Running and Pregnancy

14 Jan

Pregnancy can be frustrating and anxiety provoking, as there are all sorts of recommendations and advice out there and all sorts of “risky” things that you should avoid.  It will drive a woman nuts.  I’m a big believer in “informed” decisions.  There is no big decision I make without researching the facts and weighing the options.  I’m not going to blindly following some rule or advice simply because of someone’s recommendation.   If someone is going to tell me I should do this or I shouldn’t do this, I want legit data and a reason behind it.  That is the only way I can feel comfortable about a decision I make.

When it comes to running and pregnancy, as with other things related to pregnancy, you will get mixed opinions.  In 2011, a 39 week pregnant woman ran/walked the Chicago Marathon and went into labor afterwards.  This caused a stir in the news, but I’m not sure what the points were of those with negative opinions:  She was at term and delivered a normal weight, healthy baby.  She completed it in 6 hours 25 minutes, some 3 hours slower than her PR.  Now, the average person cannot and should not run a marathon while pregnant, but I see no problem in this lady’s situation, as she was already an experienced marathon runner, in shape, had no complications, and walked part of it (she alternated with running two miles, then walking a mile).  She also, btw, completed a marathon at 17 weeks.

I’m not saying I’m set on running any marathons, but running is a daily part of my life.  I love it, and not just because of the physical benefits, but because of the mental benefits, too.  It is a huge stress reliever for me.  Obviously, if there were to be any risk that running would cause harm to my fetus, I would sacrifice the running, but I didn’t want to stop doing something I love if there was no significant added risk, so I decided to research the topic and see what the data said myself.

I did an extensive pubmed search on pregnancy and exercise and running.

In the setting of a normal, non-high risk, non-complicated pregnancy, there is NOTHING to suggest that regular running or exercise is bad for you.  In fact, everything seems to suggest that regular exercise benefits pregnancy, such as a higher rate of vaginal deliveries, less preecclampsia, and less gestational diabetes.  There is no evidence that it causes preterm birth.

There was one study I came across that studied elite athletes who were pregnant and found one potential negative response to running:  In elite athletes who got their heart rate > 90% their maximum heart rate there was a potential negative response in the fetus’ heart rate.  No evidence that the babies were in fact negatively affected, but enough of a concern in my opinion to avoid getting your heart rate near or above 90% MHR.

I saved a few of the articles that I thought were particularly good, so please feel free to contact me if you want me to send you copies.

In addition to doing a lot of research and reading online from legitimate sources (i.e., not Jenny McCarthy-like articles/opinions), I sought out people who had ran throughout there pregnancies to learn about their experiences.   I know one personally who ran a marathon at 12 weeks and trained to run one at 24 weeks (but smartly dropped out last minute because the temperature on that race day was too hot).   I also read blogs and joined a private facebook group of pregnant runners, two of which I am joining to run a half marathon in two weeks in Chicago.  Some of these women ran multiple marathons during their pregnancies.   They all delivered perfectly healthy babies.

Based on all the information I have gathered, these are some recommendations that I have come up with:

-First of all, every person and every pregnancy is different.  Because one person can safely run/walk a half or full marathon absolutely does not mean that every one can.  You should be an experienced runner AND in shape at the time you get pregnant to even consider running a longer distance race.

-IF everything in your pregnancy is progressing normally and you’re not considered at high-risk, continuing to exercise is beneficial.  Studies have proven this.

-If you normally workout moderately to intensely, then you can continue to workout moderately.  My moderate may be different than yours.  If you normally workout lightly, continue to work out lightly….when you’re pregnant is not the time to significantly increase your workout intensity.

-I would avoid doing anything that gets your heartrate near or above 90%:  no pushing the limits with speed work or tempo runs and absolutely no trying to PR if you’re doing a race.  If you recall from my original post about this pregnancy, this is why I repeated my pregnancy test:  I wanted to start pushing myself with more tempo and faster paced runs but didn’t want to put that kind of stress on my body if I were pregnant.  However, as I said, I can comfortable run for hours at say, a 9 minute/mile pace.  For me, slower paced, longer distance runs cause a lot less stress on my body than a 6 mile tempo run.

-Be prepared to run at a much slower pace than you’re used to.   As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I slowed my pace by about 45-90 seconds/mile out of extra precaution.  My normal ~7:35-7:45 minute miles turned into 8:30-9:00 minute miles.  Basically, all my runs have turned into an easy “recovery run” pace.

-In light of the above comment, I personally think the best way to gauge a “comfortable” pace is subjective:  you should be able to talk with someone while working out if you had a workout partner with you.  An old, non-evidence based recommendation was to wear a heartrate monitor and keep your heartrate below 140-145 bpm.  That is outdated, so your doctor shouldn’t be citing that.  In fact, the very doctor who came up with that recommendation no longer recommends it and admits it’s not accurate.  So, MY recommendation is as above:  It should subjectively feel comfortable, and you should be able to talk if you wanted to.

