My Experience with Racing After a C-section

cocoababyI came on board Salty Running late last year to share my experiences with returning to running after recovering from a Cesarian birth. I shared my first few training logs and three posts about running and C-section recovery:

8 Rules for Running after a C-Section

Does C-Section Recovery Time Apply to Runners

C-Section Complications and Runners

Now that it’s been a year, I wanted to share my experience with racing after a C-section too. I ran three marathons during my daughter’s first year: a half and two full marathons. Before I had my daughter, I managed to get my marathon best down to 2:57. My running goal after having her was to get back as close to that time as I could, if not exceeding it!

Race #1: Arizona (Phoenix) Rock and Roll Marathon

My mom became my best racing buddy!
My mom became my best racing pal!

January 2016 – Baby 4 months old

This race was a really great opportunity for me. Only 4 months after having my daughter, I wasn’t quite ready to push my limits for the entire 26.2. So I did the next best thing; I paced my adorable mom. We finished in 4:42. I was so proud of my mom and it was a great experience to pace someone. It made for a relaxed race (at least for me, the pacer) and great conversation over the course of the race. It ended up being one of my only long runs, in preparation for the Napa Valley Marathon, so I was glad for the endurance training, and glad that my mom put up with me for all of the 26 miles!

Race #2: Napa Valley Marathon

March 2016 – Baby 6 months old 

This was planned as my official return to racing race, where I hoped to push my limits. I long ago learned that I run my best when I do not put any pressure on myself.  Usually, I start the race with a general idea of where I may finish if all goes exactly as planned, the “A” goal, if the day is so-so, the “B” goal, and if I fall apart on race day, the “C” goal.  Then, I run the first half, after which point I assess myself, and how I am feeling. It is at that point that I determine what my finish goal time for the race is. In other words, I never make my finish goal time until mile 13.1.

This race was interesting, though, in that I had no idea where my fitness level was. I didn’t even have a guess at what my “A” or “B” goals may be. I had my “C” goal, to finish alive, but that was about it. I had very few long runs under my belt, and most of my training runs were done pushing a stroller. My training was hap-hazard at best.

My training buddy, all bundled up for a winter-time run! (Or nap).
My training buddy is awfully cute, but she doesn’t make leaving her for a few hours very easy.

My other interesting barrier going into this race was one that I never would have imagined pre-pregnancy: I had a baby who would not, I repeat would not, take a bottle. The only way she would eat was when breastfeeding. Every time we attempted to give her a bottle, we felt like we were water-boarding her. I could go into many details about all of my, my husband’s, my mom’s, my sister’s (who is a pediatric oncology nurse), and everyone-else-under-the-sun’s attempts to get my baby to take a bottle, but that would take all day. So at six months, I was basically her only source of nutrition.

This led to me breastfeeding my baby just minutes before catching the shuttle to the start, which was one of the last shuttles, to decrease the amount of time she would have to wait between feedings. I left my mother-in-law to babysit her in the hotel with my fingers crossed she would not get too hungry while I was gone.

The Napa course is just amazingly beautiful, running through wine country. I found that I felt surprisingly good the first few miles, and was hitting splits faster than I had hoped for; I was consistently around 7:00 minutes per mile or just under.  I didn’t think I could maintain that pace for the entire thing, but decided to run that pace as long as I could. As I committed to pushing that hard until my wheels fell off, I also committed to shuffling in at whatever pace I could muster after that happened.

I was paranoid about over-exerting my body and losing milk supply, so I probably over-hydrated and over-ate during the course of this race, which led to some GI issues at the end, but thankfully the worst of them hit within two miles of the finish so it didn’t affect the race too much.

I finished in 3:03, which I was thrilled about. Apparently stroller running is great training even when the paces are much slower than running without.

The first thing I did when I crossed the finish line after congratulating the wonderful woman who ran about 10 miles of the race alongside me and helped me more than she will ever know and then giving my baby a big hug, was run to the high school gymnasium bathrooms. This was followed by a quick return to the hotel to breastfeed my cute, but very hungry, baby somewhere in private. I didn’t exactly want to feed her at the finish line!

