Helen Fong tells how she ran an ultramarathon just months after giving birth and while still breastfeeding her daughter.
Before my pregnancy, I ran many ultramarathons. You not only have to qualify but have also to be selected by lottery to take part in the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. After three years of trying, I was finally selected for the race. However, my baby was due to be born the month the race would take place! So I signed up to try again in future.
Being an ultra runner has given me the ability to believe in the impossible. Reading about how other élite runners had managed to get back into running after having a baby gave me confidence and I became a member of a wondeful support group called “Running Pregnant/While-Nursing – Moms Run This Town.”
Preparing for the Rio Del Lago 100-Mile Endurance Run (RDL) scheduled for just five months after the birth of my baby turned out to be even harder than I’d anticipated.
In June my labor and delivery were difficult. I had complications before, during, and after the birth. While my baby was healthy, motherhood was (and is) hard. I knew it would be, but you don’t know just how hard until it’s you who is doing it. Breastfeeding was a learning curve and a lot of work. I had a lot of feeding challenges during the first month or so.
I wanted to be sure my body had recovered from the birth so I didn’t start running again until my baby was about a month old. My first run amounted to walking and short one-minute runs. From there, I worked on increasing my running time and distance. Balancing training and being the mother of an infant was challenging. Trying to work out while taking care of my baby was too difficult, so I started a routine on the treadmill at night after I had put her down to sleep. I came to really enjoy those nighttime runs as “me” time. On the weekends, my very supportive husband helped care for our baby so that I could do my longer training runs.
By August, I had worked up to a 20-mile run. That was the first time I’d stopped to pump my breast milk in the car, half way round. Pumping was an interesting element to add to my training! I couldn’t just go out and run whenever or wherever I wanted. I had to think about how long I would be running and plan ahead when and where to pump. I also had to re-figure fueling my long runs to make sure I was drinking and eating enough for training and for making milk. I struggled a lot on my long runs with cramping and ‘bonking’ as I re-trained my body for distance running.
In September, I went back to work. Balancing work, training, and motherhood became another new challenge. Some weeks, I’d run less than others. I tried to make sure I got quality over quantity in my training. In October, I ran the Folsom Lake Ultra Trail. I had a friend set up my electric pump at certain aid stations on a little table. I would run in, take off my pack and shirt, pop the freemie cups in my bra and begin pumping away. That worked well. I did, however, make the mistake of worrying too much about how pumping would add extra time to my run so that I tried running faster to make up for it, which backfired as my legs gave way from going out too fast. After starting off well, I fell apart with the heat, lack of water, under training, and cramping. I quit just shy of 50 miles. I wasn’t too disappointed because it was a good training race for me and showed me the adjustments that were necessary in preparation for the RDL.
On November 7, I toed the start line to the RDL. I made sure I didn’t start off too fast this time and moved steadily through the race. At mile 19, I pumped following the same plan as my training race. At mile 35, I arrived at the aid station and the pump was there ready for me. My husband and baby were there too to cheer me on. At the sight of my baby, I decided it was easier simply to breastfeed her. I enjoyed the snuggle with her. At mile 51, I arrived at the aid station just after it got dark. There again, I breastfed rather than pumping. It was getting near dinner time and I needed to get more calories inside me, so while I fed my baby, I fed myself as well.
After that, it got pretty cold at night. Time was getting to be a factor, so I just kept moving along. It would be a long night and I did my best to keep ahead of the cut-off times which kept getting closer.
In the late morning, I finally made it. About half a mile from the finish, I saw my family waiting for me to come in. My baby was in a stroller and I took it and ran with her towards the finish line. Before going into the finish chute, I took her out of the stroller and carried her across the finish line while my many friends cheered. I’d completed 100 miles in 29:41:28.
The feeling of finishing an endurance race is pretty amazing but this time it was extra special being able to share that special moment with my baby!
You can read more about my crazy running adventures and subsequent pregnancy on my blog.