Sunday, July 1, 2012

Running, post-baby

One of my oldest friends, Cyndi, from Lynchburg has just recently had her first baby—an adorable little boy named Porter:

Seriously, isn’t he a peach?!  And FYI, Cyndi is thinking of starting her own blog, so can everyone who knows her please convince her that this is a fabulous idea—I for one would love to see more of that adorable boy (and his beautiful mommy)!

Cyndi emailed me the other day asking how I fit running back into my routine that first year after my kids were born—those tough months after you’ve gone back to work, but are still nursing and your precious, sweet time-sucker is nearly 100% dependent on you.  I remember, Cyndi; and it is hard.  Exercising during maternity leave is tough enough—you’re sore, surviving on very little sleep and are learning to adjust to life with the tiny, little human who you love more than you ever thought possible.  But at least when you’re on maternity leave, you can time-shift your day.  If a morning run isn’t possible because the baby is still sleeping (and you really could use another hour or two yourself), then you can run after lunch.  But once you reenter the workforce most of us have exactly two options for running—pre-work or post-work.  If you miss one window, the other one may not be available and there goes your run for the day.

But, this is how I was able to do it:

I could never have done it alone

It must be said that without Will’s tireless contributions, I could never have gotten back into running.  I am a morning runner, which means then (and now) I primarily run when everyone is still sleeping.  But when you have an infant, that sleeping-thing is no guarantee.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Frances was an easy baby.  By the time I returned to work, we could count on her sleeping until 6am (after one or two nighttime feedings) before she was up and ready to start her day.  I knew as long as I could get my run in before 6am, Frances (and her daddy) would be asleep and not hungry.

George was a different story—George had colic; George had allergies; George contracted every cold, flu, croup, and bronchiolitis there was to catch.  And George was a voracious eater.  If I fed him at 3am, he was sometimes up at 4am (and then 5am; and then 6am) wanting more.  There were many times I would feed George, get dressed as quickly as possible for my run, head out the door, and come home to find George and Will watching a rerun of Sports Center on ESPN for the second time through.

But Will never minded (or at least that’s what he said and I believed him because I needed to believe him.  I needed those runs).  He understood that I felt unfulfilled and miserable if I did not get in my daily exercise; and he never hesitated to do what he could to ensure that would happen.

Support is key.  Help is crucial.  Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for it, every single day.  As they say in Franklin Lakes, NJ, “Happy Wife.  Happy Life.” 

Mornings, mornings, mornings

I am convinced that if you are not already a morning person, your child will turn you into one.  I’m not sure if it’s that babies are happier in the mornings and tend to sleep better and longer past midnight or if parents are beyond exhausted come 8pm and couldn’t imagine taking one more step past the couch, much less in running shoes. 

I snuck in every run by making sure it was in the morning.  With Frances, that meant before 6am.  With George, that sometimes meant at 3 in the morning.  Yeppers,th at is 3am, my friends.  Ridiculous; certifiable; irrational.  But I remember those runs vividly—dark, cold, silent, all the while thinking to myself, “Please let this be one of those ‘harder times’ that I’ll look back on later with appreciation.  Please don’t let Will think I have completely lost my marbles.  Please don’t let that be a black bear I see up ahead going through someone’s garbage.”  Don’t worry, I have yet to see a bear; but at 3am your mind can play some pretty mean tricks on you.

You will lose sleep.  I guarantee it.

There’s no way to soften that blow—by adding one more thing to your plate (running!), you will sacrifice others (sleep!).  I know this because sleep is always the first priority to go—you will eat, you must work, and you absolutely would never want to forego time with your sweet one (while he or she is awake, that is). 

But I also know this—that lost sleep is worth it.  An hour of running on 4 hours of sleep will make you feel better and more energized than 5 hours of sleep and no run.  Both scenarios are bad; but at least one included a run.

Nurse and go

That was the case with both of my babies—I nursed them that first (or sometimes second) early morning feeding and made a beeline for the door.  The instant their tiny mouths detach from you, the clock has started ticking for the longest period of time before they will need you again.  Do not think.  Do not even look at your bed.  Get out and run.

And if they do need you again before you can get back, that’s when your support system will kick in.

Invest in a great jogging stroller

Someone gave us a BOB jogging stroller before Frances was born and it saved me many a heartache.  I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t discover the infant car seat attachment until George was born (poor Frances was pushed in our jerky, bumpy Graco stroller for her first year), but we still used it all of the time.  Whatever your stroller of choice, it is well worth getting one and using it on those runs when either you have no one to watch the baby or you just feel like you want some company.

