I’m writing this post not to brag about my accomplishment, but hopefully to help someone who searched “marathon training postpartum” or “marathon while nursing” like I did when I was training, and to thank those people who wrote the posts I read and who brought me much relief and confidence.
So there I was in February 2011, nine months pregnant, when the email came from the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon folks announcing that registration was open for October race. Over lunch I bounced up and down on the elliptical and was seized by an undeniable urge to register for the race. After completing 12 marathons I hadn’t raced since August 2009 and I missed it. So I signed up and didn’t tell anyone.
Beatrice was born in March, and I studiously followed my doctor’s instructions for no strenuous exercise after a C-section. At my eight-week postpartum appointment I got the all-clear and went on my first run that night. It felt giddy. “Hello Breanne!” I thought to myself as I ran. “There you are! Welcome back!”
Heading out for my first postpartum run
My typical marathon training schedule is 12 weeks long and starts with long runs of 10 miles. Since I had to build up my base again first, the 20 weeks from May to October that I had to train felt do-able. I knew that with taking care of an infant, the busy-ness of summer, and going back to work, I’d need lots of flexibility in my schedule, so my strategy was to allow myself twice as long so if I didn’t get a long run in every weekend it was OK. And from late June through early August that’s how it went: I did a long run of increasing mileage one weekend and a short run the next because I simply couldn’t get it in. But since I had enough time it was working – I wasn’t having trouble going further and further every other weekend.
Early on I intended to add in my usual hill training and speed training (typically one workout a week of either), but it never happened. I think my gut was telling me that if I added that on top I’d get injured. But looking back I did do a lot of runs really fast – mostly because since I was nursing I had to fit them in between feedings.
While I was still on maternity leave my mom came over one night a week to help out so we could get our runs in (thanks Mom!). Going back to work actually helped me, because I was able to run over my lunch break (and since I had a private office, I didn’t have to use a break to pump milk).
Which brings me to my main point: running a marathon postpartum was one thing, but doing it while nursing added a whole extra element of planning. What made it possible was that my husband (who was also training for the race) and I really had two goals while training: take great care of Beatrice, and train. As these were our only priorities we were able to structure every weekend around running and nursing. Typically I’d wake up, nurse Bee, get ready and have breakfast, then sit down to nurse Bee fully dressed and ready to go, then throw her at Adam while I raced out the door and ran, got back, ran into the house to the couch, nursed Bee, then showered, etc. as Adam left for his run. Thankfully her time between feedings matched well with my running schedule — at the beginning both she and I could only manage a four-mile run; by the end she even made a 20-miler! (About 3 hours).
This part is for those searching “marathon while nursing – help!” and is full of breastfeeding TMI – so feel free to skip this paragraph! So I was really panicky about running the race and going for 5-6? hours without nursing. I’d always been diligent about regular feeding and pumping and hadn’t gone anywhere near that long during the day, and I was afraid my boobs were going to leak everywhere, be super engorged and uncomfortable, and give me that really anxious panicky overfull feeling. I fretted about this while running for weeks. Finally I did a lot of searching and found stories of women who said it was OK for them, especially if you were 6 months-plus out. As the race got close I realized that I’d be fine and there was nothing I could do about it anyway. The morning of the race I nursed Bee and then pumped to get a good empty start. What I didn’t realize is that while running the race there would be so many other physical sensations to distract me (sore feet, thirsty etc.) that it wasn’t that hard to ignore my swollen boobs. My Lululemon sports bra has cup liners, so any leaky milk got diverted downward with my sweat. (My back-up plan if things got a little bulls-eye-y was to throw water on myself).
I’d had some good training runs so I felt in good shape, but I was really wary of being cocky. I mean, who was I kidding? Postpartum mom, just started running again, who did I think I was? So it wasn’t until halfway through the race that I realized, hey, this is going pretty well, and allowed myself to pass the four-hour pacers, which felt like the height of arrogance, but I did it anyway.
In the last 2.2 miles I passed 250 people and had only 2 people pass me, so it’s safe to say I had some energy left and had been a little modest in my pacing. I raced down to the finish to tie my personal best time – 3 hour 55 minutes! I was stunned, and thrilled. I sped through the recovery area and met my awesome parents (who’d watched Beatrice and cheered us on at several points), and my cousins and aunt who were there to support us and my other cousin, who also ran the race.
I reveled in my glory for a bit and then picked up Bee, and sat under a tree and lifted up my finisher shirt, pulled up my sweaty bra, and nursed her. I wasn’t much for public nursing (not because of my shyness, but because Bee was incredibly squirmy and easily distracted from three months on) but in that moment I felt like the most powerful, proud mama in the world.
For more post on pregnant and postpartum running, check out:
Training for the big day: Exercise during pregnancy (working out during my second pregnancy)
Running at all, four months postpartum (postpartum running with 2 under 3!)