Saturday, January 5, 2019

A running mum's year

As 2018 turns to 2019, it seems like a good time to reflect on the running year gone by, in particular the challenge of coming back after having a baby. Winning the British Championship this year was a real surprise, and a great honour. But it would be a lie to claim it was easy, so I felt I should write down a few lines - with other new mums in mind - to say how it really was.

Firstly, I should point out that I have been incredibly fortunate, and that I’m well aware that my challenges pale in comparison with those of other new mothers. For a start, I had a straightforward pregnancy and was able to carry on running until the day my daughter was born. Secondly, I had no major trauma following childbirth (I’m currently working with a physiotherapist on closing the separation between my abdominal muscles – diastasis recti – but this is fairly common after pregnancy, and actually hasn’t been a major barrier for me in terms of exercise). Thirdly I have a very supportive family, in particular my husband and parents, who make it possible for me to get out running and racing on a regular basis.

Nevertheless, I still found it hard coming back to running form (I’m actually not sure I have arrived there yet – I realise now that my ‘pre-baby’ expectations on this subject were somewhat naïve!). When I first started training again it was a bit of a shock to discover how unfit I’d become, friends I’d run with comfortably in the past now seemed impossibly fast. Trying to do too much too soon, I picked up a tendon injury and had to reconcile myself to the gym for two miserable months. With the return of the light came a return to the fells, but all too soon also a return to work. Training became a juggling act with baby time, training frequently taking second place, or losing out altogether. To reconcile the two, I started to train from 5-6.30am before work, whilst my little family were cosy warm in bed, but it wasn’t easy, especially after a night of broken sleep (our offspring is not of the ‘sleep through the night’ variety).

Looking back at the end of the season I was slightly surprised, but extremely happy with what I had achieved (British Champion, and being competitive again at a world level in Skyracing at Glencoe Skyline in September). However, maybe as a consequence of contentment, my motivation to train took a definite nose-dive. I found it harder and harder to leave my bed for the cold darkness outside, and realised that I needed a new focus. So I did something crazy, and entered a race I’d vowed I would never ever run, the Spine (a 426km race non-stop along the Pennine Way in mid-January). Realising I’d need to up my game and run more than 30 miles a week in preparation, I also started training in a focused way for the first time in my life. We’ll see whether that’s worked in a week (eek!!!).  The bigger challenge might be of another kind however... my intention to complete the weaning process over Christmas suffered a big blow when Rowan got two viral infections back-to-back and refused to take anything except breast milk for 5 days. Now I’m trying to work out the feasibility of pumping at every checkpoint to keep myself milked... 😉

Spine training with a pack...

I believe there will be a tracker to follow my progress (or lack of), excellent procrastination for those dark January workdays in the office!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A baby at mid-camp, and other running tales from a new mum

It’s 5 in the morning, and I’m already climbing out of the valley, my sights on the sun-tipped summit above me. The record from our Czech cottage to  Boubín (1362m) and back stands at 1:52 (Václav Paris, 2012), a time that seems impossibly fast to me today. I’m not even taking the fastest route, and there’s a good chance I’ll need to stop somewhere along the way.

Team Paris-Rawlik(jr.) set the Boubin buggy record

There’s a difference to this summit bid though... it’s a team effort, and only one of the pair is pulling their weight. The other is asleep, wrapped in a sheepskin to keep off the morning chill, dreaming of her next feed. She doesn’t even wake up when I reach the col and transfer her to the carrier, stashing the buggy in the bushes as I clamber the last 1.5km upwards along the boulder strewn track. I reach the top, touch the cairn and turn, supporting her head with my hand as I pick my way down. Back at the buggy I execute a hasty changeover and we’re running again, flying down the hill through the forest. We arrive back at our cottage in time for breakfast. My teammate sleepily stretches and smiles, clearly delighted to have run our target sub-3 hours time (2:53).

