On exercise during pregnancy, getting larger and the fear of leaving work

As my last few posts have been interview or podcast based I thought I’d write a quick post to update you on my fitness and pregnancy progress over the past couple of months.

I’m now just over 24 weeks pregnant (or five and a half months for those working in normal time) with a little girl who, for reasons I won’t go into here, we are currently calling Crêpe Suzette. Getting past the 20 week scan was a big relief, and although this revealed an issue with one of Suze’s kidneys, which initially caused us a little shock and upset (her right kidney is multicystic and will never fully develop or function), having seen the specialist and knowing that they will be keeping an eye on how she develops, I am feeling a lot more positive about the prognosis. We are so excited about introducing her into the world and determined that even with one kidney she will be a strong and empowered little lady. Even if she can’t play contact sports such as water polo like her mum, we already have grand plans for her triathlon career!

She is clearly growing at a good pace (she is over a 33cm in length now), and in response my body has been rapidly expanding. Many of my clothes (sports wear included) have now fallen by the wayside and I’m embracing my new (enforced) capsule wardrobe.

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I made a few additions to this last week, investing in a new pair of running leggings – which are sufficiently baggy to see me through for a little longer and sufficiently jazzy to make me want to exercise – and a couple of oversized sports vests, which are a bit more forgiving when surrounded by mirrors in the gym!

In terms of exercise, I’ve been really enjoying going to spinning classes as I feel like I’m getting a pretty killer workout without Suze bouncing around too much. Similarly, I’ve been spending more time in the gym, trading my Sunday long run for a long gym session. When I’m lifting weights I feel strong (not just large) and the cross trainer provides a great low-impact cardio workout. I’m still going to yoga classes and modifying where necessary, and I start each day with 15 to 20 minutes of home practice.

I am still running, although it is becoming increasingly hard work, so it’s nice to have some other options available. I max out at around 5 miles now and I have to intersperse jogging with short periods of walking. I’ve noticed that my calves and hamstrings are a lot tighter and burn a lot more than ever before, which I am putting down to the change in my weight distribution. All the same, I’m determined to keep getting out for as long as I’m still enjoying it, especially now that the weather is improving and the parks are open later in the evening. I’m just really grateful at the moment that I have the time to run as I know this will change come August!

Another wardrobe addition I’ve fallen in love with, this time courtesy of my mum, is my maternity swimsuit. It is the first time ever that I’ve had a non-training/racing suit and instead I’m embracing a cute little polka dot, halter neck number! It took a bit of getting used to pushing off the wall and tumble turning whilst trusting that I was retaining my modesty, but I’m pretty comfortable with it now and I love the looks on people’s faces as I overtake them in my casual cossie with my enormous stomach! When I swim I feel pretty much normal, which is wonderful.

I’m really determined to keep my body moving, not least as it helps with the swollen ankles and ‘pasty feet’ I’ve suddenly started getting as a result of water retention when I sit down for too long. But also, when I exercise I am a better version of myself and a better person to be around. Exercise means that I still feel strong and confident in my body and even at times, dare I say it, sexy.

Although exercising is proving more physically taxing than ever before, it is still such a huge and valuable part of my life I wouldn’t go without it. Even if exercise now means a walk around Green Park at lunchtime rather than a 10k run along the river, I know I’ll always feel better for doing a little bit of something, and it’s still a good way to catch up on a podcast and see some sunshine.
Changes to my body and workout schedule are not the only things I’m having to get used to. At the moment the prospect of taking time away from work is totally terrifying. I love my job and my team so much and I have so many great projects on the go at the moment that it’s impossible to imagine stepping away, even if only for a year. I know that I will only have that first year with Suze once and how important that will be, and I’m sure when the time comes I’ll revel in our time together, but for the time being I feel like I want to cling onto my job tighter than ever, terrified that it won’t be waiting for me on my return.

I’m sure lots of parents-to-be go through all of these emotions. I’m hoping that my inability to control and plan for everything during this period will prove a positive lesson for the future. I’m having to learn to let go a little and go with the flow and, while for now I feel very out of my comfort zone, I hope that it will stand me in good stead for when Suze arrives and I can’t control anything at all!

If you’ve been through a similar experience, or are going through something similar I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Until my next, keep moving.

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Tri, tri and tri again: The reality behind triathlon training, kit and racing

With my love of running and swimming it’s amazing how often people have asked if I’d be tempted to do a triathlon. The honest answer is yes, but (and there is always a but). The crux of the matter is that I’m not the most confident cyclist, and although I’m trying to build up some cycling strength through spinning, arguably pregnancy isn’t the ideal time to take on a new discipline and seriously entertain ideas of triathlon glory.

Yet while I regularly put my triathlon aspirations to bed, they are periodically reawakened, most often by the Strava stats and pictures posted on Instagram by my friend, and amazing athlete, Nicola Kaye.

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Whether it’s during her training weeks in Lanzarote, on tours across Europe and South America, or even just her workouts in London, seeing and hearing about Nicola’s training and race schedule really makes me want to brave my first race. However, rather than taking all of the pictures at face value (which make triathlon training look like a very sunny and jolly swim, bike, run in the park), I decided to dig a little deeper into the reality of triathlon training to find out how Nicola entered the world of triathlon and to discover the kind of dedication it really requires.

