Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Truth About Running Post Partum

My baby will be 8 weeks old on Friday and I've been running now just short of 4 weeks now. My goal was a gradual re-entry to running in November using run/walk intervals and then switching to running straight in December. The plan worked and with being able to do 10 and 1s by late November and about 4km, I decided to kick off December with some 5km runs - my first was today. And it felt a-maz-ing! I will start an increase in mileage slowly in hopes that a spring or early summer half marathon can be a reality.

The thing is, my journey has not all been sunshine and roses, even though the positivity of my sharing might suggest otherwise. I figured I'd be honest about it here, as I know others have appreciated my candor.

I have to note though that I've been extremely lucky with my health. I had a very healthy pregnancy with zero complications. It enabled me to run until 37 weeks pregnant (and I gave birth just shy of 39 weeks). Running that long allowed my pelvic floor and abdominal muscle strength to build / be maintained and for sure this enabled me to bounce back after delivery much faster. I just needed my stitches to heal up and for things to feel OK again, um, 'down there'... But other women experience much worse such as abdominal separation or issues with their pelvic floor that causes pain, incontinence, and other not so fun symptoms. Again, I have been very fortunate to have been able to maintain my strength in those areas and not suffer many terrible symptoms.

I have been consistently running 3 times a week (with the exception of this week - more on that in a bit), and again, my ability to do this is something I feel very fortunate for. My husband works retail at a store with long hours, so his schedule is all over the place, rather than a typical M-F/9-5 job. Him being home at odd times allows me to spread out my runs during the week. He's incredibly supportive and understands the importance of running for my mental and physical well-being, and also he craves his alone time with his daughter when I'm out. It's a win win. This week I was able to schedule runs for a Mon, Wed, and Fri because of his schedule and days he's home.

So in theory, I have it really good. But as many will tell you, there's nothing that can prepare you for life with a new baby. It's incredibly rewarding and blissful, but very tiring, especially on a mom if she's breastfeeding. We are supplementing with formula which does allow Cam to parent without me. But often, I'm what she needs. Running the days Cam is off work have been easier to do, because I can go in the middle of the day if that's what works best for my energy and our schedule, but the other days are harder. Before having a baby, I may not have understood this. I'm on 12 months' maternity leave - how could I possibly not have the time to run? Sounds like a stupid excuse since I'm "not working". Motherhood is a 24/7 full-time job and even though I understood this on some level before, I'm living it now and fully aware of what it means now.

What this means is that on those days when Cam starts work at say 10am and I want to enjoy an 8am run, it's not just as simple as scheduling it and doing it like it used to be. If I was up in the middle of the night to feed the baby at 1am and again at 4am, and after feeding her at those times, I needed to spend an extra hour holding and comforting her to help her sleep, is an 8am run appealing? If I manage maximum 6 hours sleep a night and these hours are never in a row, that's hardly ideal to make running easy on the body.

Typically I've been waking up 2.5 hours before I want to run so I can have breakfast and then be available to feed the baby and/or pump milk before I go. Believe it or not, I've been successful at doing this so far, except not on Monday this week. After a very rough night with her, and a feeding that had me awake until 6am, running at 8am was the farthest thing from my mind. Being tired is never an excuse I'll accept because being tired is synonymous with parenthood. But I was so exhausted I could not keep my eyes open. No sense in trying to run in those circumstances. I fed my daughter, then slept as she slept until the late morning, missing my opportunity to run before Cam went to work. The stupid thing is that even though I felt refreshed when I woke up at 11am, I was overcome with guilt for missing my workout. My mantra is "no excuses" and sometimes that sentiment bites me in the @$$. No Zahida, being exhausted is not an excuse - simply a reality of life and it's best to listen to the body in those circumstances. Skipping this run is what we call self-care. If I am running for self-care, then sleeping for self-care should be allowed too. As soon as my daughter was fed that day, I threw on some non-pajama clothing, strapped her into her Baby Bjorn and went for a long walk. Walking all over the place to do errands with a 10lb weight (the baby) attached to my body is also excellent exercise, yet I couldn't see this as OK as I missed my run. How could only 2 runs this week be OK when my goal is 3 runs per week?

I'm finally over my guilt after an awesome, empowering 5km run this afternoon after a good sleep this morning. Yes, Cam is off work today and has been doing the lion's share of parenting since early this morning giving me a much needed break.

Then there's the "mom-bod" thing. I am also now feeling less of the shame and body-image challenges now that I'm seeing results on the scale. Pregnancy weight-gain is natural and expected. But I put on more weight than I wanted, and this was despite keeping active and eating relatively healthy all pregnancy. Sorry, I had to take advantage of my temporary tolerance to dairy and enjoy some ice cream this hot summer! But no matter how healthy I ate most of the time, my body held onto all kinds of extra weight because it could. I hated seeing the numbers on the scale go up as they reached a higher point than I've seen in about 7 years. My story of weight loss is one that defines a lot about my character and I felt ashamed to be "heavy" again. Of course, lots of that weight disappeared the moment my daughter was born. But even with that, I was left with another 30lbs to lose. No big deal for me considering I once lost 130lbs. I know how to do it, and I have the will to do it right :-) But it still has hurt the self esteem. I have reminded myself that my body did what it needed to enable a healthy baby. My body did the most amazing thing - growing and birthing a beautiful girl. I should cut it some slack and celebrate it, rather than feel bad about some extra weight around my midsection.

Since that initial drop in weight with childbirth, I've been tracking my food and exercise and have successfully lost 8lbs so far. Yay! I'm well on my way and hopefully the confidence in myself in that department will return, and hopefully fitting into some of my old pre-pregnancy clothes again will help. It doesn't feel that far away any more. I'll get there. It took 9 months to grow a baby, I can't expect my body to return to its old self instantaneously.

I hear my daughter stirring from her sleep, so I better end here. Thank you for reading!!!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Momming and Returning to Running

It's official - I'm a mom! In fact, tomorrow marks my dear daughter's 1 month "birthday". Our little girl arrived early and in an unexpected fashion on Friday, October 13th. I'll spare you my birth story, although I'd be happy to tell it to you if you message me privately! It's a good story, I swear! :)

What I can say about this past month though is that everything they say is true - nothing can possibly prepare you for the challenges of the first few weeks of parenthood. The emotions, the sleep deprivation, the doubt, the worry, the entirety of your life being completely flipped upside down by this tiny human who needs so much attention and care, all while you are recovering from the trauma caused to your body by 9 months of pregnancy and your baby's birthday - there is NOTHING that compares to it or that can prepare you for it. But then there's the other, much sweeter side, which makes every difficult moment worth it. Baby S (I will not be using her real name on my blog) took our world by storm. Every single moment with her I am in awe with the love I feel for her. I cannot describe it as it's something that compares to absolutely nothing else. I look at her and wonder where she came from, how I could be blessed with such a miracle. I stare at her little face, her little fingers and toes, and I watch every little squirm and expression so intently. Pregnancy seemed to last an eternity, but now that she's on the outside, I have a hard time believing this miracle is real. She's not even a month old, but somehow I can't imagine the life I had before she was here.

Vulnerable post-delivery photo. We did it!!!
So mushy lovey feels about my baby girl aside, now I am a mom! My whole life will now be defined by this fact, and my every day going forward will have to consider her needs in addition to my own. I made a pledge to myself that while I will be prioritizing S's needs, I will never neglect my own. I often do let my needs take a back burner (I will put off making my lunch to ensure she's fed and not screaming, for example). But I'll always come back to mine. S and I had some major challenges in our first week together, with an unexpected extended stay in the hospital where I was limited on holding and nursing my little girl. I didn't make this public, and I am still not going to detail it here as I wish to keep it private. But the experience was the most stressful time of my entire life. There were many tears and heartache beyond heartache. I couldn't control my emotions at times, which I know were fueled by the onset of all kinds of new hormones in addition to the circumstances, but I feared I was spiraling down a path I didn't want to. One of the nurses who took care of us reminded me of the simple fact - I'm no good to my daughter if I am miserable. She encouraged me to sleep even though I didn't think I had time to do so. She insisted and sat in our room with us so she could be the one to console my baby in my place when she needed me, while I blocked out the world for a moment and slept a few winks. I will forever be grateful to this nurse for doing this for me - I think she truly saved me. Happy mom equals happy baby, and putting my mental and physical health at the top of my priority list is one of the best ways I can take care of my girl. I have always known this fact, but in the depths of the anguish I needed someone to talk me through it.

