My Romance With Running

Stories about running


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Don’t call it a comeback

Making a comeback from injury is hard. It takes patience, persistence, and it makes you question the value of what you’re doing, is it really worth putting in all this effort to be ‘fit’ again?

Estimates vary wildly, but according to the internet and a quick scan of who is having a Strava drought, between 30-50% of runners will get an injury in the next 12 months. That is a lot!

In any group of runners there are always a handful that are coming back from some sort of injury or extended break, and the postpartum runners are often lumped in to this despondent bunch as well.

Pushing shit uphill – First 5km post baby

Not an accident, not an injury, what is it then?

In New Zealand we’re pretty fortunate to have accidental injuries covered by ACC. The majority of my ACC claims follow a very similar script. Something to the effect of… ‘I was running then I… stepped off a curb/ tripped backwards over a bench/ tripped on my own feet/ stepped on a rock/ ran down a hill in the rain through slippery mud wearing worn out Nike pegs and tried taking a selfie on my GoPro Hero 5 as I rounded a corner going full tit gunning for a Strava Segment. AND then I sprained my ankle.’

Running has meant that I have become fairly well acquainted with my physiotherapist.

‘Hello again Amanda. Let me guess, you tripped over again. What did you land on this time?’

It was long and hard but it wasn’t a curb Elaine. Heh.

The most traumatic event to happen to my body was not an accident, and is something that over 50,000 women in New Zealand go through every year. Oh, it’s the most natural thing in the world! Our bodies were designed for it, it’s a miracle! My dog did it too! Exciting times! #blessed! That aside, it is still an incredible physical feat that takes a massive toll on your body.

Technically pregnancy is considered a medical condition, because it can make your health suffer and you can lose some of your ability to function as normal. It also has the potential to kill you.

Back when I thought I was sick of doing laundry

The baby is OUT! What happens now?

38 weeks deep and feeling like a balloon filled with elbows and wet socks, I was thinking ‘I can’t wait to give birth and for my body to be my own again.’ Spoiler alert!! You might be sole charge of the body again but it’s not going to be the same as the one you started with.

Post-birth I found it pretty unbelievable that there was no defined path to helping your body to recover from such a major event. I thought that there would be a physical exam to check for abdominal separation, maybe something inserted somewhere to check for pelvic floor strength. When I asked my GP about this mysterious ‘Postpartum check up’ she said, ‘What? Why?’. There is no free postpartum check up in New Zealand.

She’ll be right! Our bodies were designed for it! My dog gave birth to six puppies in the wood shed and she was fine! Actually she suffered from arthritis in her hips for years and now she is dead, but totally fine apart from that.

I feel lucky that I know my body well enough to be aware of something feeling a bit off. I also feel lucky that I can afford to go to a personal trainer and get an exercise program designed to help me to recover after having a baby. Not everyone has that luxury, so recovering from birth ends up being a little bit of luck and a lot of guess work.

The recovery for this injury could just be the good old RICE method? Rest, sleep when the baby sleeps (Pro tip, sleep when the baby cleans). Ice your exit wound, compress your insides back into the correct place and elevate everything that hurts. Because literally everything hurts, the only way to elevate it all is to do a handstand. Or float face down in a pool of your own tears.

Just resting my eyes

Rehab for the addict

I got very mixed advice on how long to wait after birth to return to running. Six weeks, eighteen months, and just six days. After chatting to some running mums I decided I would wait for six weeks and see how I felt. Five weeks and four days in I went for a walk/run and just labelled the activity a walk on Strava. Sneaky. Pretty much six weeks!

It’s a year after the event and I have enjoyed a relatively smooth return to exercise. By relatively smooth I mean I am totally killing it fuck yeah go me! And aside from sprained ankle #47 I had a far easier time than I imagined getting back to running fast.

While I have had it easier than some, I’ve also worked very hard. Pelvic floor, and strength and rehab exercises were prioritised and done 2-3 times a week. I spent over 30 hours doing these alongside walking, cycling, screaming while left alone with my thoughts, and getting what I will very loosely refer to as ‘proper rest’.

