Last Monday I went for a run. It’s been 14 weeks since I last went for a run. Three and a half months. That’s the longest break I’ve taken from running since I went out for the track team 16 years ago.
When I finished, achy and sweaty, it occurred to me that it’s good for me to feel like a beginner again. My footfalls feel awkward and my legs, my lungs, my abs (especially my abs) are all getting used to being used for more than pacing the house in the middle of the night with a swaddled, wide awake, newborn.
Just like the last time I went for my first run after having a baby, this time wasn’t so bad. The hardest part last time was the logistics; figuring out how to fit running around naps and nursing. This time I didn’t spend so much time getting nervous, strategizing, or worrying about all that could go wrong. This time I just ran out the door as soon as I had the chance.
Since the day before I went into labor, and as early as three weeks postpartum, I’d been walking a lot, about 3-4 miles a day. Since I was already used to covering that distance, my plan was to just add running to my regular walks. I decided I’d run 10 minutes, then walk, then run 10 more minutes, walk, and run 10 more minutes — for a total of 30 minutes.
And it wasn’t that bad. If you recently had a baby and are looking to get back into shape, or even if you haven’t had a baby and are thinking about starting running, I promise it wasn’t that bad. The key is to start slow and easy. I kept a steady, comfortable pace and ended up run/walking over four miles, running 12 minutes, 12 minutes, and 11 minutes — a total of 35 minutes of running. The other key, the most important, necessary key, is that I was running with a friend. Man, what a difference that makes. Not once did I think about laying down in the middle of the road to take a nap. I’m telling you, if you’re having trouble sticking with a workout plan, buddy up.
I ran again on Wednesday, and day two wasn’t that bad either. It was harder and we didn’t run as far. I was sore and tired and the only thing I’d had to drink all day was iced coffee, but I survived. When you have a newborn, survival is the standard you try to meet each day. Thursday was hotter, so we ran even shorter, and I’ll do my first “long run” (three miles) on Saturday.
Even though it wasn’t that bad, it was still tough. It’s impossible to avoid the effects of the stress and changes my body has experienced in the past year — pregnancy, labor, breastfeeding, sleep deprivation. So I’m slower, sure, I’m still a few pounds heavier, and I had to take lots of walk breaks, but just getting out the door was a victory.
As soon as I started running, I felt it in my lower abs and hip flexors — the most-stressed and stretched part of my body following pregnancy. After running, my hamstrings and quads started to ache, too. But it was a good ache, the ache that comes after hard work, movement, effort. For weeks my arms and back have been aching from holding a newborn and nursing all day and night; the exercise ache is so much better. If an ache can feel good, the exercise ache does.
I was sitting cross-legged in bed in the middle of the night feeding Mary Virginia, and I stretched my legs out in front of me and flexed my feet to work out some soreness. After putting her down, I stood up and stretched my hip flexors. I’m sort of out of the routine of running and forgot to stretch after running, or hydrate before. When I was getting ready before the run, I had to search for my running hat, and rifle through my drawers do find technical clothes — two things I don’t worry about when I’m walking.
It feels good, getting back into the routine. I do have a long way to go, especially if I want to run the half marathon in November. There’s a running saying that goes, “the hardest part of each run is the step you take out the door.” That’s often true for me, and it’s especially true now. Running has been a part of my life for so long and it’s gotten much harder in the past few years with pregnancy, then one child, and now two. But running hasn’t changed; it’s still just about putting one foot in front of the other.