The good news is that my girl and I are thriving now. We have even a bit of a routine at home and between her Dad and I, we think we've got a pretty good handling of this parenting thing. At least this stage of it anyway. We know the learning curve will continue to be a very steep one. But I have gotten over the fears of not being perfect, and have embraced the learning. We go on outings almost every day so I can get outside, stretch my legs, and be stimulated, but also to build my confidence in the whole momming thing! I feel awesome pushing the stroller with a calm cooing baby inside it.

My recovery from her birth has gone swimmingly and S's health is pretty much perfect too! At our 4 week doctor's appointment, the doctor told me I could try running again, as long as I take it easy. I know my body and my limits, and I know how to safely progress a run program as I've done it before and I've coached many runners too on the same. I know some me time, when Daddy is home to watch baby, will serve my physical and mental well-being. Running is my "go to" for this and so I have been anxious to get back into it to help take care of ME. I started on Thursday with a 3km run. My approach was just to go out and see what I could do, walk when needed. The 3km took me over 25 min, which is a very long time by my usual standards, but it only required 2 walk breaks on uphill sections. I don't care how slow it was because considering I hadn't run in 6 weeks, I just had a baby 4 weeks ago, and I have 30 extra lbs on my body, it's not so bad at all! I was a bit achy for the afternoon but I knew that it wasn't anything to worry about - just the fact that I just did something my body hadn't done in 6 weeks. I had zero achiness the next day, so I knew it was safe to try again.

So yesterday was my 2nd try at it, so I ran the exact same 3km route as I did two days before, but took a different approach. I ran 5 minutes at a time with 1 minute walk breaks between (i.e., "5 and 1s"). So I likely walked more than I did on my first attempt, but the walks were limited to a minute and scheduled. The eased up approach allowed for better performance. I felt less sluggish and more natural with my stride, and as I felt myself tiring, I could see on my watch how far I had to go before I got a break. Also having that successful run in my legs and confidence made the whole experience better too. It was pouring rain out there too, but I managed to finish this run in exactly 24 minutes. Still not fast, but faster by over a minute. I have time to get fast again. For now, I just want to get moving! The good news is that I had zero discomfort during and after the run. I am well on my way.

For accountability, I am telling you my goals! For now, it's just to run 3 times a week, scheduled around my husband's work schedule, so he can stay home with the baby. When I'm ready, I can try to increase that to 4 days and consider training for races. But in the short term, I will be using walk breaks a bit just so I don't push my recovering body too hard too soon. I'll be back to my old self in no time at all. I'll keep you posted along the way.

Time to publish this and go snuggle my babe.
<3 Zahida

Monday, October 9, 2017

Lessons Learned Running with Baby on Board

Hi friends! It's been one heckuva last 9 months for this runner girl here. I am just under 2 weeks away from my baby's due date, so I expect that any day now (or at some point this month anyway), we'll be welcoming a new tiny human to our household and our lives. If you read my last blog post, you'll know that I'm officially done, for now, with running. I never expected myself to be running right until my delivery date, but I didn't exactly expect that I'd run right up to 37 weeks. I exceeded my expectations of myself, and now I welcome the rest while I await the most exciting journey of my life to begin.

I'm very thankful that I was able to run that long, and I wanted to thank you all for reading and supporting me in the journey. I was overwhelmed by the encouragement I received. My next journey will be returning to running post-partum, and then I expect that to be shortly followed up by running with stroller. And who knows - running for achievement of a new personal best could be mixed in there too. There really is a lot about this sport to talk about. Running is a sport that can absolutely be adapted to fit one's lifestyle and stage in life. I am thankful for this because this sport is one that I turn to, day after day, to provide me with my "me time". Running gives me time to be me, sort my thoughts, and receive a endorphin boost, a good calorie burn, a physical challenge, a meditative and grounding experience, that primal connection to the earth and my living body, and empowerment that goes beyond the miles accomplished on the road. I'm grateful that my body allowed me to continue to enjoy these feelings regularly for the last 9 months. Without it, I don't know how I'd feel today. And while I anticipate at least 2 months off from the sport, that time will go by so very quickly. It will certainly be long enough though to make me hungry for my return to it. I see no issue with being motivated to go once life allows it to become a regular part of my day again.

Thankfully, my team of doctors in this pregnancy fully endorsed and encouraged me to run throughout pregnancy. And so I did, and it was a great learning experience. I thought I'd take some time to summarize and reflect on this experience and share with you the lessons I learned along the way. Hope you enjoy!

Remember one thing - this is not supposed to be easy.
The most common theme from talking to others about the experience was about its perceived difficulty. Sometimes the person I spoke to was a woman who ran in her own pregnancy and found it difficult, and she shared her experience with me about how long she kept it up and when/why she eventually stopped. Or those who don't have their own firsthand experience and have suggested that it's unimaginable to run in my "condition" because it doesn't sound easy. Then there's the opposite sentiment that I've received a few times only -- that because running has been my sport for so many years now, running with the added challenge of pregnancy couldn't have been a big shift for me. I don't know if they thought it was easy on me but maybe they didn't know it was hard. I was simply doing what I'm used to doing but slowing it down, so maybe doing that wasn't hard at all.

So I will tell you right now, running is NOT an easy sport. No matter how long you've been doing it or how at times it can absolutely seem effortless, it's not easy. The sport is designed to be uncomfortable and most of us runners don't do it just to do it, be comfy, or to stay the same. We do it to push ourselves to new levels. Sure, for me running in pregnancy, my experience of being a runner for a long time helped me through. And I didn't set goals to perform at my races and took it "easy" out here. But running was hard and got harder progressively, week after week as my body changed. Even if I was trying to do "the same thing", the fact that I was changing, maintaining my fitness was an act of pushing myself harder every week. It forced me out of my comfort zone week after week.

My mileage lowered progressively, but the effort of putting one foot in front of the other got progressively more difficult every time I went out there. It was discouraging, it was uncomfortable, I was often achy and/or exhausted, I thought of quitting, regularly. It was one of my most difficult running seasons of my life, right up there with returning from challenging injury, or training for my first marathon. There were physical, mental, and emotional challenges day after day, week after week. This included nausea, exhaustion, incontinence, weight gain, achy hips, achy abdominals, achy everything, fear, doubt, self-consciousness, body-image challenges, more exhaustion, a whole lot more weight gain, an altered centre of gravity, circulatory challenges, foot changes, you name it. It was really hard. But that's what made it worth it. Nobody grows when they stay in their comfort zone.

Race for you, not for competition.
My family doctor warned me against doing races. She said she was cool with me running as long as I wanted, as long as I knew to slow it down when it came to pace and distance. She told me that races could be a bad idea as one tends to push themselves, even if they don't mean to, because they get caught in the energy of others. I took her advice to heart, but lined up for 10 races during my pregnancy anyway. I simply changed my mentality and kept myself cognizant of the dangers of overdoing it at a race. I lined up at the back, started every race slow, took my walk breaks, watched my heartrate, and made sure I had a race plan for every event to ensure I finished in a way that aligned with my current state of fitness. I did not ignore the advice I received, but simply applied the advice to my race approach.

I chose to race because even though I run for my own health and for my "me time", my running community is also important to me and I wanted to keep myself connected and engaged in this community. Every race is a chance to connect with other runners, my friends, my running family, and those who are like-minded and see this sport for the amazing thing it is. I can run 5km anytime I want to, but doing so at an event has a whole lot of added benefit that I chose to experience. And I wasn't running to achieve something at my races, I wasn't training to achieve a personal best or a new distance, I was simply lining up to DO the races and to feel great about doing them. Having these races to look forward to gave me a goal to keep my training honest and directed toward.

Be kind to yourself.
This is huge. In a runner's mindset is the tendency to push no matter what, to run no matter what, even against one's better judgement at times. When you're pregnant, it's not just your own body you have to consider, but the one you're growing. Growing a person isn't an easy task, so we are allowed grace. I was often hard on myself, as I tend to be. But for the most part, I learned that kindness toward myself was the best thing I could do. I paid no attention to pace, I avoided the big hilly routes, I loosened the structure on my training week, and I always gave myself a "get out of jail free" card. That card could be redeemed if I ever needed to end a workout early, skip a workout entirely, or if I decided it was time to hang up my running shoes more long-term. I knew that while exercise would keep me and baby healthy, so would rest, moderation, and kindness. There's no need to be Wonder Woman every day.

