Running has only been a big part of my life for the last couple of years (my husband bought me a Garmin in 2014 and he created a monster), but I’ve always loved to be active with exercise. That’s why I knew that when I got pregnant, I would want to stay as active as possible. The problem that I found was that there is very little information online (imagine that! normally there is too much!) about exercise and pregnancy. Sure, there are plenty of articles saying that 30 minutes three times a week is okay, but I had just finished running my first 50 mile race when I got pregnant, and 30 minutes of light cardio was not going to cut it.
First, I talked to my doctor, and I recommend that you do that too above all else. Even though it can seem so abstract that there is a little human growing in your body, that little baby is your number one priority! You have a new race, and this race is one that will be the most rewarding yet.
As I said, I did not find many articles online that satisfied the level of fitness that I was trying to achieve, but I did try to find resources online. I also read a book called Exercising Through Your Pregnancy that describes the physiological changes that occur when pregnant and exercising, which I found to be empowering when there were so many unknowns going on with my body. Finally, the biggest source of knowledge regarding running through pregnancy was from friends who had blazed the trail for me already. I joined a Baby Center running mama forum, and I talked to the few friends who I knew who had maintained my kind of mileage during their pregnancies. These connections were invaluable, and that is what I hope to instill to you through this post. I’ll write a post later about the science stuff behind pregnancy and running (which is really very cool), but for now, I just wanted to highlight some of my experiences of pregnancy.
As I said earlier, I had just run a 50 mile race the week we conceived. I was in peak shape, so I was able to run at a higher level at the beginning of my pregnancy. They say that it is fine to resume your current level of activity, but do not take on new levels of fitness once pregnant (i.e. do not sign up for your first marathon after you see the double lines one the stick).
At 7 weeks pregnant, I ran a trail marathon that I had already signed up for, and although I had just run 50 miles a month before, this race was an extremely different experience. I had talked to my doctor several times to make sure that all would be fine for me to participate (notice that I say participate and not race!), and they assured me that no harm would come to the little bean in my belly. It took a little swallowing of my pride to finish that race in a slower time than my pre-pregnancy body would have run. No one knew that I was pregnant, so it just looked like I was struggling on the hills, drinking tons of water, and peeing a lot in the woods, all of which was true. But I am really glad that I didn’t let fear win that race. By running that marathon, I set the tone for the rest of my pregnancy. I would enjoy feeling my body with each mile, and I would feel a special connectedness with the baby who was along for the ride.
I exercised for at least an hour everyday, which is my typical workout regime, but my intensity level dropped with each week. The first trimester was the most challenging because relaxin was coursing through my body making me feel fatigued and light-headed. The second trimester felt like night and day with resumed energy and a tiny little baby bump. The third trimester was like a balancing act between my growing belly and the rest of my body. I learned to take a lot of breaks, run close to bathrooms, and cross-train. Strength training was also a big part of my pregnancy routine, although I never lifted heavy weights. I made a point to do push-ups and planks each week, even as my belly was expanding and the weight was increasing. By the end of my pregnancy, I had run 1,152 miles, and walked/cycled/stairclimbed/hiked at least twice as many.
At about week 20, I developed a stress fracture in my ankle. My gait had changed, and my body had not adapted to it yet. This is when I learned the value of cross training and gained a new love for the bike. I also started taking calcium supplements, as recommended by one of my running momma buddies. A month later, I was back to running, albeit with a slower pace and a little more caution. Other things that made running more comfortable for me were to run in compression socks. I was pregnant in the summer, so hydrating well and running earlier in the morning were important. I would run from park to park so that I could stop to go to the bathroom. While I love the trails, I stayed off of them once I got a belly because I am very prone to tripping.
I met some great friends through my pregnancy journey. Every week I attended two different pregnancy fitness classes called Oh Baby Fitness in Atlanta, and I made some of my best mom friends through those classes. I also learned which exercises were best for my pregnant body. The thing that I value most of all is that I learned more about my body by being a pregnant runner than I would have discovered if I had not exercised. And I believe that exercising through pregnancy helped keep a lot of the bad pregnancy symptoms to a minimum. My energy levels and my mood were much better with a good run. And I also felt prepared when it came time to give birth that my body had the strength to labor and my mind had the mental toughness to endure.
Running through pregnancy was one of the most rewarding things for me during pregnancy. What other things do you find to be rewarding in your pregnancy?
Anyone run through more than one pregnancy? I’m hoping that baby #2 is just as easy of a pregnancy, but I hear they can all be different. (For the record, I am NOT pregnant with #2 yet!)