-Always eat carbs before you run and throughout your run if you’re running more than 12 miles (the 12 miles is my personal recommendation based on my memory of some data I read a long time ago that says most people have a enough glycogen stores saved up to run ~12 miles without needing any fuel.  I would have to relook this up to confirm it, and it’s probably different for each person based on their background nutrition, but this has been the general rule I have always followed for myself).  Your fetus needs glucose.  You don’t want all the glucose going to your muscles and depriving your growing child of what it needs.  Before I was pregnant, I would often run on an empty stomach in the morning, but now I always make sure I have at least a little something before running.

-Don’t get excessively hot, especially during first trimester.   If you start feeling excessively hot, slow down or stop running.  If you’re planning on running a race and it’s going to be excessively hot, best not to attempt it.

-Drink plenty of fluids.  I carry water around with me throughout the day and during every run, even the shorter distances.

-Don’t run in slippery conditions or in places where you could risk falling.  Direct trauma IS a risk to your baby.  I used to feel totally comfortable running outside in treacherous winter conditions, but if there’s any risk of ice outside, I keep my run indoors.  I, at least for me, see no added risk of falling while running compared to walking if you’re running a race on a paved road.  In fact, I have tripped numerous times walking (in my Danskos), but in all the years I have been running, I have only tripped once:  I was running before work in the winter at like, 5 in the morning in icy conditions and slipped on a sheet of ice (and broke my finger).  Don’t be stupid like that when you’re pregnant.  Avoid the slippery conditions or other conditions in which you may fall (even though I have never fallen off my bike, I stopped biking to work as soon as I found out I was pregnant.  I’m a very safe biker, but there are a lot of crazy drivers in the city).

-If you sign up for a race, you canNOT make it your main goal.  Your main goal is a safe pregnancy.  If everything is progressing completely normally, and if you feel good, go for it (at a comfortable pace), but be prepared to change your plans, run only part of the race, or cancel it altogether should the circumstances change.  There will always be more races.

As I write this at nearly 13 weeks, I have now run a half marathon, a 10 mile race, and have another half marathon planned in another two weeks.  From weeks 4.5 (when I started keeping track) to today at nearly 13 weeks (8.5 weeks total), I have run a total of 266 miles.  I have more races tentatively planned after that.  I feel great now and have had no complications thus far, but so much could happen between now and then.  I take every day and every run one step at a time.  If any complication should pop up, I would stop running or alter my routine.  Even if everything continues to progress normally, there’s a good chance I may not even feel like running later in my pregnancy….I mean, I’m 5’1”, which makes me fear I’ll have a really big bump later on!  So while, I’m signed up for a couple of races later this year, there’s a good chance I won’t run them or will only run part of them, but I’m not scratching them out just yet simply because I’m pregnant.  Who knows at this point.  As I said, I’ll take one step at a time, with the primary goal of having a safe pregnancy, and what that looks like for me may look like something totally different compared to you or other pregnant women.


Completion of the ten mile Central Park race I ran at 12.5 weeks. I comfortably ran it at a  ~8:30/mile pace. As a point of reference, the last half I did before getting pregnant, I ran at ~7:11/mile pace, and the last marathon I did before getting pregnant I ran at a 7:49/mile pace. I am purposefully running slower at this point (and will probably have no choice but to run slower later on!!).

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6 Responses to “Running and Pregnancy”

  1. Cheryl Walker January 14, 2014 at 9:28 am #

    These are great tips for moms who want to stay active and still keep baby healthy. Thanks for the post! :)

  2. lilk8tob January 14, 2014 at 10:20 am #

    That’s great to know! I was training for a 5k when I got pregnant back in 2011, and was surprised when my doctor told me to keep my heart rate below 120. He said it was due to the fetus not getting enough oxygen when the mother’s heart was beating too fast. It didn’t take me long to get to 120, so I ended up pretty much walking the 5k (it was 2 months before I delivered). I think I ended up with a 16 min/mile pace to be safe. I just checked their website, and they no longer recommend that.
    I think it’s great that you are in such incredible shape and plan on staying that way during your pregnancy. I’m sure it will help with your pregnancy and especially the delivery!
    And by the way, congrats on your pregnancy!! :)

    • Julia January 14, 2014 at 8:12 pm #

      Wow! Yeah, it wouldn’t take much to get one’s heart rate above 120! Thanks, Katie, for your comment and the congrats! Samantha is looking beautiful in your pics, btw!

  3. Erica @ erica finds January 14, 2014 at 9:54 pm #

    Sounds like you have done the research, you are being smart/careful and you are focusing on the right thing – the health and safety of the baby. Kudos to you – not that I expected any different! I did think when I saw your photo that I (and most people) look more pregnant than you do after the holidays – LOL.

    Oh – the woman who did Chicago in the IMO extreme heat 39 weeks pregnant made no sense to me. If she went into labor, she may have trouble getting to her hospital for the correct care and she could have diverted resources from other people unnecessarily. Maybe I am sensitive to that b/c people kept telling me that I would have done the same thing. I WOULD NEVER DO THAT! They have marathons every year. Some years, you should spectate!

  4. Jennifer January 15, 2014 at 1:59 pm #

    This is really awesome advice for women!

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