Running: What to Expect When You’re Expecting

The Plan

I’m back with another post! And it’s been less than a year. Hooray! To begin, let me reiterate that I’m not a doctor, a midwife, or an expert on prenatal fitness. I’m just a 31-year-old lady who’s trying to figure out running while pregnant. That being said, I do not believe pregnancy in and of itself is a reason to stop running. My doctor and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) agree. Years ago, there was a guideline that stated women shouldn’t let their heart rate get above 140 during pregnancy, but the ACOG actually reversed that recommendation back in the early 1990’s and now says, “If you were a runner before you became pregnant, you often can keep running during pregnancy, although you may have to modify your routine.”

Okay, so I got the approval of ACOG and my doc, but what next? The advice on how much or how fast to run is still kind of murky. Are marathons okay? What about mile repeats? Long runs? There’s a huge difference between a casual jogger and a competitive marathoner and I think it’s tough to give sweeping recommendations to all pregnant runners. And if your doctor isn’t a runner, they might have trouble understanding your running goals. My doctor definitely green lights the running, but I’m not sure she really understands the desire to run competitively (especially marathons…I definitely got the “good for you, but you’re crazy!” look last spring when I ran Boston.)

ANYWAY, since Boston 2015, I had been running about ~20-ish miles a week, so I decided that I’d try to maintain that for as long as possible. Could I run more than that? Probably. But since that’s all I was running in the weeks leading up to the positive test, I decided to stick with it. I also hadn’t been doing any double-digit long runs or speed workouts (no fall races were on my calendar, so I didn’t really see the point), so I decided to keep most of my runs in the easy range.

Back in CP for the weekend!Central Park

I’ve been running for 16 years (over half my life) and so by this point, running is as part of my routine as brushing my teeth. It relaxes me, gives my day a sense of accomplishment, and just generally feels normal. With so many things outside of my control during pregnancy (NO WINE, body changes, lots of worrying), running was one thing that made me feel like me. Plus there are a ton of reasons why exercise during pregnancy is good (reduced risk of gestational diabetes, digestion regularity, possible increased blood flow to the baby, etc, etc).

To begin, I made it a goal to run at least 4 times per week through at least the end of the 2nd trimester (27 weeks). Once I hit the 3rd trimester in a few weeks, I’m going to re-evaluate and see how I feel. Maybe 2 runs a week will feel better. Maybe a run-walk combo is what I’ll need to do. Or maybe I’ll join the YMCA and start aqua jogging. Throughout these 40 weeks, I’ve tried to keep flexibility the name of the game. I should note, that if my doctor advised against running or if I had any serious pain, then I would stop immediately, regardless of any initial goals. The first trimester was mainly all good – there were some days that I felt out of breath or fatigued, but honestly I felt normal. By week 15 or 16 though, I began to notice changes in my body. I was gaining weight (see section below) and this was putting an extra strain on my body. The uterus seemed to be pressing directly on my bladder during weeks 17-20, making me feel like I had to pee every minute of the run. Hello, 4 pee breaks over 4 miles. And then later in second trimester, the round ligament pain made an appearance. But here’s the thing, for every achy and annoying run, I also had one where I felt great, almost like my old self. So, I decided to follow a “3 bad run” rule. If I had 3 bad runs in a row (I’m not talking about serious pain…I’m talking about generally meh/blah runs), I would consider stopping running and switching to walking. Luckily, I don’t even know if I’ve had 2 bad runs in a row, let alone 3. But if that happens, I’m willing to switch to cross-training.

Weight Gain and Slowing Down

I think everyone knows that gaining weight while pregnant is necessary and essential to the development of a healthy baby. For women at a healthy starting weight, the ACOG recommends gaining 25-35 pounds. That being said, the whole process is also very WEIRD. I’ll be honest, my weight is not really something I’ve given a whole lot of thought to as an adult. I’ve weighed the same amount (give or take a few pounds) for most of my adult life. This is a cliché for sure, but it’s my “happy weight.” It’s a number that allows me to eat all my favorite foods, drink wine (well, not while pregnant), and have enough energy and stamina to run and avoid injuries. But I feel like when you get pregnant, there’s this big emphasis on your weight – what’s too much, what’s too little, etc. Even if you didn’t think about it much before, it’s now top of mind. And in the baby books and websites, the advice can be contradictory. “Don’t gain too much weight or you’ll increase your risk for gestational diabetes and other complications!” But also…”Remember – even if you’re not hungry, the BABY is hungry!” It’s enough to stress out even the most levelheaded pregnant ladies.

Fortunately, things seem to have settled into a good pattern. I gained 1 or 2 pounds during the first trimester and about a pound a week after that, without overthinking it too much. I mostly eat the same amount/things as pre-pregnancy (well, with the exception of gummy candy….I’ve been eating a lot more of those, oops), but I’m finding myself adding more snacks in throughout the day (a bowl of cereal, extra yogurt, fruit smoothie, etc.)