When did you start competing in triathlon events and what motivated you to start?

I’d always been quite a keen runner before moving to London in 2006, and when I made the move to the big smoke I took an instant dislike to tube travel. A flatmate at the time suggested I look at the ‘bike to work’ scheme, whereby some companies offer employees the opportunity to buy a bike tax free through the company. I was delighted to see that it was something my employer offered and pretty soon I was covering my daily commute by bike.

London can be pretty intimidating to a new cyclist but I soon came to love my daily bike commute – wind rain or shine! My morning commute is still a favourite part of my day over 10 years later.

It wasn’t until 2010 that a colleague at work posed the idea of a few of us entering the London Triathlon. As a runner, I’d had a pretty frustrating few years with a number of injuries (including both knee and foot surgery) so I was a little apprehensive about entering a race. My first response was ‘but I can’t swim!’ and then when I thought about it a little more rationally, I realised that technically, I could swim, just not front crawl, which is the typically chosen swim stroke of triathlon, being the quickest and most energy efficient. Furthermore, when other responses such as ‘I’ve not been on a bike since I was 10’ followed, I realised that I would be in good (or rather, similarly inexperienced) company for my first triathlon. It was a great bonding exercise with my colleagues, as we trained for our first triathlon together and we all managed to complete it, but it was a very tough first outing!

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So you were you a runner before you started competing in triathlon? 

I’ve always loved running and having my knee and foot surgery a few years ago taught me to never take it for granted. I’m always grateful to be able to get out and run but these days I tend to limit it to about three times a week since I’m still quite susceptible to injury. I love the freedom running allows you and I love that wherever you are in the world, you can just lace up your trainers and get out there.

What’s your favourite of the three disciplines, or does this vary? 

Cycling is my strongest discipline by far, and I love the sport. It’s very sociable and a great way to be able to see places, so I often do a lot of cycling while I’m travelling. I was fortunate to be able to take a year out of work and I took the opportunity to cycle in South America, Australia and New Zealand. Cycling over the Andes from Bogota to Cartagena is probably one of the toughest things I’ve done to date but the experience was incredible and everyone we met, so warm and welcoming.

Swimming continues to be my nemesis, but on a good day, I love it. Unless you were a competitive swimmer at an early age, it’s quite tough learning and indeed become good at swimming as an adult. You need to put in a lot of work for very little reward! I’m determined to get better at it though so I keep chipping away.

What does a typical week of training look like a) in the lead up to a race b) between races?

A standard week is normally 3, 3 and 3 i.e. 3 sessions of each sport, although I’m trying to improve my swimming at the moment so sometimes there’s 4 or even 5 of those sessions in a week. The weekend is reserved for the longer sessions so I’ll normally do a long bike on one of the days and a long run on the other. Around each of these core sessions, I’ll then try to fit in a couple of mobility and strength sessions and stretching/foam rolling is key! The more the better really.

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I have a coach who helps to write my programme and this has really helped to structure my training. The week before a race, sessions tend to be shorter and sharper with longer recoveries to ensure you are in the best possible shape on race day. After a race, it’s very much about listening to your body. Every race affects you differently but you need to make sure you don’t do any high intensity work too soon or you risk injury.

And what does your typical diet look like? 

I eat a lot! My colleagues at work think I eat constantly, but then I think they sometimes forget that when I show up at work in the morning, I’ve usually swum for nearly an hour and cycled 30 mins to get there, while they’ve largely rolled out of bed and onto the train.

I’m lucky in that I love good, healthy nutritious food, so there’s definitely plenty of veg, salad and lean meat and fish in my diet. To be clear though, I love cake too and that very much features every week as well!

I try to keep my diet pretty varied, but breakfast is almost always porridge. Otherwise, it’s about maintaining a good balance of fat, carbs and protein and making sure you eat at the right times around training. Easier sessions can be done fasted but you need to make sure you’re well-fuelled for any of the high-intensity work, or you render the session ineffective.

How do you manage to fit in training around work and socialising?

I’d love to tell you that I’m super organised and that I manage it perfectly. In all honesty though, it’s a struggle. It’s become a bit easier since I changed jobs last year and I now have a much better work / life balance. Prior to that, my sleep almost always suffered. The problem is, the more you train, the more sleep you need, so making sure you factor that in is incredibly important. I’ve come to realise that sometimes, a bit more time in bed will benefit me more than getting to the pool for 6.30am.

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I try to fit in my training before work and at lunchtime wherever possible, but inevitably, it doesn’t always work out. Ultimately, I’ve learnt to be flexible and accept that on some weeks, I won’t get all of my planned training sessions done. It’s not the end of the world. In the lead up to a race however, I will often prioritise training over socialising. It means missing out on stuff, but it’s a choice I make and given the time and effort that goes into my training, I want to make sure that I do myself justice in each race.

Are you training for anything at the moment?

Absolutely. It’s how I stay motivated. I’d always get out for the odd run or bike ride if I didn’t have races in the calendar but my training wouldn’t be so structured as it is currently. My 3 big races this year are 3 half-ironmans in April, August and September respectively. September’s the big race  as it’s the 70.3 World Championships in South Africa, which is a race I qualified for in Estonia last summer. I also mix the bigger races with a number of smaller events too, to take the pressure off a bit, and to ensure I retain the fun element. I’ve a few local running events planned and a couple of bike sportive both in the UK and in Europe.

