Running and Pregnancy: Part I

>> Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I'm trying to keep most of the pregnancy-related posts over at (never home)maker, baby! -- but this one is too running/fitness-oriented to leave off the main site. Running while pregnant has meant learning to run all over again. It's been physically and mentally challenging and frustrating. It's been surprising and, at times, empowering. Most of all, it's been relaxing and fun.

Before I was pregnant, I was running about 30 miles a week. I was training to race the half marathon in around 1:42:00. So, I'd say, for me, I was in good shape. My long runs averaged between 10 and 12 miles. My pace was strong and steady -- between 7:30 and 8:30 most days.

When we saw the second line on the pregnancy test, one of the first things I did was head out on a run. I needed some time to think. To be alone. And running is perfect for that. But as I set my foot to the pavement, I noticed a HUGE difference almost immediately: I was running . . . yes . . . but my pace was ssslow. Even more strange, I didn't care about being slower. At all.

It seems I made an almost unconscious decision upon learning about our little one that I wanted to focus on my baby versus my running goals. This decision isn't for everyone, and I know many women continue to run at good clips during their pregnancies, but -- for me -- taking it easy felt like the natural thing to do.

Even more interesting were the weeks following, where I started to relax more about slow versus fast . . . but began to actually FEEL physically different, necessitating some changes.

1.) My heart rate rises . . . quickly. And to higher numbers than before-pregnancy. Even on an easy jog, I'd easily get up to 150 to 160 BPM. I felt out of breath and like I needed to slow down and take a quick walk break.

There are a number of recommendations for what is a safe level. I've seen as low as 120 BPM. I've read that perceived exertion is way more important, so as long as you can carry a conversation, you're OK. I've read that you can go as high as you want. And the more generally accepted number is between 140 and 150 BPM.

2.) My body (legs, muscles, etc.) feels unchallenged. Though I haven't been timing most of my training runs, I think I'm running paces in the 9-minute range. OK. I even think on long runs when it's warmer, I verge near 10. That's a minute to a minute and a half (or more) slower than usual for me. My body was used to a more demanding schedule.

What's difficult is that my leg muscles and my lungs/heart are at odds. I go for runs -- pretty much all at the same pace -- and feel held back. Yet, I'm out of breath. I continually feel like I want, no, NEED to go faster for sanity . . . but then I catch myself unable to say a full sentence and force a slower plodding.

3.) Recovery takes longer. Though my muscles don't feel the stress, my general energy level is lower. I started at 5 runs per week, then 4, then sometimes only 3. I mixed walking in to make sure I was still moving. I don't necessarily think the tiredness had much to do with the running, just the typical 1st trimester exhaustion (and more than occasional "morning" sickness).

Now I'm feeling much more awake. I'm planning to try and maintain a 4-run-per-week schedule. But I play it by ear. If I'm feeling tired, a brisk walk can be just as satisfying. Sometimes being outdoors in any way is more of what I need than a jog around the neighborhood.

4.) Racing is frustrating. I've run in two 5Ks and one half marathon since finding out the news. The 5Ks, strangely, have both been completed in around 26:30. My usual finish time is closer to 23:00. I completed the half marathon in 2:09, which included 5 stops a porta-johns because I drank so much water. Running pace for that was more like 9:35 miles.

Here's a picture from my first 5K at around 7 weeks.

The second 5K was at around 10 weeks. Much hillier.

Then came the half marathon at 12 weeks.

I don't care about my race times. It's the act of racing that feels so different to me. I'm calm, comfortable, and just happy to participate in the events. I don't find myself wanting to push harder. I even think about my little passenger along the way. I thank him/her from time to time for joining me. Silly, I know. But I'm very happy to have continued running as far as I've been able to manage.

There's a lot more to write about this topic. But I wanted to get the basics out there. In coming weeks, I'll talk more about specifics -- as well as the many opinions I've received from others on running while pregnant (it's been interesting, for sure!). Right now, the baby weighs but a few ounces. I imagine I'll experience more changes as I grow bigger and less comfortable. I am fully ready to switch to lower-impact exercise as my body dictates (walking, swimming, or aqua jogging, anyone?), but will be sad to leave the sport behind, even if only temporarily.

Psssst: If you're interested, today's baby-related post on (never home)maker, baby! is all about my struggles with morning sickness. Joy!

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