I would often think about how much effort I would put in to rehab an ankle sprain to be able to run efficiently and without any pain or niggles. Having a human make an exit through my pelvis was a bit more serious than a little ankle sprain, so it was treated as such and I was very regimented about doing the right things to recover properly.

Hours were spent on the wind trainer while the baby slept. Solo laps run around the neighbourhood in the dark when parent #2 got home. Last minute rehab exercises at 10pm, or sometimes at 3am because I couldn’t sleep after night feed #4. Looking back I can’t believe how committed I was to getting my body back in to working order.

7 months postpartum ( . ) ( o )

Did it actually feel worse than an ankle sprain tho, like a really bad one?

Straight after having a baby it hurt to stand on one leg and put pants on. It hurt to walk, it also hurt to sit thanks to an episiotomy. EVERYTHING hurt and taking painkillers religiously every six hours would keep me from being a sobbing mess. My exercise consisted of walking around the house and lifting a 3.36kg weight all day. AND ALL NIGHT and oh my god it kept getting heavier.

I was waking up at night thinking that I had hip pain, was this another injury? Was it early onset arthritis?! It was just my undies cutting in to my skin because my ass got bigger. This expansion also explained another symptom that Google misdiagnosed. I was feeling like my bits were still swollen post episiotomy because it felt all weird when I sat down, like there was extra padding. No medical complications, no swelling, just the extra padding that comes with a fatter bum.

When the pain faded I started walking wearing the baby in a wrap, and for the first few walks everything felt quite wonky. I was still sore and if I walked for too long or on difficult terrain I would feel a bit crap. I was also exhausted and hormonal and slightly effing crazy but getting fresh air was very necessary.

Would I rather recover from a sprain or childbirth? I pick sprain for the ACC benefits, and a taped ankle says ‘serious athlete’ more than a maternity pad ever could.

Preggo ankle gets a lot of attention

Youuuu just wait until [insert random age of child or #of months pregnant] then you’ll see how HARD it is!

Everyone has such a different experience, some find pregnancy really tough, others find it easy. You have this fear of complaining about anything, or admitting to how you feel because you are going to get judged for every single thing you say. It’s easier not to say anything.

I hated being pregnant. At least you can get pregnant!

It’s hard adjusting to work while parenting and trying to run. I stopped exercising when I had kids, prioritise!

I’m so tired, I wish the baby would sleep past 5am. My three kids don’t sleep and I am up at 4 every day! *proceeds to piss so high that my eyes roll back in my head trying to follow the stream*

Years ago I got a stress fracture in my pelvis. I was in tears because I had to use crutches for two months, I couldn’t run, and I was worried that I would get depressed again without being able to exercise. Someone thought to console me by saying ‘Well it’s not like you have cancer.’ Ingrid, you’re a dick.

No matter what your situation, there will always be someone worse off than you. Does that mean that you shouldn’t get to have feelings because you’re not THE most tired, you don’t have the worst stretch marks, or didn’t have the most trouble breastfeeding?

Your feelings are always valid, because they’re yours. Your story is your own, so own it. Talk about your experiences because they’re yours. It might not mean much to most people but to someone it might mean everything, even if the only person it means something to is you.

Coming back to fitness from any sort of injury or medical condition is hard. Giving birth is a big deal and it’s amazing how little professional guidance there is for the average joe like me. I’m not a pro athlete, but exercise is a big priority for me. I’m not going to be scared off it because someone with a different lifestyle has a different opinion (shock horror) and thinks you shouldn’t run for 18 months after birth.

If it wasn’t for the honesty of many of the mums I have sent panicked messages to asking for advice and reassurance I think I would have given up. So thank you Emily and Emily, Sophie, Steph, Christina, Amanda, Hannah, Tamara, Megan, Anna, Ange, Jess, Claire Phaedra, Lisa, Sierra, Arpita, Jenna, Laura, Becky, Vera, Amy, all the Kates, Cassie, Shelley, Sarah and Michelle for being such amazing role models. You’re pretty cool!


