One day you won’t be able to do this. Today is not that day.
Now that I’ve spilled the beans about Nugget, I thought I’d write about a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the past few months: pregnant running. Running is one of my favorite hobbies – I might be slow, but I love getting out there – and it’s my preferred way to get a workout in. And I love lining up for races; spending a weekend morning jogging along with a few thousand of my closest friends is always going to be high on my to-do list. So when I learned that Peanut would be a big sister, one of the first things that popped into my mind was, “Can I still run?”
When I was expecting Peanut, I tried once or twice to run, but something about it just felt wrong and off. Deep down I knew that feeling was more than just the extra huffing and puffing, or that weirdly bouncy, ungainly feeling that comes with pregnant running – it was a sign that I should not do this. So I stopped. I walked as long as I could before ending up on bed rest in my third trimester, and I was very, very glad that I didn’t push myself to run. I’ll have my whole life to be a runner and chase after new fitness goals, and slowing down felt like what I needed to do, just then, to put Peanut first.
With Nugget, I’ve felt differently. Oh, not about putting the baby first – that’s clearly the most important thing, and the first indication I have that running isn’t good for us, I’ll hang up the running shoes until after Nugget makes his grand entrance in March (and hopefully not before). What I mean is that I’ve felt differently about running. With Peanut, I was worried and apprehensive. With Nugget, running still brings me joy. With Peanut, a short run knocked me out for the rest of the day. With Nugget, running leaves me more energized than before. Knowing that the general recommendation is for moms-to-be to exercise as much as feels good, and that you can generally keep up what your body is used to (or even start a fitness routine, if you’ve been sedentary, with your doctor’s approval of course) I resolved to ask my doctor if I could keep running and training for races. If she said no, in light of the complications I had with Peanut, I’d have been fine with it and obeyed her recommendations. But I was hoping she would say yes.
So one of my first questions at my first prenatal appointment was, “Can I run?” The doctor was well aware of Peanut’s early birth, so I expected her to say no, or at least to tell me to dial it back. But I explained that I had just recently completed a half marathon, that I had several more distance races – including two half marathons – lined up for the rest of the summer and fall – and that while I was planning to defer my planned marathon I did want to run the two half marathons if at all possible. She immediately agreed, and I rejoiced.
Having gotten my doctor’s blessing, I continued to work out as much as possible, and I found that it really helped me during those first few weeks. When I made the effort to get up early and get in a run or a kickboxing session, I felt better all day – no morning sickness! lots of energy! – and slept marginally better at night. (Pregnancy insomnia has hit hard and is still going.) I wanted to work out because running means something to me emotionally, but I was shocked at how much better I felt when I exercised. With Peanut, an easy hike would take so much out of me that I’d end up napping all afternoon and crashing on the couch before 8:00 p.m., but with Nugget, a good sweat session was a sure-fire cure for queasy tummy and afternoon yawns. I fell off the bandwagon a few weeks later, between a crush of work deadlines and moving house, but I still managed to get out for a lunchtime walk and to get in a run or a Stroller Strides class on the weekends.
And I’ve kept up my racing schedule.
At nine weeks (and already looking thicker around the waist – ah, second pregnancy), I participated in the Color Run. It was a perfect event to do while pregnant, because there was no timing chip, lots of walkers, and no pressure. I ran the entire distance, with the exception of the water stop, but I kept the pace easy and fun and at the end of the run I felt that I could have gone much longer.
At eleven weeks, I ran the Biggest Loser Half Marathon. As you know from my recap, this was a tough race for me. I huffed and puffed through the majority of the race, and spent a lot of time ruminating on the fact that I had comfortably run a 2:24 – a great time for me – just two months earlier. I didn’t beat myself up over it, though, because I knew what had changed in those two months: I had a little passenger along for the Biggest Loser half, who hadn’t yet appeared on the scene when I crushed the Fifty Yard Finish. I needed more fuel, more water, more oxygen and more time. Still, as hard as the run felt, I was so grateful to be out there. I know that any run could be my last for awhile, and I made it my mission to enjoy the experience.
