Navigating the world of postpartum running can be tricky, but also exciting to reach new milestones. One of those milestones may be returning to racing. For many postpartum runners a goal during their first year after giving birth may be to run a half-marathon. What do you need to know in order to successfully train for and run your first postpartum half-marathon?
First of all, the most important thing to remember is that every runner and every woman is different when it comes to postpartum running. Try not to compare yourself to other runners you see on social media. Everyone has a different background and different experiences. However, connecting with other postpartum runners can also help you to feel less isolated in the experience as you are navigating postpartum running.
Tips for Running Your First Postpartum Half-Marathon
- Ease back into running very slowly
- Choose a goal race once you are fully ready to train
- Allow yourself a “Plan B” (or even a “Plan C”)
- Make sure you are cleared to run before training for a postpartum half-marathon
- Work on pelvic floor and core strength
- Begin a total body strength training program
- Include mobility work
- Work with a running coach or follow a plan
- Learn how to run with a jogging stroller
- Make sure you are hydrating and eating enough
- Focus on getting enough sleep
- Develop a support team as you prepare for your postpartum half-marathon
- Take care of yourself emotionally
- Figure out a breastfeeding/pumping plan, if needed
- Have fun running your first postpartum half-marathon!
Ease back into running very slowly
In 2019 new guidance was released recommending that women wait 12 weeks after giving birth to resume running again. However, many doctors will allow patients to resume “all regular activities” as early as 4 weeks for a vaginal birth and 5-6 weeks for a c-section. After my c-section I tried running at 8 weeks (I was cleared to run at 5) and it didn’t feel great, so I waited another 1-2 weeks to try again. In retrospect, having a c-section is a major surgery and waiting longer would have given me more time to prepare my body for running again.
Just because you’re not running doesn’t mean you can’t be working towards your goals. Walking is a great activity, and you can also be working on your breathing, pelvic floor, and core strength. In general, its better to be conservative with a return to running postpartum. Enjoy your time with your baby and make sure you are fully recovered and prepared before running again!
Choose a goal race once you are fully ready to train
Try not to spend the first few weeks postpartum choosing a goal race. This will add pressure for you to return to running sooner. Instead, ease back into running, work on building a base, and then choose a reasonable goal. My first postpartum race (which was a 12 miler) was at 8 months postpartum, but I didn’t choose it until 6 months after having my son.
I was glad I didn’t have a goal planned earlier than that because I ended up having to take about a month off of running when we were having some breastfeeding issues. I was glad I could take that time off to focus on the health of myself and my baby without any pressure to train.
Allow yourself a “Plan B” (or even a “Plan C”)
When you choose a postpartum half-marathon, it can also be helpful to have a few backup plans. If you can’t safely run the half-marathon distance is there a 10k you can do instead? Or even a 5k? Having other goals to work towards may allow you to back off of your “A” goal if you need a break or are having any physical or emotional challenges related to postpartum running.
Make sure you are cleared to run before training for a postpartum half-marathon
Before you start training, make sure that you doctor has cleared you to run. Better yet, check in with a pelvic floor PT to get evaluated and make sure that your body is strong enough to begin a running program. A pelvic floor PT can also give you exercises to work on to help you return to running stronger than before.
Work on pelvic floor and core strength
Whether or not you work with a pelvic floor PT, it’s important to work on pelvic floor and core strength. There are at-home workouts you can follow to work on your pelvic floor. I used ReCore but also heard good things about Expecting and Empowered. These exercises will help you rebuild any strength that was lost during pregnancy and childbirth and prepare you to move to more challenging strength exercises.
Begin a total body strength training program
After working on your pelvic floor and basic core strength, make sure to include total body strength training as part of your workout routine. Maybe this was something you were doing before pregnancy. You probably won’t be able to pick up right where you left off, but once your pelvic floor and core are stronger, adding in overall strength work will help you to prevent injuries as you begin training for your postpartum half-marathon.
Include mobility work
After pregnancy and a c-section I noticed that my hips were significantly tighter. I also had to really work on upper back mobility because I spent so many hour hunched over breastfeeding or pumping. Check in with your body to see how everything is feeling. A few minutes of foam rolling and mobility work can really help you start to feel like yourself again.