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Taupo Cycle Challenge

10 years before I was born, in 1977,  26 friends got together to ride and raise funds for their local IHC and The Lake Taupō Cycle Challenge was born.

It is now New Zealand’s largest cycling event, and is the event I picked it to be my first ever cycling race. The main ride circles around Lake Taupō, which has the largest surface area of any lake in New Zealand and was formed by a huge supervolcanic eruption 26,500 years ago. It is the largest known eruption in the whole world in the past 70,000 years!

The lakes around where I grew up in Fiordland were formed by glaciers, slowly carved out by ice over thousands of years, not created by a surprise burst of extreme heat.

Trust me this is relevant.

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Storm rolling in over the Hunter Mountains – Lake Manapouri

This year I was one of 5,156 people that took part in the Taupō Cycle Challenge. Amongst the elite athletes like Olympian Hamish Bond, the people on tandem bikes that must have incredibly stable relationships, the mud splattered mountain bikers, the little shredders in the kids race, and the two guys riding Onzo bikes wearing tiny dick togs, I was right there getting in on the action.

My goal for entering this event was to have something to focus on other than running. I had entered the 160km ride, but I wasn’t able to train for it to the level I wanted to because of various things like the pēpi not taking a bottle, Wellington’s inhospitable weather, and just being the most tired I have ever been in my whole DAMN LIFE WHY WONT THE BABY SLEEP so I downgraded my entry to the half lake.

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Elliot didn’t know that you’re allowed to ride two abreast. She’s just a baby.

I was tossing up whether or not to downgrade as I didn’t want to have to pay the $15 administration fee. But as a friend pointed out, ‘When you are done riding the first 80km, would you be willing to pay 20cents per kilometre to not do another 80?’

Yes I would. Here, take my $15.

Friday night and the pre race preparations were going swimmingly; pasta for dinner with red wine, good friends, good food, and great conversations. A lovely king size bed with no old milk spew stains on the duvet cover, ready to sink in to and get a great night’s rest before the race.

Elliot had other ideas, and woke up every 60-90 minutes wanting to be fed and re-settled. After six months of this it didn’t even really register that I’d had stuff all sleep and I just dealt with it.

I woke up for the fifth and final time on race day at 6am to the sweet songs of my human alarm clock and decided that this time I’d stay up for good. The smell of coffee was already drifting up the stairs meaning Chan and Orsi were awake, time to get ready for my first cycling race!

I’d laid out my kit the night before so it was easy to find everything. I had a small tin of Butt Butter anti-chafe cream that I lathered on my saddle contact points (compare it to spreading Best Foods mayo all over a tortilla, get it right to the edges) before putting on my bib shorts. Moments later, there was a warm tingle, then a surprise burst of extreme heat. This company also make a deep heat product too, who knew?

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After frantically trying to wipe off the burning cream I fed Elliot, got dressed, then we were on our way to meet the bus that would take me to the start of my ride.

I sat on the bus making polite small talk, staring at the floor and judging everyone’s cycling ability by their socks. The leaky roof of the bus was steadily dripping on to the sleeve of my jacket and I pretended not to care, like I was some hardened cyclist who totally didn’t ever bail on rides because of a little rain.

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Found my bike!

I felt a mixture of pre-race nerves, painful period cramps, some remnants of deep heat fury and an increasingly desperate urge to pee. After an hour of absent-mindedly sipping electrolytes whenever there was a gap in the conversation on the bus (and the conversation was almost all gaps) I was really looking forward to the portaloo.

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‘It’s my first ever race!’ ‘No shit? Sweet vest.’

There was no mass start for this race, we just went whenever we wanted to. I started with a couple of teenage boys who were powering up the first hill. My ego told me to stick with them, you can’t let a couple of tiny kids beat you Amanda you’re over 30 for fuck’s sake, you’re a mother! Pedal harder, get up!

