Sam Murray: Running Through Pregnancy and Beyond
Sam Murray is Vitality's Performance Champion. She is an Olympic Medalist and World Champion in Modern Pentathlon. She took home a Silver Medal during the 2012 Olympics and is a huge champion of female sport and empowerment…and 9 months ago, she became a mum!
Sam talks about her own experiences of running through pregnancy and beyond; how she felt about the changes in her body, when she knew she had to slow down, the effects motherhood has had on her running ability (and her enjoyment of running) and how she’s getting on 9 months on!
Running has been my go to exercise for as long as I can remember. I started training at my local athletics club aged 12 onwards. The 1500m and cross-country races were my events. It has been my passion but also my emotional crutch. A run always helps me to de-stress, process my thoughts and gain balance regardless of what is going on in life at the time. I retired from elite sport in winter 2018 but continued to run for the appreciation of clocking up the miles along the canal tow path, meeting friends for a jog and a natter and also keeping in touch with some of my favourite workout sessions.
My approach to running through pregnancy
Pregnancy and running isn’t something I’d ever thought much about. But on realising that things were going to change drastically when I became pregnant I decided to try and understand how to support my and the babies health through the 9 months. I remember from the 6 week mark: sickness, nausea and the reality of ‘oh s***, I am actually going to be a Mum.’ I managed a few jogs but nothing much as I was so nauseous until 16 weeks. Then it fizzled out and I felt okay entering the blissful second trimester. Except, looking down at my rapidly growing bump I knew that I needed to adapt my exercise plans if I wanted to keep moving, and moving safely.
My go to for health advice is the NHS website. I find it pretty handy and a trustworthy reference for any condition. There I read about pelvic health and alongside staying physically active and eating well, the importance of taking care of my pelvic floor throughout pregnancy and in the postnatal period. The Squeezy App became my most used app as it pinged away the 3 reminders each day. I followed it diligently and so the process of stopping at 9AM, midday and 3PM to clench and relax my pelvic floor just became part of my daily routine. I also checked in with a Pelvic Health Physio and had a screening. This was the best thing I did. She was excellent and gave me lots of advice on how to get back to normal postpartum.
Running hit a no go mark at 22 weeks. I put my trainers on, headed out for a little lunchtime jog only to find that my balance had totally gone. It felt as though the floor was moving under my feet. I have always listened to my body. It has served me so well and I know to respect when to stop and when to leave it for another day. I walked back home and accepted that running would be on hold for a while. It was sad and I genuinely missed running so much. It was probably the hardest ‘not to have’ of my pregnancy experience.
I knew it was important for me to keep moving though - for my physical health, but also for my mental health too - so I signed up for aqua aerobics ( and loved it) and kept walking everyday. I would aim for a 45 minutes power walk each day. This helped my mood, muscle tone and also my babies position during pregnancy.
As the months passed by I became bigger and bigger. The 40 week mark came and went and, in the most discomfort of my life, I found myself 42 weeks and 3 days pregnant. Yes, I did google ‘what is the longest pregnancy ever recorded?’ and shuddered on reading about a lady in India who went to 15 months. Despite the wait, my healthy baby girl arrived on 27th January 2021. The moment of holding her in my arms dissolved everything else and filled my heart with love and joy. Everything felt different with my body but I trusted the healing process. A few days rest and I was ready to get outdoors and enjoy a walk with my pram: what a lovely feeling! Each day I would walk in the afternoon from 20 to 60 minutes depending on how I felt. I also resumed using the Squeeze App.
My journey back to running
At 4 months postpartum, I decided to give some fitness training a go and signed up for a HiiT class. Oh dear: jump squats, burpees and crunches… I was so not ready for this level of intensity. I felt very heavy and each movement was a real struggle. I found it a bit worrying but took it as a sign to just keep walking, some light yoga and enjoy the process of early motherhood. At 5 months postpartum I tried a run - and it was a similar feeling to aqua jogging a.k.a hard work! We moved house in the month that followed so my energy was spent elsewhere.Then at 7 months postpartum, I dropped my baby into the creche at my gym and went outdoors for a run. I just had that ‘I want to run’ feeling. I was back. How? I just don’t know. But I enjoyed the feeling of being outdoors and moving my body in a more familiar way again. I could tell my fitness had dropped - but after growing a baby for 9 months and then taking time to recover this was unsurprising. I remember feeling so grateful and felt in awe of what my body had achieved. All I needed was extra time to heal.
As the weeks tick by, I have found life with a baby gets gradually easier; the sleep, the routine, the dependance on Mummy and the energy needed to survive! I did find some moments to care for myself, just bits of time here and there. A nice hot bath with a glass of wine or a meal out with friends. I joined a gym with a creche and also organised 30 minutes each day where my husband would take over and I could have a break. Emotionally it has been, at times, quite isolating. The sleep deprived stage was just so tough.
We are now approaching 9 months old. Physically I feel in a good place - I’ve joined a class based gym and aim to make 2 classes per week. I’m also enjoying my running and covering around 10km comfortably. I would like to run for longer but I just do not have the time in the day. I don’t compare my times or feeling to the pre baby days. I just enjoy the opportunity to run and immerse myself in the moment.