Celebrating incredible endurance mothers

On Mother’s Day this 2020, we are celebrating the incredible mothers within endurance sport. We explore how we can continue to train and do what we love while pregnant and postnatal.

Picture: Stefanie Slekis

Over the past decade, the images of mothers within endurance sport have revolutionised how the world – and women ourselves – have viewed what is possible and safe to do when both pregnant and postnatal.

Jasmin Paris, 35, became the first female winner of the challenging 268-mile Spine Race, while breastfeeding her 14 month old daughter. Meanwhile Sophie Power, 36, was photographed feeding her 3 month old son, halfway through the 105-mile Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB).

When interviewed by The Guardian, she said:

“This picture has allowed women to say: ‘When we become mothers our self-identity doesn’t change.’ We shouldn’t have to lose who we were before we were mothers. Men certainly don’t. You see all these great pictures of dads crossing finishing lines with their babies. Why do we as a society see that as different for the mother?”

It’s not just new mums who are challenging the stereotype about the ability of women to perform as mothers, it’s also pregnant women.

Training while pregnant

Stefanie Slekis, (IG “stefanieslekis) ran a 3.07 marathon just 10 days before she gave birth. Four weeks later, she ran in the US Olympic marathon trials.

Likewise, Rachel Hyland also competed in the Olympic marathon trials in February 2020 while 27 weeks pregnant (she stepped off the course halfway in 1.47.07).

This is not about pressurising women to feel that they must achieve or get a certain body shape while being pregnant or after pregnancy. It’s about continuing to do the thing that you love, and owning that right, backed up by the knowledge and access to education so that you know what is safe or not to do, without judgement.

As Rachel Hyland told the US version of Runner’s World:

“It’s not to inspire other women to live my same life journey,” she said. “It’s not saying, ‘You should be able to run four weeks postpartum.’ Each of us are on this unique path. You can do what you want to do. I just do what works for my life.” 

Changing attitudes

It is a big attitude shift compared to a decade ago, when the prevailing advice felt like it still belonged in the Victorian era; sit down, don’t sweat, don’t move unless to do pilates. Nowadays, that is no longer the case with pregnant women (not just elites), continuing to train and perform during pregnancy.

Three tips to training after pregnancy

1. Get checked for diastasis recti

Your linea alba, the tissue between the muscles of the so-called ‘six pack’ naturally stretch to allow the baby to grow while you are pregnant. This is normal.

But you should not start training until you have had this checked by a gynaecological physiotherapist. A good rule of thumb is that you should not do anything, if this gap is bigger than two fingers in width.

Even then, work on stability and core work first before you begin running or strength training.

2. Focus on core exercises

Your core includes the muscles of the glutes, as well as core and pelvic floor. If you ignore these exercises and go straight into running and/or cycling, you run the risk of developing dysfunctions in the pelvic floor and SI joint, which also lead to other injuries.

3. Periodise your training

Just like you should return to training gradually if you’ve been injured or been on holiday, the same holds true for when you’ve had a baby, particularly if you weren’t training during your pregnancy.

It can be tempting to rush back into it, to feel in control, to get the buzz of moving your body and being outside. But think of the long-term goal.

Set yourself some long term targets to keep you on track and inspired, while allowing yourself a good block of training to ensure you get there safely without injury, or risk of postnatal complications that can occur if you rush into things.

Keep an eye out for our new postnatal series launching this September, with Girls Run the World coaching partners and pelvic women’s health physiotherapist, Gillian McCabe.