Training for your first race postpartum can come with a few surprises. Here are 13 tips to help get you to the finish line!

Women making a plan with colorful post it notes

Before You Start Training

Below are a list of topics to help you start planning to train for your first race postpartum.

Knowing your why is the key to staying motivated and knowing how to adjust your plan, when needed. When we don’t know our why, we may make decisions based on how we have always done something instead of what makes sense in this particular moment. So ask yourself a few questions:

-Why do I want to train for this race?

-What does success look like to me?

-What details do I care about most? What details are not important to me?

 

“Realistic” is a really important part of this statement. Training after kids will most likely look different than it did before kids. Not just because you are recovering from building a human being in your body. But also because you are likely busier, getting less sleep, and potentially experiencing more self-doubt than you ever have before. You want to create a plan that:

-Fits the time you actually have available on your average week

-Feels like you can “win”

-Allows enough time to prepare for your even

 

They say raising kids takes a village. Well, there were times when I was returning to running postpartum that I felt like I needed a whole state. At first, I was confused why I was struggling so much. I had returned to running from breaks/injuries before. But this time was different. I had more going on and less felt in my control. I ended up finding help in three places:

An amazing PT/run coach – she is pelvic/orthopedic PT, endurance runner, and mom, so to say she “got it” is an understatement

Athletic mom friends – sharing my challenges and hearing their challenges reminded me I was in good company

A run group – I started my own run group. I loved the existing groups in town, but felt like I needed something a little unique for this phase of life. I wanted a group that made it easy for someone to say “yes” even if they were worried their kiddo would need to nurse, dirty a diaper, flip out, etc. Needless to say, this group has been amazing!

I can’t stress enough how much seeing a Pelvic PT, who was well-versed in supporting postpartum runners, helped me. If you are in the Madison-area, I highly recommend Dr. Taylor DeMars at Peak Endurance Physical Therapy.

Dr. Carrie Pagliano also has some great, free, online “return to run” resources that I use when training. This includes a return to run self-assessment that helps you identify potential strengths and weaknesses that may impact your running. I like to use the self-assessment to kick off my training program, and I repeat it about every 3 weeks to see how my strength training is progressing.

As I talk about in “What You Really Need to Know About Stroller Running”, I really thought running time should be “me and only me” time. But that didn’t set me up well to “expect the unexpected”. I was often skipping runs because something came up. Getting a run stroller really helped me get in a walk or run more consistently.

Also, it turns out it can be a lot of fun to have your kiddo join you for a run or even a race. It’s definitely a different experience than running alone but not necessarily an inferior one. In fact, I love the way people cheer me on at 5ks when I have the stroller. And it’s fun sharing something I enjoy with my kids. Not to mention, you will start noticing that races these days are filled with aspirational, badass stroller runners.

This may sound silly but it’s a necessary step because people’s feet often change during pregnancy. So make sure to try on your running shoes before the day you plan to run. If they don’t fit, consider heading to a running shoe store to try on some pairs in person. I love online shopping as much as anyone, but your foot may have changed in more ways than just adjusting your size. So it’s great to have a professional help you find a shoe that feels good.

Female runner tying her running shoes outdoors

During Your Training

Congratulations! You’ve started your training. Below are a few things to expect and watch for during your postpartum return to run training program.

I often joke that parenting is one big opportunity to learn how to adapt and go with the flow. Just this past weekend, I had a training run planned. The weather was great and our schedule was wide open. But about an hour before my run, my husband went from healthy to vomiting. Unfortunately, stuff like this happens . . . a lot. But it is possible to make your training work with these kinds of surprises. You just need to be mentally prepared for it and ready to adapt. Need some ideas for how to get a workout in when you can’t run? Check out my post on “How to Choose an Alternative Workout When you Can’t Run”.

There are more and more studies about the importance of sleep when it comes to increasing our fitness level and avoiding injury. Unfortunately, the news isn’t great for a sleep-deprived parent (aka me). But before you call it quits, remember knowledge is power. We can use this information to make smart decisions about prioritizing sleep when possible and managing expectations when prioritizing sleep isn’t possible. 

And remember if you aren’t seeing the results you would expect from your workouts, don’t immediately assume you need to work out harder and more often. Take a look at your sleep, along with your stress management and food intake, to consider whether your body is getting what it needs to recover and build fitness from your workouts. 

Oh how I wish I had taken my own advice on this one! When I was 4 months postpartum with my second child, I was eager to get back to my old hobbies. I had done a lot of things “right”. I had an active pregnancy and visited a pelvic PT around 10 weeks postpartum for an assessment and return to exercise game plan. But something happened around 4 months postpartum that turned my rational brain (and a decade’s worth of knowledge from working in prenatal/postpartum fitness) off and my desire to do something “normal” took over. I went to a cardio tennis class. Everyone was so sweet and made comments like “wow, it is so amazing you are out of the house.” So when something felt off in my left knee during the warm up quad stretch, I decided to ignore it. I had had this twinge of pain a few times in recent weeks and always seemed to be fine later. And there was no way I was walking off that court after everyone was so proud of me for showing up. Well, that was a mistake. I ended up minorly tearing my meniscus and spent months in PT instead of playing tennis or running. 

So if you are experiencing pain or somethings feels off, I highly recommend reaching out to your care provider or PT. Pain is complicated. It can be a sign of injury, muscle weakness, muscle tightness, or a complex combination of factors. During training, I have had pain where the solution was strength training and other pain where the solution involved breathing and relaxation exercises.  Having a skilled provider offer an assessment and plan is a total game changer. 

When we think about building strength postpartum, we often focus on the pelvic floor and core muscles. But we forget about our feet and ankles. Starting a run program while you are still working on your core/pelvic stability can ask a lot of your feet/ankles to stabilize and respond to impact. So incorporating foot/ankle exercises can help us adapt to this challenge. Want to learn more? Check out GaitHappens on Instagram

It took me years of running to understand that training plans only offer a starting point to work towards your running goals. Most people will need to adjust their plan along the way based on how they feel, their progress, and time availability. There is no shame in adapting your strategy, in fact, it is incredibly smart! I recommend checking in about every 2-3 weeks to decide if/how you want to adjust your plan for the next few weeks. Check out this “Check-In Worksheet” to learn some questions you can ask yourself. 

I love to cheer on professional runners and triathletes as they return to running postpartum. I am so grateful they are sharing their experiences, bringing attention to the challenges of postpartum recovery, and giving us mega doses of inspiration. But unless you are a professional, too, remember your plan should not look like their plan. This person has a totally different athletic history than you. They have advanced skills when it comes to reading their bodies’ signals and knowing when to push/back off. Not to mention, running is their source of income, so they may make decisions and take risks in their return plan that don’t make sense for a casual runner. So cheer on these amazing parent athletes and steal some inspiration from their grit, but don’t compare yourself to them. 

At the end of the day, remember you are choosing to train for this event. So try to enjoy the road to get there. Most of us ran into some hiccups, speed bumps, or freakin’ mountains during our path back to running. My own progress has been anything but linear, but I still love it! So on the good days, give yourself a million high fives. And on the tough days, remember forward is a pace, you are amazing, and this is hopefully just the first of many wonderful races ahead of you!