Monday, 21 March 2016

Breastfeeding and exercise

I've already blogged about the impact that pregnancy and labour had on my fitness so thought I would continue that theme by discussing the challenges of exercising whilst breastfeeding. I'm a huge advocate of breastfeeding - it's not often easy to get going (despite what Jamie Oliver might have you believe...) & can be very tough, but for me the rewards have very much outweighed the early problems and at the moment I intend to carry on for the foreseeable future. It hasn't impacted on my ability to train anywhere near as much as the other issues, but these are my tips for any other breastfeeding runners: 

1. Fuel properly. Breastfeeding means that you are providing calories & nutrition for a whole other person (allbeit quite a small one) - when I run, especially in the mornings, I notice that I need more energy than I used to so factor that in to make sure you don't have a big energy crash.
2. Try and time it so the baby won't need a feed half way round the course - that won't be fun for anyone. Breasts are super clever and can start lactating in response to the baby crying even before the baby has latched on! 
3. Wear a decent sports bra. This is a tricky one as you can't easily feed in a normal sports bra, but I learnt the hard way that a feeding bra doesn't provide enough support. You can buy special feeding sports bras - generally American companies are more clued up on pre/post natal fitness wear. 
4. Hydrate properly - breastfeeding makes you thirsty anyway so you need to ensure you're keeping your fluid levels topped up after exercise.
5. Be flexible & patient. Babies aren't predictable especially in the early weeks/months and they might need a feed unexpectedly which could scupper best laid plans. If you are exclusively breastfeeding then it can start to feel a bit overwhelming and like you'll never get out, but 6 months on I'm beginning to get some freedom and independence again. In the grand scheme of things, 6 months of cuddles on the sofa isn't going to impact on amateur runners & even Olympian Liz Yelling tandem breastfed her twins for 6 months! 

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Buggy Bootcamp

I've posted before about the physical challenges I've faced with returning to exercise after pregnancy, but another factor to consider is the lack of free time available to me. Classes that you can take babies to are therefore very appealing. I already do a postnatal mother and baby yoga class but wanted something a little more intense, so headed to the local church hall for my first BuggyBootcamp class.
(Photo from postnatal yoga - I have to share my mat these days!)

In warmer months the class is outside & ordinarily I love heading outside in all weathers. However, with the needs of a baby to consider, the indoor venue was great. I spread a blanket on the floor with some toys and baby Flo was (largely) happy to play by herself and watch what was going on. 

The class was led by Nicola who set up BuggyBootcamp (there is a similar class called BuggyFit) and she was great - she made an effort to use everyone's names throughout the class to give individual feedback or encouragement which made newcomers feel welcome and supported. We started with a fairly traditional warm up before moving into 4 sets of high intensity intervals. The exercises were relatively simple but quickly got my heart rate up which is exactly what I wanted after months of taking it easy. Nicola told me afterwards that every class is different which I think is good as otherwise the exercises could get a little repetitive. After the high intensity section, Nicola led a short core workout sequence followed by a series of stretches. I wasn't able to participate in this as by then Flo had started to grumble, but the core exercises were very similar to those I had enjoyed in Pilates. 

The atmosphere throughout was lighthearted and relaxed (babies tend to mean that has to be the case!) - breastfeeding there was fine & the hall had baby changing facilities. The first class was free but normally it is £7.50 per class or £60 for 10 classes (valid for 3 months) - not an insignificant sum when on maternity leave but in my opinion worth it for the ability to exercise properly.

Overall I think that BuggyBootcamp will help me get back to fitness and hopefully complement my running. I can recommend it to other mums - I've included the flyer for anyone local.  
Are there any other baby friendly fitness classes anyone can recommend?

