Training for a Half Marathon (Or Other Race) Pregnant

>> Friday, June 3, 2011

I had been training for a local half marathon race since the month before we got our positive test. I never expected to see those two pink lines so soon, and the running dork in me immediately thought about the race. OK. Back up. AFTER the shock wore off and I thought about the tiny poppy seed growing inside of me -- THEN I thought about the race.

Priorities here!

Still, once my mind cleared, I wondered: Would I still be able to participate? And is running 13.1 miles around 12 weeks a good idea?

I got lots of opinions on the matter from family, friends, and even online pregnancy boards. After becoming increasingly frustrated with the wildly varying responses (from a firm "HELL NO. That's so selfish!" to "Yeah -- and you can even race the whole thing. Go for a PR!"), I decided to listen to myself and my body. Oh, yeah. And my midwife.

Here's how I progressed toward my goal in the early weeks. Keep in mind this is my personal experience and tips that worked for me. Every pregnancy is different.

1.) I checked with my healthcare provider before getting too intense. I kept running light and fun until my first appointment at around 7 weeks. Before that point, I continued the mileage I was already doing -- and no more. I ran at a slower pace (to keep my heart rate lower) and made sure to keep myself well hydrated. In the early weeks, I didn't feel any different -- sickness hadn't settled in and my energy levels were still high.

Then, at my first appointment, I told my midwife about my goal. I told her the specific date of the race and how far along I'd be. I gave her details about my running history (which included running the distance many, many times within the past three years) and how my running had been since we found out. She was supportive, but also cautious. We agreed I could continue training if I kept it light and relaxed. She emphasized that I should listen to my body, but that if I had been active before pregnancy, she saw no reason that I couldn't continue what I was doing.

***It's important to note that I had run several recent 12-milers before I got pregnant. I had also come off a long season of marathon mileage. So, the distance was well within my reach. If you've never run a half marathon before or your distance isn't at least to a comfortable 10 miles, you may want to stick with shorter races.

2.) I threw my expectations out the window. My goal was to complete the run, not to smash a time goal at the race. That way, I could train without putting any pressure on myself. I didn't wear a watch on any of my runs. I even had to stop back at the house on the longer runs to pee, eat, and drink (in that order). Time didn't stop when I did, and I knew that stopping during the race was a real possibility -- one I needed to get used to. Why worry about the clock ticking?

At first, it was difficult to change my view of running. Though I'm relatively laid-back, I always have some sort of goal pace in mind. I am somewhat competitive, too. But running pregnant had to be different (I wrote more about that in our first preggo running post). At times, I felt like I wasn't moving forward. Like each mile took FOREVER. Slowly -- quite literally -- I began to soak in my surroundings. I began to appreciate that I could still run and move my body. Running became a relaxing mental break. Time to think.

The mental shift was so important, but not easy. I still struggle with it. However, I keep reminding myself that this step-back is temporary. I will work to regain my "usual" self and my "usual" times after the baby arrives. I have my whole life to run and only 9 months to grow this sweet baby.

3.) I modified my usual training schedule. Typically when I get ready for races, I run 5 to 6 days a week. After I found out I was pregnant, my body somehow told me I only needed to run 3 to 4 days a week. How did I know? In time, I just felt . . . tired. Especially after Sunday long runs. I needed more recovery. When I ran 3 to 4 days a week -- a short, mid-length, and long run -- I felt great.

Remember: During pregnancy, the body is dealing with WAY more than training. Those early bedtimes and mid-afternoon yawns are because a human is growing. That's serious, serious stuff.

I changed my long run build-up, too. Instead of building the mileage by running progressively longer, longer, then stepping back (like in Hal Higdon's plans), I ran a long run, say -- 10 miles, and the next week would do between 6 and 8. The next week, I'd do maybe 11. Then another 6 or 8. The next week, 10 again. The longest I ran before the race was (a ssslow) 11 miles the week before lining up at the start.

4.) If I felt particularly sick or tired, I'd skip that day. Or move the workout entirely. I did find, though, that running often helped my "morning" sickness quite a bit. Especially those short runs between 3 and 4 miles. Along with listening to how I was feeling -- I had to accept that I might be too sick or tired to participate in the event. I'll write more about this in another post.

The key: I had to keep my goal loose to eliminate disappointment.

There were some days when I had cramping and other strange pains (just during the day, not while running). These sensations are normal in early pregnancy and usually indicate that the uterus is expanding with the growing baby. However, on days when I had more pain than others, I took a walk around the neighborhood versus a jog.

Overall, I let my minute-by-minute condition dictate my schedule. Sometimes that meant giving up for a walk. Sometimes that meant giving up for a night resting on the couch. In the end, I was able to run the race and feel great doing it. If I hadn't taken care of myself, I'm not sure I could have completed it.

5.) I tested out my new racing style. I ran a couple 5Ks to see what racing was like while pregnant. I highly recommend experiencing a shorter race before going for something longer. I can't even begin to describe all the differences. It was really difficult to hold myself back at first. I had to check in with my breathing every few moments. Often, I'd have to slow my pace to get comfortable again.

For those of you familiar with racing, you'll understand how the body/mind surrenders to adrenaline on race day. Learning how to get that control back is important during pregnancy. I kept reminding myself that the baby was along for the ride. He/she needed to keep calm and happy.

I had to check my pride at the start line, too. I had to stop thinking about how I could usually kick the butts of the people around me. That was probably the most difficult of all. Watching the clocks and seeing my finish times the slowest they have ever been -- humbling. On a positive note: I think running while pregnant has made me a more supportive runner. I've been able to run with a new group of people and help encourage them along the way. It's been weird . . . but also incredibly gratifying.

In our next post on this topic, I'll write more about race day. How I fueled and hydrated. The decision I had to make the morning of to run the race or not. And what it was like making my way from 0 to 13.1.

Have tips you'd like to share? Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

Pssst: Catch up on other baby-related posts at (never home)maker, baby!

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