Have you ever had any equipment disasters during a race?

Oh yes, several! You have to take it on the chin and make sure you learn from the mistakes where you can. It’s also why it’s good to put a few races in the diary so that if one doesn’t go to plan, you’ll have other opportunities to make up for it.

I’ve had one DNF (did not finish) due to a double puncture (I tend to carry one spare inner tube but certainly no more than that). I also forgot to put on my ankle chip timer at one race and missed the start altogether. These days, it’s one of the first things I put on!

Do you have a favourite race and race distance? 

I started triathlon racing sprint and Olympic distance (750m / 20k / 5k for sprint and 1,500m / 40k / 10k for Olympic). I think I’m more of a diesel though and better suited to the slightly longer distance. Half-Ironman (70.3) is my favourite distance which involves a 1.9km swim, a 90k bike and a 21.1k run. The swim isn’t much longer than the Olympic, which goes in my favour as a weaker swimmer, and then I can get stuck into the bike and hopefully pick off a few of the swimmers who beat me out of the water. The run is then about trying to hold my position.

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I’ve done the London Triathlon four times. It’s not a particularly scenic course, but the great thing about doing a race close to home is that it makes it easy for friends and family to support and it’s great having support out on the course.

I’ve also done the Mallorca Half-Ironman twice and it’s a race I love with a really challenging bike course.

These days, however, what makes a good race for me is doing it with friends and family. Travelling together and being able to share the experience with others makes it really memorable.

What is your greatest sporting achievement?
Representing my country as an amateur at both the European (ETU) and World (ITU) Championships in 2015 and 2016 was pretty special, particularly my first outing in Geneva where my parents came to support me.
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I think, however, that finishing my first Ironman race (a 3.8k swim, 180k bike and a 42.2k run) in 2016 is what I’m most proud of, because I know how hard I worked to get there. The last half of the marathon was a real struggle and at that point, it very much becomes a test of mental strength. Crossing the finish line is still so fresh in my mind and still brings tears to my eyes nearly 2 years later!
All of the equipment can often be intimidating to athletes thinking of going into the sport of triathlon, what advice would you offer to them?

Triathlon is still a very new sport, relative to most other sports, which means that there have been some huge technological developments over a relatively short space of time. Triathletes love kit and love spending money on new kit that they very definitely don’t need and I’m no different to that. It’s very easy to convince yourself of a ‘need’ for something new to the market.

That said, because of the rapid developments in equipment, it means you can pick up the stuff you need without spending a fortune. There’s a wealth of knowledge out there, so definitely take advantage of it.

Wherever possible, you should try before you buy. If you’re going to be doing races that have an open-water swim, for example, then you’ll need a wetsuit. It’s possible to rent wetsuits for a race or even a whole season and there’s a number of outdoor lakes which will let you test out different models so you can see what works best for you.

In terms of a bike, the best advice I was given is to buy the best frame you can afford. All of the components (gears, wheels, etc.) can be upgraded at a later date as and when you can afford to spend a bit more money on it.

The internet is also a great source of information. It can be a little intimidating at first because there are many (often contrasting) opinions flying around, but it can be helpful to see what works for others and may just work for you too.

What kit do you use? 

For swimming I have a HUUB wetsuit and I swear by Zoggs Predator Flex goggles which I find comfortable, don’t steam up and are available Polarised for outdoor sunny swims. Real swimmers all use those tiny little eye-socket goggles that I find unbearably uncomfortable!

I have 2 sets of running shoes that I currently use – the Saucony Kinvara for my longer runs, which are lightweight but also really cushioned. For racing I use the Adidas Adizero. For shorter distance races, most people don’t wear socks and then you want to look for a tri-specific run shoe which tend to be seamless and ensure you don’t finish the run with feet covered in blisters. It’s also important to use elastic laces, which save a lot of time and energy in transition.

As for the bikes, there’s currently 3 in the family! I have a beautiful steel road bike from Condor on which I commute each day and do a fair number of miles on in the Winter. My second bike is a Felt aero-road bike which I love. The geometry of the bike is somewhere between a normal road bike and a time-trial (TT) bike making it a decent choice for both road cycling and triathlon. I also put aero bars on it during triathlon to get myself in a more aerodynamic position. The bike is nearly 10 years old; I bought it second hand from a friend about 5 years ago for an absolute steal! I’m not sure how many kilometres have been ridden on that bike, but I did 10,000km on it just last year!

This year I welcomed bike number 3 into the fold; I finally bit the bullet and bought myself a TT bike. Over longer distances, it can save you quite a bit of time due to the aerodynamic position it allows you to adopt. It’s a Cervelo P3 with Di2 (electronic) gearing and cost me a small fortune. I may not own my own house, but I do have a very pretty new bike!
Who are your fitspirations? 

I’m surrounded by inspirational people. I run with Serpentine Running Club which is full of talented individuals and seeing the successes of members within the club, week after week, inspires me to get out there and keep pushing myself.

I think that 2012 really inspired a nation of cyclists and I too was probably caught up in that. It’s great that as a country we’re doing so well in the sport of cycling and it’s fantastic that we have so many strong women at the top of the sport.

