Tag Archives: postnatal

parkrun at home: Longrun Meadow

The time had come for something both familiar and a little bit new – running at my home parkrun of Longrun Meadow. I’d last run there on Christmas Eve, splashing in every puddle on the course before starting my running maternity leave. As it happens, that was the last day that the old anti-clockwise course was used. Hence the new-to-me part.

Longrun Meadow parkrun is based in Taunton, in a green area that you may be able to guess the name of. Taunton has excellent travel links and so the parkrun is easy to get to. For us, the journey is typically a mile’s walk along the river. Today we were running a little late though (shocking how that happens with 2 small children!) and drove over. There’s parking available by Castle School, and quite a few people also park at Tesco. It’s also an easy cycle and doable walk from either the train station or the middle of town.

Once you enter the meadow from either Castle School direction or French Weir park it’s pretty obvious where you’re heading, due to the very visible Oak Barn. Those requiring pre-run facilities should head to the COACH building in French Weir park. Hoodies and water bottles are typically left on the various tables and benches in the barn.

The barn really is easy to spot!

I’ll be honest, I didn’t hear much of the run briefing today. There’s no megaphone and so you have to make sure to stand very close in to the barn to hear. A combination of handing over children to Ben, and chatting to club friend Eliza, meant that I was too far back. Still, it was pretty obvious when we needed to make our way to the start line. Something that I have only seen at Longrun Meadow, which may throw regular tourists a little, is that the first timers’ briefing is held AFTER the main briefing, once returning runners have been sent to the start.

There are two routes to the cycle path start – one follows the path and one cuts across the grass. If you’re at the faster end, cut across the grass otherwise you’ll get stuck too far back. I obviously opted for following the path. As with most path starts, those towards the back are a little distance from the start line, but as long as you’re in roughly the right place it’s fine. I was very pleased to hear the air horn that marked the start (so many starts can’t be heard at the back) and we were quickly off.

Other than the disorientation of going the ‘wrong’ way, the first thing I noticed was that I’d started my watch as a normal run, rather than the 3 min run/1 min walk workout I was supposed to select. My immediate thought was that this was a sign I should run the whole thing. Very quickly followed by remembering I am trying to re-build my body, not nuke it. So manual intervals it would have to be.

Starting out with friends

After the short section on tarmac (during which I waved to Ben and the children), the surface changes to the gravel path surface that makes up most of the course. We slowed dramatically to go over a narrow bridge (which is currently missing a fence on one side and so I’m guessing this was slower than normal). Soon after, there’s a quick dodge left and then right through some big gates. These are open first lap to avoid another bottleneck point.

The path then opens up a bit for a nice straight section, at the end of which you turn left and the surface changes to bark. Congestion struck again here as the usable space was only about 2 people wide, and a few times I found myself behind a pair running together. The annoying thing with run/walking is that you can sometimes struggle to overtake the same people on multiple occasions. The surface changes back to the gravel path but the width stays pretty similar for the other 2.5 sides of the square that take you almost back to the end of the straight bit.

A left turn takes you onto the beginning of a more twisty-turny section, and my favourite bit of the course. This is the bit most prone to puddles! There were a few good ones today, but sadly I was wearing my road shoes (the rest of the course was in good condition) and so didn’t splash. The path opens back up a little and then, after a bridge by a hedge, you suddenly find yourself back near the barn.

Excited that I hadn’t been lapped, I made my way through the best supported section (as basically everyone that isn’t a marshal is hanging round the barn area). A very small up takes you back onto the tarmac cycle path to start lap 2. Which is much the same as lap 1, but less congested and finishes earlier.

I was unsure how I’d find the 3/1 run/walk, but it went pretty well. I was careful not to push too hard and so managed to keep enough in the tank for a faster finish, which is a very satisfying way to end a parkrun.

Strong enough to finish on one leg

After getting my finishing token I was at the back of a big queue, as the funnel continues for most of the way to the barcode scanners. I opted to duck out of this to get water, although one well-meaning volunteer did tell me I should stay in order (which, if you haven’t got your finish token yet, you really must). After rehydrating and chatting to a few people, Lani helped me get scanned and then insisted we head off to the swings (apparently she’d been asking for quite some time…).

The adjacent French Weir park has great playparks for children big and small, and we also paid a visit to The Weir cafe in COACH for some much-needed refreshment.

This has been the weirdest parkrun post for me to write, as it’s completely different talking about an event I’ve run 45 times and attended many more. For example, I know that some Run Directors aren’t hampered by the lack of megaphone. I know that I preferred the course the old way round, but I also know that the congestion used to be horrendous. When you visit different parkruns you get a snapshot of how they are on that day for your pace. Over time you inevitably start comparing your home event to the best bits of all the others you’ve visited.