My teammate is our daughter, Rowan, born in November just 10 days after her last fell race as a ‘bump’. She surprised everyone by entering the world bottom first, eschewing convention from the word go. Seven months later, I’m preparing to go back to work (Konrad will be on baby duty for a couple of months now), and it seems like a good time to write up the next instalment of our running diary.

In spite of Rowan’s unconventional presentation, I was lucky to have a fairly straightforward labour and delivery. By the following morning we were out walking with our dog Moss, and within a couple of weeks I was venturing into the Pentland Hills with Rowan in a sling on my tummy. At 4 weeks post partum I started a bit of gentle jogging (with Moss, I didn’t run with Rowan until she was 6 months old), and after my 6 week GP check I slowly eased back into training. Konrad and I developed a routine in which he would look after Rowan every day from 6 to 8 am whilst I went running.  Other, more innovative ‘maternity leave training’ strategies included hill reps and intervals, whilst Rowan slept in her buggy in full sight.

Ready to race at the Mourne Highline
Returning to fitness wasn’t all plain sailing. I pulled something in my back when lifting Rowan up in the night, and just as I’d recovered from that I developed mild posterior tibial tendonitis (an injury I’ve had once before), which grumbled on for about 6 weeks, stubbornly refusing to settle. With these breaks in training, my first serious race back - the opening counter for the British Fellrunning Championships (Mourne Highline, Ireland, in April) - arrived all too quickly, and I lined up on the start line feeling somewhat unprepared. The weather (pea soup fog) and the linear course (necessitating that I finish) did little to quell my nerves, and I purposefully started well down the field. To my great surprise, I not only made it back to the finish without getting lost and before Rowan started to cry, but I also finished first lady. The rough terrain helped by slowing everyone down, as did the fog (I raced Emma Gould for much of the race, but she went wrong on the final descent), nevertheless it was a great boost for post-baby running morale. Caitlin Rice, a good friend who also started out with Glossopdale Harriers, finished second, which I was delighted about. She has since won the short counter (Tal Y Mignedd), which we didn’t travel to, so the next two races in the British Championships should be exciting. 

My next race, just a week later, was the Teenager with Altitude in the Lake District (24.7km, 2300m ascent). Rowan had received her vaccinations the day before, and spent the majority of the night awake, so my preparation wasn’t exactly ideal, although it did involve a generous amount of midnight cake eating. The day was also unseasonably hot, more suitable for swimming than running, but it did make for wonderful views. Sharon Taylor had a great race, and although I could see her in front of me for much of it, I had nothing in my legs to mount a credible chase. Nevertheless, it was my longest run since having Rowan, and I was plenty happy with the result.

On Beinn an Oir (second Pap)
A month later, after another chunk of training and a couple of 24-hour round supports (a Bob Graham and a Ramsay – both involving ‘pass-the-baby’ from daddy to mummy between legs), we travelled to Jura for the annual highlight of my racing calendar, the Jura Fell race. It felt great to be there, racing, and part of the scene again. Despite a fall coming off the third Pap, during with I slashed my knee open (fellrunning legend Wendy Dodds and I had matching injuries at the finish, although she had 4 stitches, whereas I just got glued together) I finished in 3:49 (1st F, although still 11 minutes off a PB). The following day Liz Barker and I swim-ran the islands of Small Isles (more on that to follow), and the remainder of the week was spent taking Rowan onto the Paps for her first race recce, introducing her to the sea, and trying not to let her eat too much sand.

Team coach, in obligatory LAMM mid-camp attire
On Thursday we headed north to Harris for the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon (LAMM). To those who don’t know, a mountain marathon is a 2-day orienteering-type race, which is run in teams of two, carrying everything necessary for an overnight camp. When this year’s fantastic location (Harris) was first announced last winter, we predicted it was going to be something special, and set about trying to work out how we’d be able to compete with Rowan in the mix. We made a plan that involved my mum carrying Rowan into mid-camp, where she could sleep with me and breastfeed overnight before travelling to the finish the following morning with my mum. Luckily for us the organizer Martin Stone was incredibly accommodating, and set up a private email correspondence with my mum to ensure she would know the mid-camp location (something we wouldn’t know until our clock started ticking on day 1 of the event). Konrad and I had originally planned to run the Elite class, but after some deliberation we switched over to the Score class, on the premise that the 7-hour daily time limit would be preferable as a fixed end point for Rowan. I expressed a bottle of milk for day 1, and my mum packed the breast pump for me to use at mid-camp to do the same on day 2. We were set to go.

