Marathon Training With A Nursling In Tow

As I mentioned last time, my friend Jen Elefson is a major inspiration for me for a number of reasons. The biggest is that she trained for and completed a marathon six months after the birth of her daughter…in Alaska.

Prior to moving to Anchorage, she’d been living in Portland, Oregon. After retiring from a competitive rugby career, she began running with her co-workers and while she had never considered herself a runner before, Jen loved the efficiency of running and the way it helped her drop excess muscle and bulk she’d built up playing rugby for so many years.

She slowly shifted her mindset from defining a workout as sprints and Olympic lifts to running trails and logging miles. When she learned she was pregnant with Mattie, her running buddies were the first people to know since she had to adjust her pace. Jen spent her pregnancy running, spinning on the bike, and training with a masters swim team.

Within a few weeks of giving birth, she itched to move and started doing body-weight exercises at home. One day, before her postpartum checkup, she even went for a 1.5 mile run because she felt up to it. But quick jogs are one thing–marathon training with a nursling who sleeps poorly is another thing entirely.

Jen with bundled baby

Jen and two-month-old Mattie snowshoeing for cross-training

“We moved to Alaska when I was six months pregnant and knew we’d only be there a year for my husband’s job. Frank decided to run a marathon in mid-June and suggested I do a half. Well, I wasn’t about to let him out-do me,” says Jen, always the competitive athlete.

Mattie was born in December, so Jen was training in Alaska in winter.

“You just deal with snow and ice in Alaska,” she says. “I put Yak Trax on my shoes and we ran the coastal trail.”

As for baby Mattie, she came with them in the jogging stroller.

The secret was to make training a family effort. Jen says, “We split the long runs. Frank would run 7 miles alone while Mattie was napping. As soon as she woke up, I’d nurse her and we’d meet at a certain point on the trail and we’d run 7 miles together. Then, he’d take her home while I finished up. We made it work.”

Jen says having the stroller along actually made training more convenient because they had a place to stash water and food.

“Physically, I just metled away. Between marathon training and nursing, I lost over 20 pounds,” she says, “But the nursing was stressful.”

Jen, who works from home doing instructional design, hadn’t made much use of her breast pump. She’d pumped a few bottles so her husband could do a few night feedings, but Mattie wouldn’t take a bottle. As the marathon approached, Jen knew she’d have to figure out a solution for Mattie and for her milk supply during the race itself.

A friend had agreed to watch Mattie during the marathon and Jen scraped together a bag of milk, plus Mattie had begun eating some solids. “Race day was the first time I left her! It was so stressful!” Jen worried about her milk and had estimated she’d run a 4:20 marathon. She planned to send her brother to go pick up Mattie so she could nurse her right away.

“I ended up running with Frank, and he’s a bit slower than me. So it took 4:40 instead.

All I kept thinking was, ‘Mama’s coming, Mattie! I’m coming for you!’ I was delirious.”

Jen doesn’t remember feeling engorged during or after the race, but she says the actual race was the most stressful part of marathoning while nursing. Since Mattie was right with her in the jogger during her training sessions, she always knew she could stop along the trail if she needed.

As for the exhaustion (which is the excuse I give myself for not working out), Jen says, “Working out is just something that I do. It’s just a part of who I am. Exercise always been my saving grace. Since the marathon was my goal, I just did it. It’s hard to articulate how I make this happen.”

Some days, Jen says she fights with herself about working out when the alarm goes off before her children wake up. On the days she gives in to sleep, she says, “I feel mad at myself the whole day. Mornings are my only opportunity to exercise, to take that time for myself. So I do it.”

So it is with Jen in mind that I┬ábegan running again this December. I look at the snow outside and think about not doing it. And then I remember her with her Yak Trax in Alaska, pushing a baby stroller along the coastal trail, and I drag my bag for a 20-minute jog around my paved block. I find the will to do it because I know she did it before me. So far, two weeks in, it’s felt pretty great!

Who or what inspired you to get moving again when your nursling was born? Leave a comment to share your experience.

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