A little over a year ago, I found out I was pregnant with my second child. At the time, I was about four weeks into my training program for the Wineglass Marathon, and things had been going really well – I was progressing steadily, hitting my paces, and feeling strong. Then, one morning, I had a particularly rough three-mile run and almost immediately knew it was because I was pregnant (bet you won’t find “had an unusually bad run” in any of those “earliest signs of pregnancy” lists, though 😉 ). With my first pregnancy, I had not yet started running, so I didn’t have any basis for what to expect as far as running during pregnancy goes. So, like any good millenial would do, I started Googling.
Expectations vs. Reality
My Google research mostly came back with two things: articles from various health and fitness websites saying that it was fine for women to continue running during pregnancy, and posts from running bloggers gushing over how wonderful running while pregnant was for them. This seemed like great news for me – I’d been running long enough, and my pregnancy was considered low-risk, so that I could continue running during pregnancy, and I’d get to experience the rush of wonderful
hormones feelings that all of these other runners described having during their pregnancy running. It would be a way for my baby and I to feel connected, and a way for me to feel like I was doing something positive for myself and for her. Who can argue with that? So, with my OB/GYN’s permission, I adjusted my running goals – including deferring the marathon for a year and decreasing my mileage significantly – and set about my journey of pregnant running.
Now, I will be the first to admit that I am very fortunate when it comes to pregnancy. While many women I know suffer through morning sickness and other symptoms that range from annoying to awful, my worst symptom with both pregnancies was needing to run to the bathroom more than usual. The pregnant version of me is basically me plus a bigger belly, clearer skin, and thicker, fuller hair. I am one of those obnoxious women who truly loves and enjoys being pregnant.
All of this is to basically say that, on paper, there was no reason why I should’ve had any problems running throughout my pregnancy. And I really didn’t have any major problems, per se (thankfully). The real problem turned out to be that I just didn’t like running while pregnant.
Despite what my Google research and my own expectations might have led me to believe, running while pregnant did not deliver any of the perks that I had been envisioning. Here’s how those expectations didn’t exactly line up with my reality.
Expectation: Running will make me feel more connected to my baby, and give me a sense that I am doing something for her and my benefit.
Reality: When I found out I was pregnant, it was the middle of July. In Maryland, that means it was hot, all day every day. I would go out to run with every intention of running slowly, pacing myself, but would almost immediately start feeling overheated. Then, I would start panicking about whether or not I was hurting the baby or putting myself at risk for miscarriage. It’s hard to feel connected to your baby, or like you’re doing something positive for yourself and her, when you’re constantly worrying that what you’re doing may actually be harming one or both of you. This fear didn’t go away once the weather turned cool, either, because by then I had grown quite a belly and started feeling mild to somewhat strong Braxton-Hicks contractions during most runs. Again, I started panicking over whether or not I was hurting the baby by running, which took away any sense of connection or benefit I might’ve otherwise gotten.
Expectation: I’ll be able to enjoy running for the sake of running, instead of focusing on a training plan or achieving a PR.
Reality: A lot of the posts from running bloggers who ran while pregnant seemed to focus on how, during pregnancy, you can truly enjoy running because you’re not constantly focused on hitting a certain pace or distance, trying to PR, or “train” for anything. You can just run however fast your body allows, for whatever distance you feel like running. While this sounds nice in theory, pregnancy made me realize that, at least at this stage of my running journey, these are major components of what drives me to run and to keep running. I want to get better. I want to get faster. I want to set PRs. Yes, of course I enjoy running for the sake of running – that’s what easy runs are for, right?! But for me, each week of pregnant running brought slower paces, fewer miles, and more difficulty just running in general. Seeing myself get so much slower, and so much farther away from the goals I had set for myself, really just made me feel depressed and unmotivated to run altogether.
Expectation: Running while pregnant will be just like “normal” running, except I’ll be a little bigger.
Reality: Everything that I had read on Google – from the health and fitness websites to the blogs of other runners – gave me the impression that being pregnant really didn’t impact how you felt during a run, except that you might need to go a bit slower. I read posts of women who had gone for a run on the day they gave birth, who had run multiple half marathons while pregnant…and I’m sure most of you have heard of the woman who ran a marathon at 39 weeks pregnant. I initially assumed that if they could do it, I could do it, too! But for me, running just felt miserable during pregnancy, and there was no way I was going to be able to run the same distances or even close to the same mileage while pregnant that I had run prior to pregnancy. I wasn’t even through my first trimester when my legs started feeling heavy and leaden during every run. No matter how many times I went to the bathroom before a run, I’d feel the need to pee almost immediately after starting to run – and it wouldn’t go away unless I stopped running. As my belly grew, I began to feel pain in my hips, groin, and back, despite wearing a (lovely) pregnancy support belt to deal with this.
So while I did attempt a half marathon at the end of my first trimester, I walked several miles of it and had to hit the port-a-potty practically every other mile. I finished 50 minutes over my PR half marathon time. I also attempted a 10K at 21 weeks pregnant and had to walk more than half of it, finishing 25 minutes over my 10K PR time. Looking back, these weren’t enjoyable experiences, and being able to say I ran a half marathon/10K/etc. while pregnant really wasn’t worth it.
Expectation: Running will keep me from gaining too much weight during pregnancy.
Reality: I gained 40 pounds during my pregnancy – 5 pounds more than the “recommended” amount – despite running through the first 22 weeks. With my first pregnancy, in which I hardly did any exercise, I only gained 32 pounds. So much for that theory.
It is for all these reasons that, if I were able to do things over again, I probably wouldn’t run during pregnancy. Now that it’s been a little over a year since I first found out I was pregnant, I can look back and say that I don’t feel as though there was much – if any – benefit to me or to Brooke from my running during pregnancy (except maybe to one day be able to tell her I ran while I was pregnant with her…).
What I Would Do Instead
If I had the opportunity to go back and do things differently, I would use pregnancy as an opportunity to take an extended break from running and try other forms of exercise that I don’t normally do. In a way, this is kind of taking the “run at whatever pace you want for as long as you want” perspective to the next level – instead of running, I would just do whatever exercise I felt like doing, whenever I felt like doing it. When I’m running, I don’t have the chance to try a lot of other popular exercise programs out there because I spend all the “free” time I have to do any type of exercise running. From my hindsight-is-20/20 perspective, I can now see that pregnancy would have been a great time to explore other modes of exercise.
If I could do it over again, I would try barre, or yoga, or just take a long walk down a new road or trail that I haven’t been down before. And maybe I would go for a run here and there, but maybe I wouldn’t. Either way, trying new forms of exercise would have enabled me to stay in shape during my pregnancy, while at the same time allowing me to choose exercises that actually felt good for my pregnant body. It also would have taken away my ability to “see” myself getting slower as a runner (and the subsequent anxiety I felt over how difficult getting back to where I was pre-pregnancy would be), and I wouldn’t have felt the need to compare myself to other pregnant runners out there who appeared to have done so much better than I was. My feeling is that even if I had not run at all during pregnancy, coming back to running postpartum would have been just about the same as it has been. I don’t think running during pregnancy has given me any advantages in returning to running postpartum, unfortunately.
I’ll be addressing my postpartum running experience in the next two posts in this series on pregnant and postpartum running.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on running during pregnancy and how it went for you. Did you run while pregnant? Was it difficult, or did you enjoy it? Did it help you feel connected to your body and your baby, and stay at a healthy weight? What are your recommendations for others who might be thinking about running while pregnant?
Happy Running! -Sara