Saturday, November 22, 2008

running during pregnancy

I've wanted to put this together for awhile. We'll see how far I get. When I found out I was pregnant, I googled "running during pregnancy" to see what I could expect of my body, how to take care of my growing baby while still enjoying runs. I found good information and two blogs that I followed regularly. The first and most moderate was Running for Two, posted by Lisa and hosted by Runner's World online. She continues to post for Runner's World - her blog is called Baby Steps and tracks getting back into the running sport with a postpartum body and interrupted sleep. Check her blog out at The second blog I found was interesting but not one I could agree with completely. Posted on blogspot by sealegsgirl. You can look her up if you like. She ran high mileage through her entire pregnancy, slowed only by an injury during her eighth month but returning to five miles every other day for her last month. And there are other stories. A few women runners I talked with said they ran through at least their fifth month of pregnancy. Lisa's Runner's World blog was encouraging partly because of all the comments posted by pregnant runners and moms who shared their own experiences. What it comes down to is listening to your body. Running is a sport that teaches you to do that. Doubly important when you're running with such a little partner.

I ran through pregnancy and this drew various responses from people. Justin was always very supportive and encouraging. He understands that running is important to me but wasn't blind to the challenges of running pregnant. I was open with him about my precautions and worries and was honest with him about my mileage and pace.

So here's my experience as a pregnant runner:

Prepregnancy: My weekly mileage was around fifty or sixty miles a week. That seems a bit much considering I wasn't training for any races. During the week I'd run eight or nine miles four or five times a week. On the weekends I ran with a Colombian running club; we ran between ten and fifteen miles on Saturday and Sunday mornings. That's what bumped my weekly mileage. My pace was 8 - 8:15 minute mile, relaxed, and around 7:15 - 7:30 when I pushed a bit. I was running injury free until shortly before finding out I was pregnant when I pulled a calf muscle and slowed my pace.

First & Second Trimesters: I'd slowed down because of my tender calf but I kept the same mileage for the first two months. I ran maybe seven 10+ mile runs during the first couple months before cutting weekly mileage to about forty or forty-five miles a week. Running felt good. I was careful about my heartrate. Since the calf muscle had already slowed my pace, it was easy to stay there and not fret about pushing the mile times.

At the start of my pregnancy, I started breathing in a new way - my friend Sonia recommended I try breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth. Before, I'd always been a mouth breather during my runs. Breathing through my nose was awkward at first and slowed me down a little until I found a good natural rhythm. This practice was so valuable when I was preparing for labor. I'm still breathing through my nose on my runs and it's great. Try it.

At about month five, my center of balance began to shift as my belly grew. I enjoyed running. The laps around the Bolivar track were centering - time to daydream and pray and think about the changes ahead. I felt connected to the baby I was carrying and found myself talking to him or her, telling the baby about my hopes for our new family.

At this time, my hips and groin began to ache at the start of each run. The pain eased after a mile or two but returned post-run. These aches were due to the hormone relaxin which increases during pregnancy, getting the body ready for the stretching its ligaments and tendons need to do to accommodate and then deliver a baby. This is one reason why women are told not to lift heavy things during the later part of their pregnancy. Some women also notice their ribcage expands or their feet grow a size during the course of pregnancy. After pregnancy, hormone levels eventually return to normal but some women runners may still experience aches due to looser ligaments and tendons.

When I started showing I drew stares on the streets as I ran through Cali. Here, there aren't many women runners. And pregnant women are revered and pampered and considered too delicate to do much of anything. My doctor was not supportive of me running despite my assurances that I was careful about pace and hydration. Many Colombians felt free to tell me that what I was doing was not good for the baby, that I should stop running. Soon enough I limited my runs to the Bolivar track. Even running there brought comments. Oh well. I trusted myself to be good to my baby and good to my body.

Moving from second trimester into the third, my mile times were about 9 minutes. I felt comfortable - though I had to pee all the time - and was again, happily injury free.

