Pregnancy can have a tremendous bearing on the running career of a woman. She is confronted with the prospect of either a 10 to 12 month layoff, or with an equivalent period of cautious running, of playing it by ear. The second option is often difficult to maintain due to psychological and physical factors, as well as from lack of guidance, but since a long layoff is so hard to come back from, many opt for cautious running anyway. When pregnancy is non-pathological, and the mother-to-be is not overwhelmed with fatigue, why not run?
The runner should tell her physician about her physical activity during pregnancy. Chances are that he/she will not give much more advice than make sure you do not overexert. That is wise advice, but frequently difficult to apply because overexertion often becomes apparent after the fact, when fatigue has already set in. The runner should approach her pregnancy running gingerly...
Because many female runners have irregular or non-existent menstrual periods, she may not even know she is pregnant for the first couple of months. Whether the first sign of pregnancy is painful breasts or declining race results, both indications are significant. A body cannot do too many things at one time, and the female body during pregnancy will devote its energy to the growth of the fetus. Race results will inevitably take a downward slope. The pregnant runner who continues to race should keep that in mind, and not expect PRs.
Painful breasts must not be ignored. They will increase in weight and be quite tender due to hormonal changes in the body. Extra support is indispensable at this time, and without it, running can be a difficult, if not impossible task. An underwire bra worn over a softer nursing or athletic support bra is an easy way to provide excellent support without chafing.
Nauseous first trimester mornings may be enough to turn anyone away from running, or even waking up at all for that matter! There is no need to be heroic and run no matter what. If soda crackers don't solve the problem, the pregnant runner might want to take a break and wait a while before returning to running.
When the fatigue of early pregnancy and morning sickness are not problems, the mother-to-be should keep going. A slight reduction in mileage is advisable, and anaerobic workouts with lactic acid build-up and a high pulse rate (interval training and long speed workouts) should be avoided.
Anaerobic work is not necessary, because competitive goals must be abandoned during pregnancy. I found that short wind sprints satisfied my desire to run fast, while avoiding the anaerobic/lactic state. One should also try to run in areas with available restrooms (or discreet natural WCs), since in early pregnancy, it seems as though one needs to urinate nearly every 50 yards!
As the belly becomes more pronounced and morning sickness wanes, the pregnant woman may feel better than ever. However, fatigue can sometimes run even faster than the best trained runner, so dont get caught! Mileage should remain sub-normal, but needn't be drastically reduced unless the runner feels uncomfortable. It does no long-term damage to a running career to stop running, so she should continually listen to her body and decrease if necessary.
A race or two can be exciting and stimulating but only if it is approached with the idea that it will be no more than a slightly-faster-than-usual run with a lot of friends. Moderation is the name of the game. A pregnant runner should not participate if it is a very hot day, or if she tends to be compulsive and knows that she may not be able to hold herself to a reasonable pace. Developing a relaxed attitude can be quite a learning experience. I tend to be an unreasonably fast starter in my non-pregnant races. I recently ran a four mile road race while four months pregnant. I concentrated quite consciously on "Take it easy, stay relaxed". Consequently, I ran the first mile 45 seconds slower than usual. The second consequence was that my finish time was only 20 seconds off my personal record, without straining! Relaxation is an important aspect of running - and even more so during pregnancy.
Stretching is helpful, but must be performed with caution. The pregnant womans body prepares for delivery by providing the ligaments and joints with greater stretching ability so as to facilitate the passage of the baby at birth. This increased laxity makes the joints and ligaments more susceptible to injury. Furthermore, the center of gravity shifts, so it becomes easier to fall or take a bad step which could result in sprain or injury to mom or baby.
Increased calories are needed by all pregnant women, and even more so by the pregnant runner. Pregnancy is not a time to try to watch weight, especially since running after delivery will work off any excess pounds in a short period of time. A well-balanced, nutritious diet should be maintained.
A cat-nap is a coveted luxury for even the non-pregnant runner, but extremely helpful for the expectant mother. If fatigue starts creeping up, off with those shoes, and time out!
Toward the end of term, running will become progressively more tedious. Mileage will slowly decrease to barely 25% of the regular load, if not less. The diaphragm has less room to move around in, and thus performs less efficiently, leading to shortness of breath. Furthermore, the amount of circulating blood increases, making the heart pump harder and increasing the resting pulse. The desire to run decreases proportionately, as it becomes more and more difficult. Danger signs indicating that it is time to stop include bleeding, ruptured membranes, high blood pressure, excessive weight gain, and water retention. The obstetrician will be the best judge of contraindications, and he or she should be consulted frequently.
Racing at this time becomes a misnomer, and the almost-mother will be way back in the pack, fun-running. She should enjoy the decreased pressure. It is vital to keep from overheating by drinking plenty of fluids, not running on very hot days, and not exercising too vigorously. Lower back pain can be a problem at this time. Even the non-pregnant runner can benefit from putting her feet up, since resting with elevated legs is helpful in the prevention of varicose veins. Now is the time to take running easy, since relaxation is valuable preparation for delivery.
Preparation for birth is somewhat like getting ready for a marathon or an important race. Emotion has to be channeled for constructive use. Concentration and calmness are valuable tools. Labor is not necessarily easier in the runner than in the non-athlete, but a runner will know how to persevere and make use of her physical strength when necessary. Runner tummy muscles are a definite asset.
After at least a months rest, the new mom will find that her former running paths seem to have doubled in length, and her legs will probably seem twice as sluggish. It takes some time to come back, but it may serve as motivation to know that many women find that their post-pregnancy race results are substantially better than before. There seems to be a maturing of the organism which leads to optimal condition.
Running can become even more valuable to a woman during motherhood, because she will inevitably lose some freedom with her new responsibilities. Sometimes she will forget to attend to her own needs. Running will enable her to devote a special time in her day to herself alone.
Run The Planet thanks Annemarie Jutel for the permission to reprint the article "Running while pregnant". Annemarie Jutel is a Registered Nurse with a PhD in physical education. She is a competitive runner with a best time of 1:18 for the half marathon and has written a number of books on women's running. She has run through two pregnancies herself and lives in New Zealand. Illustration copyright © 2003 by Run The Planet.