I had a place at 2017’s London Marathon but after getting pregnant and realising I'd be 6 months in by the time the big day rolled around, I decided that was a bit ambitious and deferred my place with the goal of getting marathon ready for 2018, roughly 9 months after giving birth.
Was it doable? Possibly.
I ran pretty comfortably during pregnancy up to about 5 months. I was fortunate not to have bad sickness and fatigue at the start, and raced a season of cross country and completed half marathon without losing too much pace. However not long after my body rejected running entirely I had no energy in my muscles, or oxygen in my lungs and I could barely go for more than a minute at a time. I’d already started to get pain in the pelvis area, but had so far been able to run through this. Alongside running I was still doing strength and conditioning, yoga and walking as much as I could but also noticed that my belly was coming to a point when doing certain exercises and after some googling realised my abdominal muscles were already beginning to tear. I wanted to continue to exercise as much as I could for both physical and mental well being, and knew this was safe for the baby, but didn’t want to put myself at risk of further injury or discomfort or permanent damage.
I'd been going to FIX for massage and physio throughout past marathon training so they were my first port of call to see if there was any way I could continue running. Sam the osteopath diagnosed Pelvic Girdle Pain due to the hormone relaxin making my ligaments looser and pelvis more unstable, as well Diastasis Recti.
We made some simple adjustments to make things more manageable and I continued exercising regularly but moderately. I knew plenty of mums that had ran the whole way through pregnancy, and being fit arrogantly thought that could be me, but pregnancy affects everyone differently and my time was up.
When daydreaming about the marathon before giving birth, I hadn't factored in an emergency cesarean, and how returning to running may be delayed further. My c-section recovery took longer than I thought and it was weeks until I could even walk comfortably.
Under the advice and training of Alice Sims (teacher of Pelvic Floor Galore classes at FIX), I started doing exercises to gently help strengthen and repair my abdominal muscles and then started running around 9 weeks after giving birth. My first time out was a slow 1 mile run / walk but I was ecstatic just to be able to run again. I built it up, running a couple of times a week, and ran my first 5km at my local Parkrun at 12 weeks (creeping in just under 30 minutes).
6 months to go until marathon, I knew building up the mileage was most important and had the aim of getting to 10 miles by the end of the year ready to start training properly in January.
For the first two months of the year my boyfriend took shared parental leave and we went travelling with the baby. We spent the first 3 weeks hiking on El Hierro in the Canaries, and 5 weeks backpacking around South Africa. Neil was also training for the marathon so we made running a big part of the trip. El Hierro is basically an old volcanic crater and thus finding anywhere flat to run for longer runs was a real challenge, but we’d analyse elevation on all hiking paths, run down every street in small villages and do family speed sessions along the port harbour wall. And where it wasn’t possible, the long mountainous hikes kept me fit and strengthened my legs.
In South Africa we did Parkrun in nearly every city we were in, sometimes puncturing every wheel on the buggy on an off road course! Although we had lots of time to run, conditions in South Africa were certainly non optimal, and my level of dedication to find ways to get out was greater than any other training I had done. It was often over 30 degrees which meant plenty of very early starts to avoid the heat (sometimes 6am, so a 4am wake-up for breakfast). Again it was rarely flat, and some places not safe to run alone so we had to do lots of asking around, or planning to be in safe or flat areas for long runs.
However the hills and the heat all made for good training, plus all the hiking, YouTube yoga and baby carrying improved my fitness quickly. When I returned to London (to Arctic conditions) I started using a running buggy and continued my training following a slightly more traditional plan, trying to run about 5 times a week. I continued doing mum and baby yoga and Strong Mother classes at Fieldworks. I was fit, injury free (despite little stretching or rolling) and soon realised I was almost in marathon PB shape.
Five weeks before the marathon I ran our club’s 20 mile Championship race (8 figure of 8 laps round Victoria Park on one of the coldest days of the year) and despite a good run where I sped up for the final 3 miles, when I finished my knee had totally gone, hurting to walk on and getting shooting pains when walking down the stairs.
I had a massage booked at FIX anyway for after this run and the massage therapist noted my extremely tight quads and hip flexor. However when I still failed to put pressure on the knee when attempting a jog, I returned to FIX seeing Paddy Joyce another Osteopath, who treated my patellofemoral pain with a mix of manipulation, massage and dry needling and we discussed why it had happened and what I could do to avoid it continuing. Pain improved but I had to take 2 weeks off running at a really crucial time in training and missing my final long run. I feared my marathon dream might be over, but Paddy was confident that the pain would go and I should be able to run enough beforehand to get round on the day.
The week before the marathon was not ideal prep. Our son Nico had developed a fever, cold and cough, as well as teething. His sleep became worse than it was already, and he was waking every 1-2 hours at night all week. I was more exhausted and mentally drained than I had been all motherhood. He also had a bad fall and we ended up visiting A&E three times that week (he was fine, all precautionary!) including the afternoon before the race. I developed his cold the day before the big day, and with the forecast predicting the hottest London Marathon on record, I couldn’t decide whether attempting it was bravery or complete stupidity. However my final leg loosener run had been completely knee pain free, and unlike nearly everyone else, we’d had some training in the heat so I still had a smidgen of optimism left. And I had endured a 42 hour labour, a feat of endurance where you don’t know where the finish line is, so surely this marathon was doable.
Logistics of race morning are somewhat more complex with a baby - especially one that doesn't take a bottle, eat solids really or drink water, so my parents had to accompany me to the start area, where I fed him in the queue as late as possible, before doing my last minute prep.
My aim was 3.40, and I decided I’d give it a go, which meant running around 8.20 minute mile pace. However I planned to take the first mile a bit slower and see how I felt, and give myself time to catch up if need be. It only took a couple of miles in the heat to realise going any quicker would be really hard work and I didn’t want to burn out, so gave up looking at the watch and decided to see how I felt at 6 miles, 10 miles, half way, 20, 22. And by doing so I enjoyed a marathon for the first time, smiling, waving, cheering, actually noting the landmarks, dousing myself in water to keep cool. Only at 25 miles did I realise I was close to another ‘good for age’ qualifying time and started to speed up very slightly, but it was out of reach and I really didn’t care.
I finished in 3 hours 47, in a relatively comfortable run, with my second half only 7 seconds slower than my first. And as soon as I walked through the finish line, Nico’s arms were opened wide to greet me - it was time to feed to again.
Vicky Fabbri, 39, Mother of a 9 month old.
Marathon PB 3:34
More to come.