Returning to racing after giving birth – two different stories by Heather Hann
Bearbrook 10k – the scene of my pre-motherhood PB. I had not intentionally chosen this race for my post-baby comeback but the course was flat and I knew the set-up. My husband could have his usual Sunday morning cycle beforehand and meet me before the start to take our daughter whilst I raced. I was nervous but the overriding feeling I had was excitement. I didn’t care how fast I ran. Just being on the start line, amongst other racers again, was enough. I was back.
I’d been doing parkrun pretty much every week since I’d got back into running after giving birth and I no longer felt as though I was running carrying the ghost of my pregnancy bump! I had been steadily building up my weekly mileage and was now running up to 90 minutes on my Sunday long runs so I was pretty confident my body was ready for the challenge. My nerves soon vanished as I set off, just enjoying the atmosphere and cheers from spectators that I had so missed. I ran past one of my clubmates and it was then that they shouted “Go Supermum!”. Wow, what a cheer! I floated around the rest of the course to the finish line.
From there I went on to race every one or two months, choosing races that fitted into our weekend lives of running, cycling, supporting Luton Town FC (my husband!) and seeing family/friends. Nine months after giving birth I ran my club-organised 10 mile race. By this point I was feeling less exhausted as my daughter was sleeping through the night and I had started to drop breastfeeds. I felt so strong, seemingly effortlessly able to pick up the pace despite the awful race conditions (snow and sleet!) to take 4 minutes off my PB.
Nine months after my second child, it was a very different story. Partly due to the pandemic, I’d only “raced” twice (virtual 5Ks 8 weeks and 16 weeks after giving birth) and they had ended in tears. On both occasions I got injured shortly afterwards to the point I could barely walk without feeling pain.
I was in no shape to have tried to race. I had been pushing my body to the limit since we went into the first lockdown when I was eight and a half months pregnant. Constantly on the go, walking miles with the buggy to get out to different places in the countryside with my daughter while she couldn’t go to nursery and later with the double buggy to get my youngest to sleep had kept me fit but my body hadn’t really recovered from the invasiveness of IVF, pregnancy and then labour. I was just about holding it together without the hands-on support you normally get from friends and family with a newborn. But when it came to myself, I was clearly not making good decisions. I guess I raced too soon because I just wanted to get the same buzz that I had felt when I was called a Supermum and to forget all my anxieties. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, I now realise that I was already a Supermum just to get through that time and also that it wasn’t the “Super” part that had lifted me when I had raced previously but the “Mum” part. Knowing that my daughter was watching me run and would be there at the finish line was what had spurred me on.
Taking a couple of months off running, I waited until my injuries had completely gone before resuming. Steadily building up mileage, I ran a virtual half marathon in March and then ATW’s St Albans 10k in April pretty much a year after giving birth. I knew I would be able to run the distances. But I did have goals for the times that I wanted to run. I had been able to compare my buggy training runs with those after the birth of my daughter to gauge my fitness. I also had, in the back of my mind, a new challenge inspired by the journey I had been on.
When I line up for ATW’s Herts Fast 10k in July, it will be the first time I will have ever set myself a time-based goal for running with the buggy. Whilst I have certainly used the buggy to prepare for races, often running local race routes with it in the hope that the hills will feel less tough when it comes to racing, I have never entered events with the buggy. My husband and family have always been there to look after my children while I have raced, also encouraging me to do so in order to do something purely for myself. However during the pandemic there were times when the “once a day” exercise rule meant I had no choice but to head out with the buggy if I wanted to run. This is part of the reason why I have taken on the challenge of running a sub-40 minute/pre-motherhood PB 10k pushing the buggy. Even when it isn’t possible to get childcare for races, don’t let that stop you from getting out there and challenging yourself. I know I’m always a much happier Mummy when I’ve been able to be a part of the running community again.
Here are a few things that I have learned from my experiences of getting back into racing after having my children. I hope these might help you take the plunge and sign up for your next, or first, race: Don’t race before you can run: New Mums, it’s so tempting to rush into racing (guilty as charged!). Sadly, I don’t think there is a standard answer to when your body is ready – every pregnancy/labour/recovery/body is unique. What I would say is don’t underestimate the extra strain that racing puts on you. It is better to wait for a few extra weeks/months than to have an injury setback when there are so many physical and mental benefits to running/exercising, especially while looking after young children.
Give yourself plenty of time to get ready, especially when taking the kids with you to races: There’s always one last minute drama getting out the door with little ones. I find it helpful to prepare the day before. Not only everything you’ll need to race, but also what the children/carers will need. I’ve also tended to opt for local races so that childcare arrangements are easier to organise and don’t need to change too much when the unpredictable British weather strikes again!
For buggy runners, my top tip would be to vary your route when preparing for races: Unable to get out for solo harder training sessions during the week, I’ve built efforts into my buggy runs by mixing up my routes. Find a reasonable length of flat, off-road path and you can really pick up the pace and get a great tempo workout in. You’ll naturally work harder on hillier buggy runs but I’ve also used the downhills to get my legs turning over a bit quicker. Over time, you’ll set new “normal” buggy times and benchmarks to help you work towards improvements.
A point on safety though: Give other users a wide berth when passing and be ready to slow down/stop – I’ve found particularly when approaching young children on scooters/bikes, dogs and horse riders. A friendly heads-up that you are about to overtake goes a long way and is often rewarded with a nice cheer of encouragement.
Involve your little ones in the experience: Race days can be memorable for the whole family and a great way of introducing your children to sport. Here are a few ideas of how you might do this:
– cheerleading: even the youngest of children will enjoy being out on the course watching the sea of different colours pass. Homemade signs will really spur you on and also provides an excellent race morning activity!
– volunteering: laying out cones, handing out finishing tokens, wearing hi-viz jackets, getting hi-fives were a real hit with my daughter when she “helped” us volunteer at parkruns.
– fun runs: for older kids, choosing races with fun runs can really inspire children to get involved. Cross-country events often have races for many age groups and so the whole family can get stuck in.
In my next blog, I will let you know how I get on with my challenge – wish me luck!
The first two blogs in this series are available at: