Eat Fast Run Slow: My Postpartum Running “Plan”

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Hard to believe this person was inside your body. But much easier to run with them on the outside!

Contrary to Shalane Flanagan’s cookbook title, my advice for women returning to running after having a baby is to Eat Fast and Run Slow.

Multiple Salty moms have given advice about returning to running after having a baby. I’d like to offer an additional perspective, framed in the context of a loose training plan. Loose because after having a baby your body will literally be loose! But, more seriously, loose, because as with all aspects of running and postpartum recovering, there is no one-size-fits-all plan.

The thing with us is, that while we know we have to be flexible during the postpartum period in consideration of both our body’s and family’s demands, many of us crave the structure that brings along the hope that we’ll be as fit as we once were. That’s the purpose of my Eat Fast/ Run Slow plan: to provide a general framework for developing your own training strategy, while maintaining the flexibility postpartum life demands. 

Eat Fast

Babies seem to be born with an innate sense of when it’s dinnertime. No matter when or where you sit down to eat, baby will start crying, meaning your meal will have to wait. And as a sleep deprived, busy mom taking care of a newborn, you may forget to take care of yourself. So eat while you can, and eat quickly or you may not get a chance again until hours later! Especially if you breastfeed your baby, you might find yourself ravenous when running and nursing. Fuel yourself so you can fuel baby.

But seriously, now for the running part.

Run Slow

While you may be anxious to get back out there, take your time. For nine months (give or take) your body built a baby. Parts you never expected to, shifted and changed. When you get the go-ahead from your doctor that you’re ready to ease back into training, your ligaments will likely still be loose and your body still recovering long after that. Your fitness will return to you, my friends. Do not get impatient with yourself and the process.

I know many women who have become injured during their return to running after pregnancy. It may not happen immediately, often it’s even six to nine months down the road. But if you do not take the time to rebuild your strength and fitness, if you rush into more miles and more intensity than your body is ready for, you will be highly susceptible to injury. It’s particularly important to restrengthen your abdominal, other core muscles, and pelvic stabilizing muscles and to seek the help of a professional, like a physical therapist, if necessary.

After my second child, who was large at eight pounds, twelve ounces, I had a bad case of separated abdominal muscles called diastasis recti. Since I planned on having a third child, I never seriously attempted to correct it, figuring why fix something that was just going to get broken again. And with limited time to exercise, all I did was my favorite activity: run. That was a mistake. While I luckily never got injured during that time, I never felt very fit. I got back into it and ran some decent times, but overall, felt my fitness was lacking. Caraway described this feeling well in her Pilates post.

This time around, I’m making a dedicated effort towards regaining overall fitness and strength, fixing my core, and doing more aerobic cross-training instead of just running. I know this will make me a better runner in the long term, and limit my likelihood of injury. While your heart might just want to run, your body needs more than that. Your legs didn’t build the baby, so you need to repair and restore everything else that did.

The Eat Fast/Run Slow Postpartum Training “Plan”

Regardless of when you start to run after delivering your baby, divide the next few months into training phases with building focuses. I set mine at six weeks, but extend them if you need more time. No need to rush it. Stay flexible, forgiving, and patient. You have your whole life to run and only a short precious time with a newborn!

PHASE 1 – Fit In What You Can

Weeks one to six of running after baby

Running: Ease back into running easy. By run easy I mean do not worry about time or distance. Walk or mix in walk breaks if you need to. Don’t stress how much you can or can’t run or how often you make it out there.

Extras: Incorporate base core work such as lunges and planks, and weight bearing strength exercises such as dips and pushups.  These are easy to fit in throughout the day instead of having to do in one solid chunk. Example: Changing a diaper? Drop and do 10 pushups first!  Those will add up quickly throughout the day!

Stay FlexibleWhile it will likely make you feel better to get outside and get an endorphin boost from exercise, it might also make you feel better to mop the three day old food off the kitchen floor. You’re adjusting to sleepless life with a newborn, as well as recovering from the physical trauma of childbirth. So anything you can do exercise-wise at this point is a bonus. Even if you set out to run four miles but only make it one, or end up walking instead of running, it’s doing what you can.

PHASE 2 – Rebuild Your Base

Weeks seven to twelve of running after baby

Running: Start gradually building both your distance and your pace. Add strides to your routine two to three times a week (ease into them!). You can also try finishing some runs at a faster pace.

Extras: Step up your core work to add weights or find a yoga or Pilates workout or class that you like. Consider subbing one easy run a week with the elliptical or other lower impact aerobic exercise. Consider incorporating running drills to begin working on agility.

Stay Flexible: While it’s fine to go ahead and plan to do a progression run or throw in some strides, it’s ok to skip it if not feeling up to the added intensity or to speed up on an easy day because you feel like it. Remember to make sure you give yourself at least a day or two break between harder efforts, no matter what you end up doing.

