During my first appointment at my new OB-GYN/midwife’s office, the nurse who did the initial intake sat me down to discuss all those fun do’s and don’ts of pregnancy. When we got to the topic of exercise, the conversation went something like this:
…and that’s about the time I realized that her definition of marathon and my definition probably weren’t the same.
Although we’ve moved well beyond the “women are delicate flowers who must not exert themselves during pregnancy for fear their uterus will fall out” days, there still isn’t a lot of consistency when it comes to just how much exercise is safe during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. And particularly when you’re talking high intensity exercise, such as running.
Some recommendations are too cautious: “Don’t let your heart rate get above 140 bpm.” (ummm…pretty sure my heart rate gets that high just going up the stairs these days! Note: this is an outdated measure, set in 1985 but no longer held to today. For more info, see this great BMJ article about the new ACOG guidelines .)
Some are completely impractical: “Buy yourself a rectal thermometer and periodically take your temperature to make sure you don’t overheat.” (thanks, but no thanks!)
And even the “make sure you’re able to hold a conversation” rule is tough to follow. I’m so easily winded these days that whenever I’m excited about something, I can’t even tell Evan without getting out of breath (a fact he finds hilarious, by the way).
So after a lot of research and some honest conversations with my midwife about running and my innate drive to constantly push myself, I’ve come up with an incredibly simple rule of thumb when it comes to exercising these days: Use common sense.
I’m obviously not out there doing speed workouts. Or trying to squeeze in a run at noon on a sunny 90 degree day. If anything, I’m probably still overly cautious because, well, pregnancy is weird and scary and I have no idea what the heck is going on with my body most of the time. My running is a far cry from the image I held in my head during my pre-pregnancy days: I’d picture myself gracefully gliding along in my cute running clothes with my cute little belly, blissfully smiling about the fact that I was sharing my passion with my unborn child. Ahhh…so beautiful, right?
The reality is slightly less pretty. Although I’ve gained a whopping one pound throughout the first trimester, when I run I feel as though I’m carrying at least an extra 15. There’s jiggle up top and more girth around the middle and my stride just feels off. When I catch glimpses of myself as I run by store windows, I look more like a clumping elephant than the graceful “mother earth runner” of my dreams. The “bump” that only I notice looks to everyone else like the gut of a girl who loves her ice cream and donuts — not one who loves pounding the pavement.Pre-pregnancy, flat chested LBC vs. Pregnant LBC
For the first time in my life, I’m running without any hope of getting faster. In fact, I know I’ll only see slower times and shorter runs as the months goes by. To someone who thrives on the competition against the clock, this is a weird feeling. And I can’t say it’s been an easy adjustment. But I’m plugging away. Running whenever I can and being content with taking it easy and keeping it short.
I mentioned earlier that I really haven’t been able to handle as much as I thought I would be able to in these early weeks. Some of that was naiveté (I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into with this whole pregnancy thing), and some of it is probably due to the nervousness that comes with being a first time preggo. In fact, my doctor/midwife have been very encouraging about my running, and urge me to keep it up.
So all that said, here’s a basic summary of how my running has been going over the past few months. I feel like I should state the obvious: I’m not a medical professional and you should consult with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. Every pregnancy is different and ultimately each woman has to decide for herself how much she’s going to do (with the help of your doc, of course). Some women are superstars and are able to do a lot more than I have (like run marathons!), others choose to go a more conservative route. Obviously this is all just my personal experience.GOTR 5K …so far my only “race” while pregnant
Week 3: Marathon training in blissful ignorance. Pace generally falls between 7:20s – 7:40s for most runs. Total Mileage: 53
Week 4: Find out I’m pregnant and marvel at how I don’t feel any different yet. Fantasize about easily running through my entire pregnancy. “Oh I’ll probably try to keep my mileage between 35-40 miles per week, at least at the beginning! I can slow down in the 2nd trimester if I have to!” Continue to run the same mileage and essentially the same pace as I had the previous week (although I skipped the speed workout and long run…but that was more due to the fact that I was traveling than anything else). Total Mileage: 30
Week 5: Still feel pretty good physically, but start to experience pain in my lower back/butt, particularly when running down hills. Go on a few slow runs to try to loosen things up, and take a few days off so that pain will go away. Get discouraged and stop tracking mileage.
Week 6: Starting to feel fatigue and nausea. No longer in the mood for most food (this also happened to be the week we moved. Fun times). Cut back on number of days I run, but still try to go out for 6 – 7 miles at a time, finding hilly routes whenever I can.
