Getting Personal about Postpartum Running
Updated: Apr 26, 2019
By Katie Soltas, Interview with Kate Spangler
Each woman’s postpartum running journey is unique; some may return to the sport four weeks after birth without any pain, while others experience pelvic floor discomfort for months. Some moms have completely different recovery times after each baby. It’s an issue that isn’t often discussed in the mainstream media – for example, it’s not a topic that I’ve ever seen grace the cover of Runner’s World. And yet, it’s something that all mom runners deal with on some type of spectrum.
My personal PP running story is still being written as this is published. I’m seven months PP after my second child, and I’m finally comfortable running up to three miles with minimal pain. I honestly thought I’d be running a half marathon by this time – I ran the Louisville Urban Bourbon Half Marathon eight months PP with my first child – but I listened to the advice of my CrossFit coach and my body, which was screaming at me to take it easy on the pavement this time around. I have my first PP race, the Queen City 5K, coming up on April 27, so stay tuned for updates on IG and Facebook.
I’m a fairly casual runner (I race, but only against myself), so I thought it would be interesting to ask a more competitive racer to share her PN/PP running story with us. An Illinois native and mom of two young girls, Kate Spangler races for Fleet Feet Sports of Richmond, Va. With five marathons and literally hundreds of smaller races under her belt, Kate is a champion stroller runner and an expert at the 5K distance, with a sub-19 PR. She was formerly a personal trainer and running coach, but now saves that energy for her girls, as well as analyzing her own, close friends’ and family’s performances. Kate also shared her professional insight with FitTravelingMama – read her tips here on tackling your first OR best 5K here.
Kate loves the camaraderie of running. “It’s been nice to give a team aspect to this otherwise solo sport,” she said, regarding her Fleet Feet squad. “Richmond has a huge running community that I’m so thankful for. One of the first things we did after moving here was show up to a race, where I made my first friend. There’s something about running next to someone – just you, them and the road (and usually a stroller or two in my case) that really builds a bond.”
She is an incredible, yet humble athlete; although Kate qualified for and completed the Boston Marathon in 2013, she claims to “stink” at the full distance. For now, Kate's sticking to shorter distances to heal emotionally after her most recent marathon effort caused her heartbreak due to shoulder pain and pre-race nerves.
Training time for longer races also increases the chances of "mom guilt" phenomenon creeping in that most mothers struggle with. “When I have a bad race, I feel really guilty for all the resources I used: the hours of time my parents spent babysitting, the miles upon miles my kids spent in the running stroller, the time I was running that could have been spent doing something fun with the kids,” she said.
Kate turned that negative marathon energy and guilt into a positive, personal record-breaking 5K finish the following week. She garnered several victories in this race: first overall female, her first time breaking 19 minutes and most importantly, mending her broken running heart. Read our interview below to hear her full PN/PP running journey.
FTM: Tell us about your prenatal/postpartum running journey.
KS: Running through my first pregnancy was so painful and miserable starting around 12 weeks, well before I even had any visible signs of pregnancy. I tried so hard to make it work, bought all the belly support belts and tried to follow every piece of advice I could find online. But in the end, I had to stop around 20 weeks because my low blood pressure made me really dizzy with any physical exertion and I got terrible abdominal cramps and back pain.
I ended up doing lots of stationary biking and lifting weights, but I really missed running. Like, a lot. I couldn't wait to have the baby and be able to run again. Little did I know, my PP journey back would also be extremely difficult.
I remember coming home from my first PP run and just crying into my husband's arms because nothing felt right, and I didn't think it would ever feel right again. Everything was jiggling, every run had to be timed around my pumping schedule, my stride felt forced, my pelvic floor couldn't even hold up to a sip of water; the list goes on.
I also felt singled out because no one really talked about how hard it would be to come back. I had no idea that everything going on was normal, so I continually worried that I was done with running forever. I stayed with it, but it took about four months before I really started to get a glimpse of myself again when I ran.
However, going through those tough times really sparked a fire inside me and made me long to be fast again. Not being able to perform how I wanted made me work harder than I ever had before. All that extra effort really started paying off-at about a year PP – I was back to running times similar to pre-pregnancy and I felt great... until I got pregnant again!
The second time around, I was so surprised at how much easier running was, but damn, I was tired as heck! Once the first trimester tiredness wore off though, I felt really strong, which I attribute to an increased iron intake. One of my proudest moments was when I won a 5k at six months pregnant-first of all the women AND men!
This time around, I was able to run up until I had the baby (40 weeks +4 days). I cut back drastically on distance and all my runs were slow and easy. Some days were better than others, so I never ventured more than 1-2 miles from home just in case something felt terrible and I had to suddenly stop... I know the neighbors thought I was crazy running up and down those streets, nine months pregnant, pushing a toddler in a stroller but I felt so lucky to still be running and I loved every second of it!
My postpartum journey back after the second was so much easier. I tried a light jog at maybe four weeks PP and felt some pelvic pain, so I stopped immediately and did every exercise imaginable and it really paid off. By three months PP, I put in a 150-mile month, almost all of which was pushing a stroller, including a 13-mile run with the double stroller and I had started racing again, with 5k times only a minute off my pre-pregnancy PR (I had started doing speed work around 2 months PP).
The biggest challenge was that my second baby wouldn't take a bottle, so it meant lots of nursing breaks on our runs. I also always had to bring her to races so I could nurse her before and after. But that’s also the beauty of racing (after having babies) - they've turned into a family affair!
