No Products in the Cart
We all aspire to be the exception to the rule. Especially when we see other Mums on Instagram and Tik Tok who appear to have it all and return to their sport of choice post-partum without a speedbump.
When I began writing this blog, I wanted to talk about what it’s like to run as a Mother, how it was in pregnancy and the recovery, but, for the most part, it has been an uphill battle (which you may not see immediately on social media) and was compelled to share an honest view so that others could learn something from this new chapter in their lives, too.
If I thought ultra racing and training hit me hard mentally, I had no idea how much pregnancy and motherhood would affect my relationship with running. I have run for just over sixteen years and I’ve loved my fair share of road running, but ultras and trails have been a true passion and escape from such a busy life in the few cities I have lived in, including Dubai. So, when a love as consistent as running is taken from underneath your feet (and this isn’t just true for parents, it could be injury or sickness), your comfort zone of consistency and happiness is shattered and you don’t know how to fix it. You panic.
The past two years have therefore been a recurring tidal wave of thoughts flooding my mind- in between sleepless nights, explosive nappy changes and crying- from when can I run, when can I run-walk, when can I head to trail, can I do a 2-hour run if I pump milk just once, will it hurt if I don’t pump enough, will I have enough energy, when can I do my next ultra?
I recently listened to a podcast by Brianna Battles* with guest Vanessa Long, an athlete and Mother who expressed these thoughts perfectly, saying that as you become a mother with the drive of an athlete, you constantly fight to get back your “normal” and that fierce athlete you once were because you a, love it and b, you’ve never known any different. What she also said in the podcast, however, was that in this pursuit she became exhausted, more disappointed with herself to the point her training didn’t compliment her relationships outside training but compromised them. And then she said the magic words: there is purpose in the patience.
As runners it’s in our nature to justify and analyse our every move, whether it’s our running technique or our hours we put in that week. My biggest question I’ve had to try and answer in order to make me feel like I “belong” again in some way to my former runner, is where am I right now? And discovering that building foundations again, even though it’s been months and months slower than I thought, are foundations nonetheless, however long they take to build, because taking the time to heal physically and mentally and putting quality into training now, is sure to set me up 5-10 years and beyond from now.
The ultra-attitude never leaves you, and when I have bad days where I have no childcare – very common in the UAE- and can’t get out of the house, or I feel too exhausted after a whole day of caring for my child, I have to put into perspective how far I’ve come. I’m sure for many Mothers, this is relevant, too, and each story is unique.
Disclaimer: safe in the knowledge that I knew my own body what it could do, and with the advice of doctors, I competed in the Oman Desert Marathon 6-day stage event, 165km while my son was the size of a blueberry in my tummy. I also went on to race a 25km trail race and again a 30km trail in the UAE when I was 16 and 20 weeks, respectively. I ran throughout my pregnancy and I really did my best to “get back to it” 12 weeks post-partum, run-walking on the treadmill, starting from beginner level. This was during covid, and like many parents, with no extra pairs of hands and a tiny space to keep active. Nowadays, I’m back on the trails, managing often five-hour challenging training runs, slowly working on my technique in the week and fitting in some strength training.
Another disclaimer: I have been lucky. Some mothers are required to stop running altogether in pregnancy because of the way the baby is positioned in the uterus. Even for me, at 30 weeks pregnant, my son pressed on a nerve that made my L5 ligament (a strip that runs the full length of your leg) go completely numb after about 5 strides. Some cannot move too much because their pregnancy has a high risk of complications. Post-partum, running Mothers also have to deal with the pregnancy fallout-which, by the way, you don’t expect will happen but it does-: prolapse, tears, leaking, loss of running form because you’ve had a bump there for months.
All this, for many would be enough to throw in the towel and consider another sport or do nothing at all. But as I said previously, the ultra-attitude has a way of coming back. Because we don’t run just to bust a gut every week with 12 hours+ of training. We are part of a community. My dear friend, Sid Wills in Serpentine Running Club, London always says “running is magic”. Sid has just turned 81 years old and still runs regularly. There must be truth in it. Sure, it’s magic as a parent because I love running out of the door and having “me time”, but it’s those conversations you have on these social runs-or the gruelling adventure runs in RAK, UAE when it’s 38 degrees and a suffer fest- that take you to another dimension and feeling of what it is like to have good friends. Runners are an interesting bunch and many with open hearts. It’s almost like having your own, utopian village where you know each other’s stories and because of that you will do anything for each other.
And that’s what I chase every day. I keep going as a running Mum because I want my special community around me, regardless of whether I’m peak performance at this point of my life or not. I am all about longevity, and ultra-running is the whole package. Your solid coach who supports you through everything (shout out to Coach Lee Harris, LK Running Performance), the drive to push through all weathers to get your 4 hours in at weekends, nursing a pulled hamstring with the foam roller in the evenings while your toddler pushes his cars through the hollow bit and the people that make it one of the most interesting, exhilarating sports on earth.
*Brianna Battles, Practice Brave Podcast, Episode 30: Vanessa Long on her athleticism through motherhood https://podcasts.apple.com/ae/podcast/the-practice-brave-podcast/id1492482048?i=1000501579495
*Coach Lee Harris, @lk_running_performance for run coaching specifics, Dubai, UAE