Thursday, May 18, 2017

A New Starting Line

To answer the unknowns from the last post, my longest race to date started eight weeks ago (four days later than estimated) and ended with one hell of a finisher’s medal.

The short version of the race report: I labored an ultra’s length of time and pushed for multiple marathons worth before ultimately getting a DNF and requiring a c-section. Baby and I are healthy—obviously far and away the most important thing—but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed about needing the C. The disappointment didn’t come from worries of a serious operation, or in failing to finish the traditional way, or even the more intense initial recovery—and longer stay—at the hospital. The disappointment was mostly in the long-term recovery: when could I run again?

While that might sound ridiculous—given I was going on no sleep, had the demands of a new baby, and couldn’t even sit up in bed unassisted or lift anything heavier than Baby—in those stressful first days and weeks, all I wanted was a good mind-clearing, endorphin-releasing run (even more than a nap). As everything in my life drastically changed, I wanted to do something that felt like me again. I had gained this huge new role (that I didn’t really know how to take on) and I needed a reminder that the old me was still there too.

Before giving birth, my doctor had told me, based on how my pregnancy had gone, that I would be able to resume exercising pretty quickly, “unless you have a cesarean.” At the hospital, a doctor told me I might be fine after a month, but I was scared given everything I had read about c-section recovery. (It should be noted that, just like every pregnancy is different, every recovery is different. Once again, that ambiguity proved frustrating.)

I was able to go on walks, but they didn’t have the same effect as a run, so after a month or so I sent a note to my doctor in desperation, asking if there was anything I could safely do besides walking. A nurse emailed me back, saying I could increase my exercise in intensity and duration as I saw fit. I didn’t know what to do with that; it was so vague. Why can’t someone just tell me exactly what to do? (The same goes for parenting; although everyone loves to give advice, it’s all contradictory, negating any helpfulness. What should I actually do??) How can I listen to my body when my body feels so different these days? My abs were complete mush; although expected, it was shocking to be so devoid of working muscles. I was desperate to do something, but simultaneously terrified I’d hurt myself.

Walking with Baby.
I decided to start with a couple elliptical workouts that were so short they didn’t feel like workouts at all, but more like a waste of time; I don’t think I broke a sweat. But caution was key and when those seemed to have no ill effects, I went for a little longer, taking a least a day off in between. I started walking faster and one day broke into a run for about 30 seconds. Running felt foreign; I was completely stiff and uncoordinated, like an un-oiled Tin Man trying to jog. And my abs, not my legs, were clearly working the hardest. (A reminder that we use our core a lot when we run, though we don’t notice until it’s gone.) A few days later, I ran for one minute at a time, walking a few minutes between each, for a total run-walk (mostly walking) of 30 minutes. My boobs hurt more than my abs or incision, which I took as a good sign (and learned to wear a better sports bra).

After what seemed an eternity (one’s sense of time is totally morphed by a baby), at six weeks, I had my check up with my doctor. Seeing her in person and hearing I was healing well made me feel a lot better about my attempt to start exercising again, and she confirmed I was fine to run, lift, do yoga, etc. so long as I took it slow, taking a day off in between efforts and stopping if anything felt weird (and waiting a week to try again).

Armed with new confidence, I’ve continued my run/walks while slowly inching up the run parts and decreasing the walking. I don’t feel like I get my heart rate up or get out of breath, but it's surprisingly tiring. I feel uncoordinated and heavy, even though I’m much lighter than the last time I ran (at 39 weeks with an 8+ pound baby in me).

Since Baby, I’ve often felt overwhelmed—not unusual in a new parent, of course. I have no idea what I’m doing 99% of the time and I’m constantly worried about this perfect little child and how I can screw things up. The first few weeks involved many moments of tears and thinking I just couldn’t do it. I couldn't possibly keep up this constant crying/feeding/crying cycle. But my running-centric Instagram feed offered this quote, which struck me as perfect for a new mom: “Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t.” (As many people told me, it gets better and indeed it already has.)

A part of me feels overwhelmed by the long road ahead of me in running as well. I haven’t been this out of shape in nearly a decade and I have a whole new load of responsibilities at home now. I’ve never come back from pregnancy or major surgery, so I have no script to follow. I worried about this constantly on my walks-that-weren’t-runs. How will I ever get back to where I was? But now that I’m running, even for just a few minutes, those endorphins have started working their magic. I don’t know how to be a mom (though I’m learning), but I do know how to run (despite what I look like on my Tin Man-esque jaunts). 

The pregnancy/labor finish line means a new starting line—as a parent and a runner with eyes on 2020—and overcoming the things I once thought I couldn’t.

Getting back in shape might be tough,
but I've got an adorable new fan to cheer me on.
Dream big,