Running for two: what you should know about running while pregnant

I was only about four weeks pregnant when I completed Leg 15 of the Cabot Trail Relay (15.4km at 5:00 a.m.) As you can imagine, it was a pretty miserable run because I was in full-swing of morning sickness, though at the time thought it was a case of stomach flu (yeah – that’s right PH people, I said stomach flu… I know that’s not the right term  but people know what I’m talking ’bout- so shoot me.) After that I did keep up with running, but at around five/six months threw in the towel. Now, I’ve read about women who still run at 35 weeks: (a) I could barely walk and (b) I was very lazy. I think it’s amazing that women can be so tough, so I thought I should shed some light on the things you should know if you plan to lace up while pregnant.

  • Most doctors will agree that it’s safe to continue running as long as you feel good. And they mostly advise that if you’ve always been a runner you’re good to go. But if not, you shouldn’t start a strenuous activity while pregnant, so if you’re not a runner you should put it off until after baby comes.
  • You shouldn’t run if you have any of the following problems: placenta previa, preterm labour, short cervix, preeclampsia, or growth restricted baby. It also may go without saying that if you experience racing heart (you’ll know the difference between your usual heartbeat), shortness of breath and any bleeding, you need to stop. It’s recommended that you stay below 150 bpm. Or leaking of fluids, fatigue or dizziness
  • Like most people, I hate running on the track and indoors. The good news is that it’s okay to continue running outside through the first trimester, but for two & three, docs recommend you run indoors. Why? The terrain is more consistent and it reduces the risk for trips, slips and falls. Also, if anything happens help is right there.
  • Make sure to hydrate. Before, during and after.

Other things to keep in mind:

Great shoes, supportive bra and keeping a consistent temp is key – good clothes.

It seems that nowadays more often women are running further into their pregnancy. To find out more, I fired off questions to Julia Smith: a mother of one and currently expecting number two (20 weeks pregnant.) She ran until 32 weeks in her first pregnancy and she’s still going strong today. I am completely inspired by her dedication and love of running – no way was I running at 32 weeks! Here are her responses to my q’s:

(1) Do you have any tips for women who want to run while pregnant?  The first thing you should do is check with your Doctor. If you are healthy and already a runner it probably won’t be a problem, but they should know that you are a runner and plan on continuing to do so as long as it’s safe for you and the baby. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion either if you feel you should.

Listen to your instincts. They are usually right. If you try to go even though you don’t feel up to par most of the times your body just can’t handle it and you will have a miserable run that will turn into a long walk with a long recovery.

The biggest thing I have learned is that you have to know and listen to your body. It will be incredibly taxing on your body and mentally discouraging to have a goal of maintaining your pre-pregnancy fitness levels, and unless it’s your career, why worry about it. You will get it back. Things that normally wouldn’t be an issue (heat, tiredness, dark and/or slippery conditions, not feeling 100%) are more difficult to deal with, especially if you have other children. It’s about trying to find a balance between maintaining a healthy fitness level and not doing too much that your body says “what the…” and puts you out of commission.

(2) What about stretches? Are there any additional you complete before your run? I don’t really do anything different; I start slowly with a short brisk walk, and stretch after my run.

 (3) What is the longest distance you’ve completed during pregnancy? How frequently do you go? I usually go from a minimum of 5km but have gone as far as 7km since I found out I was pregnant. I get out between 2 and 4 times a week, really depending on how I feel; how busy work has been; juggling a preschool aged child and a home. I have done two 20km long runs in the month I was pregnant, along with running 3-4 other days a week, but before I knew for sure. I was finishing my training for the Cabot Trail Relay Race and my leg was over 19.5km.

(4) What is the biggest challenge? The biggest challenge for me is changing my mindset about running. It’s not just about me anymore, and you have to be so much more careful and get used to not always pushing yourself to be better, but just maintaining a physically active lifestyle. I really enjoyed racing the past couple years, but will not race when I’m pregnant because I push myself harder than I need to at this point. I have plenty of time for that afterwards! It is also difficult physically and mentally getting used to a new body shape every couple weeks. It seems you just find a rhythm, and wake up bigger the next morning.

(5) Do you add more food to your diet to “carb up” while pregnant? I generally eat a well-balanced diet of homemade foods and usually don’t pay much attention to eating more; I have always eaten when I’m hungry (and sometimes when I’m not!!) I’m not really eating a lot more than before because I was averaging 40-55km a week of running with some circuit workouts as well, and that’s down to about 15-20km a week without the circuit workouts, and gradually slowing. I love veggies, beans, meat, and homemade soups so I don’t worry about vitamins and nutrition too much.

(5) Anything else you would like to add? I plan all of my runs in daytime, or well-lit, high traffic areas where I know the majority of the people who live along the route. I often take my dog with me, she’s great company and loves to run but likes her breaks too. I also make sure my husband knows when I’m going, where I’m going and when I expect to be back. Sometimes I wear a heart rate monitor just to make sure I’m not pushing my body too hard. It’s more for peace of mind, but it’s also good to check how much effort you are actually putting out compared to how you feel, and how quickly your heart rate recovers to your normal. Smile and enjoy it. I love seeing the double takes people do when they go by and realize there’s a big belly attached to me, and yes I am running, I love it, and I don’t plan on stopping until my body or my Doctor says enough.

Thank you Julia!!

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