My Legs Aren’t Pregnant – 5 Things to Consider When Running While Pregnant

Pregnancy makes you do crazy things.

For me being pregnant was easy.  I know, I know – and I’m sorry to all of you who suffered through morning sickness, swelling, pain, fatigue and anything else that growing a tiny human throws at you.  Truly, I am.  I know I was blessed, and I am grateful every day for it.  But having an easy pregnancy and being an active individual can sometimes get you into a comfort zone that is abnormal for someone who should be resting and focusing all their energy on creating life.  Which is why I thought it was totally normal to start marathon training with my husband and our group of running buddies.  I mean, after all, I wasn’t pregnant in my legs.  I’m fit, so it makes logical sense (to me) that I can do this.

After getting clearance from my doctor to continue to exercising, I decided to try my hand at running with the group.  I had run recreationally before finding out I was pregnant and had done all kinds of reading on the benefits of exercise on labor and delivery, so I was all for giving it a try.  There was exactly 18 weeks before the marathon Sean had registered to run and roughly 16 weeks before my due date.  Call me crazy but I did it anyway.  I didn’t commit to running 4-5 days a week like them, but damned if I wasn’t there every Sunday morning for distance day!  Cause of all days to pick, may as well go with Sunday long run day, right?!

My doctor cautioned me that I needed to keep my heart rate down while exercising and the best way to gauge that was to make sure I was able to talk and run at the same time.  If I couldn’t talk anymore it was too strenuous and I needed to back off.  Lucky for me, my new running partner (who would turn out to be one of the best training partners/friends a girl could ask for) wanted to take the pace nice and slow and didn’t like listening to music when running which left her wide open for chatting the miles away.

Ok, lets give this a shot.

The first day we all went out together, we split into two groups for a beginner 13km.  I committed to going half the distance and they planned a route where I could bow out at 6km.  We also were running 10:1 intervals where we would get a 1 minute walk break after every 10 mins of running.  It was so perfect for me, I didn’t even notice when we passed the 6km mark and I still felt awesome.  I finished all 13km that day and was so amazed at how good I felt that I knew I could do more.

Slow and steady wins the race became my motto as I set my sights on further distances.  After getting a few more runs under my belt, I set myself a goal of completing a half marathon distance before the baby arrived.  I wouldn’t get a medal.  There wouldn’t be any swag.  No finish line to cross and no race bib.   But I would accomplish something very few could say they’d done.  And wouldn’t that be some kind of story to tell the baby when she arrived?!

Now running while pregnant is very different from running normally.  The first few times I went out by myself I was frustrated at how slow and sluggish I felt.  Every step felt like I was dragging weights on my feet.  It wasn’t until I was running with a partner, doing 10:1’s that I hit my groove.  I had to learn to accept that my pace would be slower and that I simply couldn’t keep up the way I used too.  And there were other things I had to learn too – some the hard way (you’ll see what I mean when you get to #4).  Here’s my list of the Top 5 Things to Consider When Running While Pregnant:

Top 5 Things to Consider When Running Pregnant:

  1. Talk to your doctor first.  This should be a no-brainer.  Everyone’s bodies are different and not every woman goes through pregnancy the same way.  I know plenty of fit moms who suffered through their pregnancies and had to give up exercise in order grow a human.  So make sure you speak with your doctor before considering (or even continuing) any type of exercise when pregnant.  There is no shame in putting exercise on the back burner for a few months.  And even if your doctors gives you the go-ahead, this does not mean you run out the door and take up power-lifting!  Remember – slow and steady wins the race!
  2. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate.  Sean will be so proud of me for putting this as my #2 piece of advice.  There is so much I could say about the importance of drinking water for pregnant ladies, but I won’t bore you with all the details.  Just know that you need all the extra fluids to support healthy baby development.  If you’re exercising on top of it all it becomes crucial for you to increase water intake.  I had to upgrade my water belt for running from 2 bottles to 4 to make sure I was taking enough water with me.  Even for shorter runs.  You may feel like you’re going to float away by times.  Trust me – you and your baby will thank you for it.  Sean used to follow me around with a water bottle as a gentle reminder that I needed to drink more.  Sometimes I wanted to turn around and dump it on his head.  But we’re gonna go ahead and say that was the hormones talking!
  3. Nutrition.  This is another one that Sean will be proud of me for adding!  Growing a tiny human is a lot of work, and therefore requires a lot of energy.  I’m not saying “go out and eat everything” or indulge in every craving you have, but rather eat when you are hungry.  Food is fuel and good food is better fuel.  So if you are running while pregnant, you need to make sure that you’re taking in enough calories to cover the cost of growing that tiny human and fuel your body for exercise.  And it has to be the right kinds of calories.  Don’t be scared of food.  Think of being pregnant as kind of a constant form of exercise that is happening in the background.  If you go and throw in an actual work out (ie. going for a run) it only stands to reason that you would require a few extra calories to sustain your energy levels.  Take your snack breaks when you need them, and heck, take an extra one if you want.
  4. Gear.  This is a good one.  Being pregnant changes many things – your body especially.  Having the proper gear to support these changes when running is as crucial as eating the right foods.  Speaking  to this first hand, I had a particularly nasty run in (no pun intended) with a sports bra I thought fit properly.  I wore it a grand total of 2 times before I developed chaffing spots so large I couldn’t wear a normal bra for almost a week.  And man was it painful!  I think I was actually scared to shower for a few days for fear of the excruciating pain that occurred when the water hit the open sores.  Making sure your gear fits your new physique is so important, I cannot stress this enough.  Getting bigger is inevitable during pregnancy.  Your hips will widen, you may swell in all kinds of places, your belly will get bigger and you may even notice a change in your shoe size.  This means that your pre-pregnancy work-out gear may not fit you any more.  But being comfortable and making sure you’re well supported in all the right areas is super important.  Trust me, the marathon tattoos I now have are a great reminder of that.
  5. Exit Strategy.  Planning your route?  My best piece of advice is to plan a route with an exit strategy.  When I started running with Sean and our friends they would always plan their distance with an exit point roughly 1/2 through for me incase I needed to bow out.  Sometimes it meant we would have to leave a car somewhere for me to get home, but at least I would have the option to stop.  It would be a terrifying feeling going running through the city and find yourself not being able to get back.  Having said this, another important thing to remember is to take your phone with you.  Get an arm band, a water belt, slip it in a pocket or tape it to your forehead.  Just make sure you’ve got it.  That way (heaven forbid) if anything were to ever go wrong you have a way to get help.  I was lucky enough to never have to use mine, but I definitely took advantage of the exit points on our runs more than once.  There’s no point in being a hero and suffering through the distance if your body is telling you to stop.  You are looking out for more than just you now.

So there you have it.  My 5 take-aways from running while pregnant.  I’ve got tons of other tips and tricks, but I think this is enough to get you started.  Remember though, everything you do should feel right for you.  It’s your body and you have to listen to it.  While a 10km may be your current goal, you have to remember that the tiny life growing inside of you takes priority.  It is an amazing accomplishment to be able to run at all while pregnant.  Cheers to you if you are still at it!  It’s something I can honestly say I am proud of myself for.  I never pushed myself to unsafe limits, but I was a always a little curious as to just how far I could safely go.  The answer to that is 23km.