Set goals and a plan to ensure you don't scrap the goals prematurely.
So with the kindness noted above comes the danger of redeeming the "get out of jail free" card when it's not needed. Setting goals, re-evaluating those goals on a regular basis, signing up for races, and having many honest talks with myself kept me on target. I always said I had permission to quit, but the plan was to not quit until I had enough evidence that quitting was the right thing to do. One bad run wasn't enough to say "I'm done". I had plenty bad runs, but they were almost always followed up with an OK run, a good run, or an exceptional energizing run. A good run always feels that much better when on the heels of a bad one. So I always told myself not to quit until I'd seen a true shift that running had moved from possible and OK to truly too difficult to continue. It took until I hit 37 weeks and a full-term baby to feel I was truly ready to stop.

Be extraordinary, in your own way.
Perhaps this is a mantra I live by always. I don't like keeping myself at status quo. I like to challenge myself to something I know to not be easy and see how I can conquer. I ran through my pregnancy to to prove to myself that I could. If I could do this, certainly I could take on birthing a child. And certainly I can take on the challenges of motherhood. I chose to race because I knew it would feel good and empowering. I had seen other pregnant women at races and thought to myself, "wow that's awesome - I hope I can do that someday". I made sure to try when I had the opportunity, and soon, 10 races were completed. There was nothing extraordinary about my speed, my distance, the races I chose, my achievements at these races or anything I did as a runner this past 9 months. But I feel like my attitude, my perseverance, and my willingness to try something challenging were absolutely extraordinary, and I'm proud of myself.

I did all of this for me, but it doesn't hurt when others take notice what you're doing and find inspiration. It's why I blog, share, overshare, and speak openly about my fitness journey. It is why I have done so the last 6 years or so since I started this blog. But most importantly, I know that this ordinary mere mortal of a woman here, me, who's as flawed as the next person, she has grit about her and a desire to better herself, no matter how difficult. And that's one of the many things that make me extraordinary.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Race Report: North Van Run 5K - Oct 1st, 2017

This past Sunday, I ran the inaugural North Van Run 5km race. It was very likely my last run for a little while, and definitely my last race of 2017. It was a great time and an event I truly did not want to miss for several reasons:
  • The event was put on by my friend Kirill, the mastermind behind the West Van Run and whose commitment to creating a true running community is admirable. He has made a genuine impact on the North Shore (and beyond). I wanted to support him, first and foremost.
  • The other two events that Kirill directs, the West Van Run and the Ambleside Mile, are very well organized events I've enjoyed participating in, so no doubt this would be a great event too.
  • I have lived in North Van since 2009 and have never participated in a running event locally, in my own town. I have always had to travel somewhere to get to the start line. North Van is more known for trail races, which aren't something I've taken to. The only road race I'm aware of is a half marathon that is no longer, that took place the same weekend as another race I was always doing instead.
  • I would be 37 weeks pregnant on race day, and thought it would be a nice way to close my "baby-on-board running season".
  • Related to the previous bullet point, my first race after I learned I was pregnant was the West Van Run that took place in March. So its sister event in North Vancouver made sense to be my 10th and final race for this journey.
As with the Eastside 10K race, I opted for a rather last minute race entry. Not that I thought I was going to give birth early, but it was certainly a possibility. It was more that my running slowly progressed to less and less frequent. Perhaps I should say, my running has "regressed" over the past few weeks. I simply didn't want to commit to overdoing it until I felt confident that doing it wasn't overdoing it. Walking the entire race was certainly always a possibility. But you know me, I'm a runner, and I want to run my events, even if I have to take extended walk breaks.

With a couple days to spare before race day, I was informed that there were only a limited number of bibs left. So I registered, having faith that baby would stay put inside me a bit longer. The thing was, I had no idea what my race plan would be. It was a "try to run and see if it feels OK" approach. If it felt fine, I'd continue until I felt like stopping. If it felt bad, I'd switch to walking immediately and walk the whole way. So it was tough to set a goal or make a more definitive plan. But I suppose just showing up and committing to finishing the thing is enough at the stage I was in.

But silently, I made a goal to run at least 3 of the 5km and to finish as close to 40min as I could, although I wouldn't be watching the clock closely to check if I was achieving that time goal. The 40min goal was just something to aim for, based on it being a little slower than previous recent efforts, proportionately slower to the amount of time that had passed since those efforts, with a buffer knowing I may walk up to 2km. Same approach was followed at this event as all my runs of recent days - follow my perceived level of exertion, look at the heart rate on my watch and keep it at or under the level I'm comfortable with, but not look at any performance-based stats (pace, elapsed time, etc.). This is for the sanity of my competitive-self, so I don't feel bad or discouraged for being the turtle at the back of the pack. I've been told by many how the fact that I'm there doing is inspiring and badass, which I do now believe. I should not let myself get obsessed with time. I can do that later when I'm not running with a watermelon attached to my body!

I started race morning with a bold coffee, cold water and pre-natal vitamins, and some peanut butter on toast. Breakfast of a sleepy pregnant champion! I was all ready to head to the start line early, allowing myself lots of time to get there as I wanted to avoid not being able to get through road closures and having an issue with parking. Also, pregnant ladies have a tendency to need a bathroom regularly, so I wanted to make sure there was plenty of time to wait out a long line for the ladies at the start line. 

Of course, being that this race was right here in North Van, something had to go wrong for me to foil the plan. After the above social media moment where I photographed my race bib next to my cup of coffee, I promptly forgot to include said bib with the gear I took with me to the race. I drove myself almost all the way to the start line, and then it dawned on me that I left my bib at home. I pulled over, checked my bag and confirmed it was time to U-turn myself around and go home to find my bib waiting for me on the placemat next to my empty coffee cup. Thankfully, home was only 5 minutes away, but again, I was fighting the clock to get to the start line before road closures were in place. It ended up not being an issue, but I arrived with a jolt of "way to go baby brain" rushing around like a headless chicken type of adrenaline! 

The next dilemma was realizing it was warmer outside than I assumed it would be from looking at weather reports the day before. My confidence that I'd be running more than walking at this stage made me realize I'd be too warm in the long sleeve top I was wearing. I had the shirt in my car I planned to change into post race and decided to change then instead. I managed to get back to my car and change outfits with 2 minutes to spare before race start. Trouble was, the shirt I packed was not what I intended to run in as it's too short to cover my belly support belt, so I was self conscious all run of the fact that this ugly belt was visible for the world to see. I should have brought a different shirt as a backup, but didn't think that through. The most important thing though was that the lighter layer kept me comfy running, and I was likely the only one paying attention to my belt.

I started the race at the back of the pack, running well, managing to pass quite a few runners and boosting my confidence in the process. There was a fair chunk of hilly in the middle of the race, a couple uphills and a rather steep downhill after. I find uphill hard on the compressed lungs and downhill hard because of gravity pulling the watermelon down. So I opted to walk most of that section. In total, I think I walked about 1.5km total. I ran the whole last km and again, managed to pass some runners who had passed me when I was taking my walk break. That was good for the ego! I pushed a little harder at the end, excited to see the beautiful finish line at the end of the Drie Dock on a perfect fall morning, blue sky above and the Vancouver skyline in the background. I came in at 40:30 for my slowest 5km event of my life, but one of the most satisfying!

Finish lines don't get much prettier than this!

Me and my watermelon at the finish line.
It was a good time at the finish line, of course, catching up with other running friends and West Van Run crew members there to cheer and photograph the event. I enjoyed the adrenaline rush of my accomplishment for a little while and then remembered, at 37 weeks pregnant, it was a good idea to get home to a meal, shower, and some rest. I took a race-provided shuttle back to my car, and headed home.

After a brief outing after the race, I started to feel very tired, so I went home and changed in my PJs to rest. My belly was achy for a few hours, likely from overtaxed round ligaments that had to hold my belly through the race. I felt fine lying down or walking around, but it was enough to have me realize that maybe it's now time to stop running until after baby. If I could be this sore after running maybe about 3.5km, which isn't far at all, I should switch now to walking. I'm comfortable with that decision. It's time. I don't need to prove anything further to myself. I ran 10 races in my pregnancy, and ran for months longer than I thought I would. I have kept my body and my cardiovascular fitness strong. Transitioning to running after baby will be that much easier because of this. Labour should hopefully be much more tolerable too, because of this. Why make myself uncomfortable by doing this for too long. I'm looking forward to my long walks I'll be doing now going forward. I'm proud of all I accomplished in the 37 weeks of uncertain times. A couple months off from now until doctor clears post-partum exercise will be just fine.

