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It’s been almost a year to the day since pro runner Tina Muir announced on her blog that she was leaving the sport of running–at least temporarily. Muir had several reasons for why she needed a break, but the most groundbreaking was her announcement that she’d been battling amenorrhea for nine years, a medical issue that had to that point prevented her from getting pregnant. Eager to start a family with her husband, Steve, Muir left professional running in the hope that she could someday return, with a brand new life to watch over and perhaps another, greater reason to run.
Muir gave birth to her daughter Bailey in January and has checked in with Women’s Running a couple of times in the months since to provide updates on her return to running and experiences as a new runner mom. We first spoke with Muir in early February (check back online to read our “Meet the Elite” column featuring Muir on April 10) and recently touched base again to learn how her postpartum recovery is progressing.
When we last spoke, it had been three weeks since Bailey was born. How are you feeling now?
It’s certainly a learning curve; as with anything new in your life, you learn how to adapt, how to handle things, and you get better at it. The biggest thing that I’ve been learning and am still learning is the control thing. As runners, we love to control everything we possibly can. We’re very Type-A people; if I say, “I’m going to do this at this time,” I’m going to do it, because I’m going to work backwards and plan my day. With a baby, you can’t do that; you have to work from their schedules. You can do your best to get things into place, but you never really know whether it’s going to work the way you want or if it’s going to completely change in every way. It’s been difficult for me to not get frustrated when I can’t work my way through a list and check boxes, because babies don’t work like that. It’s been a learning curve, but one I’ve enjoyed more than anything else. I totally know what people mean when they say, “It’s unlike anything you’ll ever do.” I get it. There are all those crying moments, those moments when you’re tired and waking up in the middle of the night, but then they look at you and smile, and it makes it all worthwhile. Having a baby cuddle up to you is one of the best feelings in the world. Overall, I’m in a very good place and am really enjoying motherhood.
You mentioned in February that you already felt that fire to return to running. Is that fire still going strong?
I switch back and forth. I do feel excited to get back and show what I can do. The runs I have done, I’ve felt really good. I’ve been shocked by how good I’ve felt overall. I’m back running in the 7-minute mile range, which I hadn’t really had since I first stopped running. In those moments, I’m thinking about it and it gets me excited. I look forward to showing that I can do this.
I’m a different person from who I was before, not just because I stopped running for three months and went through the whole pregnancy and had a baby, but my outlook on life is different. I am a different person, so I don’t want to think of it as a comeback; more of a recreation of what this Tina can do. Sometimes it flips between getting excited to see what I’m capable of and complete terror that I’m going to do something wrong with my postpartum journey. You hear so many horror stories of women who come back too fast or don’t work on their pelvic floor health. I slip back and forth between feeling excited and terrified.
What do your pelvic floor strengthening activities consist of?
I have to admit: up to this point, I had shrugged off any pelvic floor therapy or anyone working specifically with women-related issues. I got back to training with my strength coach; within about four weeks [after Bailey was born] I was back in the gym. We’re working on bringing my body back together, and I felt like that was enough. I became a bit arrogant with it, thinking that, because I’d had a natural birth, it was uncomplicated and went as well as it could have, that I didn’t need to do that stuff. It was only once I spoke to Abby Bales of Reform PT that she made me realize that I was playing with fire by not taking care of those things. I reached out to a pelvic floor therapist in Lexington [Kentucky], so I’m going to be working with her to get my pelvic floor health back to where it should be.
What other physical activities are you doing now?
I may be back to 7-minute miles, but the window is very small between what’s very easy and what’s hard. I need to keep an eye on my pace, because I can very quickly go from an easy run to a tempo run without noticing. That makes it difficult to remain in the good recovery pace that my body needs to heal. I’m running about 30 to 40 minutes, two to four times per week, depending on the week. Strength training is most important to me, so if that means I miss a run, then I miss a run. I’ve been working my week around strength training. As I mentioned with Bailey, I have to give up some control, so there are some days where my husband is gone and I’m unable to go out and do a run. I’ve been taking it by feel for how much I do, which is generally about 3 to 5 miles.