But I’m lucky that my home event has an interesting enough course, and a dedicated core team that really believe in it. I’m also lucky to live in the heart of a region with truly beautiful and varied events to visit. The question is, where to next?

Photo credits to Kevin Dunn, via Facebook.

parkrun tourism: Moors Valley

When my parents asked if we wanted to join them on their New Forest holiday, the first thing we did was to research the area. By which I mean look at parkrun options in the area. Their chosen location was only 5 miles from Brockenhurst parkrun, but somewhere else caught my eye. In our quest to (slowly) conquer the South West, there are a few events left that would take us over 2 hours to get to from home. Even though we were staying in the South East, one of those far-flung events was a mere 15 miles away.

And so it was that after our first night of holiday we found ourselves heading back into the South West to Moors Valley Country Park. Slightly out of the habit of parkrun tourism, the journey mostly consisted of panicking about whether we’d got everything, whether we’d be on time, and whether we’d find the start easily. And for me there was also the tiny detail of not having run 5k since Christmas Eve.

Moors Valley parkrun is set in a country park jointly run by the local council and the Forestry Commission. There is ample car parking (apparently most of the visitors aren’t there before 9) and if you leave before 10.30 then it only costs £1. As ever, we immediately saw plenty of running kit and soon located some hi-viz and the start. After a quick detour to the Visitor Centre for toilets, Ben headed off on his warm up.

The new runners’ briefing was possibly the best I’ve been to yet. A big map of the course was held up so that descriptions about pinch points and possible hazards actually had context. There was enough time to grab a drink and tell spectating family where the finish was before the run briefing. Milestone and birthday celebration hats were lent out, which I always think is a nice touch.

Despite the briefing being right near the start, there was enough room to re-arrange into the right order. Or at least there was for me, but then I was heading towards the back. I selected a run/walk workout on my Garmin ready for the start and tried not to get far too excited that I was actually lining up ready for a parkrun.

Despite being surrounded, the Gruffalo’s Child was still not scared.

The route starts by going past the Gruffalo sculptures, which is always a good start to any activity, before turning to head down the main path. A decent width, solid (but not tarmac) path with trees on either side is a major component in my ideal parkrun. Needless to say I enjoyed this part, even with the slight gradual climb. The nice thing with not going for a time was that I was able to take a look around and enjoy the scenery.

After half a mile on that path, we turned left for more of the same. We passed what looked like some amazing play structures, and I thought we should head back that way after the run. As we made our way round, the picturesque paths continued. My only issue was that I managed to land weirdly on a loose stone and slightly turned my ankle, but thankfully it was just uncomfortable.

Shortly before the 2 mile mark was the landmark I’d been waiting for – the start of the out-and-back section. In a race, out-and-back just to make up the distance is quite annoying. In a parkrun I don’t mind it so much as long as it’s a sensible length (this one was). The higher percentage of friendly runners makes seeing people going the other way a positive experience. Still, I was glad to reach the end of it and know that I was getting somewhere.

The terrain changes slightly at this point, as narrower paths wind through trees and the surface changes to tarmac. There started to be more visible signs that we were working our way round and then across the golf course. Just as I was starting to doubt myself on how things were going, I saw on the path something that I think every parkrun should have – a 4k marker.

Shortly after, Ben appeared from further ahead on the course (having finished, located a drink, had a rest, and started his cool down) to join me for the end. The final section of the course winds around the lake (which Ben could see before I could, due to my travel-size nature). It really opens up, and you can see the finish and the paths leading to it. As Ben peeled off to avoid going near the funnel, I happily discovered that my run/walk strategy had left me with just enough to speed up for the finish.

Plenty of space to rest

The finish area is by a big open grass area (popular later in the day for picnics and barbecues) and also by one of the stations for the miniature railway. Barcode scanners were slightly further along the path, but very visible. I also liked the fact that there were pots for tokens by the side of the path as you left that area. Anything that reduces the chance of accidental souvenirs!

We headed round to the cafe, where our supporters were sheltering (I seem to have neglected to mention there was drizzle for most of the run). It was really nice to see so many parkrun people staying around afterwards – and with the selection of food available it’s easy to see why.

As I said to some of the core team afterwards, I would love for that to be my home parkrun. The balance of the course is one that I would happily repeat. Looking at their Facebook page, I did notice that Moors Valley often have to appeal for volunteers, so if you live in the area then please consider helping them out.

In terms of a parkrun to visit while on holiday, this couldn’t have been better. After food we headed out for a walk and found that the play structures were as good as they’d looked (there’s a whole Play Trail). There was also the tree top trail, miniature railway and brilliant playgrounds. We ended up staying for much longer than anticipated, and actually went back later in the holiday. Which is surely proof that a bit of parkrun tourism is good for you.

