From labour ward to buggy running by Heather Hann

From labour ward to buggy running by Heather Hann (goal: to run a sub-40 minute/pre-motherhood PB 10K while pushing a buggy)

“Mummy why are you walking?”“I’m not…nearly at the top…”
“Run faster Mummy…wheeeee!”

I really love that buggy running has allowed me to do something I enjoy so much, with my young children. For me, there’s nothing quite like a ‘buggy runner’s high’ – when I get back from my run and baby #2 wakes up having had a good nap, or our three-year-old recounts excitedly to my husband what animals we saw on one of our lockdown runs. Admittedly, it’s not always like that. You naturally get the odd puncture; can be left questioning your sanity after buggy runs in the pouring rain/howling wind/driving snow; that time your daughter wants you to stop and pick every dandelion we go past…but for the most part, the buggy runner’s high is an amazing feeling.

A bit more about how I got into buggy running. Running has always been a big part of my life. It taught me how to handle success and disappointment as a teenager; was a way to meet friends (and my future husband) at university; and helped me find a sense of community when I moved to St Albans in my twenties. But as I approached the due date for my first child I wondered whether I’d ever be a runner again. Over the previous few years I had undergone fertility treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome and then had spent a good proportion of pregnancy feeling nauseous – none of which I found was conducive to running.

I’d expected becoming a mother to be a pretty emotional experience but I don’t think anything prepared me for how physically draining the first few months of motherhood were. Labour had also been long and difficult, and had left me with both physical and mental scars. However as soon as I could I got out on long walks with the pram. The gentle exercise, fresh air and changing scenery helped to clear my head and process all the changes in my life. Gradually my body recovered from pregnancy and labour, and I started to feel stronger. I craved running again.

It was then that a friend offered me a running buggy. I wasn’t sure. Did I want to share the one thing that I knew would allow me time to myself after all I’d been through? Logistically, however, I knew it was probably the only way I was going to be able to run regularly and so I gave it a go. I was immediately hooked. It didn’t matter how far or fast I ran as I had my freedom to run back. My daughter napped while I ran and I didn’t have to wait until my husband got home from work to run. Inviting my old running mates along, I relished the opportunity to talk about non-Mum related things and dream up new running goals (whilst they occasionally took turns to help with pushing duties). I felt like me again, but me with an amazing little co-pilot to share my love of running with.

I’m not saying buggy running is the only answer to fitting in running around the intensity of looking after young children. I have come to mix in solo runs with those accompanied by one or other of my children. However, if you fancy giving buggy-running a go here are a few things that I hope might help you get started:

Strengthen that core: Undoubtedly running with a buggy requires certain muscle groups to work harder than they would work without a buggy. If you’ve had a break from running (hello – like pregnancy and recovering from giving birth!) then I’d say doing core strengthening exercises before you attempt running with a buggy will really help you to avoid injury. New Mums, there are some excellent post-natal exercise classes out there and make sure to keep up those pelvic floor exercises! But for all prospective buggy runners, I’d recommend doing regular glute, quad and hamstring strengthening exercises.

Kit: It goes without saying that you will need a buggy that is designed for running (with a passenger in!). There is a lot of information online to help you choose the right buggy for you but what I would say is that you don’t need to spend a fortune. You can buy secondhand buggies in a great condition online relatively easily. My first hand-me-down buggy eventually gave up the ghost after 15 years, multiple families with multiple children, and I suspect over 5,000 miles – it was pretty robust!

Aside from a decent pair of running trainers (and a sports bra, or maybe two if breastfeeding…), that’s probably all you need. However here are a few things I’ve found useful:
– for chiller days, a footmuff and winter cycling gloves to keep your hands warm;
– a waterproof cover – I’ve found it works well to shield your co-pilot from the wind too;
– a dry bag for storing essentials as you run through puddles/mud; and
– a mechanic (aka the Hubby) – I joke, it’s very easy to repair punctures. Just like a bike tyre you’ll need spare inner tubes (or patches) and a bike pump (tyre levers can be helpful too). For me, there’s nothing more infuriating than getting my child into the buggy for a long overdue nap and realising you have a flat tyre, and so I also keep a spare set of wheels ready to go.

Build up to those hills: Pushing a buggy up hills is a great workout but I’d choose well-surfaced, flat routes when you start out. This will allow you and your passenger to get used to the buggy and hopefully not overload your body. My top tip for finding buggy-friendly routes is to search online for dismantled/resurfaced railway lines (like the Alban Way which formed part of ATW’s St Albans 10K in April) or family-friendly cycle rides.

Get creative building buggy running into your routine: It can be tricky finding a time that works for both you and your co-pilot (particularly when nap and feed times seem change every few weeks with babies), here are a few ways I’ve managed to fit in a buggy run in the past to give you some ideas:
– when I first started buggy running I used to run to and from baby classes/playdates (some deodorant was a changing bag staple for me!);
– inviting friends along with me (followed by a cafe stop for some much-needed coffee and cake!) enabled me to socialise when evening meet-ups were tricky – don’t be afraid of asking, as everyone needs easier paced runs and a good chat;
– my husband is also a runner and with me buggy running, it meant we could all get in a run on a Saturday morning doing parkrun together (pre-pandemic holiday research always involved finding the closest buggy-friendly parkrun!); and
– for older children, try a “tour aux playgrounds” running to various playgrounds (during lockdown 3.0, it became a bit of an obsession finding buggy-friendly routes to new playgrounds and, on the way, my daughter and I played a spot of ‘nature bingo’).

Know your limits: I found out the hard way after the birth of my second child that running with a double buggy/heavier load is likely to find out any weaknesses/imbalances you have. Despite doing regular strengthening exercises, I was getting knee pain running with the double buggy and I knew it wasn’t worth continuing when I couldn’t even chase after my children. Running off-road, hillier routes (particularly into the wind) can also just tip your body over its limit.

I am preparing to race ATW’s St Albans Half Marathon solo (I’m hoping those hills will feel easier without the buggy!) next month. This is the next race I will be doing in my journey towards attempting to run a sub-40 minute/pre-motherhood PB 10K with the buggy. I have very fond memories of doing the St Albans Half in 2018 when I was thrilled to make it onto the podium and so

I’m excited about running it again three years on and with an extra pint-sized cheerleader! In my next blog I will share a bit more of my story on returning to racing after giving birth and a few things I have learned along the way.

IG: @runningheather20

The first blog in this series is available at: https://activetrainingworld.co.uk/sub-40-minute-10k-pushing-a-buggy/

Photocredit: @runningfeat

1 Comment
  1. Katy Clarke

    What a well written,fun, informative blog, I really enjoyed reading it – good luck with the half!

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