Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Running Through Pregnancy: A Summary

I blogged throughout my pregnancy, but I thought it might be helpful to sum up the running experience in one post.

First Trimester

In November 2013, my husband and I learned we were expecting--due July 2014. We were excited (and nervous). One of my first questions was: how much can I run?

Before I was able to see my doctor, I clung to the wisdom everyone repeats: you can keep up the type and amount of exercise you were doing before pregnancy. My doctor confirmed this, provided I wasn't playing contact sports. I ran five or six days a week those first few weeks, wanting to maintain my running volume as long as possible.

New Year's Eve 2013, 11 weeks pregnant

And then the fatigue hit. In hindsight (in addition to being 20/20, hindsight also usually comes with rose-colored glasses), I didn't have it so bad. While exhaustion, sensitivity to smells, and weird food aversions aren't exactly fun, I never threw up, and I didn't have to worry about the dehydration and weight loss that can accompany extreme morning sickness.

During the first trimester, I didn't run more than six miles at a time. Part of this was due to fatigue and inability to fuel properly, but part of it was fear-related. Having never been pregnant before, even with reassurance from my doctor, I worried about harming the baby by getting overheated (even though it was winter), or becoming over-tired. This fear faded with the realizations that I know my body well enough to know when to take it easy, and that the baby benefits from my exercise.

First Trimester Tips

-Drink plenty of water!
-Listen to your body, but know that sometimes getting out for a run when you don't quite feel like it can actually help. I found was less nauseated and tired on the days I ran.
-Try eating a little before you run. I used to head out the door first thing in the morning, before eating. When I tried that during pregnancy, I was exhausted the rest of the day, even if I refueled well afterward. This only got worse as the weeks progressed, but eating something light before running--like grapes or half a granola bar--alleviated this problem.

Second Trimester

A few weeks into the second trimester, I ran a half marathon. And it was great! This seemed to be the best part of the pregnancy for running.

In February and March I ran a few road races and a seven-mile trail run. After the trail run, a little over five months pregnant, I decided I was done racing for the remainder of the pregnancy. I was starting to get slower and a little more uncomfortable, even with the support of my maternity belt. And since sleep was getting kind of iffy (pregnancy insomnia is no joke), my desire to wake up early to make it to the starting line was dwindling.

I was pretty satisfied with the racing I'd done, and tried to go forward with the mentality that any running I continued to do would just be bonus running. I managed to continue running, on average, four times a week, two or three miles at a time. There were days I felt like superwoman for still being able to run, and there were days I felt incredibly discouraged for not being able to run very far or very fast.

Second Trimester Tips

-If you're lucky enough, like I was, to have your first-trimester nausea go away, take advantage of this window of time in which you feel good and aren't too big yet!
-Take it week by week, if not day by day. Every day is different, every night of sleep is different, every run is different. Listen to your body each time. Having one bad run doesn't necessarily mean you're done for the pregnancy!
-Consider purchasing a maternity support belt. It made a world of difference to my comfort level, and by the end of the second trimester, I wouldn't have dreamed of running without it!

Third Trimester

At this point, I had no plan. Each day, the goal was to get out the door for a few miles, and to be grateful I was still able to do so. This was harder some days than others (both the running and the gratitude), but even short runs helped me maintain my fitness and my sense of accomplishment.
I stopped running a week before my due date because of discomfort caused by the baby descending into a lower position. I continued to walk twice a day, but the days without running were tough. I love to run, and I really missed it. I'm not sure when I'd last gone over a week without running. I also think  running helped me sleep better at night.

Third Trimester Tips

-REALLY listen to your body. Even though it has changed, you still know it better than anyone else. If you think you need a day off, you probably do; you're not just being paranoid.
-Continue to get your doctor's support. At the start, my doctor gave me the green light to run for as long as I felt up to it, unless I developed complications. But at every appointment, I mentioned I was still running and made sure she still thought it was a good idea. If you're a paranoid first-time mom like me, this will make you feel better!
-Take your phone, let someone know where you are, and stay in well-populated areas. For your peace of mind, and your family's. Just in case.
-Stick to smooth surfaces--sidewalks, not trails. Because, hello balance issues!
-Get in the water. Even if you don't cross-train in the pool, simply getting into the pool is worth it. The water supports your belly and takes the pressure off of you.
-Take a minute to be proud of yourself! Running is hard enough on its own sometimes, and carrying an extra 25+ pounds while doing it is an accomplishment!
-Go easy on yourself. It's going to be much slower than you're used to. Some days a run won't happen. You might have to switch to walking or swimming. Whatever happens, know that you will get back to normal running after your baby arrives.

Running during pregnancy, especially near the end, is an issue about which people seem to have very mixed feelings (I'll share a list of links to some varied opinions and experiences in another post). Even though most doctors, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, recommend exercise during pregnancy, some medical professionals and expectant moms are hesitant about running as that exercise, for reasons ranging from discomfort to balance issues to placing undue strain on the pelvic ligaments.

I understand these hesitations, and think it comes down to an individual choice. Some runners, even elites, choose not to run during pregnancy, or stop before they get bigger.

As for me, it helped to be able to run during this first pregnancy. Running is the place I decompress, the place I feel free and strong, the place I go to think and sometimes to pray, without the distractions of daily life. Running also gives me a great sense of accomplishment, and I think losing that during my first pregnancy would have been tough. There were times it felt like the pregnancy would never  end, like my body would never be normal again. And being able to do the thing I love, even on a smaller scale, gave me a sense of normalcy.

But if we ever add to our family again, I can see myself doing it a little differently. I sometimes put a lot of pressure on my running, and that's the first thing that needs to go during a future pregnancy. Running, even racing, needs to be entirely about fun and well-being during that time. It doesn't need to be about how tough I am for running a long race or for running as many weeks along as possible. In fact, I might plan from the beginning to stop running at a certain number of weeks, when I start to get bigger, to see if that prevents some postpartum core-strength issues I'm having (which I'll write more on later). Because, having done it before, next time I'll know it doesn't last forever, that my body will be (mostly) normal again, and I'll return to running at the same level I was before.

No comments:

Post a Comment