In triathlon, boundaries are being pushed every day and records are continually being broken. There’s so many strong women in the sport, leading the way, and what is particularly nice to see is those that are taking time out to have kids and then returning to the sport as strong as ever.

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If I need to name one person though, it’s probably my Mum. At 65, she swims with a Masters Swim Squad 3 or 4 times a week, and on a Saturday morning, heads straight to Parkrun after. She’s also a regular on the triathlon circuit and regularly wins her age-group. She often plays it down by saying she was the only one in her age group, but she always beats me out of the water so I don’t buy that! I hope I’m still going strong in 25 years!

My barefoot-running brother-in-law

At well over 6ft, often running barefoot with a Rhodesian ridgeback and child or two in tow, my brother-in-law, Georg, is hard to miss. This axe-wielding, Thai boxing, trail running father of three has always inspired me, not only with his ability to push through a marathon no matter what, but also in how he takes new sporting challenges in his (incredibly long) stride, while juggling a hectic family life and a successful career in dentistry.

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He and my big sister have been together since they were 16, so he has been pretty much a permanent fixture of my adult life. We both fell in love with running at around the same time and still remember proudly completing our first sub-30 minute 5km together. He has dragged me to many a Park Run and, although he subsequently admitted to wanting to kill me at the time, I was so proud to help get him to the end of the killer Potters Marathon a couple of years back. I love when we have a chance to run and chat together and I wanted to share a little bit about him here. If you ever thought that you were too busy to run, read on!

When did you first start running?

Probably when I was about 15 months old, I’ll check with my mom, ha ha! But seriously, I use to run to make weight for Thai boxing fights. To begin with I hated every second of it, but slowly the miles crept up until one day I decided to sign up for the Potters ‘Alf marathon. After running that I felt an awesome sense of achievement and I continued on from there.

Was running something that came naturally or did you have to work at it?

It was a bit of both really. Once I reached a certain level of fitness (which, because of Thai boxing didn’t take too long) I felt like I was unstoppable and could keep running (albeit slowly) forever.

What do you enjoy about getting out for a run?

Running is a good time to just switch off. I tend to overthink things and to keep my emotions hidden. When I run I find I can turn off the overactive part of my brain and also the part that suppresses my emotions. That means that I often find myself running late at night laughing, crying and blankly staring into space.

When and why did you start running barefoot?

When I was a kid in South Africa, we ran barefoot everywhere. In primary school in SA you don’t wear shoes in summer and all sports, including rugby, are played barefoot. But then I became a fat, angry teenager in the UK and when I eventually tried to run I was told I needed all kinds of special shoes to do so. The problem was that  they just made my feet hurt. I remember very well one day in North Yorkshire taking my trainers off and hiking up Carlton bank barefoot and loving every second. Soon after that I bought my first pair of five finger shoes for particularly rough terrain.

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What is your proudest running achievement?

This tends to change every time I do another stupid run somewhere! To date it is probably trying to do the Born to Run Ultra Marathon in Wales few years back. Even though I was pulled out at 35 miles into the 40 mile run, I still ran a lot further than I ever imagined. I’ve found from running and fighting that you tend to learn a lot more about yourself when you losing rather than winning.

What was going through your mind during those 35 miles and how did you keep yourself going?

For the first half of the race I was mostly thinking about my family. For the second it was a mixture of thinking about how worried wife would be if I didn’t make it to next water station and paranoia of being followed buy a strange man (who actually turned out to be a St Johns ambulance guy who was following me as I was talking to myself and covered in my own sick!)

Would you do another ultra?

100 per cent yes! As soon as I stop having more children and get time to do the proper training!

Do you do any form of cross training?

I spend some time doing circuits in gym, I still go Thai boxing when I get time and I love swimming and cycling outdoors in the summer (but I hate both in the winter!)

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How do you fit in your runs around having three energetic children and two dogs?

I try to combine parental duties with running, but it’s not always easy. I recently had dog attached to a running buggy with baby in it, a 6 -year-old running next to me, and a 4-year-old on my neck. I only managed 2km before I almost died! In seriousness, I try to do some runs with the kids; most of my training runs are done with dog and or baby in running buggy. It also helps that I have an awesome understanding wife who doesn’t mind me going out running.

How do you find running with a buggy and a dog?

I love it. It only gets tricky when there are lots of people in our way. The dog loves it and the baby loves it.

What running buggy do you use?

I have an Out n About fixed wheel running buggy. It’s very well used now; it probably done a few hundred miles!

 

IMG_7872Any tips for parents running with buggies?

Make sure your baby is old enough to sit while supporting their own head; make sure they are comfortable; take lots of snacks (for the baby) just in case; and be prepared to sing to keep the child amused!

What races have you got coming up?

The only thing booked so far for this year is the Potters ‘Alf marathon, but I’m hoping to do a few triathlons and open water races in the summer. It’s all a bit last minute with having young kids!

 

I’m looking forward to running together again on holiday in May (although I may only be waddling by then!) and to learning more from him about managing to run once our little lady arrives in August. Until my next, happy running.

