Eight months postpartum, pro runner Tina Muir offers injury prevention tips for new runner moms based on her own recent experiences.
Tina Muir On Injury Prevention
It’s been eight months since elite runner Tina Muir delivered her daughter Bailey and made the transition from athlete with amenorrhea to full-time mother runner. This year hasn’t been an entirely smooth ride for Muir—in May, she developed a pelvic floor injury that took several weeks of strength training and time away from running to recover from—and she had to essentially start from scratch over the summer, slowly building her strength and rebuilding her body’s endurance as she developed a new running routine. But there have been bright spots along the way: In addition to the daily joys that come with watching her daughter grow, Muir recently scored a cover feature with Women’s Running UK and has kept up with her “Running for Real” podcast, inviting professional athletes, coaches, nutrition experts and others to openly discuss sensitive topics ranging from physical fitness to mental health and beyond.
Muir has also worked her training back up to an average of 60 miles per week and has her eyes set on a few early races in 2019—including, potentially, the 2019 Boston Marathon. Women’s Running spoke with Muir last week to check in on how her injury recovery process went over the summer and to get some tips for new runner moms on preventing and overcoming similar pelvic floor injuries.
When we last spoke, you were recovering from an injury that you were addressing through pelvic floor strengthening work. Where are you now with the recovery process?
Seeing the pelvic floor therapist was critical for me, as much as I didn’t want to admit I needed it. People think they only need it if they have a problem. I was in the same boat; but looking back, had I gone earlier, I probably would have avoided that injury. Had I seen someone before I gave birth, I would have been in a better situation.
Pelvic floor therapy was great for me. I feel like, over the last few months, my body has allowed me to put everything back together. My body feels more normal; I feel like myself within my body. I did take two weeks off from running with that injury. I did cross-training initially, but I realized it was just a habit, feeling like I needed to. I realized I had no interest in going on the bike or swimming, so I just decided that at this point in my life, when I’m not training and the focus is on my family, it was okay to give myself the grace to take two weeks completely off and just rest—without feeling any guilt.
That’s something especially that new mothers struggle with, especially runners. I started from scratch again after that; my husband and I pretended that I was starting again after birth, this time with help from the pelvic floor therapist. I’ve gotten up to about 60 miles a week now, with one long run—about two hours—each week.
I’ve had a lot of women reach out to me to say, “I’m postpartum, I just had my baby, and I feel like I’m so far away from everything.” I felt the same way during my injury, but it does come back. Your fitness comes back quicker than you think. I’m surprised to say to you now that I’m at 60 miles per week; it sounds like a lot, compared to where I was at a few months ago.
What part of the recovery process was helpful in your case?
It’s very easy for us as runners to take something like an injury and read online the rehab steps you need to take, or be very stubborn about paying for something or wanting to do something that’ll cost time and resources. When it comes to kegels or pelvic floor contractions, almost all of us are doing them wrong, including me—even though I was sure I was doing them correctly. The pelvic floor therapist will tell you how to engage the muscles correctly and hold them correctly. It’s not just squeezing those muscles, which is what everyone thinks it is.
[My pelvic floor therapist] taught me how to do it for specific movements that will prepare your body to return to normalcy. It’s essentially going through regular physical therapy, but instead of focusing on the exercises themselves, it’s focusing on how to engage the pelvic floor correctly. It was tedious; I can’t say I enjoyed it at all. But it was one of those things where, even though I didn’t enjoy it and it was the burden of my day, it was so critical to me returning to running and so worth putting in the time to do it and see the results of that time and effort.
What recovery tips did you pick up that you’re carrying forward?
There are some exercises that they recommend you do for life, and then there’s an intensive program at the beginning where you might be spending 20 minutes to an hour each day doing the exercises. The period at the beginning is quite intense and can be difficult to motivate yourself to do, but then it levels off. Once you progress to the more difficult exercises, you can maintain. There are exercises recommended for up to a year after you have a baby, but there are others that are beneficial for life.
To be honest, I still struggle to get them in; even now, it’s easy for me to think that I’m healthy and running and think that I’m fine. It’s difficult to motivate myself. I can’t pretend that I always keep up with it. Everyone struggles with it; I might promote it, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get myself to do it.
Are there any stretches or activities that you specifically don’t do in an effort to prevent further injury?
The only thing is that my doctor told me women should never do a squat [all the way] to the ground. They should either do a split stance squat or not go all the way to the ground. It just puts an amount of pressure on our pelvic floor that isn’t healthy for women, particularly if you’ve had a baby. I’ve tried to avoid exercises that avoid squatting all the way to the ground.
Having a baby makes it very easy to make even more excuses about doing the stretching and foam rolling, but when I have anything that comes up, I’m diligent about taking care of it right away. It can be easy for us as runners to say, “I’ll give it a few days; I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Don’t just assume that things will go away.
You wrote on your blog earlier this week about running for time instead of distance. Why is that strategy specifically important for mother runners?
I’ve always been someone who has gone by the numbers. I love stats, I love looking at Strava, I love seeing my paces and negative splits in races. But when you’ve had an injury or have taken time off, it’s very easy to return to running and become obsessed with where you were or where you want to get back to. It can be so destroying to our confidence and make you feel like you’re not good anymore.
For me, it was too easy to compare myself to my elite running days, particularly because I didn’t have anything to compare to, as I went from elite to zero. On this second attempt back, I went by minutes, so that I had nothing to compare myself to. It was a refreshing change from miles, because I could stop at 60 minutes and be okay with [my total mileage] not being an even number. I could be okay with whatever pace it ended up being, because I was putting the effort in at the moment. We have outside stresses, be they children, work life or family issues, and it’s very easy to look too far into one specific workout or one specific day. Running by minutes allows you to focus on doing the best you can with the situation you’re presented with. It’s a healthier way to approach your training if you’re someone who’s struggling with confidence or struggling due to outside forces in general.
What else do you want new mother runners to be aware of as they return to running?
What we see on social media—it’s very easy to look at other people who have a professional photographer or have the ability to take these really nice, glamorous photos of themselves and put them out there, to look at their lives and think that’s how everyone is living. You look at yourself and your messy hair and sweaty clothes and think everyone else’s life seems so great—but it’s not necessarily the case. I might show photos of my daughter smiling all the time, but at the same time she’s not always happy. She does cry, she does scream. It’s the same with running: Every one of us has our struggles and setbacks, and just because you don’t see that on social media doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
Most of my runs are with Bailey in the stroller. I don’t have someone taking my photo while I’m running, and I don’t have someone constantly praising me for running with a stroller. For those who might not get that praise on social media or feel that everyone is behind them, remember that it’s the miles you do behind the scenes and the time you put in when no one’s watching that really makes the difference when it comes to race day.