Tips from a Pregnant Runner
So here we are-- 2 weeks from my third trimester, and I've been running this entire pregnancy. For some, this might not seem like a big deal, but for myself- this is a far cry from my last pregnancy, where exercise was limited, my few attempts at running futile. Running while pregnant has been an interesting experience, and I've learned a ton about myself, and just running while pregnant in general, so I thought I'd share some of my best tips- what I've learned, as a pregnant runner. Let me premise this by saying this: as a holistic nutritionist and former trainer, running does not work for everyone- during or outside of pregnancy. As much as I love to run, and it's great cardio- I recognize it puts significant strain on the joints and the body as a whole so please pay attention to your own body and it's cues, as well as speak to your doctor or midwife to determine whether running, pregnant or not- is a good activity choice, for you.
Running while pregnant: my experience I've been a runner for a long time. Like, over 10 years long. Though I always take some time off in the winter, partly because I despise the cold, and partly because my body needs a break after a significant season of running- last summer in particular, as I started training for a 10 miler, and a subsequent half marathon, only weeks following training for a fitness competition. (I know, even I think I was a little crazy, looking back.) This year, I had only just starting running again a few weeks before I became pregnant- but I've been running on and off since high school, so I'm no newbie runner, and my body (usually) quickly adapts to the cardiovascular demands of running, because I've trained every summer for so long. This year, my runs felt different, almost immediately after finding out I was pregnant (and, thinking back, likely even before I knew). With an increase in blood volume, my body requiring extra oxygen, as well as just getting back into running meant my usual 8-9 minute easy pace shot up to 11-12 minutes, with my heart rate still inching a bit higher than I would have liked it to be (though the old recommendations of 140bpm have been largely disproven). I feared I'd have to stop running early, if my heart rate stayed so high as my pace stayed so slow. Luckily, as I monitored my heart rate and maintained a pace that felt good, my heart rate started coming down and I was able to push harder, without as much strain on my heart (or the baby's!) and my pace came back down to a 10-11:00 pace, which felt good, for me. The biggest thing I had to remind myself when I was frustrated with my slow pace and difficult runs in the beginning was that when my heart rate goes up, so does my baby's-- this kept my head in the right space to run for fun, not for competition, and I promised myself early on-- if it ever felt too difficult, I would stop. I trained at my regular rate, albeit slower, for those first few months, running 2-4 times a week, with 1 gradual long run each week-- I finished my first 10 miles at 14 weeks, and completed one of my favorite 10-milers in June, at 16.5 weeks pregnant.
I forced myself to take 2 15-30 second walking breaks, just to maintain a healthy heart rate, and it felt good! From there, I maintained running 2-3 times a week, for about 3-5 miles at a time, with lots of low impact strength and yoga in between. This last week (25-26 weeks) was the first time I've felt my body really slowing me down. My run was slower, with the same effort, and really, I'm ok with that. It's hard, being someone who is traditionally very competitive, to allow my body to slow down- but there is absolutely no one to compete with when you are pregnant. Growing a human is, and should be, your ONLY priority while you are pregnant, and that reminder made it so much easier to accept the slight slow down and just continue to do what feels good. Nearing the third trimester means my body is starting to wind more into pre-birth mode, but staying active as I can is everything, and I'm so thankful I've been able to stay as active as I have, this pregnancy. So here are my best tips for how I have maintained my running routine, in a healthy way, for myself and for baby Tip # 1: Accept the slow down. Slowing down while you are pregnant, whether in the first trimester with that huge increase in blood volume, or the third with that extra weight pulling down on your belly, or even in the second, that 'honeymoon phase' that is supposed to be so good-- is NORMAL- you're still growing a baby, mama! Don't try and push yourself beyond what your body is telling you. When your heart rate and body temperature increases, so does your baby's- and running takes important resources your baby needs, so don't push it. Slow down when you need to, listen to your body, take breaks when necessary and please do not feel like you're 'weak' for slowing down. Your baby is more important. His/her health, and yours, is what matters most. Tip # 2: Get a heart rate monitor. Along the same line, a heart rate monitor is SUCH an important tool for gauging how your body is reacting to your runs. Like I explained, the more I watched my heart rate while I ran, the more I saw my body's natural adaptations to running while pregnant- but I also saw how difficult it was on my body in the beginning, a signal to slow it down until my body gave me the go to pick it back up again.
Tip # 3: Maintain your electrolyte balance. Your hydration needs increase during pregnancy, electrolytes included- and leg cramps (often due to electrolyte imbalance) are even more common in pregnancy. Trust a girl when I say, get in those electrolytes!! Ultima is my favorite brand to stir into a tall glass of water, or good ol' coconut water- which will give you a good dose of natural sugars for long runs, as well. Tip #4: Belly band, belly band, belly band! Around 20 weeks, as my belly grew, I started feeling baby girl tugging on my round ligaments. I'm carrying this sweet girl LOW, which makes me feel like she's using my pelvis as a hammock, or my bladder as a trampoline, depending on which way she's positioned, that day. So despite my best efforts to slow down, and all but eliminate high impact exercises (like jumping), my body still ached. I maintained shorter, 2.5-3 mile runs, but I knew I needed something to support my belly as I moved. Enter the belly band. This $30 band CHANGED the game. It holds my belly in place, reducing my back and round ligament pain and has made movement soooo much easier! I can not say enough good things about using a belly band during exercise while pregnant, running or not.
Tip #5: Warm up, cool down. This should be obvious, for any runner, not just pregnant runners- but getting those muscles warm to avoid injury is even more crucial, especially with that relaxin that starts to course through our veins in late pregnancy, loosening our joints for labor. Cooling down and bringing your heart rate and body temperature, and baby's, back down after is essential. I learned this the hard way, back in June, after a hot 5-mile run with no warm up or cool down, I ended up with a week of cramped up calves that were SO not fun (and kept me from any activity, that week!) So make sure to warm up, AND cool down, mamas!
Did you run while pregnant? What tips do you have for pregnant runners?