Third Trimester: We traveled to Canada and Wisconsin at the start of my third trimester. In Ottawa, I ran by time, heading out for thirty or forty minutes, taking a walk break, and returning. I loved running along the river and enjoyed feeling like no one was staring at me because I was a. a woman and b. pregnant. In fact, I saw moms out with jogging strollers and there was a little sense of camaraderie, shared smiles. See: I'm not crazy.

In Wisconsin, I discovered the treadmill. My parents unearthed theirs from their basement storage and set it up for me. I hated running on the treadmill at first. Staring at the bookcase, going nowhere. But it didn't take long to realize the advantages: I knew my pace; I avoided buggy, muggy weather; and, most importantly, the bathroom was five steps away. Ahh.

When we returned to Colombia, I looked into joining a gym and learned that Colombian law requires doctor's permission for a pregnant woman to exercise. Hm. So we bought a treadmill. Cost about what a year at the gym would cost and is more convenient. Especially now that Claire is here - I can fit my runs in between feedings, during naps. I feel better being more available to her than if I was off at the gym or out on a road run.

The last two months of pregnancy I was running between 10 and 11 minute miles and my weekly mileage was between thirty-five and forty miles. I used a Gabriella maternity support belt and felt comfortable except, as is the pregnant lady's lament, having to pee all the time. I'd also invested in a couple of maternity running shirts made by Born Fit but found that my regular running shorts fit fine, getting a little tight at the waistband only during my last month as the baby grew heavier and lower.

I ran until a week an a half before delivering. I'd been walking to school with Justin in the mornings and still keeping up with my running and just reached a point when I was ready to be done running. I felt like my body was heavy, the baby was low and I was tired. So I rested. I'll also admit that I felt sorry for myself. I was getting tired of waiting for the baby to arrive. My doctor and our friends were surprised that for all of my exercising, the baby hadn't arrived. I was surprised too. And I finally just felt like: what's the point? I'd managed to run through most of my pregnancy and didn't feel like I needed to run the day I delivered just to say I did.

So I took to scrubbing floors and moping.

Postpartum: I waited about ten days before trying a run. I actually enjoyed the rest. It felt good to let my body heal. Gentle. I walked. I stretched a little. Finally I felt like trying a run. I ran just a mile, two half miles broken up by walking. Mileage built up quickly. For a week I was cautious with my pace and mileage, running at about a 10 minute pace for three to four miles at a time. Soon I was up to five mile runs. By the end of the second week of running, I was managing seven miles. I took breaks as needed to rehydrate.

During the past two weeks, now comfortably running about forty or forty-five miles a week, I'm focusing on time. I currently run between an 8:30 and 9 minute mile pace. I'm very conscious of not wanting to push my body too far too fast. I don't need a super fast pace to feel good about my run. What I love is how it feels for my body to find its old balance again, to run with more of an ease. The nose breathing is fantastic too - really keeps me calm during running. I think when you breathe through your mouth, you tend to gasp when you're overexerting yourself; nose breathing seems to hold me to a manageable pace. If I can't breathe deeply and calmly, I probably need to slow down.

I'm also doing pilates once or twice a week to strengthen my abdominals, so necessary to strong running.

My goal is to be running 8 minute miles by February. I think that's reasonable.

So running through pregnancy gave me reason to pay closer attention to my body's signals, breathing and pace. I learned to be kind to my body - so to be kind to my baby - and not feel guilty or upset at cutting mileage or slowing my pace. Be less obsessive. I learned to enjoy running for its own joy again and loved the time to think about my baby and hope for her all good things.

1 comment:

N.D. said...

This was really interesting for me to read. I am at the point (7 months) that running is a bit uncomfortable and it all depends on the day. Somedays I can knock out 5-6 miles at 11 min mile pace and other days that would take me the whole day to do it. I get side stitches which are weird.