(enter sound of heavenly music during which a bright halo of light shines down on my running shorts)
Did you hear that world?
MY OLD RUNNING SHORTS FIT AGAIN.
Balance has been restored in the universe.
Here I am 12 weeks post-partum. The running shorts are truly a milestone. For the first few weeks after giving birth I found myself lamenting over the body I once had wondering if it would ever return. Not because I’m vain but because I just wanted to feel like myself. Nothing feels better than feeling like yourself. As athletes we are very in tune with how we feel. “Feel” is important. Imagine not feeling like you for many weeks. You begin to wonder if that feeling will ever come back.
It does. It is coming back. It’s taken some time but if you are about to give birth, trust me – you’re in there and you’ll come back again. You just have to give it time and, like anything worthwhile in life - work for it! (both during and after pregnancy)
It’s been about 6 weeks since I started back on a structured training program. It wasn’t until then that I started to notice change in my body. When I started doing what I used to do, I started feeling and looking like I used to. In fact, just today when I walked into the pool, the body reflecting back at me in the windows looked like mine. Those are my legs. I turned to the side and realized – that is my stomach. It’s not flat but at least I no longer look 5 months pregnant. Finally, I look more like me.
(though I still have not lost much weight - I've accepted that in the scale relationship, it's not me, it's you, scale, IT'S YOU)
I was very active in pregnancy (up to 90 minutes a day, yes my HR went over 140 bpm, yes I gained weight - plenty! - yes I made a healthy baby). I wasn’t going very far or very fast but the physical activity felt so good – and I think it played a big role in my recovery and return to sport. At times I felt like a whale in the pool and by the end I was walking so slow it felt backwards. But I kept moving. You’ve got to keep moving in pregnancy.
I’ve heard a lot of stories about how it takes forever to come back after a pregnancy. You read horror stories about it taking 2 years to lose the weight or you’ll never have time to workout again. Who are these people? If you want something bad enough, you’ll work to make it happen. I know many athletes wonder (and worry) about what will happen after the baby. Will they ever get fit again, will they ever feel fast. I don’t know the answer for sure but if I can reassure you – the answer is that as long as you stay active during pregnancy, you will regain your shape and fitness much quicker than you think.
When I started a structured program at 6 weeks post-partum, I was able to actually jump back into “real” training. Real training in that I didn’t have to teach myself how to swim bike or run again. If you can maintain some semblance of all three sports, you won’t have to waste time re-learning them. You can go right back into base training. In fact, pregnancy is like an extended period of base training. At times it was boring yet I told myself that pregnancy was an opportunity I might never get again – 40-plus weeks to focus on form and base fitness, technique and strength.
I kept up with activity until birth then took about 4 weeks of recovery where I just walked. At that point, I was itchy, so itchy to get back into a routine. I knew that was exactly where I wanted to be. At the junction of I can’t wait and I get to do this! Talk about fire in the belly! But honestly at the same time as I got back into training, I got a little scared about how slow I would be. So I didn’t measure anything. No Garmin, no power meter, no heart rate monitor. I left it all at home so I could learn to reconnect with feel and just focus on feeling good out there.
But all good things come to an end and at some point there had to be tests. Not because I was going to set personal records but because accepting your baseline is an important step in setting realistic goals, committing to your improvement and knowing exactly what you need to do!
A few weeks ago I talked about my swim test. It went much better than I thought it would. Considering I was swimming nearly 30 seconds per 100 slower in the last trimester, I was expecting a pace much slower than I tested at. I ended up only 2 seconds slower per 100 than my best test ever. Since then, swimming has been coming back slowly but surely. Each time I get into the pool, I’m able to sustain a faster pace for longer. To me, the challenge of swimming is just a matter of learning how to take your top end pace and string it together for one more 25, then another, then another. Right now I can sustain a fast pace for 200 then it falls off. The good news is that I have all winter to work at it.
Last week I did a bike test. I forgot how much fun those are! KIDDING! There is no hiding during this test. You have to go into it rested, ready and with a strategy. If not, you’ll blow up in the first 5 minutes and then see your watts fall for the next 15. I had my strategy and I nailed it. And then I reflected on the result. Sure, I’m a few pounds more right now but my watts were only 2 lower than they were at my last test. 2 watts! I might have done the happy dance in my basement after that!
Running is coming back, too. Around week 8, I was told to run one mile at an all out pace and did so at a pace about over 1-minute slower than what I used to do. But I didn’t run for 5 months. I knew I would need to just give it time. I’ve also heard that running is the slowest to come back after pregnancy. I always thought after pregnancy that running would feel huffy puffy hard. Instead, it feels biomechanically hard. Inside I’ve got the pipes but my biomechanics cannot keep up with me. I’m relearning how to run the right way – to get that snap back in my step. I keep working and waiting for my pipes and my biomechanics to work together again. When they do, I know that’s when running will go back to feeling fast and effortless. In the meantime, I’ve got a 5K coming up to assess where I’m at.
What I’m really working hard at right now is strength. Each week, Kate finds a way to make me more sore than the week before (and I’ve learned if you tell her you weren’t sore last time, she’ll find a way to make you sore the next time). At times I want to whine and tell her a weight is too heavy or a lunge is too deep but then I remind myself that it’s not supposed to be easy. No one ever said it would be and if it was – everyone would be strong and winning. If you want to get there, you’ve got to work for it. The 60 minutes I spend with her is some of the hardest work I do all week.
Fitting in the workouts is getting a little more challenging because we’re running out of daylight. Each day, Chris and I have to sit down to figure out a way to make it work. Some nights he walks in the door, I hand off the baby and head out on my bike. Other days he rides to work. He runs at lunch. And other mornings I’m up at 5:15 am heading to the pool.
In the past week, I started using the daycare at the gym while swimming. The first time, Chris and I headed to the pool after his work day and decided to test out the daycare center. I almost couldn’t do it. We walked in to find one girl who looked about 12 years old holding a screaming baby with 5 other small children surrounding her. We left Max in his carseat, in the corner and she assured us he would be ok. We walked out, spied in the windows to see all of the children now standing around Max’s carseat. Breathing on him. Maybe touching him. I don’t think I’ve ever swam 3000 yards so fast in my life. The next time, I went alone and checked on Max between swimming and strength training. I am sure the staff thinks I’m crazy.
My body has changed, my speed has changed – well, a lot of me has changed. Some changes are good, others I’ll learn to accept. But the best change has been that I go into workouts now so excited, healthy and fresh. On top of that I have this incredible little person in my life now who makes me appreciate every day. Every day he does something new or teaches me something more about myself. Today I learned how special it feels to have someone who just wants to be held by you. My arms are the most comforting place he knows right now. I never imagined I could be that important to someone. It’s a pretty powerful feeling.
Some people will try to convince you that you need to do a specific workout, follow a particular diet, wear a Garmin, use a certain coach, etcetera to achieve success. I don’t know. What I’m learning is that being healthy and happy is a lot more important than any of that. Healthy makes your body able. Happy keeps your mind in the right place. Of course the success I achieve is to be determined. But each day that I’m stronger, faster….convinces me that if I want to go there, I’ll get there. It’s just a matter of figuring out where my 2011 destination will be.