Amber Miller was nearly 39 weeks pregnant when she ran the 2011 Chicago Marathon. She ran- walked her way to the finish line and grabbed a bite to eat before giving birth later that night. To some she is a hero, to others nuts. Either way, one begs the question, “Is running a marathon a reasonable goal when pregnant?”
Most women don’t dream of running a marathon while pregnant but what about running in general? For many running is much more than their cardio of choice. It is an identity, a social atmosphere, a stress relief and they cannot imagine giving it up for nine plus months!
Everyone has an opinion on prenatal exercise; however the science on exercise while pregnant has improved over the past few decades. It is safe to run while pregnant; yet every woman and pregnancy is different therefore all moms should consult with their obstetrician. If you ran before you became pregnant, are in good health and not caring multiples generally you can keep running while pregnant.
Expect instant changes-
The first thing out the window is speed and intensity. You will notice that your speed declines and your shoes feel like bricks- this is normal. The heart beats harder to deliver oxygen to you and your baby. Running form and stride will also change as your center of gravity shifts with the growth. But do not get discouraged! Although you are running slower you are actually building aerobic fitness (heart, lungs and muscular strength). Many women who run the majority of their pregnancy experience increase in speed and endurance post pregnancy – promise.
Heart rate is no longer the ideal monitor now it is advised to go by how you feel. Always be able to talk or hold a conversation while running and if you can't, slow down. If you use this as a guide, you'll naturally slow as you progress through the trimesters.
Think time not miles-
Anyone who exercises at a lower intensity for a long period of time starts to burn fat as fuel. This is the goal of exercise however; a pregnant body is working hard to increase fat stores to support pregnancy and growth of the baby. Going for long and slow distances competes with this process. It is recommended to go in a forward motion (run or walking) for one hour or less. The number of days varies depending on the individual but 3 to 5 days of one hour bouts of exercise a week is deemed safe.
Nutrition is key-
Pregnant runners need to rethink the way they fuel and refuel their runs. It is imperative each run begins well hydrated and with a normal blood sugar and ends well hydrated with a proper recovery. A carbohydrate rich snack should be consumed approximately 1 hour before exercise with water or diluted fruit juice. Drink water every 10-15 minutes during and after a run focus on a carbohydrate and protein rich snack within 30 minutes. Rehydrate until urine is clear.
To Race or Not to Race?
As for whether to race while pregnant or not is up to the mom and their OB. As a health professional I would not advise anyone to take the risk. I believe this is a time to reconnect to the joys of running and the changes within and around you. Take this time to tune in and reflect on the journey. And be sure to cut yourself some slack. You are not and should not be the same runner you were before you got pregnant. Pregnancy is only for a short season. Childbirth will be the greatest endurance race of your life, get to the finish line as healthy and vibrant as you started!