What’s the most difficult thing you’ve encountered physically in your return to running thus far?
You can feel that your hips are different from how they were before. It can be difficult to engage [your body] in a way where you feel like you’re running with good running mechanics, good running form. Previously, I didn’t really have to think about those things too much on a day-to-day basis, but now I feel like my body’s a bit out of sync. It’s going to take a while to get it back. So it’s more of a focus of thinking about the way I’m running and whether it’s healthy for my body, whereas before it was more about getting out there and doing whatever I was meant to be doing that day.
What physical activity do you get the most enjoyment out of right now?
I am definitely enjoying running. It’s not so much that I’m running at a faster pace than I was during pregnancy as it is that I’m running across the ground, feeling comfortable. Most of running during pregnancy was a slog. It didn’t matter what speed I was running at–I was exhausted. Right now, it feels good to be out there and just feeling strong. I use that running time to let my mind be free and have some time away from thinking about Bailey. I love her to death, but it’s nice to have that time where it’s just me and my thoughts, appreciating being out in nature.
What questions are you hearing most from other mother runners?
Most of the questions are about the women who want to become mothers and are struggling with amenorrhea. Most women want to figure out how to do it without giving up the running. I’ve learned that, although I was able to drastically step away like I did, most women aren’t comfortable doing that. I’ve been trying to give them advice without saying, “You have to stop cold turkey, like I did.” When it comes to new moms, it’s mostly just recommendations on what products I’ve liked, particularly for breastfeeding. I think that’s something that isn’t talked about much, especially in the running world. When you are breastfeeding, your breasts are a lot heavier than they’ve ever been. Not only do they get bigger, but they get heavy, which can make running really uncomfortable. You have to get a good, supportive bra. I’ve talked about that a lot.
What other topics do you think need to be discussed more about motherhood and running?
I think amenorrhea is coming to a point where it’s a commonplace thing to talk about and not as embarrassing. It’s exactly what I wanted when I decided to speak out, and I love that that’s become the situation now. There are quite a few things that I had no idea about. The one I’ve been dealing with the most and Kara Goucher talked about [during Running for Real’s 50th podcast episode, released on March 8] is the way that your body looks after having a baby. There’s this myth that breastfeeding torches calories and you’ll go back to your previous weight, and we’ve seen all the magazines about women who are six weeks postpartum and look like they never had a baby, with a completely flat stomach. For me, although I am breastfeeding and am aware of burning a lot of calories, my hunger has been off the charts. I haven’t really lost that much weight. It’s difficult to get used to the idea of that, but I’ve learned that a lot of women go through it.
It’s hard to deal with, because there’s this myth that you’ll get back to your weight quickly, but also that you’re supposed to look that way. Some of the experts I’ve spoken to have told me that you wouldn’t want to lose that baby weight; the women who do lose all of their weight very quickly, their milk dries up. Your baby needs that excess weight to continue breastfeeding in a healthy way. It’s something that’s not talked about enough–including breastfeeding in general and the things that come along with it.
I didn’t think about the logistics. If you’re a runner training for a big race, your infant may need to feed every two to three hours, which can make going out for long runs difficult. I’m not in that situation yet, but I may be down the road. Not only if your infant gets hungry where you may need to go home and feed them, but your breasts get very heavy–and that in itself is uncomfortable and might require stopping to pump or feed the baby. Our culture is still a bit embarrassed to talk about it. Hopefully it’ll be something that continues to be discussed, because it’s the most natural thing there is. None of us should be embarrassed to talk about any of it.
It can be easy to think–especially for someone who ran throughout pregnancy–that you can just pop the baby out and then jump back into it. But your body is a completely different shape from what it was. Not only have you had that time off to rest, but your body has changed; it essentially moved itself to let a person out. Pelvic floor health is something I completely pushed aside and didn’t worry about; I thought it was only for people who’d had a traumatic birth or long birth or a c-section. But every mother will have to deal with this, or they’ll have problems later on.
There’s no rule, there’s no guide. Every woman’s body is different. There are too many variables that go into it, so you can’t just find a postpartum running plan and follow it, because everyone’s experience is going to be completely different.