Today, I went for a run. I also went running twice last week. For someone who’s blog is ostensibly about running, that shouldn’t be anything noteworthy. But between my knee injury that developed last fall and my pregnancy, it actually is a big deal, at least for me.
I am four weeks post partum and was given the go ahead by my doctor to start “gentle” exercise a week ago. My guess is that my doctor what my doctor means by “gentle exercise” is a bunch of walking and maybe some easy yoga and upper body weights. However, because I am registered for a half marathon on Thanksgiving day (just over 12 weeks away!), I’ve been anxious to get back out running again. I am not an idiot and I’m not jumping back into eight mile sweat sessions or crazy speed work at the track. I am going to take my time and start with short distances, walking whenever and however much is necessary. I have a tentative training plan that I am going to try to follow to prepare for the half, which I’m going to write about in my next post. But first, since I haven’t really written about it yet, I wanted to fill in the blanks about what all has happened with my running since the Atlanta 10 Miler last October.
Running While Pregnant and Injured, Stage 1 – Resting, Resting, Resting
Just before the Atlanta 10 Miler in October, I wrote about my frustrations with some pain in my right knee that developed during the 13.1 Half Marathon earlier that month. After pushing through a couple of weeks of light(er) running following the 13.1 race, it became clear that this knee injury wasn’t going to just magically go away. So I promised my husband that after the 10 Miler, I would rest for at least a month, something I very much did not want to do at that time.
Although I’ve been running in some form for the last 4-5 years, I’ve only really felt like a serious runner since early 2012. Everything was finally clicking last fall and I was starting to see some real improvements in my finish times (a sub-28 minute 5K!). So, knowing that my husband and I had just begun trying to expand our family, and having no idea if I would be able to run during my pregnancy (despite grand visions of myself running right up until my due date!), the thought of voluntarily not running for an “extra” month was pretty scary. I had a sneaking suspicion that my one month break could easily become ten months or more. What if I lost everything I had worked so hard for? What if I never make it back to running? It felt like my relationship with running was still sort of precarious and taking a short break that could very well become a much longer break was taking a risk that might end the relationship forever.
Regardless of all of that, though, I couldn’t deny that my knee was seriously messed up. It was to the point where it hurt throughout my day, not just when I was running. Walking down stairs was a particular challenge. As much as my heart wanted to keep running, I knew that I needed to rest my knee. So begrudgingly, I agreed to rest for at least a month. Little did I know that the start of this rest period would coincide almost simultaneously with the start of my pregnancy. In fact, based on how an OB traditionally “dates” a pregnancy, the first day of my pregnancy was actually five days BEFORE the Atlanta 10 Miler. Which means that my self-imposed injury rest period happened to correspond with my exhaustion-filled first trimester. When it was clear a month later that my knee was still not better, I was actually perfectly content to continue my hibernation on my couch for another month. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I had ZERO energy to do anything, let alone try to go running. So I didn’t.
Running While Pregnant and Injured, Stage 2 – Rehab!
Once I got past Christmas Day (the lowest point in my pregnancy, health-wise, honestly), I started to feel much, much better. I never actually got sick during that time, but I was incredibly run down and just felt achy and blah. So when all of that started to lift, it was like having a whole new lease on life again. I knew that I had a pre-paid entry to the Atlanta Track Club’s Resolution Run 5K on New Year’s day and I was suddenly curious if my knee and my newly pregnant self would actually be up to running that race. So I cautiously tried for a short two mile run on December 30th, just to see how everything felt. And the answer was that while I felt GREAT during my run, my knee still felt like my knee cap was going to pop off at any time. To say I was disappointed that I would have to DNS the race would be an understatement. There were a lot of swear words involved.
At that point, I knew that I needed to see an orthopedist and that minimally, I could probably expect to be referred to a physical therapist. I wanted to be able to realize my dreams of pregnant running greatness, but even more so, I just wanted to be able to maintain some sort of fitness during my pregnancy for general health reasons. I was also nervous that suddenly carrying a lot of extra weight on a bum knee might do even more damage. It was definitely time to get a bit more proactive on the injury front.
After a relatively quick examination, my orthopedist finally identified what was really going on: inflammation of my right IT band, likely due to running on a sprained left ankle all last fall which altered my gait. Whoops. Because of my pregnancy, we couldn’t confirm the diagnosis with x-rays or anything, but my doctor was fairly confident. As expected, she referred me to PT for six weeks, with a strict no running rule. She did, however, encourage me to use either the bike or the elliptical at my gym to help break up some of the scar tissue and to get some form of cardio. So that became my routine for most of January and all of February – weekly PT appointments at the crack of dawn, PT exercises at home, and non-running cardio and light weights at the gym. Oh, and I also started prenatal yoga which I continued to do weekly right up until my due date.
