This afternoon we were watching a running event on the TV and when my son saw the runners he exclaimed: Papà!! (and he made that usual little ‘exercise sound’ and moved his arms back and forth in the air as if he was running) So cute and so innocent. But it made me realise that I am still so far from being where I thought I would be by now. While pregnant I was imagining that I would be that mum who had a running buggy and my baby would come with me running several times a week. That obviously didn’t happen – to also push something while running would only put the prolapse under more pressure, and I was therefore recommended not to. I could to be honest also clearly feel myself how that would be the case, so that running buggy I had always had my eyes on was early on crossed out from the shopping list (at least I had been clever enough not to get it before giving birth!).

E has never really been a runner, but the first Parkrun my son observed was one that he ran. And a few months later E even completed a marathon, and all that training he put in in between that…. well, I can’t be surprised that my son actually associates running with his dad!! That was something my pre-natal me never would have expected. So when he sat there on the sofa getting all excited seeing the runners, and instead of thinking about me he thought about his dad…….it broke my heart a little.

That is of course with no disrespect to either of my family members – my blameless son who just observes what is happening around him and is simply just excited if someone is running. And amazing E, who ran his first ever marathon and smashed it, I couldn’t be more proud of him. I have said many times something along the lines of that ‘well, someone in the family needs to run, right? If I can’t do it then he’ll have to do it!’ And I really enjoyed E getting into his running, and for me it was an incredible journey being part of his marathon training and see the result. And I can’t wait for him to run more!

But that spontaneous reaction my son had today just made me realise how wrong it felt for me that he associates running with his dad and not with his mum. Later in the evening, instead of taking the bus for my spin class I ran to the gym. I ran even if I have decided to avoid doing that in the evening as the prolapse is always worse thenI ran to make myself feel better. I ran because I should be the runner in the family.

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It was time to give it a try. My baby would be six months shortly and I was determined (and simply couldn’t wait any longer now!) to finally do this. It was a Sunday and E came with me for the initial walk which lasted for about 20 minutes. My plan was to by walking reach the running trail I had always used in the past and loved so much. It would also be good to come away from the street and run on a softer surface, in order to protect my body as much as possible. I was excited and nervous and happy and scared…… E looked at me and gave me an encouraging smile and a kiss before I set off for my challenge. The challenge was basically to develop my fast-paced walk to a 1 minute jog. Yep, 1 minute, that’s it.

But I was silently wondering, how different could it really be to jog extremely slowly, in comparison to walk very fast?

It turned out, very different.

I will never forget that first minute. My body panicked. As soon as I changed my stride from walking to jogging it felt as if my insides were going to fall out from me. I squeezed the pelvic floor harder than I had ever done before in my life, to make sure everything would stay in place as I plodded along. For one minute. Like a complete beginner. After one minute of jogging very slowly I walked for a minute and then I jogged for a minute again. I did six repetitions in total.

My body went through a shock – that was clear – but also my mind went through a series of emotions. It was somewhat freeing about being there in the nature on my own letting my legs move along in a pace more similar to what I had missed for such a long time, but it was also extremely frustrating and disheartening to realise that I was still very, very far away from where I wanted to be.

When I came back to meet E (and the buggy) I saw how eager he was to know how it went. I wasn’t quite sure what words to use to describe my feelings, and I guess it was partly because I didn’t quite know what I felt. In that moment I had no idea what to expect from my running future, but yes I just did it, I reached my target of trying this out before 6 months post-birth. I could now tick that box. And I think that is what I said to him, that ‘I did it!’

And it was in a way an exciting step.

But I had also gained a very upsetting knowledge from this step – that even if my mind very much liked the idea of that I had just tried to go ‘running’ again, the sad truth was that my body didn’t like it.

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I miss the feeling of blood rushing through my muscles, fighting hard to get around to every single fibre. I miss the pumping adrenaline in my body just wanting more and more and more. I miss going out for a run just after it has rained and it feels like the air is boosted with oxygen to ease the task for my lungs. I miss the feeling of working so hard that you just want to give up, only to give a little more….

I miss you Running.

