Running and Pregnancy

This post is timely for me.  NO!  I’m not pregnant.  But my younger sister and two of my good running friends are.  Very.  My sister is due in a week (Yay! can’t wait) and my friends are both due end of March/early April (also very excited).  And since they are all runners, I thought I’d check in to see how they’ve been making the transition from breezy, gazelle-like runs to increasingly awkward and sometimes humiliating waddles (I know – I’ve been there).

Although I’ve run through two pregnancies, I somehow don’t remember many details (protection mechanism?) so I am profiling these experiences.  One thing I do remember though is that there was very little literature out there on how much or how hard to run.  I sort of went by feel, but erred on the side of caution.  I now think I probably could have pushed it a bit more, especially after seeing Paula Radcliffe’s example!

She ran 14 miles a day and at five months replaced her second daily run with a cross-training session.  Ok, a bit (!) extreme.

Here is a good article on running and pregnancy Running and Pregnancy by Alex Hutchinson. 

Synopsis: running up to 90% max heart rate is fine.  Above that, of the pregnant women who went to their max, 1/3 had some fetal reaction (slower heart rate and blood flow) for a short period of time, but no long-lasting effects.

So basically girls, run as much and as hard as you feel is comfortable.  I assure you, over 90% of your heart rate will NOT feel comfortable, so you’re safe.  (If you’re a Norwegian Olympic cross-country skier, maybe tone it down a bit for the next few months).

So here are our Real Life Subjects to give us some insight into their experiences: (PS: how cute are those bellies??)

Lizzy B at 33 weeks – first pregnancy

Airlie at 37 weeks – first pregnancy

Suzy G at 34 weeks – third pregnancy, fourth kid!  (this is not her actual stroller, but how I picture her running)

Airlie                                                                                                                     

I’ve been running fairly regularly throughout my pregnancy with no troubles or injuries thus far. Of course, I’ve slowed down A LOT and I don’t go nearly the distance.  I’m now 37 weeks and I might have a c-section at 39 weeks.  I’m hoping to “run” (and I just that term very loosely) up to the end.  My question is, what is the recommended or average recovery time post c-section if all goes well?  (RW: six weeks) And do you think recovery will be faster/easier since I’m in fairly good shape, or does that not make a difference? (RW: definitely helps recovery to be in good shape – see Suzy G below)

This is me at 37 weeks heading out for a “wee jog” (above).  My husband says that I’m not a normal human and that neither are my sisters because we’re all runners that do crazy things like get up at 4:30 in the morning to do intervals in -15 degrees, and go for runs at 37 weeks at -15 with a very sore rib from the baby pushing its head against it.  I think I’m normal, but apparently my “measuring rod” is skewed.  Oh well, it’s been keeping me sane.  I’m also still going to the gym and lifting weights (albeit, very light weights, but weights nonetheless).  Up until about 34/35 weeks I had the energy to run probably five times a week and do weights maybe two to three times a week.  These last few weeks have been more difficult though, maybe because the baby flipped around and is now in the wrong position.  I’m now down to about two to three runs a week at best, though I’m trying to supplement with Spin classes.

Apparently working out is really good for the baby’s heart, so I’m hoping that my husband will come to his senses and see that I’m doing all this selflessly for the health of our baby, and that I’m not crazy, just a very dedicated mum 🙂

Lizzy B

RW: What is your running/racing background?

LB: I ran competitively in high school and then at U of T. During that time, my pbs were 2:16 (800m), 4:34 (1500m), and 9:53 (3000m). I was a part of U of T’s CIS championship women’s X-C team in 2002. While I was in grad school, I tried my hand at some longer distances and ran a 1:23 half marathon and 3:04 marathon. Since then I’ve struggled with various injuries and mostly run to keep in shape.

RW: how much running were you doing before you got pregnant?

LB: I was running about four times a week, usually five to seven miles at a time. Because of injuries, I was cross training a lot – swimming, rock climbing, and doing a “boot camp” class three times a week.

RW:  How did your running change once you realized you were pregnant?  Did you decide to keep running throughout? Why or why not?

LB: I ran up until I was 33 weeks along. I really wanted to stay in shape while pregnant, for my own sanity, for the health of my baby, and to make recovery after birth easier, ideally. I decided to stop because I was just getting too uncomfortable – the pressure on my bladder was bad throughout, but was getting worse – and because I was feeling a little off-balance and was worried about falling. I switched to the elliptical and walking, and continued with my boot camp classes.

RW: Did you have any questions on running and pregnancy which you felt you couldn’t find enough good information to answer?

LB: At times I wondered if all the pressure I felt on my bladder was causing any damage. I asked my midwives and they seemed to think it was fine, but advised me to stop if I felt uncomfortable. But “uncomfortable” was sort of relative…most of my pregnancy, running was a bit uncomfortable, but I felt good enough afterwards that I could put up with the discomfort. I found a fair amount of information online, though.

RW: How have you found running through pregnancy and how has it change throughout the trimesters?

LB: In my first trimester, I was lucky to avoid morning sickness for the most part, other than a bit of nausea here and there. I was really fatigued, but I mostly managed to continue running without noticing a huge difference in how I felt. By the beginning of the second trimester, I was already feeling the pressure on my bladder. I slowed down, too, both because I was feeling a bit more winded and because I just wanted to take it easy. (I stopped trying to keep up with my husband on runs!) During the third trimester, I started having some shin splints, probably due to the added weight. Despite all these complaints, I had some days where I felt pretty good, and knowing that I was staying active was empowering.

