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HARD. CORE. ON LOSING (AND FINDING) YOUR CENTER

HARD. CORE. ON LOSING (AND FINDING) YOUR CENTER

Molly Clark Hillard / Oct 15, 2020

Runner and mother of two, Molly Clark Hillard shares her journey with postpartum running. After undergoing two c-sections in two years and with minimal postpartum support, she found herself rocked to her core. With the support of the Running Evolution community she is now running faster and happier than ever.

My long-time coach, Beth Baker at Running Evolution (hi Beth!), recently wrote a blog for Oiselle about her return to running after COVID, and offered a return to run plan for those benched due to illness and injury. She’s the best in the biz for compassionate self-care for athletes. I should know: Running Evolution gave me a helping #buttslap on my long road back to running after pregnancy and childbirth.

I had a running life before kids. I began running at 21, slowly, clumsily, without really knowing what I was doing, but by the time I was 30, I was an avid, if amateur, runner. I trained for and ran several races, including a marathon, and ran trails in the Bellingham region. I wasn’t fast, but I was solid. My injuries were minor, my comebacks fast and easy. But—and this will be significant—I ran alone.

I came to parenthood late in life, after a heartbreaking six-year battle with infertility. Actually, “battle” makes it sound like I was a brave warrior, or that infertility is something anyone can win. I think that no matter the outcome, nobody “wins” infertility. I felt buffeted and powerless, as my condition put a strain on my finances, my marriage, and my very sense of self—my core identity, you might say. Up until that point, I had prided myself on achieving in the face of adversity, on getting things done (see above—marathon!) Motherhood was something I couldn’t get done.

At 38, though, I became happily pregnant with my first, and then again at 41 with my second child. (I refuse, by the way, to call that a miracle; as a society, we need to change the ways we talk about infertility. The culture of blame surrounding infertile women and the idea that heaven rewards only certain women is unforgivably cruel. But that’s a topic for a different kind of post).

As it turned out, though, another thing I couldn’t “get done” was natural childbirth. I had two c-sections in two years. If you’ve experienced childbirth, you know that we do not yet have good medical or emotional support for postpartum women, especially those post c-section, and especially especially those of us who live far away from our families. Since my c-sections coincided with the onset of middle age, it was much harder for my body to bounce back.

So there I was, with two beautiful, healthy babies…and absolutely no idea how to care for myself or return to my running life. An overwhelmed, exhausted mother, with an overwhelmed, exhausted husband, two full-time careers, and a family 3,000 miles away: I was, without exaggeration, rocked to my core.

I didn’t know that my core breach was literal as well as figurative. Many of us c-section moms have lasting issues with core strength, often without even knowing it. This leads to all kinds of misalignment. Our running is less efficient, more exhausting. We load our muscles and joints incorrectly. And as a result, we are more prone to injury. After I had kids, exercise of all kinds felt so different, so much harder, so much less fun, than it had before. In my early 40s, I figured that my running life was over.

And then seven years ago I moved to Seattle. And almost immediately I found Running Evolution, where Coach Beth focuses on building a supportive community. Her business model attracts (mostly) women who need to reclaim themselves in one way or another. She has a rock-solid core group of runners that are kind, honest, vulnerable, and hilarious. In this environment of women helping women, I was no longer a lone runner, but part of a pack. The irony is that I run at a faster pace now than ever before.

I’ve had to say goodbye to my “Before Kids” running self, but I actually like my “After Kids” running self a whole lot better. In my 20s and 30s running was about weight control, body image, and personal challenge. Now in the last year of my 40s (!), I focus on very different goals: form and strength, mindful cross-training, patience (and professional help) with injuries and setbacks, and running happily.

Core Advice

  • It takes a village to get a new mom back on her running, walking, and hiking feet.
  • Postpartum women can and should seek empathetic professional help to rebuild their core, including abs, glutes, and pelvic floor.
  • Nothing beats a good physical therapist.
  • Making yourself a priority for part of each day is not selfish.
  • Infertility, miscarriage, c-sections, and parenthood are hard. Telling your stories honestly lightens the load.
  • When women lift each other up, amazing things happen.
  • Running can be great me-time, but it’s also so energizing to run in a pack!

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