Fuelled by months of lockdown and no racing, the summer of 2020 saw UK long distance hill running records toppling at a staggering rate. Decades-old records were broken not once, but twice in a season, the classic rounds all changed hands, and new ones emerged.
Saturday, February 6, 2021
Bump and Baby, Second Time Around
Meanwhile, I was delighted to walk the Pentland Skyline route (26.6km, 1890m ascent, course record Angela Mudge 2:42:29) in a little over 7 hours. It was you see, the first hill day I’d had in months, and I was doing it in the company of my 4-week-old baby son, Bryn. We had a couple of breastfeeding stops on the way in the heather, and I celebrated at the finish with lemonade, tea and ice cream. It was good to feel tired again from physical exercise, rather than the absolute exhaustion which I’d experienced at times during this second pregnancy.
During my first pregnancy I enjoyed running, and even occasional racing, right up to the day our daughter Rowan was born. In contrast, and contrary to my expectations, being pregnant felt much harder second time around. For the first 4 months I was permanently exhausted, as if I might fall asleep on my feet at any moment. I tried to keep up some form of daily run before work - partly because it helped to ease the constant nausea - but it was rarely more than 3 miles along the flat, and even that tended to involve some walking. It was during this period that I ran the only two races of this pregnancy, although in the abominable weather (Trigger) and general chaos (Devil’s Burdens Relays), my slowness didn’t really stand out. At 5 months my energy returned, but within a month I’d started to experience Braxton Hicks contractions (practice contractions for labour, it turns out that with second pregnancies they can start months in advance) whenever I went for a run. I purchased a support band for my belly, thinking that maybe less bounce would mean fewer Braxton Hicks, and it did help for a couple of weeks, but then I started to experience pelvic girdle pain. In the end, the only exercise I found myself able to do (bearing in mind that coronavirus restrictions were in full force, and so gyms and pools were shut) was running reps up the slope of the reservoir dam beside our house. For some reason, the angle made running pain-free, and it felt good to raise my heart rate a little, in the 12m of ascent each rep provided. Each day I’d aim to do a session of 20 reps, for which I always had the company of our dog Moss, sometimes even Rowan. At 36 weeks even this activity became uncomfortable, and I switched to short swims in the reservoir (by this stage in the season the water had warmed up sufficiently, since I obviously couldn’t fit in a wetsuit anymore), enjoying the feeling of weightlessness.
Bryn was born at 41 weeks, after a drawn-out early labour of 2 days (who said second babies come faster than first babies?!). Coincidentally, Sabrina Verjee was making her way around the Wainwrights at the time, so there was a tracker to follow at all hours of the day and night, which proved to be a welcome distraction. Thankfully Bryn’s birth was without complications, and we returned home later the same day to start life as a family of four.
I waited until almost 6 weeks postnatally to attempt any running after Bryn was born, which is how long it took for my pelvic girdle pain to settle down. In the meantime, I followed advice from the postnatal physiotherapist I had visited after Rowan was born and worked on my pelvic floor and abdominal muscles. (I subsequently visited her again, for my ‘mummy MOT’ after Bryn; I really recommend a check like this for any mum getting back into training after childbirth.) When I did start running again, it was very gradual, just short jogs interspersed with walking, letting my body guide things. At first, it felt strangely stiff and unnatural, but within a couple of weeks things had loosened up and running became more enjoyable again. At 3 months post-partum I felt ready for some more structured training, and thankfully Damian seemed pleased to coach me again. There have been a few hiccups along the way (including frustrating metatarsal pain that took a month to fully clear up), but Bryn is now almost 7 months old, and I’m beginning to feel my previous fitness and stamina creeping back. I’ve also started doing three-times-weekly live strength sessions with Strength for Endurance, which provide great motivation (especially for someone like me, who finds strength work much more appealing in company) and are great fun. Sometimes Rowan joins in, offering to ‘help’ by clasping my head on her lap during hamstring raises, or sitting on my back as I do push ups, whilst Bryn happily chews on a resistance band in the corner…
I hope that this blog doesn’t read as a series of pregnancy complaints, it wasn’t meant to. Rather I wanted to give an honest description of the second experience, just as I did about the the action-packed first. Having children has made me incredibly happy, and I am grateful every day for my family, knowing how lucky I am. As for running, I am determined to make time for it, even in the chaos that two little ones bring (at the moment, getting out of the house is my biggest challenge running wise!). Not necessarily because I need to remain competitive, but because it makes me happy. It is my bit of daily self-care, and ultimately makes me a better mum.
Looking ahead, it is hard to know what this year will bring. I am hoping to run the Ultra Tour Monte Rosa in September, and Konrad has an entry for the Tor des Geants the following week, which will make for an active family holiday. If races don’t go ahead, I expect we’ll see another record-breaking season on the UK long distance hill running circuit. In that case, I hope to have more ambitious targets than the Pentland Skyline this time around…