It's now only 2.5 weeks until the big due date, and I'm so thankful for my health through this process. Thank YOU for your support and encouragement in this journey. 

<3 Zahida

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Race Report: Under Armour Eastside 10K - September 16, 2017

What a great day! The Eastside 10K has been a favourite race of mine since it's inauguration because it takes place on my "birthday weekend". Last year it fell on my actual birthday, on an extremely rainy day. And this year, a bright and sunny race day, happened to be the day before my 37th birthday. But participating this year was never something I was certain of, knowing that 10K is quite a distance and I would be 35 weeks pregnant on race day.

The Eastside 10K was also the final race of the Lower Mainland Road Race Series. I believe I've received awards now for 4 years straight in the series, but I had assumed it would be out of reach this year since pregnancy has slowed me down considerably. When I realized that I stood a chance to qualify, as long as I got my 5 races in, I seriously contemplated registering for this race to get me race #5. The normal Zahida would have registered long ago, but I wasn't sure it was sensible to run the risk of pushing myself too hard, or sign up for something I wasn't fit to do. I waited a little too long to decide what to do though and the race sold out! I had been running consistently and at the point where I realized it was sold out, I had absolute confidence in my ability to finish. Luckily a bit of spamming running groups on Facebook yielded in an injured runner willing to sell and transfer her registration to me right before the deadline to do so! Yes!

The week of the race was a bit rough for me and left me feeling a bit of nervousness going in. I've been dealing with ankle and foot swelling by midday so I'm limited to running now in the mornings. I've also been dealing with terrible insomnia, so running in the morning before work is also not desirable. My first priority is self-care, not my races, so I choose sleep over training when I can. So I hadn't run since a week before the race, and the week had me feeling sluggish and sleepy. I had a very rough sleep on Friday night too, so waking up unrefreshed wasn't helpful at all for my confidence.

Attempting to perk myself up with a morning coffee.
But it didn't seem to matter. Everything on race morning was perfect! I felt uplifted by the nice weather and by the community around me. Physically I felt OK too, as if my dozen bathroom trips in the night rid me of excess water retention. I didn't feel like a heavy pregnant lady like I often do late in the day. So should I thank my baby for jumping on my bladder all night? Maybe?

I arrived to the race site shortly before 8am to find the porto-potties and already started bumping into running friends. I met up with the West Van Run Crew for a group photo and then spent some time on my own mentally reviewing my race plan.

Hidden in poor lighting, but still a great photo of the WVR Crew!

Yes, I came up with a race plan for the day. I do this no matter what, so I have something to hold myself accountable to, so I have a method for reaching my goal, and to ensure I push myself just the right amount. Today it was really important to follow the plan because 10K is further than I have gone in a long time. I have been running 5-6km consistently my entire pregnancy, but my last run that was longer than that was about a month ago. 10km is a stretch considering, but I also know that after every 5km run I do, I always have gas left in the tank and I end up walking a fair bit on those days without being phased. The difference here is doing all those kms all at once, rather than running in the morning and walking in the afternoon/evening. My fear about 10km all at once being a case of overdoing it made me nervous about trying. Silly me, I did just fine! But I am glad I made a plan that aligned with my abilities. I didn't know how it would go as it was a new course this year and I wasn't sure of the elevation profile.

The plan was and went as follows:
  • Walk the first 2km: to allow the crowd to get ahead and so I don't run too fast getting caught in their momentum. This also allowed me lots of space to move as I didn't want to risk receiving elbows or bumps or not noticing flaws in the road I could trip on.
  • Run the next 3km (until the 5km mark), which I followed pretty well. Little did I know that at around 5km, the course would start to go uphill for a while, so a walk break at this stage was actually ideal!
  • Walk the next 2km (until the 7km mark). I did a bit of a run/walk here because of the hills (walked up, ran down) and actually didn't start running continuously until around the 8km mark.
  • Run from the 7km mark to the finish - as mentioned above, I didn't run continuously until the 8km mark. But close enough :-) I ran straight through to the finish at this stage.
If I were to wager a guess, I likely ran about 6km and walked 4km. Not bad!

I had a blast out there! It was awesome to be part of a bigger event as a very obviously pregnant woman. I don't think I've ever received so many cheers, high fives, and encouraging words from complete strangers in a race before. Other runners who were miles ahead of me (already on their way back on out-and-back sections when I was still on my way out) took a moment away from their focus to smile at me, wave, and/or say something kind. I also saw many people I know from the running community. It seemed like every 10m, I was waving, fist pumping, or cheering along with someone else. It truly inspired me and pumped me with adrenaline. I felt like Ms Popularity or a rockstar!

The best feeling was when I saw the finish line. I honestly said to myself, "already?" as if I expected to be working harder than I was to get there. I kicked it up a notch so I could cross before the race clock could reach 1:30. Since I lined up right in the very back of the pack to start the race, my official chip time was 1:26:36. This was officially my slowest 10km event of my life, but at 35 weeks pregnant, I am just amazed I was able to do it. I felt so very empowered! Hours later, the buzz has not worn off.
Feeling empowered. A woman can do anything!

I enjoyed the post-race festivities a bit, grabbed a bite to eat, and bumped into two athletes I admire -Olympians Natasha Wodak and Lanni Marchant. I didn't want to eat up too much of their time, but they indulged me in a quick chat and Natasha took a selfie of us with my phone. What awesome ladies!

Hanging with some Olympians.
I quickly dropped off some gear off in my car and headed over to Harbour Centre to locate the venue for the Lower Mainland Road Race Series awards. Having officially crossed the finish of this race, I officially qualified for 3rd place in my category. I was very pleased with this outcome! Who would have thought this would be possible in my "condition".

Receiving my award along with the 1st place finisher. Seems like the F35-39 category is the "Mom Category"

With my friend Karen, who won 3rd place in her category too.

It really was a great day and I want to thank everyone who has offered me encouragement and cheers. I never dreamed I could run this far into pregnancy, especially considering my age and me assuming pregnancy would be harder on me (as I was warned it might be). But I have been motivated to keep going, and keeping going has helped me stay strong and healthy.

I am not going to lie though - since returning home, I've had some round ligament and inner thigh soreness. I've been hanging out on my couch much of the day and napped a bit this afternoon too. But I know the feeling will pass. I certainly did overdo it slightly, but not in a way that is leaving me with regret. I'll be fine by tomorrow. And I will enjoy a relaxing / fun day tomorrow, my birthday!

What's next? Who knows. Birthing my baby is around the corner so who knows how much running will remain this calendar year. The inaugural North Van Run is in 2 weeks and it's tempting. But I will wait to register :)

Thanks for cheering and reading!
<3 Zahida

Monday, August 28, 2017

August Reflections

August comes to a close in just a few short days. I can hardly believe it. With September on the horizon, soon I will be saying, “baby is due next month”. It’s felt so far away for so long. It’s still a number of weeks yet (I’m 32 weeks along as I write this), but the anticipation and waiting is almost over with. Soon we’ll meet this tiny human.

I’ve mentioned before that my goal was to run through at least May and play the summer by ear, knowing the heat might be a problem, or just the stage of pregnancy. Here we are on Aug 28th, and I’m still running. I think I achieved my goal!

I think the lesson here is to never sell yourself short and to be flexible. It’s always important to check in regularly with reality and be willing to adjust a goal. If you don’t then you run the risk of your end result being completely out of alignment with your expectations. Sometimes reality says, “This is too much for you; back off.” This was my 2014. I was overdoing it and realized I needed to downgrade a planned marathon to a half marathon or risk burnout or injury. I adjusted the goal, so when I reached the finish line in Calgary, I was elated rather than deflated. But often reality says something a little different: “Actually you’re way more badass than you think; you can and should absolutely do more, safely.” This has been the case this summer. I find that running through this pregnancy journey I’ve been constantly reassessing and surprising myself with what I can do. I feel I’ve challenged myself the right amount because I’ve been honest with what my reality is.