Fit and Fearless: Motivation beyond PBs and weight loss

Thanks to my pal Sophie, I recently discovered the Fit and Fearless podcast. I began listening with an episode on pre- and post-natal training but rapidly began mining their backlist, enjoying episodes on working out when busy, nutrition and body confidence.

Listening to this podcast threw into focus thoughts that I’d been having about what motivates me and how I measure success, both in terms of my exercise routine and my diet.

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@thegirlgains

Eating and exercising throughout pregnancy can be a bit of a minefield, and while I usually measure the success of my workout routine by how fast or far I can run, how heavy I can lift, or how many burpees I can do before collapsing, right now none of these measures are applicable. Similarly, I would ordinarily gauge my diet on how my clothes are feeling and cutting down on calorie-dense foods if my jeans were to get a bit tight. But at the moment pretty much all of my clothing is tight and, all being well, it will only get tighter. So what other measures should I be using to quantify my success and to keep myself motivated to continue training and steer clear of the tempting treats?

One of the messages I loved from Fit and Fearless is that success can just be about getting yourself to the gym (or by extension, to an exercise class/your yoga mat/the pool/into your trainers). Even if, on arrival, you decide it isn’t your day, by just scheduling the time and getting yourself there you are developing a routine, which in all likelihood will turn into a workout. I know that sometimes the hardest part of getting out on my lunchtime run is just getting into my gym kit. It’s so easy to continue sitting at my desk, responding to emails and letting the moment pass, but once I’m over that initial hurdle the actual act of going for a run is easy (well, easy-ish!).

The other thing that the podcast reminded me is that exercise should be about having fun and treating your body. I always feel better after a workout, even if all I can muster at the moment is a 3 mile walk/run around the park. Exercise gets the endorphins pumping and keeps me sane during a hectic day. It’s an opportunity for ‘me time’, a chance to clear my head and reset. I loved that in the body positive episode of Fit and Fearless the team talked about not just thinking about exercise as a means of burning x number of calories, but as a time to enjoy yourself and feeling strong. They promoted the idea of exercising with the real intention of focusing on being present in your body and not thinking about weight loss.

The other big message of both this and the pre- and post-natal fitness episode was that exercise shouldn’t be about what you look like, but rather it should be about what your body can do. I love this sentiment and I have to remind myself that what my body is doing is not only going for a 30 minute swim or a 45 minute spin class, but doing those things while also growing a human!

So how am I implementing these messages as part of my exercise routine, attitude to exercise and diet more generally?

1. I’m reminding myself that no matter how brief the session, exercising always makes me feel good about myself. It makes me feel strong and empowered and reminds me that I run this body.

2. I’m committing to getting myself to the point of exercise, even if that fails to turn into a hard workout. If I walk instead of run, that’s ok, the important thing is staying in the routine of getting my trainers on and getting outside.

3. I’m eating mindfully and in a way that nourishes my body and not letting my rapidly expanding belly act as an excuse for overindulgence (which I have been doing!) instead, I’m asking myself if I feel good from what I’m eating, whether I’m getting plenty of nutrients from my diet and would I choose to eat x or y if I wasn’t pregnant.

4. Finally I’m reminding myself to enjoy this time: to enjoy being in my body and embracing the challenges it presents as well as knowing that now, more than ever, the imperative to be well nourished, fit and fearless is greater than ever.

Until my next, enjoy the Fit and Fearless podcast here and follow the girls @thegirlgains in Instagram and at http://www.girlgains.co.uk.

Marathon mums

(image from netmums.com)

With marathon training season in full swing, I’ve been enviously looking on as my friends on Strava and Instagram crank up their weekly mileage. While on the one hand the talk of their long runs makes me want to sign up for a marathon immediately, on the other, the reality of my running form at the moment makes such a challenge seem further away than ever. Although it’s pretty tricky running through pregnancy, both my husband and I are very aware of the additional challenge that will come (we hope!) from trying to train with a baby. While we have heard horror stories of babies who have screamed for the entirety of a run from the comfort of an incredibly expensive running buggy (which was never used again), we also have lots of inspiring fit friends who seem to manage to combine being model parents with having model bodies.

One such friend, Jess, recently became a mum herself, and less than a year since giving birth she is now in the midst of training for the Paris marathon (a race we ran together back in 2015). Seeing her posts on Instagram and reading her blog really inspired me and made me want to absorb some of her knowledge and motivation in the hope that it might see me running marathons again in the future.

I wanted to write a post about a female powerhouse for International Women’s Day and this interview with Jess – doctor, runner, blogger and mum – seemed the perfect fit. She kindly agreed to answer a few questions on training during pregnancy, being a running mum and Paris marathon prep. I hope you find her as inspiring as I do. 2019 marathon anyone?!

What did your weekly exercise routine look like pre-pregnancy?

Before pregnancy I was training for the Santa Rosa Marathon (I found out I was pregnant the day after I ran it) so I was running 4 times a week, including speed/hill sessions and long runs of up to 20 miles. I‘d also started barre classes and was going about twice a week.

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How did you adapt your workouts during pregnancy?

I made sure I listened to my body and did what felt right. I hardly moved in the first trimester as I was so exhausted and just needed to rest. The idea of going for a run was horrific! Fortunately, the exhaustion settled and I started running again at 11 weeks. The runs were short and slow – 4 miles was my limit, I think.  I eventually stopped running at 26 weeks as it was uncomfortable (I always felt a lot of pressure on my pelvic floor and constantly needed to wee!) and stopped me from enjoying my runs. From then on I did lots of walking and pregnancy barre DVDs.