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Post-natal fitness: the first few weeks

As I've already blogged about, I was able to keep fairly active throughout my pregnancy and as a result thought I would be able to resume exercising pretty quickly afterwards. I was worried that if I wasn't up to running or being active then that would hit my emotional wellbeing pretty hard. As it turns out, I didn't do more than little walks for about a month after giving birth but I was so all consumed with being a new mum that actually I wasn't bothered.
Labour took a bigger toll on my body than I expected. Without going into too many details, it was a massive physical effort and afterwards it took me about 36 hours to feel that I'd eaten & drunk enough to get my energy back - I spent several hours shaking due to feeling so weak. I got very little sleep in the days either side of the birth and missed an entire night of sleep the night she was actually born so it was difficult to begin recovering. I also ached all over for several days & had to cope with the more delicate aspects of post-birth. In short, going for a run was not on my list of priorities! 

By the time she was 5 weeks old I had started wearing her in a sling which gave me a lot more freedom. I went for a walk along the river - my old 5K running loop. 
She slept through the whole thing! 

A few weeks later I returned to parkrun, initially walking with her and then progressing to running. However, it hasn't all been straightforward - pelvic floor issues have set me back and I've decided to start walk/running again as well as focusing on core strength. On that note, the impact on pregnancy and birth to a woman's pelvic floor is huge and it is a pity that it is not spoken about more. I don't think it's anything to be ashamed about - it is entirely natural, understandable and normal, but because incontinence issues are often hidden or worse joked about, it becomes embarrassing. I'm going to be blogging more about my (hopeful) return to fitness so if any pregnant women or mums are reading then do share your experiences.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Pregnancy: training for labour?

Throughout my pregnancy I kept noticing little things that reminded me of being in  training for a long race. Perhaps it was just my way of rationalising everything that was happening and preparing for the birth, but I thought I would share the (light-hearted) similarities I noticed.

1. When you sign up for a big race, you start to focus on race day. With pregnancy, that big date always on your mind is your due date (even though only 4% of babies are actually born on their due date - at least races tend to be more predictable!)

2. Marathon plans are in weeks & most runners can tell you exactly which week they are on. Once you find out you're pregnant then you also measure in weeks. You might not have a training spreadsheet but you'll almost certainly have an app telling you exactly what's happening to your body and your baby as each week passes. 

3. You eat a lot! Training for a race uses a lot of calories and, believe me, so does growing a baby.  In the first trimester all I could stomach for lunch was a white bread roll, babybel and ready salted crisps (eaten furtively at my desk so my colleagues didn't notice the weird new eating habit!) - maybe I was carb loading ready for labour?! 

4. Lucozade features heavily. As part of standard antenatal care there's a glucose tolerance test which involves drinking a bottle of lucozade an hour before a blood test. Additionally midwifes recommend taking lucozade sport to hospital with you - I don't actually like lucozade but I'm glad I took their advice, the instant sugar got me through labour just like gels & jelly babies did in my marathon! 

5. At the end of it all you might not get a shiny new medal but you get a brand new baby instead! 

Friday, 1 January 2016

Running for two

I'm resurrecting this little blog of mine to talk about my experiences of running when pregnant and as a new mum. There's relatively little information or even anecdotes about running when pregnant so I hope that my experience will be interesting or useful to any other mums or mums-to-be out there.

Baby Florence was born on 7th September 2015 and I ran my last pregnant parkrun on 8th August. Throughout my pregnancy, friends were asking when I planned to stop running and my answer was always that I would keep going as long as I could. The NHS advice is positive towards exercise in pregnancy, though with the caveat to discuss it with your midwife. My midwife was very supportive and agreed with my plan to keep going as well as I felt able to. I am chuffed that I managed to still enjoy running in the 3rd trimester even though I started to receive a few comments about needing hot towels etc towards the end! 
I found out I was pregnant in the middle of January 2015 and almost immediately felt differently about running. I didn't want to push my body too hard so PB hunting was off the agenda, but I still wanted to keep fit. I'd raced a lot over the Christmas holidays and unfortunately had picked up a slight foot injury. This became quite handy in covering up why I wasn't running as much as usual until I was comfortable telling people I was pregnant (after the 12 week scan). 