The difference might be the nature of the goal I set. For example, when the goal is to complete a distance event, the roadmap for getting there is to ensure base mileage is completed, and long runs reach a certain level. For a time-based goal, certain speed and power workouts are also essential to that roadmap. But when the goal is to remain active for fitness and mental/physical well-being, the roadmap isn’t as clear. There are many paths one can take to reach the same summit. Whether I run there, walk there, swim, dance, yoga it up the mountain, all methods will take me there.  When I first designed the map, I assumed running wouldn’t be a huge part of the journey. But being my favourite sport, I’ve prioritized running and have pleasantly surprised myself with its continued prevalence in my journey.

Don’t get me wrong – pregnancy hasn’t been all roses and sunshine. It’s been difficult. And I have to also clarify that running isn’t always amazing and easy, even for someone like me who’s been proudly running for years now. It’s often sucky and hard even when I’m not pregnant. Running is difficult by nature, and I think that’s why I love it so much. You need to be driven to succeed in this sport. Reaching a finish line wouldn’t be such an achievement if the road there wasn’t incredibly hard.

Pregnancy adds a whole other list of challenges to the already difficult sport of running…The added weight. The reduced lung capacity. The increased heart rate. The nausea. The achiness. The overactive bladder. The shortened stride. The waddly gait. My list could go on and on for miles of complaints. But neither running nor pregnancy was designed to be easy, and Zahida was certainly not designed to let challenge get in her way.

Being able to run in spite of the added challenge of pregnancy has been incredibly empowering. It’s been tangible proof that I can do anything. A woman’s body is strong, capable, and grows life. My body continues to amaze me daily – no matter how it’s changed over the last 7.5months, I have been able to remain consistent and true to myself in my sport. Now matter how difficult a workout feels during, I continue to feel great after, and I continue to crave the next workout. This is the reward or the reinforcement I need to know I’m doing the right thing for my body. This is the evidence of my character I need for the endurance event of my lifetime that’s around the corner – bringing my child into the world.

The last week or so of running has been super awesome, but not without challenge! On Aug 19th, I participated in a free 5K event coinciding with Kits Fest at Kitsilano Beach. The run was organized by the Vancouver Marathon Society and just happened to land on my friend Monica’s birthday. We ran together and had a blast. While part of me wasn’t thrilled that it took me 39minutes to complete the distance (my slowest 5km since I was a beginner), to put it into perspective, that’s really not that slow for being 31-weeks along at the time. There were certainly a couple of incline / challenging sections that required me to walk.

Pre-run selfie - getting ready to run!
One of my favourite moments of the experience was in the pre-run moments where we were all milling about and socializing and two ladies approached me. They saw my belly and asked if I was planning on walking the event like they were. I told them that no, I was planning to run, and they were surprised and genuinely appreciative of my response. We saw each other on the course, as there was a small out and back section, providing a lovely moment of cheering each other on. I hope that in some way I inspired them a little. Runners truly do come in all shapes, sizes, and abilities. Round is one of them.

With Monica at the finish line!
I continued to feel awesome for hours after the run. The problem was that I ignored reason and later that same day went for a long walk with a friend. I wore my Polar M200 watch all day, which in addition to the GPS tracker for my runs, it also has a built in step-counter to track all other activity I do if I choose to wear the watch beyond my runs. I was so caught up enjoying the conversation that went along with the walk, that I didn’t realize that in addition to running 5km, I walked another 9km between this walk and other errands I got up to that day. My abdominal area was very achy that evening. I felt better with rest so I knew I didn’t do anything harmful. But one doesn’t want to be achy! Of course fear set in that the reason for my achiness was the 5km of running, rather than the fact that I covered 16km of distance over the course of the day. Were my running days now over? Of course not, but the doubt set in nonetheless.

My next run after Kits Fest didn’t happen until the following Tuesday. The plan was to go for a run at the track after work. But it was a really hot day and one where I didn’t get a lot of movement in my day until I arrived at the track. I arrived to heavy legs and very swollen ankles. I found running extraordinarily challenging as I could only make it around the track one time before I had to take a walk break. So I did a total of 4km that day, running 5 x 400m laps one at a time with 5 x 400m walk break laps in between (10 laps total). This of course was a much much slower workout still to what the Kits Fest 5K was given that I literally walked half the distance. I knew that this was because of the hot weather and swelling but it was a challenging run coming on the heels of an achy post-run experience after Kits Fest. So it left me a little worried again. Now are my running days over? Again the answer was “of course not” as I knew full well why this run was challenging. I’ve made the decision now that I will only run in the morning. Swollen ankles are OK for slow walking, but not for anything athletic!

My next run after that was my most recent run – this past Saturday. I returned to the track first thing in the morning with fresh legs and had a great workout. In fact, perhaps because the previous workout was so challenging, this run felt remarkably easy. I was able to complete my 5km in just over 36 minutes. I felt empowered and now I’m contemplating what’s next. I took this picture of my perspective looking down at the track and find it quite funny; I really had to stick out that foot to see it!

I’d love to participate in the Eastside 10K (run 5k, walk 5k), but it’s sold out so I’m hopeful I can find someone who wants to transfer a bib to me. Then there’s the inaugural North Van Run 5K on Oct 1st. I’m confident in my ability to do both of these events, even if I end up walking more than I run. 

I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Running in the 3rd Trimester

Well, baby and I are now 30 weeks along and I'm pleased to say that we're still running! I did a little stats check yesterday, and my mileage in my 1st trimester was about half what I was doing pre-pregnancy, and through the 2nd and 3rd trimester to date it has been cut further to about 1/3 what I was doing pre-pregnancy. I think the cut was more to do with my taking on other activities like dance, yoga, and swimming as I would argue running was easiest in the 2nd trimester. But anyway the stats are more for perspective, I don't run often or far, relative to what I'd normally do, but I still run. Oh, and there's nothing fast about it! I am running about 2-3 times a week, around 5-8km each time (more often 5km than anything). But my expectation was never to run at the same level as I had been, but to simply run to maintain fitness and for mental and physical well-being.

I would say that little has changed since the 2nd trimester so far. But I'm only a couple weeks into this 3rd and final trimester so it's a little premature to assume it will continue to be this easy. The main difference now is that the baby is now steadily gaining weight so my tummy will be growing in both girth and weight this next while, so running should get more difficult. My attitude remains the same though, that I'll only run as long as it's comfortable and makes sense. Whether that be another day, week, or 10 weeks, only time will tell.

Yesterday I was interviewed by Christine Blanchette who manages and hosts a show about running called Run With It. I was a guest of hers in her very first season, and it was a great honour to be asked to come back as a returning guest now that Run With It is in its 5th season.

Here's the video from season 1 

Christine and I bumped into one another at the BMO Vancouver Marathon in May when I crossed the finish line of the 8km race. The race was featured on the show for a brief segment and I made it into a brief soundbite (click here for the video). Christine then followed up with me to invite me to return as a featured guest in a future episode. So yesterday we met up for my interview and what a blast it was. Stay tuned for the episode which will air in September. We are talking about running through pregnancy which is a topic I'm currently journeying through and rather passionate about. Of course, there's a whole pile of stuff I wish I remembered to say in the interview, but I think I shared a lot of helpful tips. Look forward to sharing with you and getting your feedback.

Christine and I chatting and selfie-ing before the interview.
After our interview, I took advantage of being in the Coal Harbour area and ran a little 5km on the seawall before coming home.

So this weekend is a little free community event happening in Kitsilano - the KitsFest 5km - which I plan on running. I'm not planning too far ahead of that, except to continue to plan on running and to commit to at least giving it a try but with permission to walk if I wish.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Getting Large, But Still in Charge!

It's been approximately a month since my last post! I suppose I've had little to report on without any events or major developments in my running. I'm very pleasantly surprised to report that I am still running! I officially hit 6 months pregnant on Monday and the 3rd trimester is around the corner, starting in August.

When I first realized that running, while more difficult, is certainly possible in pregnancy, I decided to take running one month at a time. Or even one week at a time, allowing myself a pass to quit at any time. But quitting for real would always require a test of "are you sure about this?" I have indeed had a couple of bad runs here and there, but so does everyone, pregnant or not. If I quit because of one bad run, that wouldn't be very Zahida of me. So I tell myself, try one more time, and if that run also sucks, consider quitting. Or rather, taking a break from running until after baby.

I mentally set the goal to run through May. Then June came and running was still OK. I told myself, well, a hot summer is on its way and other sports might be more comfy. Now here we are in the latter half of July and I'm still showing no signs of slowing down. Sure, I do enjoy a nice cool swim and there was a week or so where I only ran a couple times, but in general, running is still fine and so is my pace.

