Postpartum running varies significantly for every runner – and for every pregnancy. This post is not intended to be prescriptive. Rather, I want to share my experience of postpartum running at seven months after having a C-section.
Motivation and Enjoyment
I seldom struggled with motivation in the past. In the recent postpartum months, I enjoy running just as much as ever, if not more. It does not matter if the run is on the treadmill, with the stroller, or alone outdoors. Running helps me feel better, both mentally and physically.
Logistically speaking, it has not been too difficult to fit in runs. Most days, I run on the treadmill or with the jogging stroller. I could, if I wanted to, run before Ryan leaves for work; I simply did not during winter because I do not like running in the dark.
I built back first volume and then intensity at cautious, calculated rates. After six weeks off for recovery, I resumed running with very short run-walk intervals three times per week. I spent a few weeks rebuilding to continuous running and then focused on volume. After nine weeks of aerobic-only base building, I introduced fartleks. I completed four weeks of fartleks before adding in a tempo run.
What I found most interesting is how my body responded to both. Prior to pregnancy, I was a moderate mileage runner and thrived on two hard workouts per week. When I ran my last big race in spring 2018, I was only peaking at 40-44 miles per week, but executing workouts such as 4 x 2 miles at half marathon pace and 5 x 1 mile at 10K pace within the same week.
By four months or so postpartum, I felt more physically normal. However, I noticed how I handed mileage versus intensity had changed. The type of training load that felt best for me before did not feel as good postpartum.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of my spring 10K, I was doing a weekly workout of either a tempo run or cruise intervals (~8K-10k pace). Some of the workouts went very well, especially continuous tempo runs. However, if I pushed too hard – even in a workout that previously would have been very manageable – I required days to recover. Sometimes, I experienced a flare of localized aching around my incision. I noticed more weakness in my pelvic floor during hard runs.
I cannot pinpoint the exact cause. Perhaps my core and pelvic floor are weaker than I think or maybe I have healing adhesions from the surgery. Perhaps it was not doing any hard workouts from July to January and the deconditioning that comes with that amount of time off. Maybe I required an even more cautious build-up than I gave myself.
I scaled back significantly, first to a few weeks of only mileage. Then, I progressed more cautiously back to surges/strides, aerobic progression runs, hills, and the occasional time trial.
Meanwhile, higher mileage and more frequent running feel better than ever. I built back up to double digit runs with relative ease. While my paces above lactate threshold are slower, my easy pace quickly returned close to previous levels. I often feel as if I could just keep running. The more weekly mileage I run, the better I feel. I used to run 35-40 miles when training for a half, and now I am working on making that my base weekly mileage.
As I look forward to races (whenever they will resume), I find myself gravitating toward marathons and potentially even a road 50K. I do want to race other distances, but there is a definite allure to training that emphasizes volume over intensity.
Breastfeeding & Running
As I feel more recovered, one of the biggest differences between running prior to pregnancy and postpartum running is breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding places an additional energy demand on the body, even with an older baby. While we supplement with solids and formula, I feed Isla seven times per day. The energy demand easily feels like running two or three more miles per day. I eat and hydrate as if I am running a dozen more miles per week than I actually am.
My weight is still slightly higher than it was before pregnancy. However, since my clothes fit well and I feel strong, I am okay with this. I would rather eat enough to support breastfeeding and my runs than to risk injury from low energy availability.
Building Back Core Strength
At seven months postpartum, I am still working on rebuilding strength. A C-section decimates your core strength.
I lifted weights and did Pilates at least once per week throughout my pregnancy. That base of strength helped me recover well from the C-section, but I still had to spend months rebuilding strength.
When I was medically cleared six weeks postpartum, I started a core rehabilitation program (ReCore Fitness , which I highly recommend for anyone postpartum). I completed that program and then progressed onto the next level (ReCore2). Now, at about seven months postpartum, I feel ready to approach modified versions of my previous strength workouts.
If you have kids, how has running changed for you?
Have you changed your preferences for running (speed vs distance) over the year?