It felt simultaneously ridiculous (most people wouldn’t even dream of mixing the two), and also completely natural (fell runners are not most people), to be travelling to a mountain marathon with a baby. In the end, as I predicted, the support from everyone was overwhelming, and Rowan was made to feel very welcome. In fact, she was extremely well behaved and even those camped right beside us hardly heard a cry. Moss, who also walked in with my mum, actually caused more hassle, as he went acutely lame overnight and thus secured himself a lift out of mid-camp on the boat with the injured runners on day 2 (by the evening he’d recovered, so we think he just wanted a boat ride). 

Reviewing our route choices at the end of day 2
Anyway, to get back to the race... We had a steady first day, neither of us feeling particularly brilliant, not taking any risks and finishing with 10 minutes to spare. It was a little too hot for racing, but the views were absolutely spectacular, in particular the final descent to mid-camp (which was located at Loch Crabhadail, a splendidly remote stretch of soft green grass beside an incredible white-sand beach). Being amongst the first teams back, we were sure that others would pass our temporarily leading score of 300. But we were wrong; by the end of the day we were still in front, albeit with several teams barking at our heels (with scores of 295, 280 etc.). With this incentive, we went out hard on day 2 and gave it everything to try and keep the lead. We even took the option (which secured a 50-60-35 point control trio) of climbing back over An Cliseam (799m), a summit we’d already bagged on day 1. We cut it fine, a little too fine in fact, and finished 2 minutes over time, both falling at the finish control – me because I tripped up, Konrad because he was overcome by the heat. Still, we came away with a day 2 score of 379 points (385 minus a 6 point time penalty), which gave us a comfortable margin over the next team. Martin announced at the prize giving that this had been the last ever LAMM, and received a thoroughly deserved standing ovation that refused to finish. In these circumstances, our win felt particularly special. Although as I’ve come to realise, the greatest prize in any race is now the little person with the beaming smile, waiting for us at the finish line.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Adventures of the Bump - Part 2

Scrambling in the Alps (photo Jasmin Paris collection)
After the excitement of the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon (LAMM) described in instalment 1, Bump’s adventures continued with a trip to Gran Paradiso National Park, in Italy. In theory, this was to be a relaxing week of ambling across the mountains, with frequent opportunities to sample the local cuisine.  In reality, it started with a 2000m ascent out of the Aosta valley, carrying all of our gear (in Konrad’s case this included all of the group kit, in my case it included a 20 week old foetus), and continued with a fantastic technical scramble, fortunately aided by a plethora of ladders and chains. On day 2 we descended into the valley to rendez-vous with my brothers, and assured by them that they had plenty of food to last us all for the remainder of the trip, we re-ascended into the high mountains. For the next 3 days we climbed up and down (and up and down, and up and down...), swimming in icy mountain lakes (except Konrad, who is a wimp), and sleeping under the stars in the company of Ibex. Rather predictably, our food supplies dwindled, and in the face of rationing my threshold for what qualified as a ‘hard cheese’ (many soft cheeses being on the ‘no no’ list for pregnant ladies) became increasingly dubious, justified only as an effect of the day’s heat 😉 As is always the case, the week ended far too soon, and we parted from my brothers already making plans for how we’d manage wild camping with the Bump next year.