I was a little nervous about how being pregnant would affect my ability to complete my PT. However, totally by chance, my physical therapist was just back from her own maternity leave and was fabulous at coming up with stretches and exercises that I could do with my growing my belly. Plus, she was great to talk to about all kinds of pregnancy and parenting questions that I had. even though I loathed getting up so early in the morning, I actually really looked forward to our sessions. All in all, it was a great experience, and I definitely noticed a distinct improvement in my knee pain. Things were looking up!
Running While Pregnant and Injured, Stage 3 – Racing!
I had my final PT appointment on March 6th. At the time, I began eyeing the ATC’s Atlanta Women’s 5K on March 29th as my comeback race. I knew with only three weeks to “train”, I wasn’t going to be setting any PRs (even though I’ve PR’d this course twice before!). But with stretching, foam rolling, ice, and a healthy application of KT tape, I was able to run relatively pain-free for the first time in months. Of course, I was starting to get a bit bigger at that point, making running a bit more a challenge in that respect, but knee-wise, things were coming together. I picked up my number and my race shirt and let myself get excited for my first race day in five months.
And then it rained and rained and rained. The race itself still went on as scheduled, but with the slickness of the roads, both Mike and I felt that it wasn’t worth the risk of me slipping and falling just to say that I finished this race. I was super bummed – the Women’s 5K is one of my absolute favorite races (like I said, I’ve PR’d there twice!) and I was really looking forward to finding my race legs again. But it was definitely the right choice to skip it this time around. So for the second time during this pregnancy, I DNS’d a race.
However, I didn’t let that stop me. I still felt good enough to keep running, so I did. Throughout the month of April, I ran a few times a week, in addition to some light weights at the gym and prenatal yoga. I was super busy during this time with work, baby prep, and lots of volunteer work for both Komen Atlanta and the ATC, so it wasn’t easy to fit in gym/running time, but I made it happen. I really wanted to be healthy and fit during this pregnancy (mostly in the hopes of an easy recovery), and I also still really wanted to run a race while I was pregnant. There are a ton of races here in Atlanta in the month of April (at one point last April, I ran in three races and walked one more event in a 10 day span!) so it was just a matter of picking the right race.
For me, the right race ended up being the Inman Park Festival’s Rocket Run 5k. This race was in one of my favorite areas of the city, benefitted a great cause (Mary Lin Elementary School), had a later start time, and, most importantly for me at this stage, was untimed. Between my injury and being 27 weeks pregnant, I knew I had lost a lot of speed and I wasn’t too keen to see a clock reminding me of that. The goal here was just to finish and to be able to tell Dash that we ran a race together. Moreover, because Mike wasn’t concerned about his finish time, he ran beside me the whole time, which ended up being really helpful. The race was hilly and I needed all the encouragement I could get. But I hung in there and was proud to get across that finish line!
Running While Pregnant and Injured, Stage 4 – Taking it Easy
After that, it became clear that running in my third trimester just wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t enjoy my runs and I didn’t want to put myself in a situation where I would come to resent something that I loved before my pregnancy. The elliptical at the gym was much gentler on my body overall, so I moved my workouts there instead. By doing that, I was able to continue my cardio and light weights up through about 36 weeks, which I was pretty darn proud of. I know it pales in comparison to what some other running bloggers have been able to do during their pregnancies, but that’s ok. I did what I could do and I listened to my body. I probably should have made more time for my knee PT exercises, but oh well.
As far as racing, I was actually registered for the Komen Atlanta Race for the Cure in early May but knew I wasn’t going to be able to run that race (I was at my cousin’s wedding that weekend). I was also registered for the Peachtree Road Race on July 4th but at 36 weeks, the thought of squeezing my big belly onto a MARTA train to the starting line just to trudge six miles in oppressive heat and huge crowds was wholly unappealing. Instead, I got my race fix and fulfilled some of my ambassador duties for the Atlanta Track Club by volunteering twice at the race expo. All together, I DNS’d four races while I was pregnant. Oh well. There will always be more races to run.
And speaking of more races to run, when I was caught up in the excitement of the Peachtree Road Race expo, I made the bold move of registering for the Atlanta Half Marathon, on Thanksgiving day. Now that I’m able to run again, I’ve laid out a tentative “training” plan to work my way back. Over the weekend, I’ll write up what that plan entails, my goals for this race, and my progress so far. But for now, my early morning run is dictating an early bedtime tonight!