Meet the runner - Morag Millar
If you’ve been a runner for any length of time in Scotland, you’ll know Morag Millar. I was fairly competitive club runner for Edinburgh AC from 2012-2015, but Morag was always in another league, finishing out of sight in front of me! She has competed for Scotland and Britain at the 2006 Commonwealth Games on the track and at the European Championships on the track and in cross-country. Morag has been consistently at the front of the field in cross-country, track and road in Scotland over the last 15 years. She is arguably one of the most talented athletes in Scotland but has been incredibly unlucky with injuries over the years.
During the day she works as a dentist and owns her own business, Rejuvenation Facial Aesthetics (https://www.facebook.com/rejuvenationfacialaesthetics), @rejuvenationfacialaesthetics on Instagram, where she provides aesthetic treatments such as wrinkle smoothing treatments, fillers and skin treatments. More recently she’s become a mum to Mollie. Morag has been posting about her pregnancy and post-natal journey on her Instagram feed (@moragmmillar)– the information there is great, and I’ve referred a few friends there who are pregnant or thinking about getting back into running after giving birth.
Photo - Bobby Gavin
I live in Stirling with my husband, Lewis, and our daughter Mollie, who is 9 months old this week. We also have two furballs - two cats, Millie and Poppy. We love where we live. It’s not too big and we live close to lots of beautiful countryside and running routes. I work as a part-time dentist and I’m also helping out with vaccinations at the minute, so I’m pretty busy. We’re so lucky with childcare in that both sets of grandparents are great - they help us out loads – which enables us to work and train (Lewis is a key worker too - he works as a construction site manager).
I don’t have a coach. I mainly self-coach with quite a bit of input from Lewis. He keeps me right! I have a wee weekly training routine that works for me. Because my work is really busy and intense, I keep it easy on Mondays and Fridays. I normally just do a 5mile easy before work or sometimes I have a rest day on a Friday instead. On Tuesdays I usually do an easy 5 miles in the morning and a session in the evening, on Wednesdays normally I’d run 5 miles in the morning and I’m currently building up the miles in the evening from 5 to 7 miles. On a Thursday I normally run 5 miles in the morning and try to fit in a tempo run in the evening. On a Saturday I do a session (repetitions) and I have sometimes fitted in an easy run too but we’re trying to keep an eye on the mileage, so I don’t do too much. Sundays are for the long Sunday run!
My first ever coach was Derek Easton and I’ve always run for Central AC. He’s been really key in my running career and my development. He was really great when I was a junior at making sure I didn’t train too hard. I’ve always been able to be confident that I have scope to increase the intensity and volume of my training as a senior while being confident in the knowledge that I wasn’t overtrained as a junior despite the success I had. I still join in with Derek’s group sessions sometimes as training with a group is very important for me and really helps me to get the best out of myself. He’s been a really important person for my running.
My training has changed over the years. At one stage I was coached by Liz Mc Colgan and I trained really hard under her. These days I don’t do so many intense sessions during the week as I did then. Lewis is really good at reining me in and ensuring that I don’t beast myself in every session.
We’ve been really lucky with the timing of having our daughter. Obviously, no one knew COVID was coming and parts of it have been really hard. I feel really lucky about how little racing that I’ve missed and how much quality time we’ve had together as a family. One of the hardest times during the first lockdown was when I was readmitted due to complications after the birth and I took Mollie in with me so that I could keep on breastfeeding, but Lewis couldn’t come into the hospital to see us at all.
The training I like the least is probably the training that is most beneficial for me. I find tempo runs and long runs hard, so I don’t like those, but even a few weeks of those under my belt and my fitness improves a lot. Otherwise, it’s a pretty standard training week. I don’t do any strength and conditioning at the moment. When we moved to Stirling that was one of my aims, to go to the gym more regularly. I used to do a couple of gym sessions a week a few years ago when I was at my fittest, but I haven’t managed that recently. That’s one area I’d like to work on. I fell and hurt my knee quite badly recently. I’ve not been able to run for 5 weeks, so I’ve been icing it regularly and getting some treatment. While it’s healing, I’ve been trying to cross train, but it’s harder now as I have to try and keep Mollie occupied while trying to crosstrain by supplying her with snacks and Cocomelon (a kids programme on Netflix which she loves) on my phone.