After feeding my baby, we returned to watch my mom finish because she ran this race too; one of five marathons she’s run this year. (Go mom!)  It was a fun weekend, a beautiful course, and one I would recommend.

Race #3: End of the Tunnel Light Marathon in North Bend, WA

Coasting over the finish line!

June 2016 – Baby 10 months old

This race was in my home state, so thankfully it didn’t require any airline travel. For this I was very grateful, because let me tell you, navigating airports with a baby in tow can be very difficult and not exactly relaxing before a big race. This time I had a better assessment of where my fitness level was. If all went well, I thought I could finish with a PR of 2:55.

But then the week before the race, I developed a pretty bad upper respiratory infection. Cough, chills, fever, stuffy nose —the whole works. Ugh! My baby had it too, which led to very little sleep for this mama! On top of that, my husband was out of town until 2 days before the race, so I was not able to take time to rest and recover, as my sick baby needed to be cared for too. The night he returned home, I went straight to bed and slept for 9 glorious hours.

One lesson I learned while recovering from my C-section was that, with surgery recovery, every day is almost 100% better than the day before. So I hoped this would be the same case for recovery from this illness. I planned not to start the race if I was too sick, because I figured it would do more harm than good. I figured I would make my start or bail decision the day before the race.

The day before the race, I felt quite a bit better on my shake-out run, so decided to give the run a try. I took off all time-goals, decided I wouldn’t try for a 2:55, unless I felt amazingly better during the run.

Again, I breastfed my baby right before heading to the start line. My husband dropped me off literally five minutes before the race started; a benefit of smaller races and having a close hotel. The first three miles went through an old railway tunnel, so runners have to carry a flashlight with them, which they then drop off at a drop-station immediately after exiting the tunnel. This part was SO amazingly cool! I loved every second of it. Because of the dark tunnel, it also led to a slower race start which I considered a warm-up for the rest of the run.

The rest of the course is run on a converted railroad trail. The pathway is dirt, and it rained the night before, so it was not dusty and perfectly soft. The entire course is a gentle downhill grade, gentle enough to speed you up and yet it doesn’t trash your quads.

Perhaps it was the downhill, or the fresh air, but I managed to run a 2:59:25. While I would have loved a 2:55, it just wasn’t my day for that. And hey, I was thrilled to run a sub-3 only 10 months after delivering a baby via c-section.

This course is spectacular and definitely the prettiest I have ever run. It is a great PR course, too.

So all-in-all, I think my recovery from my daughter’s C-section birth went very smoothly. I am very grateful for that. And I have to say it feels SO GOOD to be back to running marathons … I sure missed it!

Have you returned to racing after having a C-section? How was it different before having your baby?

I am a 30-something new mother (pet mother too), marathon and ultramarathon runner, healthcare professional, and outdoor enthusiast. I'm working on completing a marathon in all 50 states. I will be blogging about motherhood, running, and any random running-related rant I might come up with.

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  1. Running that close to your PR within a year of having a baby … and on a suboptimal day?! Awesome! Congrats and thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us!!

    1. Thanks Salty! Your posts about running and pregnancy were very motivational and helped inspire me along the way! Honestly, I would have been a little scared to run during pregnancy if not for reading about other women who have successfully, and safely, done it!

  2. wow – so inspiring! I’ve set PRs in the marathon about 1 year post-baby/c-section after both my kids…but I’m quite a bit slower than you and feel like I was still on the improvement curve.

    1. Thank you Jesse! That’s really encouraging to hear a) that you PR’d after a second baby/c-section and b) that you were still on the improvement curve 1 year out! That’s inspiring!

  3. I typed this post very quickly during naptime, so I forgot to mention that Parsley has had a couple posts that really spoke to me as I trained for these races. I believe in one of them, she mentioned that muscle memory comes back and helps you return to pre-pregnancy paces– which is true in my experience too. I also think it was Parsley who mentioned that most of her training for the Olympic Trials was done with a stroller, which was also encouraging to me! So thanks, Parsley!

    1. Thanks Cocoa! I’ve never had a C-section, but running a marathon 4 months post birth, and 3 in the first year, is impressive! That was a good idea to use it as a long run instead of trying to set any time goals.