Weeks 7 – 10: Fatigue hits like a ton of bricks, and I’m feeling nauseous more days than not. Pace starts to drop in week 7 (though still easily holding onto 8:00/8:15s and finish a couple of runs with a 7:59 last mile, just for kicks) and continues dropping from there. I start feeling lots of cramps, as if I have my period for weeks on end, which makes me really nervous about running (despite the fact that cramps are normal during early pregnancy and can be exacerbated by constipation). As the weeks go on, my running consistency gets worse. Try to make up for it by walking more (which makes the pup super happy). Run 10 miles with Stephanie during VCM, which gives me confidence that I can do more than I realize.
Weeks 11 – 13: Trying to adjust to a new work schedule and fatigue means even more irregular running. Make an effort to go every other day, or at least 3 times per week. Mostly successful.Hike up Okemo with the family at 9 weeks pregnant
Average run distance: 3 – 5 miles (6 when I’m feeling especially good).
Longest run: Technically 20 miles . But since I wasn’t even remotely aware of Baby’s presence at the time, I suppose I can’t really count it. The 10 miles I ran with Steph during VCM has been my longest run since.
Average pace: 8:30ish. But this varies greatly from day-to-day, depending on how I’m feeling. Some days I’m running 9:00s. I probably could push myself harder, but I’m still in that nervous phase of not really knowing how much I can handle. Also, have I mentioned that I’m really, really tired? All the time.
Garmin or no Garmin: NO. Yeah, it can be a great tool for keeping your pace in check, but really the thing just frustrates me these days. I see the pace and instinctively want to push: “Let’s see if I can run this mile close to 8:00!” The watch makes me focus more on the numbers I’m seeing than the actual effort.
Gauge run intensity by: perceived effort. I’ve been running long enough that my body sort of knows what it’s doing at this point. I really try to focus on how I’m feeling (which can change day to day, mile by mile) and gauge my pace on that. If I’m feeling good, I’ll speed up. If I start feeling weird cramps or strangely out of breath, I slow it down or even stop to walk.
Running clothes: Still fitting into all my old clothes, although I really shouldn’t be squeezing into those sports bras anymore. And the waistbands of certain pairs of shorts are starting to feel tight. I finally broke down and bought one slightly larger and more supportive sports bra (this A cup runner has now moved up to a size “medium” sports bra. Oh boy!), but I’m holding off on getting more because I don’t really know just how big I’m going to get. I also need to invest in some new running shorts that will grow with me. I actually really love the one pair of Oiselle Rogas I own (that wide waistband feels great!) but I cannot justify spending that much money on a pair of shorts that will only fit me for a limited amount of time.
Goals: Now that I’m starting to feel better (less nauseous and slightly more energy), I want to start slowing building my mileage back up again. I know I can handle it, it’s just a matter of getting myself out there. And since I can’t imagine making it through the entire year without a running goal to work toward, I would like to sign up for a few fun summer/early fall races. I have this fantasy of being able to run a half marathon sometime in the 2nd trimester, but we’ll see how things go over the next few weeks. Also – I need to start lifting more regularly. My goal is to do this twice a week, though more often than not I end up just doing it once.Climbing a mountain with baby
Favorite cross training activity: hiking! Evan and I go on at least one hike per week and I’m loving it (though not so much the fact that he’s springing up the hills while I huff and puff behind). These hikes have sort of filled the void where long runs used to be. I’m also walking a lot more than I used to — not quite as satisfying, but hey, it’s activity.
Running dislikes: the jiggle in my chest (I used to long for boobs to even things out on my bottom-heavy frame. But now that I have them, I can’t say I’m a fan), the lower back pain I still experience on some runs, my slow pace, the length of time it takes me to warm up, the fact that I no longer zone out and run free like I used to…and that running just feels so different.
Running likes: it clears my head, makes me less nauseous, and gives me a burst of energy. All those wonderful benefits I used to get from running still hold true. I generally feel better on days I run than days I don’t. And despite all my complaints above, I love it because it helps me feel like myself again. Not during the run. But after. There’s this brief moment after I finish that I cherish — I’m sweaty, out of breath, and the pride of completing a solid workout washes over me. It doesn’t matter how slow or short the run was. That wonderful moment after I finish is what’s going to keep pushing me to stick with this for as long as I can.
Pregnant runners (past and present!): what’s your favorite maternity workout gear? It doesn’t have to be specifically made for maternity wear, but I’d love to hear what brands/styles you love the most for working out while pregnant.