Running through pregnancy is a humbling experience.
It starts out easily enough. If you’re like me, you have a few short weeks of feeling totally normal, before the first trimester nausea and morning sickness begins. Then, once you get past that stage of feeling ill, your body is not all that different yet. You may have put on a few pounds, but not enough to make your normal running routine feel that much different. Maybe you’re dealing with a little more tiredness than usual – it could be hard to get up and get going for your run, or you just find that 5 miles is as tiring as 8 miles used to be.
Then the physical changes in your body start to kick in, one by one. Your boobs get bigger and it’s not like you have a bunch of sports bras in a range of different sizes lying around in your underwear drawer, right? Your belly juts out a little more. You might find yourself tugging at your top to try to pull it down over your exposed skin. You may feel constricted by your waistband. You have more blood rushing around in your veins, which makes those hills just a little bit harder. And you just feel heavier on your feet. Your pace is slower, your runs may be shorter. And if you’re lucky enough to add hormonal fluctuations into the mix, a simple loop of your favorite trail might bring about blinding joy, or tears of frustration and sadness.
Doesn’t it sound glorious?
Well, if running is something you’ve been doing regularly before you got pregnant, you know how it feels if you were to quit cold turkey and you probably don’t want to deal with that feeling unless you have to. But it’s not like you’re going to get as much joy out of it if you’re comparing running through pregnancy to running back when your body was just you, with no crazy changes taking place. So what’s a motherrunner to do?
Adjust expectations. Adjust your gear. Adjust your attitude. Adjust to conditions, day by day, week by week, trimester by trimester. And that’s when the joy of moving and doing something you love during pregnancy (that’s incredibly good for your baby as well as for yourself) will happen. And if it doesn’t? Adjust again and accept that maybe running through pregnancy isn’t going to be right for you.
But, this wouldn’t be an installment of Running Tips if I didn’t include some concrete advice that may help you while running through pregnancy. Not all of them will work for you, because every woman is different and on top of that, every pregnancy is different. (I can tell you that this second pregnancy is different in a lot of ways from my first). Hopefully, though, some of these tips will help you ease the transition from a lean, mean running machine, to running for two.
Running Tips: Running Through Pregnancy
BEFORE YOUR RUN
Make sure you’re stable. No, not emotionally – if anything, being an emotional or hormonal wreck might be helped by you getting out for a run. Take some time to do a little work on your stabilization muscles before you go out for your run. These have definitely helped me feel stronger and more ready to tackle my run, but even if that’s not the case for you, they are still great exercises for pregnancy, so timing them before you run can get you into a good routine of incorporating them into your week. Great moves to try include plank, side plank, dead bugs, quadripeds and bridges.
Set aside your set-in-stone plan. I tried continuing with my training plan through my first and second trimesters. It was an exercise in frustration. I felt bad if I missed workouts and defeated when I couldn’t complete something. Eventually, I accepted that I needed to listen to my body day by day and just take what I had to offer on the day. (There’s that adaptation I mentioned earlier). You want to go out for a leisurely 5 mile run? See how it feels. Maybe after 2 miles you feel like you can’t go another step. Or maybe you feel like doing some faster intervals and you know that 5 miles with a little speed thrown in might be pushing it. Go out and see what your body wants to do and don’t feel like you need to follow any kind of plan.
Make sure you’re fueled. Eating before your run is usually a good idea, although when I used to go out early in the morning, I would often run on an empty stomach. I wouldn’t do that while pregnant. Your blood sugar levels are really important to maintain steadily when you’re pregnant, so you want to try to eat something about half an hour before running. If your only time to run is very early and you can’t fit in time for a snack, it’s important to take some fuel with you, even if you’re not going out for a long run. And don’t forget to refuel as soon as you can when you’re done, with a good mix of carbs and protein. Low fat chocolate milk, fruit and yogurt, an apple with peanut butter – you know what works best for you.
DURING YOUR RUN
BYO Water. Since both my pregnancies have been during winter, I became used to carrying water with me on my runs. The local parks shut the drinking fountains down so the pipes don’t freeze and while I wouldn’t bother if I wasn’t pregnant and just going out for a quick run, there’s no way I’m going anywhere without water right now. Hydration is super important while you’re pregnant and it’s better to be safe than unbearably parched and a long way from home.
