Dr. Mom Approaches Running with Humour, Flexibility

As Told To: Tania Haas
Published October 15, 2009

Toronto-based chiropractor and new mom, Clara Leung, will be running in this Sunday’s Toronto Half-Marathon. Woman.ca asked Clara a few questions about how motherhood has changed her perspectives on training. We also asked Clara to give our readers some tips on how we can make running a part of our regular fitness regime.

As a running coach and a chiropractor, do you have any tips for first time half-marathoners?
Find a training program that suits your level of experience

  • Twenty-one kilometers is no small feat and you need to have a good ‘base’ before building. If you are comfortable running 10 km, you are probably ready to increase your mileage. If you have never run more than 5 km before, perhaps you should train for a 10k race first and see how you feel with that distance. The most common reason for injuries to occur is overtraining, which happens when you try to ramp up too quickly and your body can’t keep up with the demands.

Listen to your body

  • If a component of your training is causing pain, for example hill runs or the long runs, don’t complete it just because your calendar says so. Modify and adapt as you go – this includes changing your goal from a full marathon to a half marathon!

Don’t ignore your pain

  • Too many runners hope that a pain will go away on its own and don’t seek help. Sometimes it does go away without treatment, but often it will just get worse as the intensity of your training increases. Also, if you find yourself taking painkillers before and after each run, chances are you’re in denial!

What kind of tips did you tell yourself as you eased back into running gear and running shoes, while taking care of a newborn and a new type of lifestyle? Was this a difficult transition?

  • I constantly reminded myself that my body has gone through some major changes and that my level of fitness will not be the same. I needed this reminder so that I wouldn’t get discouraged if my progress was slower than pre-baby days. Sure, it was a difficult particularly trying to find the time and energy to run. If it’s been a sleepless night, the last thing I want to do is strap on my two sports bras (that’s right, these lactating breasts require two bras now!) and hit the pavement. And I wasn’t too hard on myself if I chose to have a nap instead of going for a run. When your body is fatigued you are more prone to injuries. I’m really lucky to have a supportive husband and parents that are more than happy to spend a few hours with their grandson while I go for a run.

What’s it like getting back to running after having a baby?

  • I was pleasantly surprised to find my motivation for running had changed. In the past, I would run in order to stay in shape, fit into my clothes, and manage stress. All of those things still apply but my biggest motivator is my son. I want to be healthy and strong so that I can care for him as best as I can and live a long, healthy life. My husband and I really try to live healthy lives and I want to be a good example to my son. Oh, and I’m chafing in areas that I never had before!

What do you like most about running in half-marathons? Why do YOU do it?

  • I have run half marathons, full marathons and triathlons before, but it has been several years. I’m looking forward to crossing that finish line and see the flashing words in my head, “I DID IT!” During long runs I often picture my son’s little face and I can feel my pace pick up, so I definitely hope the boys will be there! As for rituals, I hydrate for several days before, get to sleep early, and on race day wake up early so that I can have some breakfast, a bit of coffee and the necessary trip to the bathroom – y’all know what I’m talking about!

Anything else you’d like to mention?

  • My favourite people to coach are always beginners. Usually they don’t think they’ll be able to do it, and often in the beginning they can’t complete a 10 minute run without gasping for air. But the beginning is always the hardest, and if you stick with it for a few weeks and believe that it will get easier, you can surprise yourself. My mom started to jog a few years ago and was discouraged by how hard it was and by her lack of progress so she stopped after a couple of weeks. Last spring she wanted to try again and stuck with it for longer and each week she added one more block in the neighbourhood. She’s now running an hour and a half, sprinting up hills (practically leaving me in the dust!) and she just turned 61 years old. She inspires me more than any Ironman athlete.

Dr. Clara Leung practices in downtown Toronto in a multi-disciplinary Sports Medicine practice. She provides treatment for professional and recreational athletes. She volunteers as an IronDoc at the Ironman Triathlon races around North America. To get in touch with Clara, e-mail her at cl@claraleung.com.