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Although I was longing for a run since early pregnancy I had told myself to be sensible about this all. Well, it was not only me who told myself that but I had the voices of a certain Women’s health physiotherapist and another certain Women’s health gynaecology nurse in the back of my head. They had both clearly made me understand that running was not the best activity to do considering the prolapse. However the physio had also said that if I slowly and progressivly get the muscles used to the impact of running they may react in a positive way and actually work a bit better – eventually. And when I say muscles I dont mean the quads, the calves or any of the ‘usual’ running muscles. I mean the pelvic floor muscles.
Many of us are aware of that pelvic floor strength is important and we often get prompted in for exempel pilates classes that we should engage the pelvic floor when we exercise. That’s good stuff, very good stuff. But what happens when the pelvic floor fails you?!

I had been pretty decent with my pelvic floor homework already before pregnancy but during those months and especially leading up to the labour I turned up the gear even higher and really worked those exercises. Therefore it came as a major disappointment that the first few weeks post-birth my pelvic floor was literally non-existing. It was a horrible realisation that when I tried to activate it I felt NOTHING. Nothing happened at all! No wonder I thought things were going to ‘fall out’ from me any second. The physio assured me that the sensation will come back, that this is normal after giving birth. And luckliy she was right – slowly I started to feel the pelvic floor engaging and although initially it was extremely weak it was there! At first I only had strength to do short activations whilst lying down, the muscles were way too weak to engage while I was standing and definitely not possible while walking. But as they got stronger again I slowly and progressivley improved to being able to do them whilst walking. Which was something very important in order to be able to increase the walking itself! To begin with I walked for 5 minutes, then 10, then 15… you get it.
If I walked too long one day I would suffer afterwards so there was no point in overdoing it. With suffer I mean that my prolapse would be much worse that evening (my coccyx pain would also take a toll if I did too much). So quite early on I realised that if I really want to get back to some sort of shape I needed to simply listen to my body and be sensible with my progression. If I would go out and run straight away and just ignore the problem I would risk to only make the prolapse worse and ultimately make it harder to ever get back to running at all. So I forced myself to accept that I was not in a position to go running six weeks post birth (definitely not!) and maybe I was not going to run 3 months post-birth either. The months passed by while I instead worked on increasing my walks progressively, saw the physio regularly, I went mad with my pelvic floor exercises and worked on general core strength. As I got stronger and got up to 30-40 minutes decent pace walks my target eventually took its shape.

I wanted to try and run before my baby reached six months.

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So I have always been into sports and joined an athletics group when I was a small girl. I got introduced to it as my dad was a runner and in fact a running coach in the same club. My older sister had also practiced athletics when she was younger so it was a sport that came naturally to try out. In my group we tried all disciplines and I particularly enjoyed running, hurdles and high jump. It was all so much fun! I always went together with my dad in the car, I had my training session while he went to coach his running group, and then we went back home together again. It worked out well. Although. As we lived outside the main town where the club was I didn’t know any of the other children in the group. Everyone came to training together with a friend, and I came alone. Being quite shy as a little girl it was also very hard for me to make friends, I didn’t dare to just walk up to someone especially as they were all in groups of couples or more already. I liked the sport a lot, but felt I couldn’t fully enjoy as I felt lonely. One day after training I told my dad this in the car going back home. It may not seem like anything special but I will never forget the moment went my dad simply said:

– ‘Why don’t you just join My group instead then?’

I was in fact one year too young for his group and so I had never even thought about that as an option. But when it came presented to me like this I straight away knew that it would be something I would like. The fact that it would mean only running and no other athletic events didn’t matter. I am not sure if it was purely because I liked the idea to train with my dad, or if I on some level knew that running was the thing for me anyway. Regardless, it was somehow a bit of a coincidence that I ended up focusing on running, as from that day it was nothing else for me. I didn’t realise it then but me and my dad made a decision that day in the car which would affect my whole life massively. That must be why I remember this moment so fondly.

Also before joining his running group we would always do various running events and fun runs together, and this now continued for many years. Eventually I started competing in athletics and enjoyed distances such as 800m and 1500m but also loved cross country running and 5K and 10K road races. I trained at the club several evenings a week and went out for runs from home, pretty much also those were always together with my dad. I love though how he never tried to push me to do anything I didnt want. It would usually be on my initiative we went out. We trained well together and as I got older and better we began to match each other quite nicely. For some time I think we were exactly as fast as one another and interval sessions were always so much fun (and competitive!). My dad also taught me to love hills. How to approach them with the right mental state, to always embrace it and think ‘YES! A hill! I am great at hills!’ It would make it so much easier, and I often did better than many of my opponents in cross country races thanks to this approach.