Here I am in the sweaty afterglow of a 6km run with Monica yesterday - 6km for 6 months, bay-bee!

So with the 3rd trimester approaching, another trimester known for tiredness, baby will be growing larger and my bump will along with it. There's a lot of unknowns about how that might feel, let alone impact my running. Again, I'll take it one week at a time. If things haven't significantly changed for me already, it's hard to imagine when it will change, for real.

I have noticed one significant change the last month or so. Increased blood volume and heat leads to swelling! The two results of this have been some ulnar nerve restriction in my right arm (apparently this happens to about 12% of pregnant women) and some ankle swelling.

The arm swelling hasn't been so bad. It was when it first occurred and my entire arm went numb when I was trying to sleep. The achiness was so unbearable, I could not sleep, and I could not shake the arm back to life. For some reason, I ran the next morning, hoping that would kickstart my circulation and make my arm feel better. It didn't, and I had a really difficult run (a quit-worthy run). I didn't let it discourage me as it was only one bad run, and it came on the heels of one of my worst sleeps thus far in pregnancy. What has helped my arm is chiropractic and wearing K tape on my arm. I don't know how long I'll have to keep my arm taped, but I know it's working and I'm sleeping soundly again.

The other issue has been the swollen ankles. I have been smart to note under what circumstances they swell. Typically it's with the hot summer heat (a daily occurrence now) if I don't get enough regular exercise. What I mean with this is that one afternoon workout isn't enough any more. If I wake up and go straight to work and don't get real exercise until my afternoon workout, I'll go into it with swollen ankles. The ankles have ruined a couple of runs and a ballet class. But I think I've figured out the trick. I should run first thing in the morning to kickstart my circulation, and I'll likely be good to go the rest of the day. Or, if I have a scheduled afternoon workout, I need to make sure I get in a good walk in the morning first. So yesterday, I walked 30min before work, and so my feet and ankles felt good and fresh for my 6km afternoon run.

So when it comes to running, I'll be playing it by ear, but I know the next few months will include more swimming, more yoga, and unfortunately, no more ballet. It's getting hard to keep myself on my toes!

Thanks for reading, for encouraging, and for following my journey!

love Z

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Race Report: Longest Day 5K - June 16, 2017

Friday evening was an awesome evening for running. For the 5th year in a row, I participated in the Longest Day 5K out at UBC. It's one of my faves because of its uniqueness, being an evening run to celebrate the arrival of summer and more daylight hours, always falling on the Friday evening before the solstice. After the race is the most epic of after parties with more food than you could possibly want, allowing for a post-race picnic with friends. And as always, the weather was simply perfect!

This was my 7th race with "baby-on-board" (the bump is rather obvious in the photo above) and I was a little unsure how I'd do as my last race was about a month ago. A month can make a difference when there's a growing belly as part of the equation. Of course, I've been running consistently 3x per week, minimum 5K at a time, but training runs are always a bit slower, even if the intention at a race is to take it slow and easy. There's something about the energy of a crowd and event that makes you go a wee bit faster, even when you're not approaching it with a racing mentality.

I set a mental goal of getting in under 35 minutes, but I didn't track pace or commit myself to the idea that I had to achieve this. At this stage, I don't really care how fast I go, as I long as I continue to just move forward and maintain some level of fitness. I kept my watch on the "distance and heart rate" screen so I'd have no idea how fast I was going, only how far I had left to go, and how hard I was working. I also decided before the race started that any uphill section, I'd shorten my stride and go easy, but gave myself permission to power walk up the one steeper hill I remembered from past years' participation. I followed the plan exactly and surprised myself crossing the finish line at 34:45. It felt good, both for the body and the ego!

I'm rather unsure about my running plans moving forward. I know of a lot of women who gave up running at around 4.5 to 5 months pregnant. Me on the other hand, at 5 months, I'm currently showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. I imagine it will get harder as baby gets larger and heavier. But for now, at least, I'll keep on going. My goal before was to run through May with June being a question mark. Now I think I should be able to keep going through July too. Let's see though - I have permission from myself to stop anytime it starts to get uncomfortable. I ran 8K this morning, my longest run in about a month, and it was surprisingly easy, and at a good pace too. I don't feel short on energy now either so I don't think I overdid it in any way. Perhaps I'll be one who runs throughout pregnancy. Perhaps I only have a few more weeks before I stop. Whichever way it goes, I'm fine with. We'll just wait and see! :)

In terms of races, there aren't that many 5-10K races over the summer. I'm out of town when Summerfast is on next month, and it's a bit too early to commit to any of the August races. When I realized I had done 7 races with baby already, I was thinking how awesome it would be to reach 10 events. But no need to overdo it for some arbitrary statistic. If you have any suggestions on a great event I need to check out in the next little while, do let me know!

Thanks for reading :)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Halfway There!

So, I'm halfway through my pregnancy! Officially 20 weeks as of yesterday, and today I have my detailed ultrasound appointment.

Yesterday I posted this fun little graphic on my personal Facebook page.

It's funny but for the past 20 weeks, I feel like time has somewhat dragged on by. Now that I've reached the halfway point, the end seems very near and it's all starting to feel a bit real. A lot of it could be because I feel the baby moving around frequently. The last week or so, I feel the baby moving pretty much all the time while I'm at rest and awake to notice, including right now as I type. I hear that's normal - when I'm moving around, the natural rocking I'm causing can lull baby to sleep. When I'm at rest though, baby may want to create its own motion and because it's still rather small, there's a lot of room inside me for it to do its acrobatics. I'll find out today for certain how big it is, but it should measure about 6" from head to bum, or 10" if you include the legs :) Awww!

The moment I realized I hit the halfway point, I couldn't help but make the analogy to running. I remember in my marathoning days, that people told me the stress of a marathon is like labour, and I heard many other marathon/pregnancy analogies. The thing is though that in any race, any training run even, the moment I reach the halfway point, I manage to relax mentally and tackle the second half with confidence. The moment after the halfway point means that I'm more than halfway there. It means that whatever I have endured already is all I have to do moving forward. The second half may be harder to complete, but the successful first half is proof that I have the ability to endure. At a marathon, I celebrate at the half marathon mark - I mean one should celebrate reaching 21.1km anyway, so why not pat yourself on the back at that point in a race. But I do this at the 10.55km mark of half too, or in a 10K, 5K, or any training run too. It's my way of slicing the distance in half mentally. I just have to deal with half of the distance, and the rest after that is the home stretch.

So yesterday, in the spirit of  reaching the halfway point in my pregnancy, I ran an out-and-back training run of 6km along the seawall in Vancouver. I started in Yaletown and turned around when I reached 3km on my watch, at 2nd Beach in Stanley Park. I made a point of stopping to celebrate that I'd reached my halfway point of this training run and took a few photos to mark the occasion. My pregnancy support belt has a pocket in the back just big enough for my phone :) The location and the weather couldn't have been more perfectly beautiful to take in!

Another cool thing happened the other day while I was working a shift at the Running Room. A woman came in to look at shoes and told me she's 20 weeks pregnant. I was wearing a very baggy shirt so I pointed out that I was too!  Our due dates are a few days apart, but it was so lovely to have another pregnant runner to share experiences with. She too has been running consistently like I have been, and she too had been experiencing the dull achy abdominal discomfort post running. I felt like a hero by telling her about my research into this and how I discovered the pregnancy support belt. Since buying the belt, every run I have done wearing the belt has meant zero discomfort after. I recommended she consider it for herself and she was thankful. We both agreed that it seems like running this far into pregnancy has us a bit of a minority. We're both the same age and in our first pregnancy too and talked about how being active is the best thing we could be doing for our unborn children. I didn't take her name or info, but I will be thinking of her in the coming 20 weeks!

So that's all for now. Gotta get myself ready for the ultrasound :)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Pregnancy, Weight Gain, and Body Image

It's been a little while so thought I'd start with a little update, before I launch into today's topic. I'm almost 19 weeks along, so in other words, almost halfway through this pregnancy! Now it's starting to feel like time is flying and perhaps it's time to start getting organized at home, etc. But I know there's still lots of time yet. I still have time to nest and get my home ready for baby.

