Our PramFit Mum's story of training for the London marathon...with a 3 year old and a baby…!
My second son was born at the end of October 2015, and I ran the London Marathon in April 2016. If you do the maths (something I tried to avoid at the time…), that means I ran a marathon when my baby was 6 months old. I’m just going to share some of the ‘hows’ and whys’ of doing such a thing – it wasn’t easy, and I’m not sure I’d really recommend it to anyone else, but I’m glad I did it.
The initial question is surely, who in their right minds would do such a thing? A bit of a tricky one to answer, but basically: I had already run 3 marathons, including the York marathon when my first son was 10 months old; I had obtained a place for the London Marathon through a draw at my running club (it’s really really hard to get a place), and I had deferred it for a year while I was pregnant, and you can only defer the place once.
I have been a regular runner for about 6 years, starting from nothing and then building up to weekly training with a running club. I was always last to be picked for any team at school and was not sporty in any way, so it was a bit of a surprise to discover that I liked running, and I could actually do it moderately well. Just after I’d joined my running club I split up from my long term partner, and being single made me embark (unintentionally) on the ‘break up exercise plan’. I trained a lot, lost weight and entered my first half marathon. Before I knew what had happened a friend had encouraged me to enter Brighton marathon with her, and I managed to run it in less than 4 hours (3.58 to be exact). My feet were covered in blisters, my toenails were hanging off, I couldn’t even contemplate going up stairs or even a slight hill, but as my friend and I plunged into the sea (still in our running kit, socks & trainers), even as I was swearing I would never run a marathon again, I kind of knew that I would.
I continued running, and was training for Edinburgh marathon when I fell pregnant with my first son. I not only had all of the normal guilt about drinking far too much wine in early pregnancy before knowing I was pregnant, but also knowing I’d been doing 20 mile training runs as well. Ooops! I carried on running throughout the pregnancy, with my last run being Park Run when I was 35 weeks. I ran gently, stopping often to catch my breath and re-hydrate, but I still felt a little uncomfortable being seen running when I was clearly heavily pregnant. I felt other people would judge me and feel I was being reckless and endangering my unborn child, however, nobody ever challenged me and I enjoyed maintaining my fitness. I started running again when my son was about 6 weeks old and trained well for York Marathon, but struggled on the race day and was disappointed with my time. Instead of being proud of my massive achievement, I felt I had let myself down by having to stop and walk.
After my second son was born I was determined that I would train as well as I could for London, but would see it as a race I was just aiming to finish, without being hung up on the time it took. I was also determined to be proud of myself, whatever time I managed to achieve.
The majority of my training was pram runs, twice a week before PramFit, taking advantage of the 2 days a week when my older son was in nursery. I built up to running a maximum of 9 miles with the pram, always working around the baby’s nap times and feeding routine. I was lucky that he enjoyed being in the pram, and would generally sleep most of the way. As I got a little fitter, I started doing a solo run on a Saturday morning, while my husband looked after the boys. This was not without challenges – largely for my husband having to try and look after a breastfed baby and an exuberant toddler. I used to feed the baby at the last possible minute before leaving the house, then throw on a sports bra over my feeding bra and charge out of the house. I would inevitable arrive home to have the baby passed to me like a rugby ball, while I peeled myself out of sweaty tops and bras and clamped him straight onto my breast. I would throw a changing mat onto the sofa so I could sit down without sweating everywhere. Hey, I never said it was glamourous!
I did my first mile run (pushing the baby in the pram) when he was around six weeks old, feeling like a huge ungainly weeble, clinging to the pram for support. I joined PramFit again at the same time (I’d attending the classes twice a week through my first pregnancy, and felt they really helped with my fitness and motivation). I set myself the goal of running the York Brass Monkeys Half Marathon when the baby was 3 months old, as I felt that was the only way I could get on track for marathon fitness.
I gradually built up my running distance, always running with the baby in the pram, until doing one solo 10 mile run (or stagger) the week before the half marathon. Not the best training plan, but I got round, and was really touched to have friends cheering me over the finish line and congratulating me. My husband and parents looked after the boys and although it was ridiculously hard and slow, I felt that I might just be able to complete the marathon.
