad!
After the race I felt so thankful that it was over. I also felt so thankful for my body being able to complete the race. I was exhausted, sore, dehydrated, and so so so tired. Overall, I felt really satisfied. I thought going into the race I would be disappointed that I didn’t get more training in. And yes, in hindsight it would have been a more comfortable race with a few longer bike rides and some open water swimming, but I had to let it go and give myself a break. It’s not worth it to me to do a race if it’s not fun. Not every moment is perfectly enjoyable, but truthfully I had a great time during the race. The swim was relaxing, the bike was fun and satisfying, and the run was really hard but I was in my element. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
I think the biggest disappointment with not training enough, and this is true for anyone whether you had a baby or not, is that you don’t maximize your potential. It’s hard to walk away from a race knowing there’s more in you, that you can do better, and be faster. I think I’ll always feel that way until I can return to normal training again. But that’s ok, it fuels the fire and helps me create new goals. Some days I really care, and some days I don’t. I try to put things into perspective and am just very thankful to get to the starting line healthy with a healthy baby and a happy family.
The next morning I was SO sore! Dan and I both felt like we got hit by a bus. There is no pain compared to childbirth, but spending 3 hours on a bike brought back painful memories! The good new is, my GLUTES were sore. Quads and calves definitely, but being sore in my glutes means I was using them.
Doing an event like a half ironman certainly motivates me to come up with some more goals! I’d like to do some shorter races now, but also want to keep doing the longer distances. We’d like to have more kids eventually, so the longer races might have to stay long term goals for now (like Ironman…), but in the meantime I’m going to keep focusing on my strength, chip away at my speed, and get in some endurance training when I can.
Get more sleep
Work on my bike power
Work on my swim stroke
Be consistent with track workouts
Be consistent with strengthening
Don’t put too much pressure on myself
I’m a firm believer that you get out of a race what you put into it. Miracles don’t happen on race day. If you have a good race it’s because your training came together and you executed perfectly. I wasn’t under any illusions going into this race, which is probably why I was so scared. I knew my training wasn’t where it needed to be. However, this wasn’t my first half Ironman, and after doing an actual Ironman a few years ago, you kind of know you can do anything if you pace yourself!
I signed up for the Patriot Half last October, about 2 weeks postpartum. My last race was the Boston Marathon while 4 months pregnant, and last triathlon was the Boston Triathlon in 2016. At the time it seemed like it was a long ways away, and I like having a goal to help motivate my fitness. I chose to do a triathlon because the combination of swim/bike/run is a great way to get back into shape after having a baby. It’s important to vary your activities in order to develop a balanced routine for your body.
Swimming and biking are both low impact and can be done as soon as you’re cleared by your OBGYN to start exercising again. Running is higher impact and takes a little more time to get back to, but for triathlon training you only need to run a couple days a week.
I started doing some gentle strengthening to target my abdominals, glutes, and pelvic floor just a couple weeks after giving birth. I wish I could say I did them everyday. I did focus on my posture every day though! After a few weeks I definitely felt stronger and was able to get good core and glute activation. I was walking a lot and looking forward to exercising again. There was no reason for me to rush back into it before I was ready, and my whole body still felt really weak (and soooo tired!).
I waited for clearance from my OBGYN to do anything more than walk and gentle strengthening. She gave me the go ahead to start running, but I knew I needed a little more strength first. I started with the bike. Those first few sessions were short, and I had to wear 2 pairs of bike shorts to get enough comfortable padding! I have a bike trainer at home, so it’s easy for me to set it up while Stella is sleeping and ride while she naps or plays. However, short naps have been the biggest barrier. At first, my rides lasted maybe 15-20min before she woke up or wanted to be picked up (she napped longer than that, but I tried to get some chores done before getting on the bike).
As Stella got older she napped longer, and I was biking 30-60min a couple times a week. Occasionally I did some interval training too (but mostly rode while watching the Bachelorette or Fixer Upper)...
I eased into running somewhere between 8-10 weeks postpartum, and followed a very conservative program that I give to all of my injured and postpartum patients. It worked great. Other than some lingering hip pain that I had during pregnancy (that is still lingering), I never had any issues.
Eventually I started going back to the track once a week with my running group Liberty Athletic Club. The return was slow, but speed came back faster than I expected. It was my endurance that was seriously gone. By this point Stella was old enough that I could start running with her. If you’ve never run with a jogging stroller, get ready to work hard! It was liberating to finally be able to take her with me, and gave me a lot more autonomy with my training.
It was easy to get one long run every week, and it was fun to go as a family with Stella and Dan. I was surprised how quickly we were able to build up to 10 miles. I guess years of running does make a difference!
I used to exercise ~6 days a week before having a baby. Now I’m aiming for 4-5 days a week, even if all I do is some strengthening exercises. This is still a mental challenge for me, but something I’m trying to accept.
My running was coming along, I was biking regularly indoors, but I was not swimming. The pool is across the street from our condo, but I just couldn’t get there. Obviously it’s not a place you can easily bring your baby to hang out while you swim, and lap swim time was 8pm. Many days I told myself I would go at 8pm when Dan came home from work and the baby was asleep. I did a couple times, but mostly I wanted to make dinner for my husband and spend time with him. Plus, I have yet to sleep through the night and am so tired that I just didn’t care about any fitness or race by the time 8pm rolled around every evening. I’m sure other parents can relate to this!
I probably swam a total of 6-7 times before the race, and none in open water. As much as swimming is a great postpartum workout, it is hard to get to the pool unless you have childcare. When it comes to swimming I can make more excuses not to go than anyone you’ve ever met, but truth be told I just didn’t have any motivation to go at 8pm. I’m so tired all the time.
One month before the race Dan, Stella, and I went on a two week trip to Europe. Even with the best intentions of doing some triathlon training while on vacation, we didn’t do much. We walked a ton, had some great hikes, and even did some running. But no swimming or biking, and definitely some wine drinking! This certainly didn’t help with the race, but it was totally worth it!
I’m still learning you have to adjust your expectations and give yourself a break. Not only did I give birth nine months ago, but I have not slept through the night since before she was born (I slept poorly during most of my pregnancy). I don’t have enough time to train hard for an endurance race, but I also don’t get enough rest to support that lifestyle.
As soon as the race was over, it’s back to being mom, no matter how tired you are!
When I take a step back and think about far I’ve come since Stella was born, I’m pretty happy with my progress. I didn’t train super hard for this race, but I did train and stay as active as possible.
I’ve been pretty patient with myself. I try not to get frustrated that my fitness isn't where it used to be, but life is so much sweeter now with Stella which makes it easier. I'll take what I can get! I don't have any future races planned, but will hopefully do some shorter ones this summer. In the mean time I will enjoy being active with Dan and Stella, and enjoy feeling like a badass mom triathlete!