In less than four weeks I will be running my first organized race of the season – the inaugural Bend Half Marathon. Because I will be 20 weeks pregnant when the start gun goes off, I will not be “racing” or trying to PR. Quite the opposite, actually, unless there’s a new category for a Pregnancy PR. For me, this race is all about making the most of my experience being pregnant and continuing to do the things that make me happy. While this race is likely to be slow and steady, I want to do my best, support the local running community and perhaps inspire others who are considering running while pregnant.
I feel like I have learned a lot during these past few months of training with a baby on board, and want to share some of my own personal feelings about running while pregnant and how it changes you as a runner. Though I have struggled from time to time, I have also surprised myself in new and inspiring ways.
Why I am planning to run as late into my pregnancy as possible…
Health and Labor: I want my body to remain as healthy as possible and I want to be able to bounce back quickly once this little guy enters the world. Blood flow and movement are my thing!
There is a lot of research suggesting that exercise and running reduce complications during pregnancy. Dr. James Clapp III, expert and author of “Exercising Through Your Pregnancy,” was one of the first to study the effects of frequent, sustained exercise in competitive runners and athletes during pregnancy. He found that the bodies of pregnant athletes are not only conditioned to handle the physical changes that occur during pregnancy (i.e., increased heart rates, stress on ligaments and muscles, higher body temperatures, reduced levels of oxygen), but that these individuals also had healthier and easier pregnancies when they continued these activities.
For example, a majority of these athletes reported fewer physical aches and discomforts, gained roughly 8 pounds less than those who stopped exercising, and did not endure any increase in injuries or complications. They also had easier, shorter and less complicated labors than those who did not exercise, and recovered faster after giving birth. The other good news? The babies were not adversely affected. If there is any chance of these results rubbing off on me, I’ll take it!
Mood boost and me time: I run to maintain a positive frame of mind. If I need an instant mood booster, I just throw on my shoes and go. Running never fails me. Plus, sometimes you just need a little “me time” and this is my favorite way of enjoying time to myself and with my thoughts.
Body image: As someone who has struggled with body image in the past, I think it’s important for me to continue doing things that make me feel good about myself and my appearance. While I’m definitely not obsessing over weight gain or stretch marks (yet) there is always some worry in the back of my mind of how things will change in the months to come. Running helps remind me that I am strong and healthy, which is ultimately what is important.
Sanity: Truth be told, I would go crazy and probably become very unhappy if I didn’t run and exercise throughout my pregnancy. I rely on endorphins and happy neurotransmitters. Best natural drug out there, right? I like to tell myself that a happy mommy equals a happy baby.
What has changed…
Focus: This has been a great opportunity for me to work on technique. Now that I am running slower and am not worried about logistics and numbers, I am focusing more on form and what my body is doing. From arm movement, to foot strike, I am much more in tune with my body and hope to change some bad habits.
Accessories: My Nathan Hydration Vest has become my very best friend. I used to stuff a GU or two in a pocket and rely on minimal water (the resources that were available along my route) but this just doesn’t cut it when pregnant. Every time I go out for a one hour+ run I wear my hydration vest and fill it with water, food, my phone, and any necessities I might need (i.e., toilet paper → always).
Nutrition: While I still carry Gu or Bloks (sans caffeine), I will also carry and eat more solid foods along my longer runs. The baby needs additional nutrition when I am burning that many calories, and I am always mindful of whether I am eating enough. My favorite mid-run snack during a longer run is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich cut into squares, especially when my husband writes cute love notes on the bag.
Strategies: I have become much more strategic with my running routes, and will either plan a route close to home or drive and park in an area that is central to where I am running. I never know how I am going to feel, so having those amenities close by is a cushion. Early on in my pregnancy I learned the hard way (I had to call my husband for a ride) that getting stuck somewhere far away is frustrating.
Bathrooms: Oh, beautiful, glorious bathrooms. How I need you so. I have found that as I grow larger, the weight of the baby/uterus leads to the urge to go at any given moment. It’s crazy that I used to be able to run an entire marathon without having to pee. Now I can barely get through a few miles without jumping behind a bush. If I’m running around town, I am extra aware of all my bathroom sources. If I am trail running, I carry TP.
Attire: Comfort matters more now than ever. Let’s just say that the girls are growing and the bump is starting to awkwardly show (in a beer gut kind of way). I can’t stress the importance of a good sports bra and comfortable attire. My go to clothing pieces have been my SOAS sports bras, lululemon capris (with light support around my belly), and racerback tanks.
What running means to me now…
Remembering where I come from. As runners, we all start somewhere. I am currently averaging close to the same speed I did when I started running and was training for my first marathon. I was a 9-10 min/miler during my first year of running. To be back where I started is a good reminder of how far I have come in my years of running, and how far I have yet to go in the years ahead.
Baby bonding time. Sometimes when I’m running I find myself talking to the baby, either in my mind or even out loud. I talk to him about Bend, about running, and about the healthy and active lifestyle I hope he will someday lead. My parents were great role models to me when it came to fitness and outdoor recreation, and Justin and I hope that setting a good example both pre and post-birth will rub off on him.
Enjoyment and doing what feels good. No more pushing through hard workouts, pain (the good kind), and maxed out heart rate. From time to time I feel a lot of round ligament pain and cramping sensations, which instantly signals me to slow down or walk. I don’t fight it. There is no reason to start a battle you can’t win.
My doctor also let me know that the increased weight of my uterus can put pressure on a vein that delivers blood from my lower body to my heart, causing dizziness or faintness. This has happened a couple times (particularly on the bike – probably due to position) and I always slow, stop, and take a moment to regain normalcy.
Another symptom I have found myself dealing with at times is shortness of breath. At first I thought I was just losing some fitness, but I soon learned that certain changes in the body are more likely the culprit. First, for some women the growing uterus and baby can actually push against the lungs, decreasing their ability to expand as usual. Another cause of shortness of breath is the elevated levels of the hormone progesterone, which encourages breathing and improves the transfer of gasses/nutrients between mom and baby. While women may feel short of breath, researchers suggest that exercise is actually helping to build a larger and more vascularized placenta, which allows more nutrients to reach the baby and helps protect the baby from oxygen deficiency. This is a great article on all of the changes to expect.
Running has taught me a little humility. While it requires a lot of determination to work hard and get stronger/faster, it also takes courage and discipline to allow yourself to slow down and venture into an unfamiliar place where effort and speed no longer matter. Focusing on the things you can do, as opposed to the things you cannot, has been an important lesson for me.
What has running taught you lately?
Have you ever participated in a race knowing that you were not going to PR or give 100%? How was the experience?