How did you feel about the changes to your body and fitness during pregnancy?

I was surprisingly OK with all the changes. Pre-pregnancy I thought I’d find it hard, but I just tried to focus on what I could do, rather than dwelling on what I couldn’t.

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At what stage and how did you start to rebuild your fitness after giving birth?

I had an emergency C-section so knew I had to give my body time to heal before starting to run and workout again. I started by walking daily. I felt very weak initially and walking a few miles was a real challenge. I gradually got stronger and went for my first run at 7 weeks. It felt great, however, after a few runs I noticed a pulling sensation around my scar. It wasn’t painful but also didn’t feel normal. I booked in with a women’s health physio for an assessment. She told me I was running too soon and needed to hold off for longer. I was really disappointed but deep down knew she was right. I started running regularly again at about 4 months post-partum. About the same time I started going to a CrossFit class called ‘Strong as a Mother’, which has been amazing. It focuses on core stability, mobility and strength for mothers and has definitely helped me get stronger.

When did you decide to set yourself the challenge of running another marathon after pregnancy?

All through pregnancy I knew I wanted to run a marathon in the first year postpartum. Pregnancy and motherhood is life changing and it can be easy to lose your sense of self amongst it all. Marathon running has been a passion of mine for almost a decade and I knew that training for a marathon would keep the ‘old Jess’ alive. I think I was scared that motherhood would mean no more marathons (at least for a long time) so setting myself the challenge of doing one in the first year was a good way to keep me running!

Why did this challenge appeal?

I love running marathons and I wanted to prove to myself motherhood didn’t need to stop me running them!

How do find fitting in your training around childcare?

I’m lucky because my husband works from home a lot so I run early in the morning or during nap times. I have to be ready to go as soon as the time is right, there’s no time to faff around! It can be tricky when my husband is travelling for work (sometimes for up to 4 nights at a time) but I just try to re-jig my schedule, call in some favours, or run with my heavy, non-running pram! I recently joined the local gym which has a crèche for babies over 6 months. I’m hoping that this will be a game changer when my husband travels as I can use the treadmill while Leo’s in the crèche.

So you haven’t been tempted by a running buggy?

So far I haven’t needed one as I’ve managed to schedule my runs without taking Leo. It would offer more flexibility so I’m tempted to get one, but they also take up loads of space in house which is probably why I’m holding off. It’s also nice to run on my own and have a break.

How does running feel now compared to pre-pregnancy?

It feels exactly the same, although I’m sure it helps that I had a C-section. The main difference is that I’m still slower than I used to be. I had to start from scratch and it’s only in the last few weeks that I feel like everything is coming together and I’m hitting the paces that I used to. I’ve got my endurance back, now I need to focus on speed!

How do you motivate yourself to get out for a run after a bad night’s sleep or a busy day of looking after Leo?

I’m not going to lie, if I’ve been up all night it’s tempting to press snooze and forget about running, but I try my best not to! I love the mantra ‘I get to run’, as it flips my mind set and reminds me that running is something I love, that I chose to do. I remind myself of how much I missed running when I was pregnant and how good I’ll feel after I’ve been. I also know that if I miss my run slot I probably won’t get another one that day which is usually enough to get me out of bed…

What does your current training plan look like?

I’m marathon training and run 4 times a week, including a long run at the weekend. I’ve just started to add in some speed work but I’m mainly focusing on getting my endurance back. I’m aware that a marathon is a big challenge this soon after having a baby so my focus is on enjoying the experience; speed can come later!

 

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What will be your next challenge after Paris?

Now I’ve got my endurance back, I want to improve my speed. I’m hoping to do an Autumn marathon (maybe Richmond) where I’ll be aiming for a PB!

Who are your fitspirations?

Charlie from The Runner Beans. She is so dedicated to her training and somehow manages to fit it around a crazy schedule. It’s really inspiring to see her smash her goals and it helps me believe I could do the same.

What would your top tips be for me as a pregnant runner and mum-to-be?

Enjoy a fit pregnancy but listen to your body and change your goals and expectations accordingly.

Remember that every pregnancy is different so there’s no point comparing yourself to other pregnant women, especially pregnant runners. Some can run up to their due date, while others have to stop much earlier. Everyone is different!

When the baby comes, get outside for some fresh air and movement every day. Even if it’s just a walk around the park, it will make you feel much better.

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Beware the judgemental eyebrow, ditch the hot baths and go decaf: Lessons from a 17 week pregnant running vegan

(Image © babycentre.co.uk)

The other day it really struck me: there is another human being growing inside me. At this very moment, there is a future person dwelling in my ever-expanding uterus, coming to work with me, bobbing up and down on my runs, getting shifted around as I do yoga, hanging out with me as I hang out with friends and enjoying (in it’s own way) everything I eat and drink. And all being well, at some point in the not so distant future, that little being will walk and talk out here in the world. I know all of this is glaringly obvious, but at the same time it’s really weird and totally amazing.