Biomechanically found it fairly easy to run during pregnancy. Sometimes I’d have one problem but after a couple of weeks that issue would go and something else would appear. One of the toughest things to deal with was the breathlessness - it was pretty extreme from before we even realised I was pregnant. Initially I didn’t know what was wrong with me and I was a bit concerned, so it was a relief to discover the reason. This made it hard to run even before I started to get bigger, and I actually lost weight initially due to pregnancy sickness (not morning sickness as it lasted most of the day!). In the first trimester I suffered with a bit of pelvic pain and was really tired, so I ran only once a day and cut the volume down. I didn’t do any sessions either when I was pregnant. In my second trimester I got some sacro-iliac joint pain which was really sore, so I had to stop running for a little while. In my third trimester I had some more pelvic pain, but I was able to run up to 3 days before Mollie’s due date. In the end she was 11 days late, so I didn’t run 2 weeks before the birth. By that stage the pelvic pain was worse, and I had to use a heated wheat bag to ease the discomfort as it ached after I stopped running. I stopped when it just didn’t seem worth it. I also felt like I had a sudden urgency to pee but then I didn’t need to – it must have been Mollie and my uterus on top of my bladder. It was actually was worse and more painful than the pelvic pain, and sometimes on bad days I’d have to stop on every 200m or so! Lewis still liked to run with me as he said they were our first family runs which was really sweet, and he was so patient with me which I really appreciated.
After I stopped running in the last two weeks, I cross trained up until my contractions started. I ended up having contractions for 5 days which was pretty horrendous. My contractions started on the Saturday and Mollie arrived on the Thursday.
I didn’t have a training routine when I was pregnant. I felt I couldn’t plan in advance as every day was so different. The only time in the week I’d run a bit faster was at a Parkrun on a Saturday morning, although I did run a couple of virtual races later in lockdown and ended up running an 18.26 for 5km when I was 8 months pregnant which surprised me. Sometimes I’d wake up and feel awful, so I felt there was no point having a plan as I just had to play it by ear. Some days you’d feel ok. At the start I’d push to get to five miles and by the end I was running three miles on alternate days.
Although I found it ok running during my pregnancy, I was perhaps a bit complacent about the effects of labour and the post-natal period. I’m quite good at listening to my body and before giving birth my body felt fine overall. After birth, my body did not feel fine! Labour is very traumatic and even if you have an uncomplicated delivery you really need to give yourself time to recover.
My delivery was very difficult. Mollie was back-to-back and we’d had to go for extra growth scans throughout the pregnancy because they thought she was small. She was not small though; She was 8 pounds and 3 ounces! My mum, who is a GP, said she didn’t think she was small when I was pregnant, it was just that I was all baby. She guessed she’d be high 7 or low 8 pounds and she ended up being right - mums are always right after all eh?!
During the delivery Mollie was stuck, so the obstetric consultant had to use a Ventouse (suction cup) to pull Mollie out - there was a lot of pulling side-to-side and a lot of tearing and stretching of my pelvic floor muscles. I had a para-vaginal (beside the vagina) haematoma. After we went home, I was shuffling round the house and I didn’t realise that the feeling wasn’t normal. The community midwife came to visit, and when she saw me go up the stairs, in a lot of pain, she was a bit concerned. That day and the next I was in agony, crying and screaming. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt. I was readmitted to hospital and it turned out that the haematoma had become significant bigger and was pulling on my episiotomy (a cut that is sometimes made to prevent tearing from happening) stitches and had become infected. I was given IV antibiotics and had to spend a couple of nights in hospital. It settled over the next few weeks, but the haematoma definitely made the healing process a lot longer.
When my midwife came to visit, she said she had heard about Mollie’s birth as the midwives had been talking about it in the department as it’s very unusual to deliver a baby that’s in the back-to-back position vaginally. She said she wish she’d been able to see it for experience as she’d never seen one delivered herself. When the obstetrician came in, she really put me at ease. They were going to take me to theatre initially, but then something changed as I don’t think the theatre was available. I had wanted to avoid a caesarean at all costs and tried so hard to push Mollie out. Initially I was glad I didn’t need a caesarean, but it did cause a lot of pelvic floor trauma and there was a long time afterwards where I wished I’d had one. At the time I was really keen to avoid it, but the recovery has been challenging.