Enjoying the Sun at Gran Paradiso (photo Jasmin Paris collection)

Bump reaching 3000m (photo Jasmin Paris collection)
Upon returning home to Scotland we were keen to make the most of our altitude training, so looked around for a suitable challenge. The local Caerketton Hill race, a gnarly 3.6km out-and-back, with a testing 300m climb, seemed just the thing. Competition was fierce, and Bump put up a valiant fight against Bob, catching him at the summit, only to be overtaken again on the descent. I’ve promised Bob a re-match next year...

Catching Bob at the summit (photo Steve Fallon)
 Unfortunately, this was Bump’s last race for some time, owing to a sacroiliac injury I sustained whilst scything the most overgrown area in our ridiculously large garden (I have since come to the conclusion that we should just get a couple of sheep). Since cycling had already become impossible (the forward position my bike forces me to adopt is not very compatible with a Bump), I contented myself with outdoor swimming – at least I did until about month 6 ½, when I could no longer do my wetsuit up.

At 7 months pregnant, just about able to run again, I took part in the ROC Mountain Marathon with my trusted partner mum. We opted for the Short Score Category, theorising that this would give us the option of taking the most direct route to mid-camp if necessary. As it was, the claggy conditions probably favoured our slow pace and ample navigation time, because we managed to collect quite a reasonable score, when one considers that our team included one baby, and one artificial hip, in addition to the required kit.  Day 2 was splendid, and we enjoyed seeing the views we’d missed the previous day as we navigated our way back to the Event Centre.  We finished as first Female Vet team, (48/114 overall), in spite of a 15-minute retrospective time penalty for having accidentally crossed a boundary line (we were just one of several teams that did this, and the Race Organiser agreed that the line was not visible enough on the maps, but understandably a penalty had to be imposed).

Team Paris at the ROC (photo © Steve Ashworth)

At 36 weeks pregnant I ran my first ever Parkrun (our local one is Vogrie), inspired by my dad Jeff, who has been participating (his local one is Glossop) for the last year, with an ever-faster weekly time. Konrad sped off and won easily, in 17 minutes something, whilst I started steady, and enjoyed the feeling of running on the flat rather than hauling the Bump up a hill. We gradually started making up places, and I finished feeling really good, in 23 minutes 35, which made me 4th lady on the day, and 30/148 overall.

The feeling of easy running didn’t last long though, as the Bump dropped down a few days later, settling in its new position directly atop my bladder. As a result, I felt for the first few days as if I was carrying a bowling ball between my legs, with my ‘running’ resembling a ‘fast-forward waddle’ rather than anything remotely athletic. My plan of running the Tinto Hill Race (7km, 460m ascent) two weeks later suddenly seemed like wishful thinking, but as the day approached I grew accustomed to Bump’s new position, and decided to give it a go after all. And so, at 38 weeks pregnant exactly, I lined up for the start of Tinto, along with 243 other runners, waiting for the starter’s signal. In the event, I didn’t actually hear this (I was so far back), but I knew from the forward rush of the mass in front that the race was underway. 

Bump racing at Tinto (photo Charlie Ramsay)
The race was great. I started very slowly, and gradually moved up through the field. I think I must have smiled the whole way - I was having such fun. I lost a few places on the way down, since I was being very careful not to slip, but still surprised myself by finishing 148th, in 49:01 (for reference, our recce, done on a very windy day – but at 4 weeks less pregnant, had taken us 1 hour 8 minutes). Bump was very well behaved, and didn’t force a single wee stop 😉   

I wont pretend that running during pregnancy has always been easy. There have been days when I’ve turned around and walked home thwarted by a stitch, or been plagued by constant stops to empty an already-empty bladder. And yet, in spite of the challenges, running during pregnancy has also been fantastic, for so many reasons. It has held my gateway to the hills open, and thereby kept me sane. It has kept me feeling fit, and more confident about the challenge of pushing Bump into the world. It has allowed me to keep in touch with friends, and stay part of the scene that I love. And maybe the Adventures of Bump and I will even have inspired other ladies – those who might otherwise have feared to do so - to keep up the sports they love, when they have Bumps too.