I certainly look pregnant now - no denying it! And I finally really feel it too because of my bump and because I feel movement from my tiny dancer too (who's not so tiny anymore at the size of a bell pepper!). I'm finally at the stage where I can enjoy being pregnant. I'm no longer exhausted all the time. I'm tired yes, but I now know my limits and have learned how to say "no" when I find myself overdoing it. And because my bump is kind of cute, I'm getting some positive attention too which doesn't hurt. I am sure that things will get challenging later on as it gets hotter outside and I get larger and more uncomfortable.

So far my discomfort comes mostly at night when I'm trying to sleep. My hips ache from lying on my side (the only position that's comfortable at this stage). I seem to be combating this now with some exercises my chiropractor gave me and from an RMT friend who recently gave me a pre-natal massage. I do the exercises before bed in hopes I go to sleep in alignment with everything limbered up. It's not perfect but it's helping. I have feared that my hips would give me issues while running as I'd had hip issues pre-pregnancy, but so far so good (touch wood). All that relaxin hormone in my body that's preparing my body for childbirth can also cause some discomforts during pregnancy! Things are moving around or looser than usual and it isn't always a good thing.

But I did mention previously about some dull achiness I'd feel in the abdomen, or round ligament pain that would sometimes last for hours after running if I either went too fast or too long. I did a bit of reading into it and learned that wearing a pregnancy support belt might help; the one most recommended for pregnant runners was the Gabrialla belt so I ordered it on Amazon. It's sort of like wearing a bra for your belly, so it helps minimize bounce while you're active. While I'm certainly not far along enough to need to wear the belt regularly, I've worn it on my last two runs and have noticed it's made running that much more comfortable and I have had no discomfort at all after running. Hopefully this means I made the right choice and this belt will continue to help me as the pregnancy progresses. I'll certainly let you know.

Alright, so onto today's topic - weight gain during pregnancy. Oh, and body image.

First of all, weight gain during pregnancy is absolutely expected, normal, and healthy. There are specific guidelines out there for how much weight a woman should gain depending on her pre-pregnancy weight and how many babies she is carrying. It takes into account that if you were overweight beforehand, you don't need to gain as much. Underweight women should gain more. And healthy-weight women should gain somewhere in the middle. The guidelines further break things down into how much weight should be gained in each trimester in order to ensure you stay on track and gain the right amount over the course of the 40 weeks. There's guidelines on how many extra calories to consume each trimester as you "eat for two"; this amount varies in each trimester too. So much math to think about. And while I have tried not to stress, it sometimes gets to me.

The thing is that I have had this story of remarkable weight loss that changed my life. After losing 130lbs, I became a runner and have maintained a healthy, active, athletic lifestyle. The journey because almost 10 years ago and the weight loss has been sustained long term.

So it's weird to somehow be OK with seeing the numbers go up on the scale. I have stayed off the scale for the most part over the years, but I started monitoring again once I realized I was pregnant. The numbers started going up almost right away and itt got to me because in the first trimester, many women don't put on any weight. Some even lose weight because of morning sickness. I on the other hand, put on about 8lbs rather quickly as I had such crazy hunger and snacking was the best way to keep my nausea away. Maybe I overdid it? But I also know that I started retaining water real fast too so it wasn't all a "food baby".  And up top where I'm usually not very endowed, things got large and heavy fast in preparation for nursing. Because I didn't look pregnant and nobody really knew I was pregnant, it got to me. I was slow and tired and adding extra weight to that equation meant extra sluggishness to go with it. I looked like I had "let myself go". Truth is, I probably only felt that way, but I assumed it was visible. I made the mistake of going on some pregnancy forums (which I've now unsubscribed from!) and as women do, there was a lot of comparing going on. Perhaps there was a bit of body image induced comparing, or perhaps people just wanted to see if their experience was normal compared to others. "How much weight have you lost in the first trimester?" would be a common question. I'd roll my eyes and grumble.

It's not that I don't expect weight gain in pregnancy, I just want the gain to be healthy and have it so I can bounce back to my pre-pregnancy self shortly after I give birth. I don't want to gain too much and have a hard time losing it later.

But really, why give in to the comparison game? Do I know anything about these women who are asking the questions? And seriously, my experience doesn't have to match theirs. I am not them. When I went to my first doctor's appointment, she assured me that I was doing just fine and had no concerns. My weight gain was healthy and normal. Her opinion is what should matter.

But I didn't listen, and I kept looking at the scale and seeing the numbers creep up every week. Duh, they're supposed to go up! But it drove me crazy to see it. By my next prenatal checkup, my weight gain was exactly where it needed to be and I felt OK about things. I finally stopped getting on my scale at home. And doing so was positively reinforced at my next doctor's appointment too; my weight gain was still on track. If I am making healthy eating choices, not overdoing it at any one meal, eating based on hunger cues, giving in to cravings within moderation, and keeping active, I have nothing to worry about whatsoever. My body will do what it's designed to do.

Yet I still catch myself looking myself up and down in the mirror. Is my different looking body just because of the baby? If the baby wasn't there, would I look like me? How quickly will I bounce back post-partum. Why am I asking these questions? The thing is, that's what women do often. We're constantly told that even if we are slim or athletic, we need to be thinner. And because I've been the opposite, it's my biggest fear in life that I will revert to my old overweight / obese ways. I need to remind myself that I'm in no risk of this happening any time soon.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Let's Set the Record Straight!

One thing I've noticed reading about pregnancy and parenthood is there are a number of differing opinions about certain big issues and therefore, a lot of judgement for those who do things a little differently. I'm tired of it, and I'm barely in this game. For example, women who are unable to breast feed their child may be faced with judgement from others who say "breast is best" and the mother who desperately wants to feed their child but can't is left feeling really bad about themselves. Meanwhile the child is healthy and happy, eating formula and growing and thriving. Or those who have no option but to deliver by C-section are sometimes judged as "not having really delivered" or having the baby "the easy way". Meanwhile, they've had MAJOR surgery and there was absolutely nothing easy about it physically or emotionally. I'm tired of reading about stories like this and I'm months away from delivering or feeding my child.

The thing is that what unites us, as parents or parents-to-be, is a desire to do the best thing for our children. For the most part, every woman, every mother, is on that very same page.

So this is why I get really upset when I hear about judgement that women face for running whilst pregnant. In fact, I wonder if I'll start to get that judgement for myself. I have a feeling it might happen more from onlookers who see me running while sporting a bump, rather than from anyone who actually knows me personally. I recently ran the False Creek seawall and the way my clothes hug my preggo belly, it is pretty obvious I am pregnant if you really look at me. I was greeted with eyes looking at my belly for sure, but thankfully it usually came with a smile. It might be because the tummy makes me look possibly just pudgy rather than pregnant to those who are unsure. I hope this positivity continues while my bump becomes more obviously pregnant. And while I'm excited to rock my bump, part of me fears judgement or rude comments from those who don't get it.

For the longest time, running was considered to be harmful to women. Women were considered too weak and fragile for this sport. This was, of course, absolutely absurd and inaccurate. This is the basis for Katrine Switzer's famous first Boston Marathon where men chased after her, trying to disqualify her. You may recall this very famous image.

Women are strong. We're strong as heck. We may look small, but we're fierce. Ever wonder why in some species, the women do the hunting? Ever wonder why it's the women always who birth the children? Exactly, we are strong!

So it bugs me in when people judge a woman for running while pregnant. Is it fear that we're too weak and fragile to do two big physical tasks at once? Oh come on! Every woman I know is excellent at multi-tasking, and doing each task at high quality!

I've heard people argue that a woman who runs pregnant is doing so for vanity, because she can't handle the idea of weight gain. I will also tell those people to shut up! Every woman gains weight while pregnant. It's a fact and a natural, normal, healthy part of pregnancy.

The recent Boston Marathon had a lot of newsworthy moments including Katrine Switzer's return 50 years after her famous debut noted above, as well as the story of Julie McGivery who ran the marathon 8 months pregnant. While most were very much wowed by Julie's achievement, she also faced a lot of criticism. People on the course and the finish line were gasping in disbelief. The trolls online sure commented about how "selfish" her actions were. I didn't want to fall into the trap of judging her myself for enduring the exertion of a marathon while pregnant - as your recall, I opted out of a half marathon because of being pregnant and not wanting to exert myself over a long distance on my feet. I was looking at a half marathon, and this was a full marathon that Julie ran. So I decided to read further about her journey and think critically about my own opinion and examine why people were being such trolls!

