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Helen Fong, Auburn, CA, USA
My journey from having a baby to running 100 miles!
At five months postpartum, I finished the Rio Del Lago 100 Mile Endurance Run (RDL) in 29:41:28.
Before my pregnancy, I ran many ultra-marathons. One of my goals was to get into the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, for which you not only have to qualify but have also to be selected by lottery. After three years, I was finally selected for the 2015 race. However, my baby was due the month of the race!
I signed up to try to qualify again. I read about other élite runners who became mothers and how they got back into running after having a baby. Being an ultra runner, I have the ability to believe in the impossible. I believed I could run 100 miles five months after having a baby. I became a member of a great support group, “Running Pregnant/While-Nursing – Moms Run This Town.”
Getting ready for the race was harder than I’d anticipated.
In June my labor and delivery were hard. I had many 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 the first month or so.
While learning to be a mother, I was re-learning how to run. I waited about a month before I started running again. I wanted my body to recover. My first run involved walking and short one-minute runs. From there, I worked on increasing my running time and distance.
Balancing training and being the mom of an infant was challenging. Trying to work out with my baby became 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 with our baby so I could do my long training runs. In August, I had worked up to a 20-mile run. That was the first run during which I stopped half way to pump my breast milk in the car. Pumping was an interesting element to add to my training. I couldn’t just go out and run 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 nursing. I struggled a lot with cramping and bonking on my long runs 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 started off well and then 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 got me to make some adjustments in preparation for RDL.
During this training race, 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. While I had a number of issues during the race, the pumping plan worked well. I did 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 fell apart from going out too fast.
On November 7, I toed the start line to 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. However, my husband and baby were there to cheer me on. Seeing my baby, I decided to breastfeed her instead as that’s easier than pumping. I enjoyed snuggling 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 in me, so while I fed my baby, I fed myself as well.
At mile 35, I arrived at the aid station and the pump was there ready for me. However, my husband and baby were there to cheer me on. Seeing my baby, I decided to breastfeed her instead as that’s easier than pumping.
After that, it got pretty cold at night and 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 to me.
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 so I took her and ran her with me 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.
The feeling of finishing a 100 mile race is pretty amazing but this time it was extra special being able to share that special moment with my baby!
I qualified for Western States too. You can read about my crazy adventures on my blog.
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