I really do feel thankful for every step I get to take, and for every time I lace up my running shoes. I know how quickly a situation can turn, and if a day comes when my doctor won’t approve any more runs, or when running just feels wrong – as it did with Peanut – I’ll put my hobby aside for the good of the baby. But until that day comes, I’m still getting out there and doing what I love to do.
Tips for First Trimester Running
I’m no expert! These are just some tips that worked for me, in my individual experience, and helped me to run through my first trimester (and hopefully beyond). Most of them are common sense, but PLEASE, don’t take my word as the be-all-end-all. Consult with your doctor about what sort of fitness or running routine is best for you, ESPECIALLY if you’re pregnant!
- Consult your obstetrician before implementing any kind of pregnancy workout routine! This is the most important of the tips I have read for pregnant exercise, and was the most important thing I did. The general recommendation, at present, is that pregnant women should continue to exercise if at all possible. Exercise during pregnancy has been proven to benefit both mom and baby in a host of ways. Most doctors will allow moms-to-be to continue the same types of workouts they’ve been doing. That wasn’t a given for me, though, in light of my past bed rest, so I made sure to ask my doctor for permission before doing any kind of workouts. I was very clear in my explanations of what I wanted to do – run the half marathons I’d already committed to – and I was also fine with hanging up the running shoes if that was her recommendation. Happily, it wasn’t – for now. But I plan to continue to keep my doctor informed about my activity level throughout pregnancy and if the recommendations change at some point, I’m good with that.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t do what you used to do. On June 23, I PRed in the half marathon – by thirteen minutes. By early August, an easy two-mile route to the library and back had me huffing and puffing. If I wasn’t pregnant, I’d be beating myself up over it. But I know exactly what changed in between those dates, and I also know it’s temporary. I expect my pace to slow, and while that’s occasionally painful to see – especially during a race, when I want to do well – I try to be philosophical about it. Running is more about the joy of it right now, and less about setting new records for myself. There will come a time for chasing goals again; now is the time to go easy on myself.
- HYDRATE and FUEL like a maniac. I am well aware that if I want to keep running safely throughout my pregnancy, I have to be smart about it. That means making sure I am more hydrated and more fueled than ever. I adopted the following philosophy: if you think you’ve had enough water, you’re wrong; if you think you’ve had enough fuel, you’re wrong. I wore a Camelbak to the Biggest Loser Half instead of relying on the aid stations (I could have relied on them; they were well-stocked even for those of us in the back of the pack) and I took in more fuel than I would have had I not been pregnant, both during and after the race. (Not before; although I’m sure I could have used the extra calories, there’s only so much I can tolerate in my stomach at the beginning of a long run.)
- Be flexible, and change your running strategy when appropriate. As I wrote in my recap of the Biggest Loser Half, I really struggled through the first two thirds or so of the race. I was walking more than I was running and starting to get pretty down about that. At mile 9, I decided to go back to my Galloway roots and run by the method I used when I first picked up the sport. I normally try to run the entire distance, but walk through aid stations – but that wasn’t working. So I adopted a 4:1 ratio of running to walking. I told myself that I had to run for those four minutes, and then I could walk. It worked. The four minutes of running got me over most of the remaining distance, and the regular walking intervals let me recover, sip from my Camelbak, take in fuel and bring my heart rate down. The moment I decided to go back to Galloway running was the first moment I felt in control of the race, and once I finished I decided to stick with the strategy for the rest of my pregnant runs. I’m now doing all of my regular runs Galloway-style and hoping that strategy shift buys me a few more races before I hang up the shoes for the duration of my pregnancy.
- Have FUN and remember why you’re out there! It’s not just about the benefits that exercise provides for a growing mommy and baby. I could get those benefits by doing barre (which I do want to try), or prenatal Pilates (NEVER, I hate Pilates), or my kickboxing DVDs, or in any number of other ways. I choose to run because I enjoy running, and I like participating in races. I get a mental benefit from running – it relaxes me, gives me strength to face the rest of my day, makes me a nicer person, and I find it weirdly fun. I’m not grinding out runs with a grimace on my face; running is my happy place, and I’m grateful for every step I get to take.
Have you run through a pregnancy? What got you through it?