RW: Any big surprises or has running throughout basically played out as you’d expected?

LB: I thought I’d feel uncomfortable from the added weight, but I didn’t really expect some of the other aches and pains.

RW: Any good insights to others who may go through the same experience?

LB: Having friends who I knew had run through their pregnancies helped to normalize it for me – a lot of my non-running friends thought it was crazy or dangerous, so it was good to have the perspective from those who had been there. I think the cliché “listen to your body” really does apply. I wasn’t always the best at doing this, but in general, I set my expectations pretty low. Having battled injuries for so many of the past few years already, it wasn’t too hard to do! I wore a maternity belt (the Gabrialla belt) starting in the second trimester. I think it helped with round ligament pain a bit, but I can’t say for sure…

RW: Any other anecdotes/experiences you want to share?

LB: I have to admit to taking some pleasure in passing people while running with a big belly! I can’t say it happened that often, but when it did, it gave me a little boost. I guess the competitive spirit lives on! Soon I’ll be entering my toddler in road races…

Suzy G
RW: what is your running/racing background?

SG: Half-marathon PB: 1:23.23; Most recent 5K in 2008 was 18:45 on the track; Highlight of my running career: Being part of the winning CIS women’s X-C team at University of Toronto in 2002.

RW: how much running were you doing before you got pregnant?

SG: Before I got pregnant in 2009 I was running six days a week with coach Steve Boyd: a mix of workouts and long runs. Memorable workouts include 2×20 min (hard) tempo runs and intense 1 km intervals on trails.

RW: how did your running change once you realized you were pregnant? Did you decide to keep running throughout? Why or why not?

SG: I kept running while I was pregnant in 2009 for about two months (some indoor track workouts, some fairly easy group runs). At my first ultrasound I was told I was having twins and couldn’t find much information about running in a multiple pregnancy. I decided to back off until I could see the specialist but there was a long (two month) wait. I found that at three months I was getting big already and my pelvic floor was quite uncomfortable even with upbeat walking! I continued to walk briskly for about an hour a day (which actually raised my heart rate to levels I could only get to by running pre-pregnancy). My specialist ended up being an “exercise in multiples” expert and he said I could run to my heart’s content but by that time I found it was just too uncomfortable. I got back into it after the twins were born in 2009 thanks to a double running stroller that all my best running girlfriends purchased for me. I had hoped to continue this into my second pregnancy but unfortunately my first trimester coincided with an appendectomy that cost a month and half in recovery time. It was very difficult getting back into running after that recovery while being three months pregnant. Kingston streets are not safe for pregnant runners in the winter, so I joined a gym and did run through the second trimester on a treadmill but not at any significant pace. For me, that’s frustrating. I took a break until baby #3 was about six months old and then started running about 5K a day with a neighbourhood group. That dissolved almost immediately when I became pregnant with #4 in 2012 because this time around I find I was bigger earlier, more tired generally (could be the three kids at home, or my new business that opened just before pregnancy) and that my body feels “stretched out”. I couldn’t keep up with the group any more so I gave up. In December (five months pregnant) I missed running so much that I joined a gym and have been giving the elliptical a try about two to three times a week, but it’s not easy working full-time and making time for my three kids AND fitting in a workout. I’ve been paying the gym to store my shoes since February 1st which I’m not happy about. This is more due to running my business than a lack of desire to run.

RW: Did you have any questions on running and pregnancy which you felt you couldn’t find enough good information to answer?

SG: See above! If I’d read a reliable source that said it was ok to run in a twin pregnancy I might have, but I was quite nervous and really needed to hear it from a specialist who was talking about my pregnancy specifically.

RW: How have you found running through pregnancy and how has it change throughout the trimesters?

SG: I haven’t found it possible for me personally to run through pregnancy since that first experience except for the first two to three months.

RW: Any big surprises or has running throughout basically played out as you’d expected?

SG: I didn’t think it would be such a challenge re: the soreness. Most of my friends have not had this experience. I’m surprised how hard it was to get back into it after baby #3: I trained for an ran a 5K race in just over 20 minutes and it felt like I’d just run sub 18. I’m a running addict and I’m surprised how easily I’ve put it off. I’m not surprised how much I miss it.

RW: Any good insights to others who may go through the same experience?

SG: As long as there’s no medical reason not to, stay active! Taking the breaks during pregnancy really killed my running because it’s really hard to re-start once you stop. Keep reading a good, motivating blog and contribute: even writing about this makes me ache to go to the gym!

RW: Any other anecdotes/experiences you want to share?

SG: Post pregnancy running can be equally challenging, especially during those days where you’re breastfeeding eight times a day! It’s a lot easier if you go into it as a fit pregnant woman, trust me. Despite the C-section recovery it was easier to get back into running after the twins because I’d stayed fit. I’m committed to running again after #4 but I’m not looking forward to the uphill climb after all this time off.

Thanks Ladies!

That’s all for now.  Bottom line: if you’re pregnant – keep running if you can.  Soon enough you’ll find yourself running after someone else and you’ll be drawing on all of your refined speed and endurance training to keep up!

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