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May 20th, 2022

First Race Back

With the Brooklyn Half approaching, which would be my first race back from having Calvin (10 months), nerves started to get the best of me. So I decided to turn to our community and chat with one of our patients, Gemma Aafjes-Hilverdink, who also has a son, Lucas (21 months), 11 months older than Calvin.

With nearly a year difference between the two boys, it means Gemma has gone through what I am about to, along with so many other moms. While our journeys will never be exactly the same, there is so much in common in terms of the emotions and struggle of getting to that first finish line after having a baby.

We started off by chatting about the Brooklyn Half and what the day will bring as far as weather and logistics for what NYRR touts as the largest half marathon in the country. Those two aspects alone will be a challenge. With temperatures nearing record highs close to 90 degrees, it actually seems to relieve some pressure since race conditions aren’t perfect. Because neither were our training cycles.

When Gemma first returned to running it was still the middle of the pandemic and in-person racing had not returned yet, so she started out doing the NYRR’s Virtual 5k series. (I joked that 5k races were a much better plan than going full out for a half marathon, a choice I made by leaving it up to the lottery and the Brooklyn half being one of my favorite races.) She found it interesting how little she’d seen covered on the post c-section experience. She was able to find Finish Line PT for postpartum PT to help, and worked with our Pelvic Health PTs on the obvious core work but also scar healing & recovery. Her c-section birth largely resulted in more core rebuilding for Gemma, where as in my case, having a vaginal birth, a lot of my focus for PT was on the pelvic floor. I’d be remiss not to mention how dramatically different every mother’s labor & delivery experience is and how big of a role a PT can play in tailoring your recovery specific to your own needs. It’s not as simple as having a c-section vs a vaginal birth. There are many additional variables which can be addressed during PT. 

Training postpartum focuses so much more on regaining strength and basic functionality as well as putting in the milage. At the start, so much of the plan has to be intentionally focused on the rebuild that none of it feels exactly like it used to. But the strength and miles only address the physical aspect. There’s also now a new emotional component. Most training runs come with the decision to miss out on spending time with the baby. While it’s easy to say that taking care of yourself and setting goals for yourself are parts of being a good mom, it’s so much harder in practice. 

Any training plan can suffer from the various life things that pop up. But when health concerns for your kid (a broken leg for poor Lucas and a series of unexpected doctors appointments for Calvin), all of a sudden unravel your routine for weeks on end, even the best training plan will suffer. Before, when you’re only responsible for yourself, it was easy to say it’s fine, I’ll figure it out, but when it comes to your kid, everything has to stop and the focus turns to them. I did manage to eventually come up for air and adjust the training plan, which is what had to happen – goals had to be adjusted.

In Gemma’s case, there have also been adjusted expectations as race day approaches. While she was never super competitive before having a kid, now it is just about enjoying the run and racing environment as a whole. There’s still the excitement and drive to get better, but without having the expectation, and I relate to this. Time is so limited and we just want running to be a more positive experience. It is now more of a way to devote attention and time to self care. I admitted that I first came into my Brooklyn Half training ready for redemption. Back in 2019 when I ran 2:00:08, I knew I could push a little harder next time and squeak under the 2 hour mark. But here I am at “next time,” about to line up for redemption, and I’m not there. It’s been a complex reality to grasp. We both agreed there’s a mental shift that has to happen, going from racing yourself for a new PR to just celebrating and enjoying the run. The first race back is already a PR just by getting back out there, starting from a new place, with a very clear new number one priority. While it took a couple weeks to fully get on board with that mindset, I am glad I did. Having the focus change will allow for more enjoyment of the race and a better sense of accomplishment that deserves to be recognized. 

Gemma has continued to run since her first virtual 5ks. Her first in person race was the Mini 10k with her husband Niels and Lucas cheering on the sidelines. One of her happiest moments was crossing the finish line of a trail race and immediately running towards Lucas to share her accomplishment with him. The Brooklyn Half will just be another great accomplishment in taking time for herself and enjoying the run!

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