On 10 July 2021 Laura Podger completed Race to the Stones 100km ultra in just over 16 hours, 5 months after giving birth to her daughter. She used her maternity leave to train for the ultramarathon.
Laura is a mum of two, to a 4 year old and 6 month old and a huge advocate for remaining active, mainly through her running, during pregnancy and postpartum.
“I am really passionate about empowering other women, especially new mums and demonstrating that we can do so much more than we often think,” says Laura.
"Sophie Power helped me realise it was possible"
Laura even breastfed her baby daughter while running the ultramarathon!
“My daughter refused to feed from a bottle so rather than pull out after months of training, and have to pay a deferral fee to the event organisers, I decided to arrange to meet my partner every 10 miles so I could breastfeed her.
“This is mainly thanks to Sophie Power, as that iconic picture of her and her son back in 2018 made me realise it was possible. While this resulted in a much slower finish time than I had hoped, I am so happy to have completed the 62 miles so soon after birth.”
Laura ran the marathon to raise money for the Kit Tarka Foundation – a charity which prevents newborn deaths. “I wasn't going to run for a charity when I first signed up but a very close friend lost her son at only 8 days old, the day before my daughter was born. It was certainly that, along with my stubbornness, which enabled me to complete the 100km.”
She posted a picture from the event on the Facebook page 'Run Mummy Run' and received so much positive feedback. “The comments which touched me the most were those telling me that I had inspired and encouraged them to get back to running.”
Laura goes on to explain that’s her main goal, “I want to demonstrate and prove to others that having a baby does not prevent you from exercising, whether that be running, gentle yoga or playing netball. There is simply not enough information or support out there for returning to exercise, in particular running, postpartum.
“I appreciate running an ultramarathon is the extreme but if I can encourage, inspire and empower just one mum to fit in some exercise postpartum safely, I would be happy."
What we can do with maternity leave
So just how does Laura juggle a training regime, a toddler and a newborn?
“I know how tiring being a mum and trying to fit in exercise can be. I returned to work as a single mum, to complete my training to qualify as a lawyer, when my first child was just 5 months old. I want other mums to know that it is possible.
“There are so many ways to make exercise part of our everyday lives. Instead of jumping in the car to get some milk or travelling to work, jump on your bike or put on those trainers. I know people say they don’t have time but it is possible to make time, not always, but a lot of the time.
“A lot of my training included buggy running so I could feed my daughter, and it meant I could go out while my partner was at work and my son at nursery. On longer runs my partner would meet me at points, again so I could feed her.”
As well as running, Laura used some classes to supplement her training. “I enrolled on a sweaty mamas class once a week – a fitness class which involves baby, usually wearing them in baby carriers which makes things a bit more of a challenge (great for your core) and I watched live work outs and listened to advice from a wonderful pregnancy and postpartum fitness instructor, Mamawell, who posts all live workouts and advice on Instagram. Plus the 6 sessions of sweaty mamas' classes cost £40, proving that getting back to fitness doesn't always have to break the bank!
Laura first got into running after leaving dance school at around 20 years old. “Running has helped me through so much – it allows me to destress and I guess is my therapy.
“I am a normal person, with a normal job and try to make running part of my everyday life as it makes me feel so much better and makes me a better mummy. I guess I just want others to know it is possible and to highlight the need for more advice to be available to mums to help them return to exercise safely.”
While she didn't expect to be able to return to running so soon after having her daughter, Laura listened to her body. “It took me longer with my son, but I was lucky enough to feel ready after only a few weeks and I just built it up slowly and sensibly from there.
“I think it’s important that every woman realises that each of our bodies and each pregnancy and each birth is different – just because one person is ready after a few weeks, it doesn't mean they will be.”
Laura’s top tips for pregnancy and postpartum fitness
If Laura’s story has inspired you to get out running with the buggy, or try out those Instagram workouts you keep scrolling past, here are her 5 top tips…
Keeping fit during pregnancy and post-partum doesn't have to break the bank. Running or walking is great for fitness, plus there’s so much fitness content on Instagram, YouTube and more.
We all know the benefits of being fit and healthy for our mental health and we shouldn't forget that just because we are pregnant or have recently had a baby. Particularly when baby is still very young, just getting outside for a walk can make the world of difference.
Incorporate exercise into daily life – I walk my son to school every day and run to the shop rather than drive.
Listen to medical advice and make sure that if you have any concerns at your 6 week check you discuss these with your GP – they’ll be able to offer you more tailored advice than what’s covered by the routine check up.
Be proud of what your bodies have already achieved, and have more confidence in it and yourself, especially when it comes to returning to exercise. You know your body best, listen to it.