How you recover is so dependent on the type of labour that you have. I would really recommend that women go and see a pelvic health physiotherapist from 6 weeks. You can start your pelvic floor exercises straight away – it’s a myth that you have to wait. The physiotherapist can do an internal exam to check that you’re doing your pelvic floor exercises properly at the 6-week point. The recommendations are that you don’t start running until after 12 weeks. When I started to run again, I knew something wasn’t right – I felt like my insides were going to fall out – and I knew I needed to see someone. Even walking didn’t feel right. Loads of women don’t know pelvic health physiotherapists exist – in France it’s routine but in the UK that’s not the case. You can get access via the NHS, but I paid to see someone privately.
As part of my physiotherapy treatment, I also had shockwave therapy to help to treat the haematoma directly and also to treat some bony oedema around my pelvis. I have a fabulous practitioner who treats me with shockwave - she is a godsend for me! The bony oedema inhibits the ability of your pelvic floor muscles to contract so that was also a big factor for me. I feel really fortunate that I have someone who could help.
I was religious with my pelvic floor exercises and eventually got the OK to run at 15 weeks. I didn’t feel totally ready, but I started with 1 mile, then a day off, then 2 miles etc. I built it up really slowly. The physiotherapist made sure I was concentrating on quality of contractions over quantity – that was really important in my recovery. Before I ran, I was able to do some training on the elliptical trainer as there was no impact and felt fine.
Once I had upped my mileage, I started doing sessions again, around 5 months after birth. When I first started to run hard and especially when I was tired, I would leak urine. I found this really difficult to deal with mentally. As I’ve kept up with my pelvic floor exercises it’s really improved, and now it’s nearly resolved. It’s really important to me that I have bladder control and that I get back to having a body that functions as close to pre-pregnancy as possible. I discovered a few weeks ago that I have diastasis recti (when the stomach muscles separate) so I have to rehab that too. During pregnancy I always thought I’d want to get my pre-pregnancy body back to how it looked before, but to be honest after all of the struggles postnatally, if it functions normally, I’d take that over how it looks.
I’m not sure if running helped me with labour. The obstetrician commented that I seemed really fit and that my pelvic muscles were tight which obviously didn’t help with Mollie coming out. At the same time, it was mostly her position that was the problem and was just one of those things.
Until recently, when I fell and hurt my knee, things had been going really well. Coming back after pregnancy, and also with the lockdowns, there has been less pressure. Now that I’ve had 5 weeks out with my knee, I’m keen to get back up to running 70 miles a week again, but that will take several weeks to build back up to that - probably another 5 weeks at least, so 10 weeks in total from a simple fall when running at speed. Lewis has been trying to convince me that the fall wasn’t a bad thing as it gave my body a little break again - I’m not so sure!
One of my main aims has been to get fitter and faster but also to have my body feel good again. Having a strong pelvic floor and not leaking has been key to that. I ran a 5km race back in November where I ran faster than I thought, and I also didn’t leak. I was buzzing about that.
Being pregnant and giving birth has given me more respect for my body. I carried a human and breastfed solely until 3 months and combination fed until 5 months. I didn’t previously like how my body looked. I’ve come to appreciate my body a lot more now. I’d always felt like one of the bigger girls as lots of my competitors were thinner and I used to hate that. I think now I’ve got a much healthier relationship with my body.
My favourite distance is probably 5km. It’s a perfect mix of endurance and speed. I’ve still got a bit of work to do in the 10km too. My memories of 1500m are a bit tarnished in that I didn’t achieve what I was capable of. Over the years I’ve been fairly injury prone but more recently I feel like I’ve got a better balance.
I take a ferrous sulphate supplement as I’ve had tendency to become anaemic in the past due to iron deficiency. I also take Vitamin D because I think it’s really important for your immune system and for recovery.
My favourite place to run is Aviemore. I love Scotland and we live in such a beautiful country. Lewis and I have had great holidays there and I’m not a big fan of heat, so holidays in Scotland are great.