At this point I was getting worried about my training plan and having got loads of contradictory advice from friends and the internet, decided maybe I should invest in a few coaching sessions with a running specialist and get them to help me make a plan. I rang a few people, and one was really helpful on the phone and offered really attractive sounding group sessions and training workshops and talks, but they were all held at around 6.30pm, and I had to be in the house to do bedtime with the boys, so that was never going to work. So I ended up just writing my own training plan, and trying to increase my long runs by a mile a week, until a 20 mile run about 4 weeks before the big day.
The long runs were really tough – at home my husband struggled to look after both boys and the baby refused to take a bottle so I had to work really hard to fit training in around his feeds. When training for marathons previously I’d always been able to get up to 20 miles without a massive amount of difficulty (don’t get me wrong, it was never easy), but this time around I really struggled with anything over 15 miles. I often ended up collapsed on a bench a few miles from home calling or texting my husband to get him to walk the boys to the end of the road to try and motivate me to finish, and once I had to get him to pick me up in the car due to injury. A particularly hilarious experience (in retrospect) as the conversation ran along the lines of: I’m on the planets cycle track. Whereabouts? I don’t know. I’ve just gone under a bridge… It took longer than was ideal for him to locate me and drive me home, obviously with 2 reluctant passengers strapped into the back seat!
To cut an already long story down, I eventually made it to the big day – the week before my 3 year old had got chicken pox really badly, so I was racked with guilt about leaving him in York with my parents, and worried that the baby was also going to get them. The Thursday before the race I’d also been upset because an acquaintance had questioned my decision to run the marathon, due to the fact that the baby still wouldn’t take a bottle, and I would obviously have to leave him for the duration of the race. I felt that for all the people that would commend my achievement on running the marathon so soon after having a baby, there would be others who would question if I was a good mother, and think I was putting my own selfish goals above the good of my family. Close friends and family reassured me that my (massive, healthy) baby wouldn’t suffer, that I would only be away from him for the duration of the race as I was going to feed him at the start line and then at the finish line, so I forged ahead and boarded the train to London with hubby, parents-in-law and baby, and a meticulously ticked off list of running kit and baby equipment.
The night before the race the baby was sleeping (or not) in a travel cot in our room and was up much more than usual, meaning I didn’t spring out of bed on race day refreshed and full of energy, but that’s pretty much par for the course with a baby. We made it to the start line in plenty of time, and even found a pavement café just nearby to sit and feed the baby, and I got plenty of positive comments and approving looks from fellow runners and spectators, which helped to buoy my spirits.
I’d love to say that the race went exactly as planned, and I jogged effortlessly round, waving at the cheering crowds, but that would be a lie. I ran the first 18 miles, waving at and high-fiving hubby and family at mile 8, 13 and 18, but after that it all started going a bit wrong. There were tears, bouts of walking, toilet stops and a tearful phone call to hubby to see if the baby had expired from lack of milk in my absence. However, at around 22 miles I gave myself a stern talking to, picked up the pace and managed to enjoy the iconic London skyline and the amazing crowds. Crossing the finish line couldn’t come soon enough, but I BLOODY DID IT and got the satisfyingly heavy medal to prove it.
Post finish line was a confusing blur of goody bags, T Shirt collection and long walk through the secure area to a line of trees set up as the meeting point for family and friends and some wandering round in circles trying to find hubby and the baby with a complete lack of phone reception. Before I found them I spoke to my parents and 3 year old who were really proud and had been following my progress on a tracker on the marathon website, so already knew I had finished. We finally managed to all meet up, and I sat on the grass, wrapped in my space blanket and fed the baby, who wasn’t wailing for milk as I thought he might be, and had coped absolutely fine without me.
There followed lots of friends and family, a lovely meal out, a horrendous night with a baby who was just coming down with chicken pox and the next morning a hectic and stressful journey to Kings Cross as hubby realised the train was an hour earlier than we had all thought, only to find out that it actually wasn’t and we all had an hour to sit around waiting. We still don’t talk about that. However, it gave me a chance to exchange grimaces and smiles with the many other marathon finishers who were hobbling around looking glazed, waiting to limp onto their trains and return to normality.
I’m not sure what my top tip would be – perhaps be positive, accept that your body, fitness and lifestyle will have changed drastically post baby and just leaving the house before midday with all your clothes correctly fastened is a massive achievement. Oh, and don’t go for a long run with a cotton feeding bra on under your sports bra. They are not made of wicking sports fabric, they are not seam free, and they will give you blisters on your nipples. Well, I did say earlier that it wasn’t glamourous…
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