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Mid race selfie

As we climbed the first few hills I wondered if I was going out too hard too soon, there’s only one way to find that out so I just went for it. I wanted to get with a good bunch, but there were none around me so we had to make one.

I stuck with the boys, taking turns in front, grateful for the calm breathing techniques I learned in labour so I could pretend like I wasn’t at threshold trying to pedal with these annoyingly fit teenagers. We picked up a few full-sized men doing the 160km who joined our motley bunch, a fast female rider who had been dropped, a few more men, and by Turangi we had a little group of around 12 riders and things were moving well.

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I’ll just sit back here thanks

We drifted in and out of different bunches as we made our way along the lakeside. I was getting dropped by the curvy (or is it burly?) men on downhills, floating past them on the uphills, working together with so many different riders with their different strengths was a great experience.

The bunch had broken apart on the undulations before Hatepe Hill, the hill that everyone talks about as being steep and awful. It’s definitely the biggest hill on the course, but it isn’t as hard as riding up Makara.

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I almost look like I am supposed to be here.

In the final 15km I was in a new bunch of four men doing the full lake ride, all a lot stronger than me, all riding S-Works bikes that looked like they probably weren’t purchased off Trademe with a free pair of old MTB shoes. We worked together until the final hill up to the roundabout when I thought I should ride a bit harder and put some effort in, and I dropped them all. Pew pew!

So maybe they were riding twice as far as I was and they were tired. Maybe they had more weight to carry. Maybe they were finishing well under 5 hours. I still felt like it was a small win within my race that wasn’t really a race.

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The final km, suffering a lot.

The final stretch in to the centre of Taupō was where it rained the hardest. By this stage I just wanted it to be over, I was groaning in pain pushing dead legs as fast as they could go, my ass hurt, my back hurt, I was soaking wet. Looking at my finishing video, my form is awful and it looks like I’m trying to run across the line, but on a bike. I was giving it my best.

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I did it!

The finish wasn’t how I had imagined it back when when I first entered the race. I would think of finishing to get me through all of those crappy sessions on the wind trainer, think of the end goal, the prize!  I would hear the GPS beeping to tell me I’d hit 160km, squinting into the sun, pushing hard and racing right to the line, people cheering, elation at having completed my longest ever ride, meeting my family at the finish, holding Elliot in the air like a squealing trophy filled with sour milk, happy to see her after hours spent apart.

When I crossed the line I had no idea of how the race had played out, since we had all started at different times.  There were no familiar faces as the HCR group I was going to ride with were still out doing the full 160km, and because it was wet I knew that Brendon and Elliot would not be standing in the rain waiting. I had no phone to call anyone, it was in a drop bag that hadn’t made it’s way back to Taupō yet. I was freezing cold. It was my first race so my time felt a bit irrelevant, did I do ok? Should I be happy?

I got a good five minutes of cyclocross in as I rolled around the grassy wet finishing area, trying to find just one recognisable face, pretending that I wasn’t at a complete loss as of where to go and what to do.

When you’ve just ridden in the rain for over two hours, your only sustenance in that time a coffee flavoured gel that stuck to your gums, and a cliff bar that had the ingredients sticker soaked in to the back of it (you ate the sticker too), you’re pretty damn hungry.

Just past the race finishing chute was a huge trestle table with mandarins. PEELED MANDARINS! Hallelujah! I bit off all my nails the day before the race and now my fingers were so cold that I’d have had better luck peeling it with my frozen nipples than my useless numb stumps of fingers.

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Mandarins instead of bananas, what next?!

After 72km of riding with a wet chamois, what could be better than eating a mandarin?

I finished 72.4km in 2.17.32, 8th female of 362 and first in my age group, you can see my ride on Strava and the official results are here.