Let there be exercise

Starting out exercising is never an easy task. You need to find energy you aren’t used to spending. You need to find time you normally fill in other ways. And, for the vast majority of us, you need to accept that you won’t be very good at it to start with.

I’d made various comments about doing stretches or looking at post-natal exercise videos, but nothing was actually happening. Earmarking time and energy for yourself is not something that comes naturally to many mums with young children. The only thing for it, therefore, was to book myself onto a class where the time was committed and it would be harder to back out at the last minute.

Next decision – what sort of class to go for? Specific post-natal classes have the benefit of everything being tailored to what I currently need, and with specialist knowledge of potential issues. On the other hand, the buggy fitness class I’d done last time round no longer exists, and I also needed something in my week to be about me and not about being a mum. The ideal situation would be if the instructor at my favourite friendly exercise studio had completed her pre- and post-natal exercise instruction course. Which she has. Love it when a plan comes together.

And so it was that I found myself returning to Studio 22. I say returning – the Studio had actually moved location since I’d been last. The first thing I was asked was about my post-natal check (which I’d had just a few days before) and anything that might impact the exercises I was able to do. If you’re joining any exercise class post-natally and you aren’t asked about birth complications or how many weeks it’s been then you may want to consider going elsewhere until later in your recovery.

My chosen class of Ballet Fit has been a brilliant way back into exercise. It’s low impact, so I haven’t been worried about my joints. It helps with toning and strength. And it’s helping to re-build my virtually non-existent core. But most importantly it’s fun, which makes me want to exercise more.

There has been a fair bit of adjustment to make it work. Eating and drinking enough during the day is pretty crucial, as I’m less in control of my energy levels lately. There’s also the impact afterwards of tiredness and sore muscles. More than once, my leg aches have started while sat on the floor at a baby group the following morning, and getting up is just a little more tricky.

So exercise successfully started, but the big cloud of running was still looming over me. When people asked me I talked about my body not being ready, about possible joint pain, and about wanting to ease myself back in. But as I got closer to 12 weeks post-natal a bigger factor started to show. I was scared.

Scared of injuring myself. Scared of accidentally pushing too hard. Scared of how difficult it would be. Scared of the challenge of starting again. Even, weirdly, scared that I wouldn’t like it anymore.

With anything that you’re putting off for the wrong reasons, it’s handy to have a motivational deadline. In my case, an upcoming opportunity for child-free parkrun tourism. And so my Garmin was switched back on, my running shoes were dusted off, and Ben kicked me out the door. 1 mile of 1 minute running 1 minute walking. Not a lot really, but wow it felt good.

There’s a long way to go in my journey of post-natal recovery, but I’m really happy that I’ve made a start.

Laying the Foundations

It’s fair to say that I didn’t enjoy the end of pregnancy. The exhaustion, aches and uncertainty really got to me. Still, everyone assured me that I looked like I would give birth early… Or at least earlier than the first time (2 days over)… You can imagine how grumpy I was for the 7 days after the due date before things kicked off. Many apologies and thanks to those who had to put up with me in that time.

Still, at least things managed to start off by themselves the night before I was booked in for a stretch and sweep (if you don’t know what that is, retain your ignorance and just know I was pleased to skip it). The next morning, after much hysteria and entonox, we had a healthy baby boy. And my body felt completely and utterly drained.

So my road to physical recovery started with plenty of food and drink, and grabbing bits of sleep whenever I could. The sleep part being significantly harder when you live with a newborn baby. Structured exercise felt like a lifetime away.

One of the best decisions I made near the end of pregnancy was to buy a stretchy wrap. This has proved invaluable in being able to get stuff done, and look after a small child, while a baby is happily asleep. His love for being tucked up in the wrap has also meant getting out for a walk is really easy. Making the effort to walk places, or to just go for a wander along the river or canal, has been a big boost both physically and mentally.

And, yes, I do always look tired.

In terms of formal exercise, the only thing I’ve made an effort with so far is pelvic floor exercises. If I don’t get that right then I can say goodbye to any high impact exercise in future. I’m also starting to do some gentle postnatal core exercises. Because it currently feels like I have zero core muscles.

And the plan for the future? Well I’m starting to get a little more sleep now (I hope that doesn’t jinx it) which should make it easier to go for longer and more purposeful walks. I also want to set some time aside for postnatal yoga to help me strengthen up. While part of me would love to try running already, I know that I’m not strong enough yet and it just wouldn’t be worth it. I can’t expect my body to get back to racing PBs if I don’t get the foundations right first.