First of all, what you do while you're pregnant has so much to do with what you were doing before you were pregnant. My most recent half marathon before my pregnancy was in October 2016. So while I was maintaining a base mileage and a high level of fitness, I would have had to train up to longer runs to be ready for my half in April. Given the low level of energy I had in my first trimester and the large amount of ice on the roads, I wasn't prepared for that. Julie on the other hand, was more than equipped for Boston.

If you read further, she completed the race in almost 7 hours. All of us know, to qualify for the elite Boston race, you need to be much much faster than that. Her qualification time was indeed much much faster (about half that time). So Julie clearly made the necessary adjustments to her pace and likely walked a bunch of the course too in order to complete the 42.2km distance. She didn't run at high intensity. She knew her limits, and distance wasn't one of them. She adapted to her condition, took it slow, and took care of her baby.

I think there are some people who assume that we run for selfish achievement reasons. Sure, Julie didn't want her Boston Marathon opportunity to go out the window after working hard to qualify. This is a race every marathoner dreams of doing at least once in their lifetime. So maybe she had a feeling of "I need to do Boston, this is my chance" and it was a little selfish. I say, WHO CARES? When we take care of ourselves, we're better at taking care of others. When we make choices for ourselves that make us happy, we're indirectly making choices for those directly in our care. A confident mother equals a confident role model for her children.

Running or exercise in general during pregnancy have nothing to do with vanity, nothing to do selfishness, and nothing to do with a fear of weight gain. In fact, it's all about a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. Today, the standard medical advice that encourages pregnant women to work out is a very sharp contrast to the recommendations given to women only about 20 years ago. The idea that women should put their feet up for 9 months is outdated. Yes, we should not overexert, and yes we should limit heavy lifting and high risk activities that might involve falling. And no, we should not try anything new or start a new workout routine. But doing what we're already used to and taking the intensity down a notch, is absolutely encouraged, with the doctor's clearance of course. And for you, if you too are pregnant and unsure about being active, talk to your doctor and discuss what's safe for you:

Here are some of the benefits to staying active while pregnant. Read them and be wow'ed! For me it's incentive to keep going:
  1. Labour and delivery may be easier (Amen to that!)
  2. Lower risk of gestational diabetes.
  3. Less likely to experience back pain.
  4. More likely to gain only the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy.
  5. Less likely to be constipated.
  6. Exercise relieves stress and anxiety.
  7. Exercise encourages you to be outside, get fresh air, absorb Vitamin D naturally which is essential for baby's development.
  8. More likely to deliver a baby of healthy birth weight.
  9. Maintain or improve flexibility and muscle strength.
  10. More likely to avoid forceps, c-section or other intervention at delivery.
  11. Experience that confident feeling of a hot mama rocking her bump (rather than a beached whale)!
  12. Less likely to experience leg swelling.
  13. Less prone to (or gain relief from) morning sickness.
  14. Encourages healthy habits and allows easier transition to active lifestyle and loss of "baby weight" post-partum.
  15. Improves sleep quality.
  16. Social opportunity to meet other pregnant moms (I'd met some amazing women at my prenatal yoga classes)
  17. Less prone to prenatal depression
  18. Helps give you that pregnancy glow :)
  19. Boosts your immune system.
  20. Inspires others and gains you positive attention! 
So there you have it! Fit mamas rock.

<3 Z

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The second trimester is here! (April 27th)

April 27th

Well, I’ve been there a little while (the 2nd trimester, that is) being in my 15th week. All I have heard from other moms and from my reading has indicated that energy will come back. Essentially the placenta has taken over the hormonal load, relieving me from that pressure. The baby's organs are all developed and the little one is rather complex already. Just a small lemon-sized baby, needing to grow large and strong.

In case you're wondering, there are a few logistical things I've had to contend with now to make running possible. I've always joked about how the last thing I need is more work out clothing. I have an abundance of it given how many race shirts I have and that I work at the Running Room part time. But quite quickly, I have had to re-think my running wardrobe. I have been wearing maternity running capri pants the last couple weeks as the waist bands on my regular ones are too restrictive for my new bump and I wouldn't want to stretch them out anyway (so I can wear them post-partum). I found some inexpensive ones at Old Navy (online) and they are suiting me fine. I just need to find an option for running shorts. I also have been ordering all my race shirts in a size XL to give room for a growing belly. I'm already starting to wear the larger shirts too, again for comfort over necessity. I'm wearing the same few shirts over and over again. No big deal, just laundry more often. Oh, and then there's the sports bra! Nobody told me I'd need to upsize that so quickly. I thought that would be later in pregnancy, but no, preparation for nursing happens early. I had to splurge and buy new sports bras. Now I'm kitted out. Just have to make sure I have shorts soon as it's getting warm outside!

So as for this 2nd trimester energy, I think it’s coming back, but not 100% sure if it’s mind over matter or not. What I’ve noticed so far is sleep quality is improving. Instead of waking up half a dozen times to use the bathroom, it’s down to 2-3 visits. The baby is moving up in my body as it grows and taking some of the pressure off down below. Or something (I’m not a scientist). Also, I am no longer falling asleep at 8pm but can stay up until my usual 10 or 11pm like a proper grown-up. Naps in the afternoon are no longer a necessity. This is helpful since I work full time and can’t exactly nap at my desk. So not feeling the afternoon fade recently has been particularly helpful to my productivity.

I’m just kinda waiting to see if this new stage of my pregnancy has impacted my running. I think it has, but I’m not sure. The thing is, it still feels more sluggish than the normal me, but my pace seems to be a bit more respectable than it has been in recent weeks. I haven’t been looking at pace while running to keep my confidence on the positive side – I don’t want to see how slow I am while in action. What I have been monitoring is distance and heart rate. But regardless of what stats I choose to look at, my watch still tracks all the other stats. At the end of my run, I can scroll through my stats and I have noted that my completion times for the workouts are steadily improving. I also know that a lot of the reason for my slowness generally is that I often walk hilly sections or when I find myself out of breath. The usual me would push through that discomfort. But I’m taking it easy, knowing that when I deny myself oxygen, I also deny that of my baby. So the time spent actually running vs walking, I’m running at a pretty decent pace, and it’s improving.

So I will side-track for a moment since I mentioned heart rate above. If you google exercise while pregnant, you’re bound to find a whole lot of useless outdated information in addition to the good information. One of the common myths that has been recently proven wrong is that a pregnant woman should not let her heart rate go above 140bpm. When I first read this I thought it was absolutely absurd as no two women or two hearts are the same. I’m quite fit so my resting heart rate is very low. I have trained a fair bit at high intensity so I can comfortably get my heart rate quite high as well. I max at around 200bpm, and see HRs in interval training go pretty close to that. This is high for someone my age, but because I’ve been running a while, my heart has a large range. Even though generally my heart rate has gone up since pregnancy, for me, 140 bpm is still the equivalent of barely moving. Sure, I’m getting exercise, but it’s not at all taxing, it’s like granny-jogging?

The real truth about how hard to work running is all about your perceived level of exertion. I wear my heart rate monitor so I can see how hard I’m working, but I don’t stress keeping it under a particular number as a number of variables impact heart rate. I like seeing the HR just because it’s useful information on how I’m feeling that day vs how my heart responds. Running right up to 170bpm has been still quite comfortable for me even though it is a little higher than it normally would be at the pace I go these day. But some days that doesn’t feel good and I slow down even slower. Some days it feels fine and I keep going at that pace or let it creep higher by going faster without stressing. The important thing is that comfy talking pace and not getting to a point where I’m gasping for air, that anerobic feeling, or being absolutely exhausted after. Recently my runs have been easier, my HR is averaging in the 150-165bpm range even though my pace is improving. So that’s something! Yay for 2nd trimester. I hope soon I feel like Superwoman.

So I’m quite excited to see how things continue to progress, although I still have minimal expectations of myself. I run 3 times a week at minimum, one longish effort, typically on the weekend (8-10km) and two shorter ones, during the week after the workday (4-6km). The weekday runs are a struggle as I’m usually rather pooped by the time I get home from work, but morning runs during the week are not an option right now as I need a hearty breakfast and don’t want to run fasted. Again, it’s not only my nutrition at stake. The weekends allow the extra time to eat, wait, run, eat again. I plan on running through the month of May, but will play the summer months and beyond by ear. I might not be comfy in the heat, and after the summer, well, I’ll be large. I am hopeful for June, but again, no pressure.

Coming up is the BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 7th, and I’ll be running the 8km. Then the following weekend is the Run For Women, where I’ll be doing the 5km. Then we’ll see!