I have a two running highlights. The first is winning the 1500m title at the European Junior Championship in 2005. I thought I was going to kick on to bigger and better things, but injuries stopped that. The other is winning the National Cross-Country Championships in Scotland in 2017. I was the fittest I’ve ever been, and to have my family and Lewis there watching made it very special.
My favourite domestic races are probably those where I’ve had my best results - Callander Park for the National cross-country and the National 5km Road Race Championships at Silverknowles.
My worst performance was probably at the Inter-county championships at Loughborough in 2017. It was a couple of weeks after I had won the Nationals. I had a nightmare of a run and my legs felt terrible. Lewis and I had decided that I was going to move in with him just after the National Cross Country Champs, so I moved, didn’t take enough time off work to do that and had too much on. I was super fit but was trying to do too much, so just burned out. I’m also not great at travelling for long distances and running straight after so that was a factor too.
I really like the saying ‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’ Comparing yourself to other people is not a good thing. You can make yourself unhappy looking at what others are doing, especially if you’re injured and looking at what other training others are able to do. There’s no point in comparing yourself to others because no one else is in your exact situation. I sometimes look at monster sessions that other people do and worry about it to Lewis, but he tells me I don’t need to do the big sessions others do to get results, plus I also have a tough job and we have Mollie to look after now too with all that that entails - probably most importantly less sleep - so that needs to be factored in too! Although I love this saying, I don’t always find this easy, but I totally trust Lewis and feel very lucky to have him to help me!
I used to be motivated to run by the goals I’d set myself but now I love getting the buzz. Running is the best for that, but cross training gives me “my fix” to a certain extent too. Exercise is medicine - there’s nothing quite like it. It makes me function better as a person and just makes my day better.
I really like New Balance kit. I was a big fan of the New Balance Fresh Foam 1080 shoe, but they’ve changed it recently which is really frustrating. The heel doesn’t feel the same with the sock-like fit. I’ve bought a couple of the older models to stock up, but I’m nearly at the end of the last pair now. It’s really frustrating when you find a shoe you love and then they change it.
My worst injury was very severe patellar tendinosis back in 2018. I was told that it may be the end of my running and that I may never be able to run again. The sports radiologist said it was a ‘heart-sink’ diagnosis as it’s very difficult to treat - I remember being stunned and crying on the way home in the car. We tried a steroid injection and also a sclerosing agent where they inject dextrose into the tendon. It didn’t work and made my tendon worse. I had 5-6 months where it hurt even to walk. Then I discovered shockwave and that meant I didn’t need to have surgery. I see an amazing lady for that who has saved my running. I had two treatments before we got married and I was able to stand without pain on the day, although I did have to wear lower heels. On our honeymoon, after the wedding, we were on safari and my knee was fine with all the bouncing around in the 4x4. I knew after that it was going to be ok and it was an amazing feeling!
The advice I’d give to younger athletes is ‘If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’. After the European Juniors I was running really well, and I was picked up as an athlete by the Scottish Institute of Sport. I had a hamstring issue and they said I needed to do lots more weights. I started to do heavy weights, but I just bulked up and got slower and it didn’t address the hamstring issues that I had. It was how I ended up leaving my coach at the time – he didn’t know anything about weights, and I felt pressure to be coached by someone who did. It was a big mess. I wish I’d kept things the way they were because it obviously was working.
I’m really enjoying my running and I’m hoping to focus on the 5km this year and next, to try and make the Commonwealth time. My road PB is 15.49 and I think my track PB is 16.08. I wore the Nike 4% on the track for the 16.08, but it has just started raining at the start of the race, so I was slipping all over the place. It was so energy sapping. The qualifying time is 15.46 so hopefully I can get back into that shape and find a few seconds.
I would say that at the moment Lewis is a big influence. He’s really supportive and helps me in so many ways - with the training itself, in tempo sessions and in reps, but also in planning and making decisions re: training and racing. On Sundays he’ll be pushing Mollie in the buggy so we can run as a family.
I’m a racer at the end of the day. I’ve always struggled to achieve qualifying times in the past. I’m not great at chasing times, but I have been able to pull it out in a race.