You can see the 13-mile marker in the distance. You look down at your watch and goosebumps rise on your arms; you’re about to nail a huge PR. Just as you look up, a woman passes you. A synapse fires in your end-of-the-race-foggy brain.
Is that lady..?
No! Couldn’t be. Wait … a sec … OH. MY!
That lady is definitely pregnant!
If you raced the Rock n’ Roll L.A. Half last month, this could have been your experience! Liz Blackwell, a 32-year-old special ed teacher who is nearly seven months pregnant with her second child, blew past the competition to an amazing 1:34:20 half-marathon finish. That’s 7:12 per mile!
We decided we needed to chat with Liz about training, racing during pregnancy, and so much more!
Salty: How did you get started as a runner?
Liz: I started running just for fun to get in shape for basketball when I was in 9th grade. My best friend was a competitive runner and she talked me into running cross country. I liked it okay … minus the running part. Around my junior year of high school I started to love running. I loved feeling fit, emotionally more stable (if that is possibly for a 16-year-old) and having a sport where I felt in control. If I did not race well, I could reflect within myself and not on my team, like I did in basketball. After high school, I ran for Cal State Northridge in California. I completed all of my athletic eligibility for track and cross country there.
After college, how did running fit into your life? How did your first pregnancy and then becoming a mother change your relationship with running?
Before my daughter and after college I ran a few half marathons. I found it just for fun, I was juggling grad school and full time teaching, so it was just a nice outlet. My PR in the half in 2010 was 1:26. The following year in February 2011, seven months after my daughter was born, I ran 1:17, almost a ten-minute PR.
I found after having my daughter my life changed. Before I had her, running and racing had become stressful but I found after having my daughter that running was not stressful and neither was racing. It was a chance to just go out and do what I could do without worrying how people viewed me or thought about my racing. Once I stopped caring how others thought of me, my racing improved dramatically.
What was going on in your running life when you found out you were pregnant for the second time?
I was working on trying to qualify for the 2016 Olympic trials. I was off the standard with 2:46 (in the full) in March and I had run 1:15 in the half (so close) so, that was my main focus. I then found out I was pregnant, and qualifying started to leave the picture. I felt sad, but I was excited to have another child, another blessing. I am hoping to run again postpartum, and see what I can do. I will definitely be looking for 2020 if my body allows me to!
How does your training differ during pregnancy versus not pregnant?
Oh, man (sigh) … before pregnancy this time anything under 15 miles I would say was easy. I could not wait to get out the door, had tons of energy and could come home and resume my “normal” life. Pregnancy has made me much more tired, and well, not as motivated. I do know that running makes me feel so much better, so I force myself to be active and run. I would much rather sit on the couch after a long day at work, but I know I will feel so much better if I run.
I usually can convince my mind and body to run 45-1hr most days, and I am so happy I did! I also know that being active is healthy, and I want to be healthy for me, my family and my baby. I was running 70-90 miles per week prior to pregnancy and I hover around 30-50 miles right now depending on the week. I usually run 6-8 miles per day, and my pace is significantly slower. Most runs prior to pregnancy would range from 6-7 min pace for easier days, and most of my runs now are 8:00 pace, with 7-7:30 pace feeling fast.
Have you raced while pregnant before?
I ran when I was pregnant with my daughter. I did not run as much during my first pregnancy, about 20-25 miles per week. I ran a half marathon at 7 months pregnant with her, but it was in about 2 hours.
Do you have rules for racing while pregnant?
I just go off of how I feel. At this point, heading into my 3rd trimester and carrying 20-lbs of extra weight, running is just more challenging. I just want to remain comfortable when I run.
What do you find challenging about racing during pregnancy?
I would say having extra weight, and having the weight around my middle, I feel stress and pain often around my lower back and have to shift my body around when I am trying to run. I have also found that my form has changed and I do not feel as “fluid” as I did prior to pregnancy.
For this particular race did you expect to run that time?
I did not know what I was going to run. I suspected I could hold 7-7:15 pace which is about what I did, so I knew I could do it, just did not know if I would. I was up for anything. I really did not want to push myself, as I am really out there just to get a workout in and see what my body is capable of even as it changes.
How did other people react when they realized you were passing them or performing so well being so … pregnant?
It was interesting. Most people were just curious, and asking a lot of questions. Most everyone was so gracious and complementary. I enjoyed talking with people and hearing about their experiences as well. It also gave me an opportunity to promote running and pregnancy, but more than anything staying active and being pregnant. I also wanted to bring attention to the fact that women should be proud of their bodies, and not to worry about having a tummy. That’s why I wore a sports bra to show off my belly.
People also say things to me about being pregnant at the gym where I workout a lot. Many times people approach me and ask me questions, men and women. One man commented that he had never seen a pregnant woman run, and did not know they could. I laughed … politely!
What tips or advice would you offer other women about running or racing during pregnancy?
I would say as long as they felt good doing it before they were pregnant and have the energy and motivation to do it, don’t be afraid. I think that many people have opinions about running and pregnancy, but they’re just opinions. I know a lot of people have asked me if what I am doing is “ok” or “healthy” or if my doctor knows what I am doing. I simply tell them that I know and understand my body. I do what is comfortable to me and what I feel is best for me.
I know that other people may not think it is healthy or understand why someone would want to run 1-2 hours a day when they are pregnant, but they may not understand runners. Running is therapy for me; it is spiritual, relaxing and makes me feel alive. Other people go to counseling or they read self-help books or other things to feel grounded and connected. I run.
Lastly, I think it’s important to demonstrate a healthy lifestyle to my daughter. She is old enough to understand that I am pregnant and she will soon assume a big sister role. She watches me exercise at home, or run frequently on the treadmill (she actually loves to watch me run as she colors on the floor next to me). I want to show her balance, tenacity, and a healthy lifestyle. She will ask me about being pregnant, and running. I would never expect her to become a runner herself, but I want to show her a healthy lifestyle and to teach her to never give up on dreams or goals no matter what age she is, where she is in life, or even if she is pregnant!
If you’ve been pregnant, did you race during your pregnancy? Did you improve as a runner after becoming a parent?