Work with a running coach or follow a plan
It’s always wise to follow some sort of training plan as you progress your running, whether it’s your own plan, a generic plan, or something more individualized. Your choice of a plan will likely be based on your experience, goals, and the amount of time you have been running postpartum. A running coach (especially one who has experience working with moms) can really help guide you through the return to running process. A generic plan may be ok as long as it is appropriate for your fitness level and you are willing to back off if it feels too challenging.
If you are running a postpartum half-marathon relatively soon after giving birth (less than 6 months) it may be best to stick with all easy runs and focus on just finishing the race. However, this will depend on your experience and fitness level. Adding strides and fartleks are two ways to get in some faster running without taxing your body too much.
Learn how to run with a jogging stroller
A jogging stroller is a great way to get in some of your runs, if you have one. Many moms will plan their runs around their baby’s nap time so they will sleep on the run. It’s perfect for parents who don’t have alternative childcare and can’t get out to run solo, or don’t have a treadmill. Focus on effort rather than pace when running with the jogging stroller, since it can slow you down. And make sure you are running with good form!
Make sure you are hydrating and eating enough
As you are building your mileage, make sure you are taking care of yourself. If you are breastfeeding this is especially important. Cutting calories right now will leave you with low energy and it will be harder to get in your runs (especially since you are probably sleep deprived too!). Try to eat a well-balanced diet and make sure you fuel before your runs. Also, if you are running for more than 80-90 minutes you will likely need to take some fuel with you while you are running.
Focus on getting enough sleep
This is much easier said than done, right?! But if you are consistently sleep deprived, your training is going to suffer. It’s better to skip a run and catch up on some sleep then to try to run in a constant state of exhaustion.
Develop a support team as you prepare for your postpartum half-marathon
In order for you to reach your goals as a new mom, it’s important to have a support team. This can include your significant other or other family members, friends, a running coach, etc. Find people who can help you logistically (a babysitter!) and emotionally, to cheer you on and remind you to keep going.
Take care of yourself emotionally
The biggest surprise for me with postpartum running was how hard it was to be away from my baby. I felt guilty for leaving, even though he was with my husband, and I also just missed him. I felt like that time was so precious when he was little and I didn’t want to be away from him.
But it was good for me to get out there and run, because it reminded me that there was another side of me besides just being a mom. It made me feel strong and gave me a break from mom duties.
Many women struggle with mental health challenges postpartum, such as postpartum depression or anxiety. If you are suffering from concerns that are interfering with your day to day life and impacting you significantly, seek help from a professional like a licensed counselor, psychologist, or social worker. You can talk to your primary care doctor or OB-GYN for a referral and more information.
Figure out a breastfeeding/pumping plan, if needed
Breastfeeding and running requires it’s own post, which I will write one of these days! In order to keep up your supply, try to feed or pump often- before and after you run. If you are running early before your baby wakes up you can either pump or try to do a dream feed. When you return from your run, try to get out of your sports bra quickly to prevent clogged ducts (which are no fun!!) And make sure you are eating and drinking enough to support the caloric needs of both your running and your baby.
Have fun running your first postpartum half-marathon!
Running your first postpartum half-marathon should be a fun experience. If it’s not fun, why are you doing it? Preparing for a long-distance race requires a lot of time and energy, which is hard to come by in the months after having a baby. So make sure you are truly invested for the right reasons.
You may also like:
How To Dress Babies and Toddlers For Stroller Runs in the Cold
What It’s Like To Stroller Run With a 1 Year Old
What Makes Stroller Running So Challenging? (Besides Pushing Extra Weight!)
What tips would you add for running your first postpartum half, or first half-marathon in general?
If you were a runner after having kids, how long did you wait to start running again?
Now it’s time for the Runners’ Roundup! Link up your running and fitness posts below! Join myself, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs , and Laura Norris Running to post your favorite running tips, experiences, race and training recaps, workouts, gear, and coaching ideas.