I figure that with a few minor adjustments I can improve my time if I try this race again next year:

  • Lose the additional chest weight – 30 seconds
  • Replace the CX bike with a real life road bike – 2mins
  • Order some sunshine – 1min
  • Wear lipstick -15 seconds
  • Start in a bunch -5mins
  • Sleep 8 hours the night before -2mins
  • Don’t have a baby 6 months before the race -3mins

I learned a lot in training for and riding this event. I learned how to make time for myself when everyone else seems to be the priority. I discovered the importance of taking proper rest when I’m tired, and how a lack of sleep can impact your training. I figured out how to push myself a bit harder over hills, and how to do just the right amount of work when riding in a bunch.

I would love to go back next year and do it all again, Elliot will be older and sleeping better (dream on), I’ll be riding the new S-works that Santa is bringing me, and hopefully I’ll be alongside the people I train with doing the full lake loop. See you in 2019!


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The Wrong Side of the Bed

Tyres pumped up, lights fully charged, kit laid out, snacks ready, alarm set. I was pretty excited about doing a hill session with the HCR group early on Thursday. Riding with friends as the sun is coming up is such a great way to start the day.

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Then I got out of the wrong side of the bed…

Thankfully this was at 11.30pm, so I just got back in. I got back out on the right side at 1am. 3am came around, woops, wrong side! Better try again. 4.15am, woohoo! Right side, but a couple of hours too early. Better get back in!

As much as you can prepare to make sure you fit in some exercise, there are some things that you can’t help. Things like your baby waking up 7 times in the night; the four month sleep regression is a real thing.

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The alternative to my hill session.

I haven’t been feeling very enthusiastic about exercising the past few weeks. The usual tactics I use to motivate myself just aren’t working for me.

In the past I would be thinking about a goal, and each session would be a step towards completing it. Right now I am a bit aimless with my running because I don’t have any goals to work towards. This is largely because I don’t want to put the pressure on myself or on my body to train hard.

Just run for the fun of it then! Well. The only times I can run are early morning or late in the evening. Often it is a run in the dark, and I’m on a short leash- limited to the extremely hilly neighbourhood streets. The running is almost always done alone. Where is the fun in that?

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All charged up and nowhere to run

My fitness and health have been a priority for me since 2009 when the price of Southern Gold increased from five bucks for a six pack and I realised that the cost of partying wasn’t just hurting my wallet.

It’s hard to make it a priority when you have another human to look after that needs to be fed, clothed, cleaned and now, entertained!

Last Sunday I should have done a long ride to train for the 160km cycling race (gulp, nervous fart) that I am doing in November. Three hours or more on the bike by myself was not appealing. I would rather spend time with my family and do something relaxing with them; go for a walk, have coffee, eat cookies, blow spit bubbles and do some out of control arm and leg flailing on the floor with no pants on.

I was happy that I chose family time, but felt a little bad that I was lacking in motivation to train for the big event I had committed to. The more I thought about it, I realised that I was motivated. Looking back at what I did that week, I still did two sessions on my wind trainer, I ran four times, I did rehab work and I walked with the buggy.

That doesn’t say ‘not motivated’ that says that my priorities have changed and I’m giving time to the things that are important to me.

I did have a win recently when I ran pretty close to my race handicap time of 32 minutes for 8km at my club’s Tanadees cup club race. I was a bit disappointed to go 26 seconds over the time then I realised how ridiculous I was being. I am proud of this run! I am only running 30km a week and have had such a long break from running. That can only mean good things ahead right?

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Closed eyes, striking heel, weird headband and no lippy. Disaster.

I did a three hour ride last month and I am hoping to do a couple of five hour rides in the lead up to my event but since E no longer takes a bottle this is going to involve a few loops that stop off at my house to make sure I can feed her. Hopefully she is keen on the bottle by the time the event comes around, if not I will find a way to work around it.

I’m not going to worry about ride logistics and possible baby challenges right now, because it’s bound to change and worrying won’t get me anywhere. I’m also not going to compare myself to pre-baby me because that is pointless too, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy unless you just got a Strava CR’

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