Me and my dad have always had this special bond, and I believe it is a lot thanks to our Running Thing. Also since I moved out from home we have always ran together every time we meet, it is like a given. The family plans the day, we try and fit lots of things in an often quite limited time. ‘So when do we go running?’ My mum has lived with that for a long time now, and I am sure that sometimes it has been a bit of a pain that we always need to go running, but she has always been amazingly supportive of it. I am sure she knows how important it is to us both.

So when me and E started to seriously think about having a baby, I knew that something needed to be done first. As I had always been more of a middle distance runner I had never done a long distance such as a half marathon (or a full for that matter!) I had always thought I would save that to later in life. But I also knew that it would be amazing to do experience something like that with my dad. My justification for doing it before baby was because I didn’t want to wait too long for his sake. He was certainly still very fit (and still is!) but as he ‘is not getting any younger’ we both agreed it made sense to do it then. It was a perfect solution. I got to run a half with my dad – and if I enjoyed it I ‘could just do more of them after having a baby’. Little did I know.

I absolutely loved half-marathon training, and I felt that this distance was probably what I should be focusing on from then on. Even if I had loved middle distances I had never been particularly fast, and now at nearly 30 this was not something that would improve. Half-marathons here I come!

Me and my dad trained individually for the event and we kept each other updated on a regular basis on our progressions. I surely did and I think he really enjoyed it all too. He had completed a few of these and also a full marathon in the past, but it was many years ago now and I think this challenge was to his liking as well. Unfortunately though he managed to suffer a calf injury close to the race, and wasn’t fully recovered on the day. It was my turn to not wanting to push him into it, but he was determined to try and run anyway.

Mezza Maratona Dei Castelli Romani. A very beautiful and a very undulating half marathon through a few small towns outside Rome. I personally felt pretty fit on the day and I was physically ready to do a decent run. But all I wanted to do was to run together with and to finish this half marathon with my dad. The first part went really well and we enjoyed both the running and the amazing scenery around us. Until his calf played up. We had to jog, stretch, and I massaged his calf along the way at some point, and we walked short stretches. It took us a while to complete it – longer than we had planned or hoped for – but we did complete it. We crossed that finish line together, me and my dad. As I had wished, I did my first (was it my only?) half-marathon together with My running soulmate.

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I wasn’t naive, I knew that my body would change when it was time to have a baby. In my mind though it was the pregnancy that would change it the most. I thought that even if the labour and birth might be tough too, as long as I was a fit and healthy person surely I could recover swiftly from it and get back into fitness to a similar level as before?! When the pregnancy was out of the way, right?! Little did I know.

And in hindsight, well… a bit naive.
I had experienced a weird sensation down there – a feeling as if everything was going to fall out ever since the birth, but didn’t think it was anything else than a normal result from the trauma and something that soon would improve. Also considering my labour and birth ended up being quite complex I wasn’t surprised things would not feel the same for a while. I had stitches and it was sore and swollen and as far as possible I wanted to avoid looking at the damage or even feel it properly. I just wanted time to run its course and soon I would be back to normal. That’s what happens right? You give birth and you get back to normal eventually and life goes on, that’s why women are often able to do this again and again, isn’t it?!

About five weeks post birth I suddenly realised what was going on. It was during one of my (still quite rare at that stage) very lame evening walks 5-10min to the supermarket when I felt that dragging sensation down below, and almost as if something was chafing… and all of a sudden it came to me. It’s a prolapse! A pelvic organ prolapse. That must be what’s going on down there! As soon as I got home I went to the bathroom to… let’s say to investigate the matter further, and very soon I had my answer. Well, of course I needed a professional to confirm it but I could clearly tell that something was bulging out from the down there. This was not something I had ever felt there before and I was pretty certain that it was not a “normal” result of the birth. How could I have been so naive? I knew quite well what a prolapse was (which I have now realised in fact many women don’t) as several women in my family have it, but it had still never even crossed my mind it could happen to ME? My world started to spin around me as I tried to understand what this discovery would mean to my life.

I had hoped to be a super woman for the actual birth, that obviously didn’t happen – couldn’t I at least get to be a super human being in the recovery?! I had planned to go back to running as soon as possible, what would happen with that now??

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