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Hilary Stellingwerff on her training post-pregnancy and the 2015 season

Canada's Hilary Stellingwerff running in the 1500m heats at the London 2012 Olympics. Photo: tompagenet.
Canada’s Hilary Stellingwerff running in the 1500m heats at the London 2012 Olympics. Photo: tompagenet.

Canadian 1,500m Olympian Hilary Stellingwerff won her first race back after giving birth to her first child eights months ago. She finished the Synergy Health Management Ltd Bazan Bay 5K in 16:26, a time that ties her road 5K best.

We caught up with Stellingwerff to ask about how her training during and post-pregnancy went and where her 2015 season is headed.

Canadian Running: Did you expect to come back fit enough to win road races?

Hilary Stellingwerff: I wasn’t thinking about the win per se. I just wanted a good, hard effort and was aiming for around 16:40 pace based on workouts. It was nice to run a bit quicker and get the win but there’s still work to be done. I wouldn’t be winning Carlsbad or NYC 5K with that time!

CR: How late in your pregnancy were you training? What did you consider in deciding?

HS: My last blog outlines my specific run training through pregnancy, but in a nutshell I ran until nearly the end, but it was more walk-running after about 35 weeks.

CR: How long did you wait to return to training after giving birth?

HS: I waited about six weeks to start walk-running. I basically started back how I ended off, but in reverse: building back from walks to walk-runs to running, then I started doing workouts in about November, about four months post-pregnancy.

CR: What surprised you the most returning to training after pregnancy?

HS: Immediately after, I couldn’t believe how hard it was to start running after about two months of lost fitness. I’ve never been so unfit. It gave me a lot of respect for people who take up running from square one. But I will say, I was also really surprised at how quickly my fitness returned once my body adjusted to training. I guess 20 years of training isn’t lost in just a few months!

CR: What was most different when you returned to training?

HS: My body was a lot more lax at first so my joints and hips were very unstable and I had to get in the gym and work very hard on core and hip stability. From a psychological standpoint, my perspective on training has really changed. I appreciate it a lot more because it has become more of a balance in my life, just as I appreciate coming home to my son when I’ve been away training. My ideal performance state has also become a lot more fluid – I don’t get so hung up on getting the perfect amount of sleep or the perfect prep leading into a workout. I have realized I can still perform well under less-than-ideal conditions, which is really important come race time when you run into things out of your control and you just have to roll with it.

CR: What are some suggestions you would give to other new mothers returning to exercise? Is there anything you wish someone had told you?

HS: Take the time to work on your core and hip stability before worrying about trying to run too much. That was advice I did receive and it helped me a lot. Other mom-runners did tell me that fitness comes back quickly but when you’re in it, it’s hard to believe. Patience is key. I was pretty relaxed with training until I started getting more sleep. Two things we did with Theo (our son) that I think were crucial to my return to training were: 1) got him used to staying with different caretakers at a young age. We started with a good babysitter when he was two-and-a-half months for short periods of time so I could train; 2) getting him into a routine pretty early so he developed good sleep habits and now sleeps 11-12 hours a night.

CR: What kinds of racing plans do you have this summer?

HS: I’m aiming to qualify for Pan Ams so I need to just run as fast as possible and hope that puts me in the top two for the team. That’s as far as we’re planning right now because I have to see how I’m doing as the season progresses. I don’t want to burn myself out leading into next year because Rio is the main focus of my return to racing post-pregnancy.