PHASE 3 – Think About Training

Weeks thirteen to eighteen of running after baby

Running: Head to the track for a mild track workout. I always like to start with a few 200s. It feels incredibly hard and exhilarating to sprint all out, but they’re short enough to be fun and not depress you about your lack of speed! Run your first post-baby race during this phase, but don’t worry so much about your time. Just go bust the rust and see where you are. Speed work and racing might feel like a shock to your system, but it will return quickly. Muscle memory goes a long way, and your body remembers.

Extras: Continue doing your core work, cross training, drills and keep up with any sore areas with the foam roller, stretching, etc.

Stay Flexible: As with the other phases continue to be patient and take the extra rest if you need it. You still might not be sleeping well or are otherwise able to take care of yourself like you used to. If you’re nursing, you likely still have relaxin in your body making things feel a little out of whack. This phase is about enjoying a little training and racing again. If it’s not fun, back off. It’ll come back eventually. It’s not worth pushing it.

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As for me, now all I have to do is follow my own advice!

If you’ve had a baby how was your return to training? 

Army veteran, now Army wife with 3 daughters (aka: single married mom). I have fun trying to sprint, enjoy long runs in the mountains, and everything in between. 3 x marathon OTQ, will eventually start training again to try to make it 4. I write about trying to stay competitive while raising young kids.

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19 comments

  1. Great plan, Parsley!

    after I had my son, I just walked for exercise (mostly with him in the ergo baby) for the first 10 weeks, then started walk/run workouts. Wow, the first runs back were hard. Everything felt so wobbly. After about a month of regular runs I started to feel pretty good, or even normal. Definitely agree that strength training and core are key!

  2. I’m 37 weeks with baby 2 and definitely plan on a similar approach to what you are doing! As much as I’d love to plan lots of races and training, I know I will be at the mercy of a lot of X factors (will this baby be a decent sleeper? how will my recovery go? will my toddler completely fall apart when her sister is born?). It took me almost a year after my first to really feel like the runner I was before I was pregnant, so I also know that it takes time!

  3. Eat fast– so true!!! I was pretty ravenous when I was breast-feeding and returning to running—but had no time to enjoy food! I basically snarfed down everything in sight :). Love this post!

  4. Good advice! I would just add that effects of a return too quickly after pregnancies might affect you immediately, six to nine months later, or YEARS later. My youngest is four and pelvic instability is still contributing to some not insignificant issues. Core and pelvic floor stability are wildly overlooked by the regular post partum runner and there absolutely needs to be more information out there for women about returning to running, exercise generally, and life after having kids. Being cleared for activity at six weeks does not mean being cleared to just run!

  5. i just had baby #4, and he was my biggest at 8lbs…while i’m back running -my core feels worse than after the others, and i’m really struggling with lower back pain/tightness- did this happen to you? do you have any stretches?

    1. If you can, go see a PT that specializes in postpartum women. This sounds like what I went through after giant baby #3 in 4 years. My abs shut off and were not working. My back did all the work instead and I was in constant back pain. I had no idea! It took me almost a year to figure out what the deal was EVEN AFTER SEEING DOCTORS. I had an MRI done after an xray showed a worrisome curve in my spine and the ortho was shocked that all my disks were healthy and that it was tight muscles causing the curves. YET he still did not check my abs! It was only after I realized that no matter how hard I worked on my core, my abs never felt tired or sore. I put two and two together, saw a postpartum PT and she helped me tremendously! Good luck!

      1. Thank you! I was actually worried it could be some sort of stress fracture or something..but i’m like 90% sure it’s the no abs, the bummer is I tried SO hard to stay in the best shape this time around..even doing core while pregnant (which if you know me…is a pretty big deal!)…will check out!

        1. I’m not sure it’s something you can prevent so much. In fact, sometimes doing core work can exacerbate the situation. It’s frustrating, but relatively easy to fix. Keep us posted!

          1. Second what Salty said- traditional ab exercises (crunches, situps, etc.) actually make separated abs worse.

          1. Exceedingly common; vastly overlooked! Every post partum runner I see these days, I swear I am like – pelvic floor and core! I delivered a 10 pound, one ounce baby six years ago and in just six years I feel like there is so much more info out there. But there could be more!

          2. Yes! When I was pregnant with my first running while pregnant was still a little weird! It’s nuts and kinda awesome how fast running and pregnancy/postpartum period is normalizing. But totally agree. I’ll be honest – I’m 4 years post-delivery of my last and I have lingering problems in both areas that I just haven’t gotten around to dealing with, myself.

          3. Definitely amazing how much pregnant running, post partum running has become part of the conversation so quickly! In another life I would have some kind of career in this field, combining research and helping real people. For now, I will just keep reading every new thing that come out!

    2. I had a lot of back pain/tightness during my pregnancy and after. Even though I hadn’t been in years, I went to the chiropractor at 36 weeks, and then again a few weeks after baby was born. He did a few simple manipulations, and even though it didn’t seem like much, I walked out of there feeling like a new person. Just a simple adjustment completely got rid of the tightness. While this won’t help with a weak core, you may want to try visiting a chiropractor for some immediate pain relief.