Pregnancy fitness: Baby, I was born to run

Running during pregnancy is still a bit controversial, but Karen just can’t say no to her sneakers.

Karen Robock 0

I started running about five years ago when I wanted to get in shape for my wedding. I was about 10 to 15 pounds heavier than I wanted to be and a personal trainer suggested that I start running to meet my cardio needs. She told me that three runs a week, in combination with a mild weight training routine, would be the surest way to slim down for my big day. Needless to say I wasn’t thrilled with the idea at first. But, after several tough weeks I started to get the hang of it. A few months later I completed my first 5k race. I couldn’t believe the high. I’d never been a very competitive person — at least not in a sporty, hey there’s a finish line, kind of way — but all of a sudden I wanted to do better, run further and faster. Plus I felt better than ever — and I looked it, too.

Since then I’ve kept up the habit: I run at least three times a week pretty religiously and I’ve completed more races: Three half marathons, a 30k race and, three years ago, I came 5k from finishing a full marathon. (It was in Nashville and a hurricane was closing in on the city just as we were finishing the race. Organizers shut down the course before my husband and I, and hundreds of other runners, could get to the finish line. Thinking about the near-miss still makes me want to cry!)

So, you could say that running is a pretty big part of my life. It makes me feel good, helps me manage stress and keeps my body in tip-top (or at least not bad) shape. When I found out that I was pregnant I didn’t think twice about continuing to run. I wanted to do everything I could to stay in good health, for myself and my baby.

As I’ve discovered recently though, not everyone thinks running is a good idea for moms-to-be. Lately I’ve started to get some second glances from passersby on the street. Some quizzical, some in admiration (or at least I’d like to think they are) and then definitely a few judgemental leers, too. I can read it all over their faces as I slowly bounce by (I say slowly because I’m now running at a tortoise-like clip and bounce because, well, there’s more of me to jiggle than there used to be). They’re thinking, “What does that woman think she’s doing out running?!”

Needless to say, I’ve been second-guessing my instincts a little as a result. Naturally the journalist in me started doing some research and making some calls to find out whether it is indeed safe for me, now in my sixth month of pregnancy, to keep lacing up. The answers are mixed. One prenatal fitness expert told me absolutely not, that I should be walking instead, and working in other activities like swimming or prenatal yoga. (I am taking a prenatal Pilates class, but not instead of running!) Meanwhile a fitness researcher expressed the opposite opinion: She said that as long as you were a runner pre-conception, and are listening to your body and slowing down as much as you need to as your pregnancy progresses, you should be safe to run well into your third trimester. Some of the concern is over the risk of miscarriage in early pregnancy and then the added pressure on the pelvic area in later months. I’ve talked to my midwife about it and she says that since I’m at low risk of any complications and because I’m taking it easy, that I should be safe to continue. (There’s a whole other dimension of risk if you’re training at a high intensity and/or for six or more hours per week.)

I’ve been making a real effort to listen to my body as the weeks pass. I’ve scaled back on the distance that I run and I’ve started taking walk breaks before or after big hills, and whenever else I need to during my route. I’ve also made it a rule not to leave the house without a water bottle to ensure I’m always well hydrated. So far the running still feels good. I’m definitely slower, and much less graceful, than I used to be but I can’t imagine quitting now, with three more months of my pregnancy left to go.

One trick that I started last week is taking my dog Ella with me. She’s never run with me before and she’s small (a Boston Terrier). I don’t want to push her too hard or over-work her little legs, so I’m conscious about taking it a bit slower and walking more when she’s with me. I have to say that Ella has definitely added a certain something to my routine. She’s big on running really fast for two minutes and then lying down on someone’s lawn or under a tree to chew on a stick. Luckily we can loop through a green space where I can let her off-leash part of the time, so I don’t have to completely follow her lead!

Wish Ella and I luck the next few weeks! And drop me a line if you have any tips or tricks for safe running during pregnancy. I’m off now for run number two of the week!

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