mom•lete noun, A badass lady who embarks on motherhood while achieving athletic pursuits.
The first run after my son was born was the most liberating and downright ridiculous run of my adult life. I was barely able to run a mile and was delirious from the sleep deprivation, but with the green light from my midwife, I was not going to miss out on this opportunity.
Being the ambitious runner that I was, I stubbornly strived for three miles and ended up hobbling home with my tail tucked and legs drenched in pee (If you know, you know.). However, despite the pee-soaked spandex and bruised ego, for nearly 30 minutes I was free; no newborn to worry about, no breastmilk to pump, no family or friends to attend too – I was completely alone and it was incredible. For nearly 30 minutes I was simply able to run.
The weeks flew by – as they do when you have a newborn – and I started to slowly increase my mileage. With each mile I started to daydream again. I started dreaming of podiums, fast PR’s, and crossing off some of those long-awaited running goals of mine. A spark had been ignited and I was hungry to get after it.
As I started to integrate within the running community again, I began meeting other momletes who had big, scary goals. I connected with medical professionals who specialized in the postpartum body, and learned all about the drastic changes my body was going to experience if not already – from hormones to bone density to muscle changes, I felt like I was learning how to run again.
I won’t sugar coat it: those first few months of postpartum running were very difficult. I don’t say this to deter you; I simply mean it’s a big transition that takes getting used to. However, I will say that once I figured out a few key tips I not only survived my first postpartum year, I thrived.
To be clear, I am not a medical professional. This is simply my anecdotal take on being a momlete, but I think that the more we share our stories the more it can encourage and support other momletes who might be experiencing something similar.
So, without further ado, here is my take on how to thrive during your first year of becoming a momlete. Welcome to the club!
Find Your Team
You know that saying, “It takes a village to raise a child?” Well, with motherhood this is an absolute fact, especially if you are interested in adding “momlete” to your life resume. I think the biggest thing new moms experience is a feeling of isolation. Here you are, seemingly on your own, and now are completely responsible for a new being. How do you manage?
First, make sure you have a stellar medical team to check in with. Whether that person be a favorite nurse practitioner, doula, midwife, homeopathic doctor, or therapist, find someone in the medical field whom you can trust and speak honestly with. They will more likely understand the physical changes you are going through and can provide unbiased, third-party support that you might not have at home.
Next, find some badass coaches who understand and appreciate where you are in life. Make sure they know your goals not just on the roads or trails, but in motherhood and life. A coach that can modify your workout at the last minute because you were up all night with a crying infant makes all the difference in the world.
If you ignore all of my thoughts please consider this one: rely on your partner – if they are present – and your community. Find other momletes who understand your athletic goals and can cheer you on as you reach for them. Befriend non-momletes as well so you have some balance and can expand your interests beyond your athletic pursuits. Ask your local hospital if there are any mom groups such as postpartum yoga or breastfeeding support. Trust me, a diverse community where you can commiserate with each other every now and then is fabulous.
Your Body is New and Beautiful
Repeat after me: I JUST GAVE BIRTH. Repeat that to yourself over and over until it sticks. When your newfound mantra is solid, you’ll feel more prepared to combat those toxic thinking patterns like, “I need to get back into my pre-baby jeans.”
Give yourself time to adjust. Your body just went through the most incredible and traumatic experience of growing an entire being and then bringing that being into the world one way or another. It makes sense that things will feel off for some time while you run. Your boobs might feel heavier, your hips might feel wider, and your muscles might feel less strong. This is all okay. Be easy on yourself.
If you are able to and choose to breastfeed remember to acknowledge the hormonal changes you might experience. As mentioned before, a great medical practitioner can navigate you through the changes you are experiencing.
Set Realistic Goals
Raise your hand if you’ve ever signed up for a marathon or an ultra immediately after your first run post-hiatus. Yep, it’s pretty common for us to immediately go for it after taking some time away. For moms especially, the desire to get out without a little nugget is freeing. Of course you’re going to start daydreaming of racing fast times and finding YOU again, but remember that taking it one step at a time increases the likelihood of longevity in our sport.