As week 16 comes to a close and I’ve started to look pretty pregnant, I’m finally beginning to let myself hope and believe that this (not so) little bump will become a healthy baby. So what have I learned and experienced over the past weeks (aside from anxious excitement!)?

1. Morning sickness is a misnomer

While some people escape morning sickness altogether, for me it was more of an all day nausea. While it was pretty rough, I was lucky that it only lasted from about week 7 to week 13. Beige food really helped during this time and my go-to meals became porridge, avocado on crackers, peanut butter and apple on rye toast, butternut squash risotto and (bizarrely) vegan curry. I found myself trying to sneak veggies into my meals where I could stomach it, made sure I took my pregnancy vitamins plus a vitamin b complex and daily dose of liquid iron, but if I’m honest it wasn’t my finest few weeks in terms of nutrition. When it passed and I started fancying salad again it was amazing and I welcomed back all of the vegetables with open arms! Now I’m pretty much back to my usual diet with the addition of a 4pm banana or Trek bar snack and maybe the occasional weekend piece of vegan cake (because right now it’s hard to tell baby from belly!).

2. Get ready to slow down and get breathless

I would compare the tiredness of pregnancy with the feeling you get on a Sunday afternoon having done a long run that morning: one minute you’re fine and the next you’re flat out asleep on the sofa, still fully dressed. The benefit of this is that you sleep like a baby (or like a pregnant woman), and during the first trimester I’d be tucked up in bed fast asleep by 9:30 pm.

I’ve also found that I have an in-built slowdown mechanism that kicks in during pregnancy runs and prevents me from going much faster than 8.50 minute miles, but often sees me much closer to 9.30s. I have taught myself to embrace this sedate pace and enjoy the fact that I’m still able to run, rather than worrying about how fast I’m going.

There is also an, initially alarming, breathlessness that comes with being pregnant. In early pregnancy the boost in progesterone causes breathlessness, while later the baby pushing up on your diaphragm and lungs has the same impact. It is still pretty disconcerting finding myself out of puff having only walked up the stairs, but at least I know now what’s causing it and that it’s not indicative of a sudden dramatic drop-off in fitness!

3. Keep moving

Despite being slow and breathless, I still feel best in my body while I’m working out. I’m still able to run 4 or 5 times a week (normally between 3 and 8 miles, but if I have to cut a run short due to discomfort I don’t beat myself up about it), I still do yoga every morning (with some adjustments to allow for the bump) and I’m trying to fit in at least one weights session at the gym a week.

It’s recommended that you don’t take up new sports during pregnancy and that you avoid high-risk and contact sports, but if you worked out before you became pregnant, and still feel ok exercising, then generally there is no need to stop. If you have any doubts or concerns do check with your doctor or midwife and make sure you always listen to your body; if you feel uncomfortable or if something twinges take a step back or call it a day. Exercise at this time should be for general physical and mental wellbeing rather than for any particular goals, so it’s silly to push yourself unnecessarily (that’s what I have to keep reminding myself anyway!).

4. Treat yourself to maternity wear

While in the grand scheme of things you’re only pregnant for a short time, while you are living it, 9 months feels like an age. Now my body is dramatically changing shape I’ve made the decision to treat myself to some new pregnancy-body essentials: underwear (including non-underwired bras, which are a must for growing breast tissue, as well as sports bras, not least as mine have become slightly indecent in light of my recent growth spurt!), maternity jeans (I’ve received two hand-me-down pairs from a good friend of mine and they are the most comfortable things ever! They are still a little big for me at the moment but I don’t doubt I’ll grow into them), and some stretchy skirts and dresses for work. I’m also on the lookout for some over the bump smart black trousers for work so if anyone has any recommendations do pass them on.

While I don’t want to spend a lot of money on clothes that I’m only going to wear for a limited time, I do still want to feel like myself and attractive* (*or at least not like an enormous frump!). At a time when you are feeling more than a little ill at ease in your body – getting used to your new lumps and bumps, and accepting and trying to embrace a larger belly and breasts –  the last thing you want is to feel uncomfortable and self-conscious in your clothes as well as your skin. While I don’t condone fast fashion or materialism, I do think it’s ok to treat yourself to a few new pieces that will keep you feeling good throughout your pregnancy.

5. Don’t play the comparison game

If you Google ’16 week baby bump’ (and I have, many times) the range in the size of bumps and bodies is dramatic. This is a good reminder that every body and every pregnancy is different. While at first I was very anxious to ascertain if I was growing at a ‘normal’ rate and regularly comparing myself with friends at a similar stage of pregnancy, I’ve come to realise that this is really unhelpful. We all grow at different rates and in different places. I feel massive at the moment, especially compared to my tiny friends, but I’m hoping that the growth will come in fits and starts and that I won’t be totally humongous come August! I also know that many women worry about not growing quickly enough in early pregnancy and are concerned that their bumps are too small, so it’s important to remember that one size most certainly doesn’t fit all.

6. Your body will become public property

While you are going through these changes, and trying to get used to them yourself, be prepared for an onslaught of personal, body-related comments from others. Apparently when you are pregnant you are fair game in this regard, who knew?! Some days it will feel like everyone has something to say about your growing body, and not everyone will be tactful about it. Some people will use sensitive euphemisms such as ‘bloom’ and ‘glow’, while there will be others whose comments fall wide of the tact mark (‘I thought you’d put on weight’ and ‘wow you’re so big’ are a couple that I have been treated with). The only thing you can do is try to remain confident in your body and feel proud that you are growing another human (!!!), which will inevitably involve some changes in your shape.