I love that my kids love cheering me on, jumping in the bouncy house at the post-race party and eating snacks from the post-race fuel table. My oldest is at the point now where she sees me put in the work and understands that I work hard for this. She started getting upset when I didn't win, so lots of "we don't always win, but it's important to always have fun," talks ensued.
FTM: What are some tips you would give for new moms who are trying to get back into running?
KS: First off, make sure everything (down there!) is good to go after giving birth. If this means seeing a pelvic floor specialist, see them! You shouldn't have to suffer after childbirth.
Next, invest in a good running stroller. I use the Bob Revolution for both my single and double stroller running. Any time the kids start driving me nuts, I pack them up in the stroller and grab their stroller running bag (I keep it packed and ready at all times so it's easy to get out of the house and go) and we head out. They get time to chill out and so do I. Lately, they both ask to run a bit too, so they pop out of the stroller and get some of their energy out too. Sometimes we finish at a park or our favorite coffeehouse (they also sell beer, because there's nothing like a cold beer after a run!). People always comment about how they don't know how I push the stroller all over. My response is always the same: it's easier to push them in the stroller than to chase after them. Stroller runner 4LIFE! Not really, but at least the next 2-3 years.
Third, having a fun running crew really helps. My best friend and I run together daily pushing our strollers side-by-side. It's one of my favorite parts of my day. You're definitely not limited to other moms though, I have kid-less friends that meet me for stroller runs (and the plus side is that then these friends always offer to push my stroller for me too, though I can't say I've ever let anyone because I secretly like getting the extra workout).
If you don't have any running friends-find some! Visit your local running store and find out when their group runs are, join a training team for a local race, find a pub run, start your own neighborhood running group-or better yet, start your own STROLLER running group! I bet there are other moms getting started or who just want to make some new mom friends to brighten their days. I've been to many, many different group runs and while it can be intimidating walking up to a new group of people, I've always been so glad I did!
Fourth piece of advice – get the husband involved. My husband shares my passion for running, so it's become a "date" activity for us. If we can't get out alone, we turn it into family time and take turns pushing the stroller.
Lastly, make time to run by incorporating it into your daily routine. I get it – you’re busy. But, one of the great things about running is that you can be done in 20 minutes (or less) if you want! If you're having trouble making time, just give yourself a reasonable goal like that: 20 minutes of running/walking/whatever. Just get out and do it. You'll get stronger. It will get easier.
If you live near your kids' school, run there! I incorporate school and dance drop-offs and errands into my runs too. The .8-mile trip to school takes 4-5 minutes driving time and less than 7 minutes to run, so I'm barely adding any time onto my trip AND I get a workout in! And I 100 percent prefer strapping them into the stroller than wrangling two wild monkeys to get them into their car seats (because we all know that's what it feels like).
I love that before we leave the house, the kids always ask if we are running or driving. If your kids are old enough to bike, make use of that! After my oldest learned how to ride a bike, I rarely had to push the double stroller anymore. She just rides alongside me as I push her sister. Both the kids love it and anything that means less double stroller pushing is tops on my list!
FTM: Tell us more about the type of stroller you use and any tips for entertaining the kids while running.
KS: I love my Bob Revolution single and double (Duallie) strollers. I like having the option to have a swivel wheel. I run with my single stroller in a fixed wheel and the double in a swivel wheel.
In my opinion, pushing the double is the equivalent of pushing a sled filled with 100 lbs. of bricks up a mountain, all while singing the ABC song or "You are my sunshine"!!! But seriously, I do love my time pushing the stroller. If I'm not pushing it alongside a friend, it's such great one-on-one (or one-on-two if I'm pushing the dreaded double) time with my kids. We talk, look for squirrels and kitties, sing, talk about colors and numbers and letters and preschool and their friends. They draw pictures for me, and sometimes the two-year-old just drives me nuts and I feed them lollipops and we just survive.
I feel so incredibly lucky that I get to share my passion with my kids. I can do my thing without taking time away from them, without getting a sitter. I have other hobbies, like Bikram yoga and mountain biking, but those require getting a babysitter, and it's a huge pain. I've also noticed other benefits to stroller running. Without doing any extra core work, my core is stronger now than before I had children. So push that stroller and reap the benefits!
FTM: Which short-term and long term-races are you looking forward to?
KS: I have a half marathon on April 27 back in my college town of Champagne, IL (Christie Clinic Illinois Half Marathon). It's a big one for me because I'll be competing as one of the elite athletes at the event. I started running in 2007 and ran my first marathon there (Illinois Marathon) in 2009 and I remember scrolling through their website and seeing the elite qualifying time of a 1:32 half marathon. It seemed so fast and unattainable, but it was a time that I always kept in the back of my head.
This past fall I ran over two minutes faster than that and it was a huge "aha!" moment acknowledging how far I've come and all the hard work I've put in. My goal for the race is to finish below 1:28. I've been working hard for it, but I'm also three weeks out from the race and questioning everything so I hope it's been enough!
After that, I will work on my 5K time for the summer. Here in Richmond, we have a lot of 5K’s and track meets over the summer, and I have fun gaining some speed and seeing what I can do with it. I'm by no means a sprinter, but I love running fast around the track a couple times! Our track meets also have events for the kids, so we bring our girls out to it. Their start poses are just about the cutest ever!
I suppose my long-term goal is to one day get some redemption at the marathon distance. I'd love to have a finish time that reflects the work I've put in. But, that means first moving on from my last marathon, and I'm nowhere near that point yet!