With a new baby in tow, making time for running will quite possibly be your biggest challenge, but if you make the commitment to do it, you’ll soon reap the rewards

Hailing from Boskruin in Johannesburg, 39-year-old Bonani Zuke began running four years ago as a way to lose extra weight after the birth of her daughter. From running 5km a few times a week, she slowly built up to half-marathon distances until eventually completing her first 42.2km at the Soweto Marathon in 2018 – a goal that far surpassed her initial expectations.

“When I started running it was just a case of losing weight – I always thought people who ran marathons were not normal,” she jokes. “I was just happy that I managed to finish five and 10km, this was a huge achievement for me.”

This year, Bonani has set a new goal: to improve on her first marathon time of 6:05 by running another one in a time of 5:30 or less. To help her achieve this, she’s been selected as one of Fedhealth’s Dream Chasers, a Fedhealth initiative as part of their sponsorship of the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon on the 14 and 15 September. The initiative has brought together two running coaches and a nutritionist to help six of their members – their Dream Chasers – achieve their fitness dream.

In Bonani’s case, Jo’burg-based running coach Brendan McBirnie has been helping her with a detailed running plan to get her there. He also has lots of advice for new mothers wanting to get back into running.

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Here are his top six tips for moving from post-baby recovery to being a regular runner

1. Recover first

Whether you’ve had a vaginal birth or a C-section, your body has been through a lot and needs time to recover. The more time you give it to recover, the readier it will be for you to get back into training. Make sure you get the go-ahead from your doctor too, before you start running.

2. Set a realistic goal

Running a marathon as your first goal simply isn’t realistic. Just as Bonani worked her way up to 10km and 21km distances, you should also give yourself time to get there. Besides the lack of sleep you are now dealing with, your time is no longer your own, so your training time is greatly reduced. Try not to see this as a negative, but rather a chance to set a new goal. When was the last time you raced a five kilometre race? A small goal like this can lay the foundation for racing a great marathon when you have more time.

Make sure you get the go-ahead from your doctor, before you start running

3. Develop a strong core

Through your pregnancy, your pelvic muscles will have expanded and been under an increased load. You need to get these strong again, not only to prevent conditions such as diastasis recti, but also to prevent injury elsewhere. After all, the core is central to your running movement, so weakness here can affect everything else.

4. Follow a plan

This plan should be structured and progressive. You won’t always be able to train on the same day – so rather plan to do three sessions per week, whenever you can fit them in. Keep your training mileage low but regular and frequent: particularly when you first get back into training, rather run/walk a 2km session than try to get straight back to a twice-weekly 10km run. Doing things this way will help you improve quicker and avoid injury.

5. Focus on easy running

Easy runs where you can talk and run at the same time will be strengthening your endurance energy system without breaking your body down too much. When you start running again, start with interval training such as walking for three minutes and jogging for one minute. The following week you can do two minutes of walking and two minutes of jogging and so on, until you are back into it.

6. Rest and recover!

The body repairs itself and recuperates during rest – if you place the correct training load on it. However, with a new baby you’re not getting a peaceful eight hours of sleep a night, which means recovery from exercise will take longer. Make sure you are giving yourself enough recovery time after each run.

With these six tips, you’ll be well on your way to getting fit and strong after the birth of your baby – along with a host of other benefits. “I like the feeling of self-fulfilment at the end of a race,” says Bonani. “Also, with my work keeping me at a desk all day and being stressful at times, running helps me to manage my stress levels.”

With a new baby in tow, making time for running will quite possibly be your biggest challenge, but if you make the commitment to do it, you’ll soon reap the rewards.