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Running after childbirth felt like ‘my body was a thousand pounds,’ pro runner says

Faith Baker, 34, trains for the California International Marathon on Wednesday November 30, 2016 in Sacramento, Calif. Her daughter, Catarina, 3, is “my biggest cheerleader,” Baker says.
Faith Baker, 34, trains for the California International Marathon on Wednesday November 30, 2016 in Sacramento, Calif. Her daughter, Catarina, 3, is “my biggest cheerleader,” Baker says. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

With her personal running records getting faster and dreams of Olympic qualifiers swirling in her head, Stephanie Rothstein Bruce decided to have a second child.

“In the middle of my running career, I knew I wanted to have a family,” Rothstein Bruce said. “Can you do both? For females it’s a huge problem.”

Excited but frantic, she charted out a training schedule that would put her on the starting line of the 2016 Olympic Trials in Oregon 10 months after her son’s birth. The schedule accounted for the recommended six weeks of postpartum rest.

Throughout her training, Rothstein Bruce shared online photos of her post-pregnancy stomach and blogged about her running progress. The photos went viral, and Rothstein Bruce, of Arizona, got more media attention than she ever anticipated.

“Having a baby just brought me down to a humanizing level,” she said. “I wasn’t a pro athlete; I was just a woman who went through the hardest physical feat in the world – giving birth. … When I finally went for a jog, it felt like my body was a thousand pounds and my uterus was going to fall out of me, and I thought, ‘Why doesn’t anyone tell you this?’ 

When I finally went for a jog, it felt like my body was a thousand pounds and my uterus was going to fall out of me, and I thought, ‘Why doesn’t anyone tell you this?’

Stephanie Rothstein Bruce, pro runner and mom

The elite athlete will speak at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the California International Marathon Expo as part of a panel focused on returning to running after childbirth. The panel discussion, which is free and open to the public along with the rest of the expo, will be held at the Sacramento Convention Center.

When to get back to the track and how hard to train can be a tough decision for women who itch to run but are still adjusting to their post-baby bodies, said Amy Rihel, training programs director at Fleet Feet Sacramento.

She recommends mothers wait at least three to six months, depending on their athleticism before their pregnancy, to launch back into training. When new moms do get back to running, they should start slowly, she said.

“Raising a little person tends to take quite a bit out of you, and so does training,” Rihel said. “We see a lot of people bite off more they can chew. Especially after you give birth and you have some extra weight, they want to go full bore. They want that magic answer. But it’s better to make small changes over time than to make big changes drastically.”

At the Fleet Feet store in midtown Sacramento, staff fit women for new running shoes after they’ve had a child because feet can widen or lengthen during pregnancy and ligaments can loosen with hormones, Rihel said.

Even though running after childbirth can be challenging, it can help women become more confident in their physical abilities postpartum, she said.

“For a lot of people, it’s just about becoming more aware of their body in space and what they’re capable of and how it reacts to things now,” Rihel said. “And running is a great way to do that. You have to be focused on how things are feeling.”

Faith Baker, a 34-year-old Sacramento mother, said she started running after having her daughter Catarina, now 3, to help get back into shape after pregnancy. Baker, who will run the California International Marathon on Sunday while Catarina watches from the sidelines, said it was important to her to set a positive example for her daughter by staying active.

Balancing work, mothering and training leaves Baker little free time, but she said it’s worth it for the happiness running brings her.

“Catarina is probably my biggest cheerleader,” she said. “There are days where I’ll say I don’t feel like running, and I get her from day care and she wants to go. She’s been my motivator. She’s the biggest support that I have.”

Many women feel guilty about leaving their children to go running, Rothstein Bruce said. While she often feels that way, she said her training ultimately makes her a better time manager.

“I know when I have time to train, and I’m efficient with that time,” she said. “When I’m not running, and it’s time with the kids, you just forget about running and you focus on the moments with your children.”

Michelle Cross, 39, said she runs with a jogging stroller when not training with the Fleet Feet Sacramento group. She runs early in the morning or, if her infant kept her up all night, she’ll squeeze it in during lunch, she said.

Her training for the CIM, which she will run Sunday, was part of her gradual return to running after having Max, now 14 months. Her body has changed with the pregnancy and she’s been too busy to train seriously, she said, but she’d eventually like to get back to her best half-marathon time of 1 hour, 46 minutes.

“Right before I got pregnant, I set my personal record for a half,” she said. “It’s been a big equalizer for me because now I’m definitely not as fast as I was. I think I can get back there. I just don’t have the time now to get back into the training.”

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola

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