When you have a moment, write down some goals for yourself. A good rule of thumb for setting realistic goals is the SMART philosophy. The acronym stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. This will give you some parameters and help set goals that make sense for you.
Finding a great coach who can help you set goals can also be very beneficial. Ideally they will keep you grounded so you don’t get too carried away, and the goals will be motivating and a little scary to keep you interested. They’ll also make a great sounding board for when you miss a workout or things go awry because you know.. #momlife
The Little Things Matter a Lot
Meet your new best friends: nutrition, rest, and conditioning.
I am not a nutritionist or a dietitian, but personally, my relationship with food changed dramatically postpartum — especially since I was breastfeeding. I quickly learned that if I wanted to run at my desired volume, I needed more calories and nutrient-dense foods than I realized.
I often made snack boards full of good things like pretzels, cheese slices, slices of meat, apples, bananas, raisins, and all the veggies with hummus in between meals. I never counted calories or anything like that; instead, I did this wild thing where I ate when I was hungry! I also learned more about mid-run nutrition and started carrying Spring Energy gels during every run, even if it was a short 30-minute loop.
I am still very much sleep-deprived, but during those first few months, I was literally falling over where I stood. I was told to “nap when the baby napped,” but being the go-getter that I was, it took me quite some time to heed that advice. When I finally figured it out, a world of possibilities opened up. I was less moody, better prepared, and guess what – rested!
While some people can manage life on a few hours of sleep, consistent research shows that if you want to have optimum performance, you need sleep.1 So please, when that baby snoozes let the dishes pile up and catch some zzz’s.
Conditioning can become one of the most tedious aspects of running, but it is seriously one of the most important pieces. Taking 30 minutes a few times a week to focus on your pelvic floor, hips, glutes, and core can make an enormous difference in your performance. It will also help reduce injury and provide more stability for the bigger workouts down the road.
Check with your local gym to see if there is a mom-specific workout group. If it’s hard to get out of the house, find some routines online and record yourself doing them so you can check on your form and progress.
Conditioning looks different for everyone. I’ve taken ballet classes, participated in some high-quality YouTube yoga classes at home, and swam at my local pool to get the different muscles of my body moving. I think the best is throwing your baby into a backpack and hiking around the mountains, but that’s just me – ha!
The goal of your new best friends is to focus on the parts of your body that have changed while carrying around a little bowling ball for the better part of a year.
Mom Guilt is Real, but it Doesn’t Own You
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had that gut-wrenching feeling of guilt as I set out for my run or workout. At the time I had no idea why it was there, or what sparked it, but it happened frequently for me. I felt nervous leaving my son at home, even if he was with my partner or a trusted caretaker. I felt terrible for taking “me time” when I “should be” at home tending to every single need of my newborn. I felt guilty for wanting space.
Sometimes this is normal, but sometimes it is not. If you feel like you are debilitated because of your guilt, seek trusted professional help as soon as possible. Through talking I learned that the anxiety I thought was manageable, was actually postpartum anxiety. I immediately sought help and started to find relief within a few therapy sessions. By talking, I also quickly learned that I was not alone. In fact, nearly 10% of all postpartum women experience anxiety at some point after giving birth.2
I strongly recommend you get your feelings out into the open with your partner or whoever is there to help support care for your child. If all else fails I hope that you remember that space is good for you, and time away is important. I doubt you let your phone battery run out, why would you let yourself run out of energy?
But Wait – There’s More!
Before I hop off my imaginary soapbox, I would like to say that how you perform postpartum is not indicative of your worth. Everyone’s “comeback” looks different. While some women might appear to simply bounce back, others may need years to feel like things are starting to adjust. There is no right or wrong. Just get out there and have some fun while you do!
1 Watson, A. M., MD, MS. Sleep and Athletic Performance. Current Sports Medicine Report, 16(6), 413–418. Retrieved from https://journals.lww.com/acsmcsmr/FullText/2017/11000/Sleep_and_Athletic_Performance.11.aspx
2 Postpartum Support International. (2020). Anxiety During Pregnancy and Postpartum. Portland, OR. Retrieved from https://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/anxiety-during-pregnancy-postpartum/