The whole point of me bringing this up is how pregnancy weight gain affects running. We all know that within reason, the less you weigh, the easier running will be. So when you gain 5, 10, 15+ lbs…you feel it in your running. And with pregnancy that weight gain is (mostly) centered in the front of your body, which really throws things out of whack. I remember finishing up a run around week 20 and having to walk the last ½ mile because I had this terrible upper back cramp. I’m guessing it was from a combination of a bigger chest (this former A cup is now a C!) and stretching belly muscles. Fortunately that seemed to be a one-time thing and it went away (for now).

Even when I’m not running, I feel the extra weight I’m carrying. It’s harder to lift myself out of bed in the morning and it’s not as easy to bend down and tie my running shoes. Add in the extra relaxin your body produces during pregnancy (a hormone that stretches out ligaments in preparation for birth) and running can feel…well, like a pain. Up until week 18 or so, I was able to maintain an 8:30-9-ish minute pace without much trouble (occasionally I would even dip into the upper 7’s just to see how it felt). But after I hit the halfway mark, I noticed myself slowing down considerably. By week 26, my easy run pace is now closer to 10:00/mile pace. I don’t normally wear a garmin when I run (just an old school timex watch) and so until a few weeks ago I assumed I was keeping up a 9:00 minute pace. But one day, I strapped on the garmin and discovered I was actually running 10:00+ pace. Dang, that was a shock. Especially because the run didn’t feel particularly easy. It’s kind of annoying that runs now take longer than before, but I’m trying to focus on the fact that I’m lucky to still be running, no matter the pace. I’m fully expecting to need to add in walk breaks sooner or later, but I’ll tackle that when I come to it.

Pregnant running belly

Again, I’m obviously not a doctor or a registered dietician, so my words should be taken with a grain of salt, but I will say that my approach to pregnancy and nutrition has been – eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full, and try to make good choices. I don’t think these 40 weeks are a time to go crazy and overeat at every opportunity, but there also not a time to worry too much, if that makes sense. When I finish a long run (which is 7 miles, max, these days) I don’t really do anything special. I eat something filling (preferably with protein + carbs) and then move on with my day. I focus on hydration and I try not to let too many hours go without a snack (believe me, nobody wants me to get hangry). I’ve still got 14 weeks to go, but so far this seems to be working out okay. When the baby is a little older maybe I’ll ask him how he felt about my post-run nutrition and report back. :)

Some notes on 2nd trimester running: Weeks 15-25

Most weeks I tried to get in a 7-miler, although some weeks my longest run was only 5 or 6 miles.

Week 15 – Started noticing a bump, but maybe still looks like a big lunch to others, 18 miles for the week.

Week 16 – Despite constant need to pee, felt decent. Over the next few weeks, I got into a good routine of 20+ miles/week. 24 miles this week.

Week 17 – Entering a weird stage for clothes (regular pants + bella band keep sliding down, but I’m not quite big enough for maternity jeans, had to buy bigger bras, some nausea, spent the weekend in NYC during the blizzard, so sadly no CP run). 20 miles this week.

2016 NYC Blizzard

Week 18 – I don’t really look pregnant yet, so waiters at restaurants still asking me if I’d like wine/cocktail. I WISH. Spent the weekend in the Catskills, 25 miles for the week (most miles since getting pregnant!).

Week 19 – Lots of bladder issues, I’ll pee 3 times before leaving the house and then have to go AGAIN ½ mile into the run. It’s winter so the availability to pee behind trees is hindered by 1) lack of leaves and 2) wearing spandex tights. 23 miles for the week.

Week 20 – I now have an obvious bump if I wear a fitted shirt (yay!), found out we’re having a BOY, still having some bladder issues, started wearing a support belt and that helps a bit. 22 miles for the week.

It's a BOY!

Week 21 – Really annoying round ligament pain, especially on my right side, support belt doesn’t really change things. Started a weekly prenatal yoga class. 18 miles for the week.

Week 22 – Round ligament pain (RLP) continues, 19 miles for the week + prenatal yoga.

Week 23 – Baby moon in Montreal! 30 miles of walking over 4 days. Really glad we did this trip while energy levels are good and bump is still relatively small. 15 miles running for the week + prenatal yoga.

Week 24 – Finally! An obvious bump to strangers. I didn’t expect it to take 6 months to actually really look pregnant. I thought I’d have a big bump by like, end of the first trimester, hah. RLP feeling better, but baddd heartburn, noticed pace was getting slower, spent the weekend in NYC, so lots of walking and dancing (!) at a wedding on Saturday night. 21 miles for the week + prenatal yoga.

Week 25 – Finished a 7-miler this week, which felt like a big accomplishment. Neighbors are starting to notice I’m pregnant (and running). Reaction is mixed – some are confused/concerned, others think it’s cool. 23 miles this week + prenatal yoga.

Besides running and my prenatal yoga class, I also try to take a few walks each week and on occasion, I’ll do a workout video to get in some strength training. Some I’ve tried:

Okay, that’s all I’ve got. I have no idea if this is helpful or if anyone will read it, but at least I will have this to reference in the future.

If you know of any other pregnant running blogs/sources, I’d love to hear about them!