I found the first 12 weeks the hardest - I didn't have a bump but was completely exhausted most of the time so had very little energy to run. This made me feel quite down and a bit like my identity was being lost. Pregnancy can be a very emotional time (blame the hormones) and not feeling physically up to running meant I couldn't turn to my usual form of therapy! Luckily things improved in the second trimester and I was able to enjoy running once again, including on holiday in California.
By the third trimester I still felt physically well but the bump was becoming more cumbersome and I was running a lot more slowly. I also had to be careful not to overheat in the summer sun as that could have potentially been risky. I swam a lot which was lovely - the water makes bumps weightless so it's easier to move more freely.
Overall I can really recommend running through pregnancy particularly if you have a supportive community like parkrun. However, the old cliche of listening to your body is even more important so if you are pregnant and feel too knackered/sick/weak/sore to do anything then remember it's only a few months and your body is growing a whole person which is pretty amazing in itself! 

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Supporting at a marathon

Along with thousands of other people, I spent much of Sunday lining random streets of London and dashing around on the underground to support at the marathon. This was the third year that I'd been down and now consider myself pretty pro at finding decent spots to are my tips! 

1. Plan your route in advance. Your runner/s will know the course and it's probably even more important that you do too. London give out guides for supporters at the expo - get one! It'll be busy everywhere on marathon day and having a plan helps.

2. Decide if you want to spot everyone once or one person multiple times. You can't do both unless all your friends happen to run the same pace. This year my husband was running so for me it was all about seeing him as much as possible. That meant I also saw anyone who was quicker than him but no one who was slower than him because as soon as he came through I dashed off to the next place. 

3. If you want a front row spot, get there early. I claimed my first bit of pavement at 9 miles before the race had even started. 
4. Wear comfortable shoes, take layers and pack snacks - it's a long day! 

5. If you don't want to get there early, or for later miles, make friends with the marshals. One drinks station was manned by my club mates which meant a cheeky front row pass just in time for Paula to fly past. 

(Paula having a drink running past the arms of my friends - admit it, it's a great photo...) 

6. Find somewhere to touch out your Oyster card even if the barriers are open & the station staff tell you you don't need to on marathon day. You do & it costs you if you don't. 

7. Cheer and clap everyone, not just your friends, but cheer them extra loudly. 

8. Know that it's all about the runner you're there for but that they will really appreciate your efforts. 

Husband smashed his goal time & ran a huge PB with negative split - I am very proud :-) 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Losing my identity?

I named my (much neglected) blog 'Branded Runner' because being a runner had become a massive part of my identity. Last year was very focused on running - I ran Brighton Marathon & spent the rest of the year trying (and sometimes even succeeding) to smash out some PBs at 5K and 10K. I saw in 2015 in the now traditional fashion of a 10K race on NYE followed by a double parkrun on NYD. Business as usual for 2015 then? Well, no not quite. A few weeks later I found out I was pregnant. Suddenly running wasn't my priority anymore! 

I was (and still am) delighted to be expecting my first baby but the first few months of pregnancy haven't been as straightforward as I perhaps thought. Physically I have so far got away fairly lightly but the first trimester was marked by exhaustion that meant any thoughts of running were quickly forgotten. I found myself spending my short evenings lying on the sofa rather than doing exercise and if I'm honest that was tough to handle emotionally. I was a runner, so what happened if I wasn't running? I had been so determined to have a healthy, fit pregnancy but I just didn't have the energy. 

It didn't help that we didn't tell anyone our news until we'd had a scan at 12 weeks. I was pretty anxious about the whole thing until we had that scan so it was hard not sharing that with anyone. We also had various running events booked in, including a race weekend to Barcelona, which we still did but I spectated rather than competed. It was tough not being able to be honest about the reason. 

The last month or so has been much better - I'm back parkrunning, albeit much slower than before, which has really helped me feel like myself again. My new target is to get back under 30 minutes - yesterday I was 2 seconds over so there's still hope before I get too massive! 

This might seem like quite a negative post on what is an amazing experience & joyful time, but I felt it was important to be honest. Sometimes, like anything, pregnancy fitness blogs or Instagram accounts can make it seem like everyone else is able to carry on and that can make it hard if your body just needs to adjust to it's massive new task!
Not sure if or how this blog will continue, but at least I can now explain this recent silence ;-)