How to combine running with becoming a parent

Can you combine mountain running, adventure racing and motherhood? Moire O’Sullivan says you can!

How to combine running with becoming a parent

Moire O’Sullivan is an accomplished mountain runner and adventure racer. In 2009, she became the first person to complete the Wicklow Round, a 100K circuit of Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains, covering 26 summits and 10,000 metres of climb that must be run within 24 hours. She subsequently wrote the mountain running memoir, Mud, Sweat and Tears.

She is married to Pete and is the proud mother of their two young sons, Aran and Cahal. While busy adapting to and learning about motherhood, Moire won Ireland’s National Adventure Race Series three times in 2014, 2016 and 2017. Her latest book, Bump, Bike and Baby is about this personal journey.

Moire shares her 'must-knows' for runners worried about how pregnancy will affect their sport:

Training and Racing post-pregnancy takes team work

You will find it hard just to ‘pop out for a run’ when there’s a baby in the house. Whether you like it or not, babies need 24/7 care. If you have a partner, speak to them at this stage about how important training and racing is to you. Make sure they understand that you’ll need their help to keep this part of your life going. If you don’t have such a conversation at this stage, there may be some resentment felt once the baby is born if your running is severely curtailed.

Alternatively, investigate possible childcare options, such as close relatives and friends or local crèches, if you want to keep on running post-pregnancy.

If you want professional advice, engage it early

Most coaches don’t want to take on pregnant ladies. I personally found it immensely helpful having a coach to guide me through my pregnancy and post-natal return to fitness. This is because, when my children were born, I neither had the time nor energy to think about what training session I should do. I also didn’t have the expertise to spot potential post-natal problems. So, if you think you’ll need guidance, engage with it before you become pregnant so that they are able to assist you through the whole process.

The amazing post-natal boost

The third thing to know is that pregnancy can actually boost a woman’s endurance levels. Your ribcage expands when you’re pregnant, which assists breathing, and your heart’s chamber capacity increases, allowing it to hold much more blood. Effectively pregnancy mirrors the mechanism used when blood doping. Granted, there are other issues at play, such as weight gain and sleep deprivation, but there are definitely some physiological advantages of going through pregnancy.

Three tips for runners during pregnancy

Listen to your body

When an athlete becomes pregnant, the question they often ask is how much exercise can they still do. A friend of mine said one of the best guides was just to listen to your body. Most athletes know their body well, and know when to push and when to back off. There were definitely times during my own pregnancies that I just knew I was too tired or my belly was too big to keep running.

Another couple of guides is not to go beyond 80 per cent of your max heart rate, not to let your core body temperature rise too much, and to keep well hydrated when exercising.

Strengthen your core and pelvic floor

Your core and pelvic floor can undergo real strain during pregnancy and childbirth, and can lead to such things as incontinence, which is particularly unpleasant when running. Make sure you start to strengthen them as soon as possible. There are a variety of safe exercises to do, such as planks. Just make sure you don’t lie flat on your back for long periods, especially after your first trimester. 

Have a post-pregnancy goal

Pregnancy might only last nine months, but sometimes that can feel like forever. I found it really helpful to have a post-pregnancy goal to keep focused on when I was feeling down or tired.

A track-cyclist friend of mine, Susie Mitchell, won a World Masters Track Championship title four months after giving birth. Because of her, I promised myself that I would do an adventure race a couple of months after my first pregnancy. It wasn’t pretty, but it definitely got me motivated to keep moving while pregnant and to get back training once Aran was born.

Three tips for runners post-pregnancy

Get a running buggy

As soon as your baby has enough head control, which is around the six-month mark, they can go into a running buggy. I bought a Bob Revolution buggy that has a fixed front-wheel so that it goes in a straight line and has wide tyres so that I could run off-road. Admittedly, these buggies can be quite expensive. However, most parents only use it for a couple of years, so there are often plenty of second hand ones available in running clubs.

 Sleep when baby sleeps

One of the hardest things about having children is the lack of sleep. Newborns typically wake up every two to three hours to feed. The best advice I got was to sleep whenever your baby sleeps, even if this means having a brief lie-down during the day. If you’re trying to get back running after childbirth, it’s important to get as much rest and recovery as possible.

It’s OK to breastfeed

If you decide and are able to breastfeed, you don’t have to stop doing so when training and racing. Just remember to give your baby a feed before you go on a run so that they aren’t too hungry when you get back. Feeding them just beforehand also means your breasts aren’t too full of milk when you start your run, so there’s less chance of getting a blocked milk duct and developing a very painful condition called mastitis. Also, remember to wear a sports bra that keeps your bosom firmly in place when running.

About the book

Moire O’Sullivan is a carefree mountain runner with zero interest in children. Unfortunately, she has promised her husband they’ll start a family. Can she maintain her sanity when faced with baby massage classes and travel-buggy systems? Can she win Ireland’s National Adventure Race Series and still learn to become a loving (and occasionally functioning) mummy?

Bump, Bike and Baby - Mummy’s Gone Adventure Racing is available from Amazon, Foyles, Easons, and Waterstones. Paperbacks can be purchased here: mybooksource.com and e-books can be purchased here: amazon.co.uk

Moire blogs at moireosullivan.com and tweets at @moireosullivan

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