Dress for the occasion. It’s time to layer – your body temperature is a little higher than usual and one of the worst things you can do is overheat when you’re exercising during pregnancy. Even when it’s cold out, I make sure I wear layers that can be adjusted or removed if I get too hot – think zippered tops, arm warmers under your long sleeves instead of a jacket, tights with ankle zips and pockets to stash gloves.
Dress for the occasion, part two. Personally, I’ve found that my regular running tights work fine during pregnancy – I just don’t tie the waistband and let it sit under the bump, but longer, stretchier tops are a must for me. I’m a For Two Fitness Ambassador, so I’m biased, but I really do love their running tanks and long-sleeved tees. They are so soft and comfortable and actually feel like a real piece of workout clothing, rather than just a cheap throwaway that will only last a few months at best. However, I’ve also had good luck with Old Navy’s maternity activewear, specifically their half-zip long sleeve tops, also made from wicking material – they’re a good fit for me and inexpensive. In terms of bras, I made my regular sports bras work (with a smaller size Champion crop top bra over top to hold me over) for as long as possible, but once I hit the third trimester, I needed a good quality sports bra in a new size. Just one (those puppies are expensive, after all!) because even if you’re washing it more than often, it’s not like it has to last you as long as your regular sized bras will. The bonus is the new size will probably work for a while postpartum if you’re breastfeeding, too.
Use the run for kegels. It’s lucky that I work out regularly, because when I’m running or exercising is the only time I even think about doing kegels. (This, despite being a pre-post-natal certified personal trainer who advises all her preggo clients to do the pelvic floor exercises on the daily. Oops). When I’m running, it’s easy to remember to do them because I’m already focusing on tucking my tailbone under a little to counteract the pelvic tilt that starts happening with the bump growth. I often try holding a kegel all the way up a hill, or do them the same way you might do a fartlek style interval run – pick a spot in the distance and engage the pelvic floor until you get there. I’ve been better about doing these during this pregnancy, after the horror of the first few postpartum runs after my first – nobody warned me about the peeing while you run. Nobody.
AFTER YOUR RUN
Keep it Tight! My husband still thinks it’s hilarious that I used the #keepittight hashtag when I reviewed PRO Compression marathon socks. Every now and again out of nowhere he’ll look at me and say, “Don’t forget to keep it tight, bro.” I think he thinks he’s married to a meathead sometimes. Or a running nerd. Or both. In any event, YES to compression during pregnancy. I have been living in my compression socks and calf sleeves, especially in the third trimester. I think it was when I was about 16 weeks pregnant that I went to put on a pair of compression pants and realized they were DONE for the rest of this process. Happily, the socks still fit. And while I am not a big fan of wearing them during running while not pregnant, that’s changed now I’m carrying more weight and have more blood pumping around my veins.
But not too tight. It’s always a good idea to cool down, stretch and roll out after running, but more so during pregnancy, Two areas to focus on specifically are your hip flexors and your pectorals, both of which can become super tight from the change in your body’s alignment. Here are my favorite stretches for each of these areas:
Keep up with your strength training. I’m always going to be a proponent of strength training for runners – I think it’s vital for injury prevention and for improving your running overall – but even more so during pregnancy, when the hormone relaxin that your body is producing can cause joint laxity and increased mobility (not a good thing!). I’m tempted to write ‘keep it tight’ again.
Finally and maybe most importantly, don’t let running through pregnancy become something you feel like you have to do. I know women who have sat down and cried when they realized their pregnant bodies were just not up for running anymore. I know women who stopped running without a second thought early on, because it just didn’t feel good. Listen to your own body. Your pace, your time out there, the amount of walk breaks you take – none of that matters. Just run if it still feels good. If it doesn’t, then respect your amazing baby-growing body and tap out. No matter how long you run during pregnancy, one thing I’m pretty sure is universal to every mama runner is that when you get back out there after having your baby, it’s going to suck and it’s going to be hard and you’ll feel possibly even worse than you did when you first began running, whether you ran through pregnancy to the day you gave birth, or stopped at 10 weeks.