How I started running (with a newborn)

 From powerpramming and pelvic floor in the skatepark to pounding the turf for real

Women running with prams in the park

Women running with prams in the park. Laura Eades 2014

I’m an uncompetitive soul

My friends would never credit it. Yes, me, the least sporty of us all. The one who was never picked for a team even at rounders. The person who’s ability to physically exert herself at University was limited to situations involving Red Bull and drum’n’bass. Running?

I’m not making any great claims for my running abilities, but I never thought I’d be where I am now – running for pleasure, on the lookout for a 16K run to join, pounding through the park’s pathways with a dirty great grin on my face. I’ve lost a stone and a half (now the challenge is to keep it off – especially during winter since treadmill running is boringer) – though it’s taken two years to get to this point, (when will I learn patience?) it has transformed my relationship with myself.

Powerpramming

I owe it all to Powerpramming: an exercise group for mums with buggies in my park in South London, where I lived then. Maybe you have something near you that’s similar. Or maybe you have seen some: a critical mass of buggy-pushing women ruling the pathways of the park, their approach heralded by their infants wailing like sirens. Some doing situps, others doing a quick breastfeed.

The ingenous class was started and run by Liz Stuart, a local personal trainer who began when her own kids were small and she wanted to work while they were asleep.

The ‘power’ part of running

When I say the word ‘powerpramming’, it inevitably elicits mirth. Because, as my dear friend Lois pointed out, to be a mum pushing a pram is to be seen as disempowered. Being outdoors, grabbing the air, being one with the weather, connecting to the seasons, watching your breath in the winter sunshine, rediscovering ambulation and even speed.

Plus, Liz used to make us do squats while holding a huge purple bit of elastic. And pelvic floor exercises. Yes, she really did tell us to “squeeze your anus and the wall of your vagina” while lying down in a skatepark. Right on! Some people ran with two children in a double buggy. And there were women there who’d had every kind of birth experience, and they were still getting moving, walking and bringing their bodies back to health. Which is inspiring. Respect, ladies!

Not to mention the the cameraderie of other mums and the ensuing cappuccino.  The defiance of being out in public doing something that looks quite absurd. But the people I met had a sense of humour and didn’t pretend life with a newborn was a picnic. I’ll never forget Sara saying sheepishly that she’d bragged in the office that she was going to spend her maternity leave “getting really bastard fit”. I laughed so much when she told me that. That laugh was an abdominal exercise class in itself.

What about the baby??

Oh yeah, the baby. Er.

By and large, my daughter liked being out in the air. Often she slept. Sometimes she screamed. Most often she missed a sleep that I was hoping she’d have. When she got older and crawled, we put the babies on a parachute and she emulated our moves. You just gotta go with it.

I never aimed for speed, just to keep moving

We didn’t run that much at Powerpramming, but it got me moving. Then when Liz announced a (non-buggy-based) running group to train for 5K, I joined and followed her training programme, which started with 3 minutes running, one minute rest, three minutes running.

I did my homeworks with the buggy mostly. And headphones. I never aimed for speed, just to put the time in. I couldn’t believe I could do it all. But I could. We all could. You could too.

Stepping it up a bit

This year my friend told me she was training for 10K. I said I’d train in parallel since she’s in England and I’m here in Berlin, and I was losing faith I’d ever lose the post-baby flab. I joined a cheap gym (McFit – I love this concept!), but fortunately, since it’s been summer, I’ve mostly run out of doors – and it makes a big big difference. Having someone to report to really really helped. And having a programme to stick to (Liz kindly emailed me one) helped my family to accept that my runs were a priority and organise (a little bit of childcare) around them. Mostly I went instead of having a lie-in!

So much to gain, so much to be grateful for, so much to love about it

I run for the feeling of wellbeing. For the air and the light and the smiles of the other runners. For the dogs and the birds and for the soundtrack on my ipod. For the rhythm and because it sends my blood circulating in a virtuous cycle. For the celebrities (I pass a successful local author from time to time – I’ll let you know if I ever stop to talk to him). To see the acorn grow and the acorns fall. For the flow, for the rhythm, for the thump of sole and heart. To breathe deeply. To live better.

What do I need to start running with a newborn?

The usual gear, plus:

  1. A buggy (doesn’t have to be a three-wheeler) that has a long enough handle that you can run without stooping forwards, and that you can strap your child into properly (well that’s all buggies, really). I’m not into buggy snobbery!
  2. A park
  3. It’s easier with a group (because a fixed time helps you get out the door)
  4. A decent raincoat – yes, go every week. Running’s fun in the rain and the crisp cold of winter is worth witnessing
  5. A sparring relationship with your personal pride. Don’t listen to passers-by. Critics are in awe of the lengths you are going to
  6. You need to check your abdominal muscles have meshed again before you start doing situps and pelvic floor work

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I haven’t found a class in Berlin. Is there one? Is there one where you are? What got you started? What would it take to get you going? Comments welcome below. Click on the pale grey dot with a plus sign – below the post – to open up the comment thread