I’ve certainly had a lot of insecure moments lately – my rib cage has pushed out making me feel a lot wider, I’ve gone from being practically flat chested to having a serious rack, any sign of abs that I had are a distant memory and side-on I’m now positively ‘deep’ – but I’m trying to own my new shape and remain focused on the bigger picture (not just my bigger belly!).

7. Beware the judging eyebrow

While the body comments can be taken with a pinch (or two) of salt, the judgemental raised eyebrow, which accompanies observations about your lifestyle choices and what you should, or more often, shouldn’t, be doing, can cut a little closer to the bone. Whether it’s a comment on your exercise regime (‘are you sure you should be running’), diet (‘but you’ll give up veganism now you’re pregnant, right?’), your holidays (‘but you didn’t actually ski did you?’), or your decision to drink one of the two the NHS-approved cups of caffeinated tea a day (‘don’t you want decaf?’) it’s amazing how suddenly judgemental the world seems to be.

Although I know that as a pregnant woman there is a seemingly infinite list of dos and don’ts, when I do make a decision it is usually after an agonisingly long conversation with my husband/mum/sister/mother-in-law/midwife and much careful consideration, not just on the spur of the moment. That said, I also live in permanent fear that I will do something that may damage the baby – should I have used a hot water bottle when i had that stomach ache? Was my bath cool enough? Was that swimming pool water too warm? How long was I asleep on my back before I woke up and realised? Am I getting too stressed at work?  – so rest assured all of you with the raised eyebrow, I don’t need external judgement to send me into a tailspin over whether I’m doing things ‘the right way’.

While I still haven’t mastered turning the other cheek to the judgemental eyebrow, the best advice I can offer is to do things in a considered way, seek advice from those you trust, do your research and feel confident that what you are doing is right for you.

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If anyone else is going through pregnancy at the moment I’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences. Until my next, happy growing!

Fit friends: My secret weapon for winter training

When it’s cold, dark and rainy in the winter months it’s really easy to let your motivation for exercise slide. A lunchtime run suddenly seems less appealing when it involves getting soaked through, and the pool seems less alluring when it’s subzero outside. What I find makes things even trickier is the running routes I frequent during the summer become more difficult to navigate in the winter. I don’t like to run home alone along the canal in the dark, many of the parks I like to lap close at 5pm and the off-road routes become so muddy underfoot that I end up walking sections to avoid slipping over.

IMG_2840 (1)While I could use all of this as an excuse to bed down until Spring, I’m making the effort to dig deep and keep going with my training, allowing my fitness routine to take a slightly different form to account for the season. And although my weekly mileage is down, my yoga hours, pool and gym times are all up and I’m focusing on building strength and flexibility alongside a toned down version of my usual cardio.

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Each evening, my good intentions see me packing my swim/run/yoga kit ready for the following day, but what has been really helping me to get out of the door for an exercise session is having training buddies on hand, who are already kitted up and waiting for me outside.

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It’s so much easier to get to the gym or out for a run when you have someone to go with. I’m so lucky that my friends at work are also keen to keep fit throughout the winter and we can all head from the office to the gym/pool/yoga class, or else enjoy a lunchtime run together. And we have a mutual understanding that once we are working out we all follow our own programmes, so there’s no chatting by the water fountain or long rests in the weights room!

Fitfluencers

If you haven’t got fit friends at the ready to keep you on the straight and narrow, I also find following ‘fitfluencers’ on social media really helps. I find it hard to see other people leading an active life and exercising without being taken over by the urge to exercise myself!

On Instagram I love Alice Liveing, Shalane FlanaganCharlotte Kalla, Samantha Gash, Kaisa MakarainenA Pretty Place to Play, The Runnerbeans, Running with Mo Yogi Bare, Tina Muir, Alex Puccio and Shauna Coxsey.

Podcast persuasion

Another great way to make sure I get out for a run is to download a podcast episode I really want to listen to, but only allow myself listen while on a run. Running and fitness podcasts, such as Run to the a Top from Runners Connect, Marathon Talk and Rich Roll are great to stay focused, but I also love escaping run chat with the High Low, This American Life or Reasons to be Cheerful.

Strava stats

Accountability and a little healthy competition with myself also helps keep me going, which is why I love tracking my runs on Strava. It’s a great way to keep an eye on my mileage and gauge how I’m getting on, but I’m also aware that my  running data is public so I can’t slack off too much in case my stats become conspicuous by their absence!

Home workouts

I love at-home, early morning workouts and during the winter these really help to get me going for the day. YouTube is a cornucopia of great yoga videos – I love Sarah Beth Yoga, Yoga with Adrienne and Boho Beautiful – but workout apps are also great for short, focussed fitness sessions. I’m currently using Power 20 Prenatal fitness app, but before this I loved the Weight Loss Fitness app – both free to download.

If you are struggling with winter workouts, or if you have other hints and tips to keep on track when it’s wet and cold outside do let me know.

Now I just need to go out for my Sunday run…

Until my next, happy running.

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