And here’s the kicker (and what I wished someone had told me when Frances was born)—use it now.  Before they turn 1 and start having opinions.  Because I thought that I would use the stroller much more once Frances could sit up, eat snacks, look at the birds, and watch the cars go by.  Except what you don’t realize with your first baby is that toddlers like all of that for about 10 minutes.  After that, they start to cry, then scream, then wail and just generally act like you are torturing them.  And then you find yourself turning around and sprinting back home after having run less than a mile.

When all else fails, bag the run and exercise at home

If I can’t run, I need to do something, anything that results in a racing heart and a sweaty shirt.  My at-home exercise of choice is Tae-Bo, but it can be anything (I’ve been dying to try one of those intense workouts like P90x or Insanity).  I check them out from our public library until I find one I really like and then buy it (usually from Amazon, which seems to have every conceivable product on the market).

These videos won’t replace running, but they will keep your momentum going and keep you from feeling as sluggish or out-of-shape.

Some things I didn’t have, but that would be helpful for those that do

A 24-hour gym.  Our local gym doesn’t open until 5:30am, which to any other normal human is plenty early.  But when your ‘easy’ baby wakes up at 6am and your other one will likely be waking up earlier than that, 5:30 does not give you enough time.  Gym-time flexibility would have been great.

A treadmill at home.  Who needs to belong to a 24-hour gym when you have your own in-home equipment?  I know I would have used one of these lovely contraptions a lot in the beginning.  But there is no way we are squeezing one through our 1960s Dutch colonial’s small front doorframe, much less into any of our overstuffed rooms.  If you are lucky enough to have one, use it!

Flexible work schedule.  Running during lunch or any other time of the day when your baby is in daycare is a great option.  It just never was one that worked for my schedule, since my days were almost exclusively spent in court or with clients.

Finally, it goes without saying that “this, too, shall pass.”  In other words, in just as many months since his birth, he will change immensely.  He will start sleeping through the night.  You will stop nursing.  Your morning routine will slowly morph into something that can accommodate a less-crazy schedule.  But I am a sound believer that establishing and asserting your need for these daily runs is just as important (almost more important) when they are infants.  Your child will grow up with memories of their determined, hot, sweaty mother coming home from her runs tired but happy.  You are planting a seed; you are telling them that I need this, I love this, and one day you will, too.

That was quite a dissertation and the sad thing is, I know I will think of 10 things I forgot to say; and very likely on a morning run.  In any event, I hope this helps, Cyndi!

Happy Sunday, everyone!


  1. Ok, so this has nothing to do with running post-baby, but since you're my exercise and fitness guru, I'm going to ask you here anyway.

    Since you've been running for a long time, I would imagine that you've dealt with a wide variety of injuries. Have you ever had to deal with tendonitis of any sort? I ask because I think I've dealt myself the tendonitis card due to my dumb self and running too frequently at the beach. (Since the fitness centers on the island didn't open until 7:45 or 9:00, way too late in my opinion also, I decided to run every day. By day five of consecutive runs, I knew I had hurt myself, in spite of knowing that what I was doing wasn't exactly my smartest move even when I was doing it.) One ankle/foot is completely fine and the other is still not doing so great.

    Just wondering what you did to get through it, if in fact you've been through it? I rested entirely for a week but then I was climbing the walls so I've since jumped back into the game (elliptical only thus far). Do you recommend stretching? Before or after? Ice? Heat? Witch doctors? Hypnosis? How do you go about getting back to where you were prior to the injury? So many questions!

    I know that these minor bumps in the road should make me all the more grateful for my mobility and a healthy body but they're so frustrating nonetheless. Anyhoo, enough about my silly feet.

    On a different note, thanks for answering my email. You SO passed the test! (I agree with you wholeheartedly, as you probably suspected...) I'll be answering your reply in greater depth as soon as I dig myself out of this messy black hole that has somehow become my house...

    Hope you guys are doing well!

    1. Sara - I am FINALLY answering your question. I think these soaring temperatures have put my brain on half-speed, so thank you for your patience. I've definitely had tendonitis, although it has been some time. Beach running is so tricky, too (if you did run on the actual beach). You think it would be soft on your joints, but with the slope of the shore, it can cause some interesting side effects and injuries. Ice (20 minutes), rest, elevation and Advil (or any ibuprofen) are your best bet. But in all honesty (and very likely NOT the answer you want me to say), if it doesn't get any better in a week or two, you should see an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports injury (almost every practice group will have one). I've tried to self-diagnose myself in the past and failed miserably. The OS can really safe you a lot of heartache if it is something other than tendonitis; and you never know, it may be a simple cure after all!

      And don't worry - I have done infinitely more 'dumb' things in the past than you could ever imagine. Running is nothing but trial and error, but I'm convinced that makes us better managers of our body in the long run : )

      GOOD LUCK!!