A Non-Pro’s Guide to Timing a Pregnancy Around Running

Waiting in the hospital
What did I get myself into?

Like any major life decision, deciding when to become pregnant can be difficult. Besides the fact that timing it perfectly isn’t always possible, there never seems like an ideal time. This is true even if you know it’s something you really want and even if, on paper, it seems like the logical next step in your life. But unlike other life-altering events, such as moving, changing jobs, or getting married, pregnancy doesn’t just change your life, it literally physically changes you.

For a runner, even one who’s not a pro, this can be a scary prospect. A pregnancy doesn’t mean the end of your running career, but it certainly will disrupt it and likely leave you fearful you’ll never get it back. How will your body respond to trading in your abs for a basketball with a side of spare tire? Will you ever regain your speed? And will you be able to train and be an effective parent?

Obviously, there are many other factors that you will consider before trying to start a family. But if running is a big part of your life and being a runner is how you define yourself, considering pregnancy’s impact on all that is going to a big one.

I decided I was ready to try to have a baby after the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials. Even though I did not have a chance at actually making the Olympic team, this was a huge race for me, the culmination of years of training. I knew for a long time beforehand that I wanted to have a family, but I intentionally waited to try until after this race. Yet when the Trials came and went and it was time to actually go for it, part of me still had doubts. I was in the best shape of my life and running PRs and a part of me wanted to continue racing and running PRs. I ultimately stuck with my life plan. Truly, there never is a perfect time, after all. I reminded myself there would be more races waiting on the calendar and that many runners before me had babies and regained their fitness. Fortunately, this turned out to be true for me too.

31 Weeks Pregnant
Heading out for a run at 31 weeks with my first. Didn’t have many tshirts that could fit at this point!

I’ll admit I dealt with some self-identity issues the first time I became pregnant. Though I looked forward to becoming a mom, being runner, a competitive runner, was such a big part of me, that I felt like I was becoming an entirely different person. However, timing my pregnancies around running helped ease the adjustment from athlete to mom-to-be.

If you want to time your pregnancy around your running schedule, here are a few recommendations. Of course just because you’re ready doesn’t mean you will get pregnant exactly when you want to. Although I have been very fortunate in this regard, it isn’t true for everyone. Your family-starting plans might not go the way you expect or hope. However, even with that in mind, many women can and do time their pregnancies and it’s ok to consider your running when making those plans.

Time a Try After a Big Race

Professional runners often try to time their pregnancies around the Olympic or World Championship schedule. For the rest of us, many of us time our pregnancies around a marathon or other big race. This works well because it allows us to have a final hurrah before a year long break. That break is slightly longer than the break you’d take otherwise, but a year off from hard training and worrying about PRs can be refreshing and give you a new goal to focus on! It’s no coincidence that I had a baby roughly nine months after the 2012 Olympic Trials and that my third is due about nine months after the 2016 Trials!

Time a Try During an Injury Lay-off

If you become injured, take advantage of this down time when you won’t be running anyway, and then the recovery time to ease back into running when you may not feel great during early pregnancy. New Zealand Olympian Kim Smith had a baby last year, planning her pregnancy when she had major foot surgery.

Time it So You Can Avoid Training During a Rough Time of Year

Not a warm weather runner? Try to get pregnant and switch to swimming instead during the hot summer months. Don’t like running in the winter? Might be a good time to snuggle in with a newborn while you recovery from labor and delivery.

***

Pregnancy doesn’t have to be the end of your running career even if you’re not a pro. You can run during your pregnancy and even if you do take a break from it, it’s always there when you’re ready to come back and start racing again. Plus, afterwards you’ll have an extra fan to cheer you along!

What about you? Did or will running factor into your decision to start trying to get pregnant?

I have fun trying to sprint, enjoy long runs in the mountains, and everything in between. Former competitive runner (3 x marathon OTQ & trail marathon national champion) currently working through a lingering injury. I write about trying to stay competitive while raising young kids and moving into a new post-competitive stage.

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10 comments

  1. I became pregnant when I was training for my first marathon. My “final” present from a friend was a 12-mile beautiful trail run before I significantly cut back mileage, although I ran until 6 1/2 months pregnant. I unexpectedly became single mother so long-distance running was put on back burner for many years. Perhaps more than the daily running during pregnancy I missed the camaraderie of my running friends and our precious times together.

  2. First off, congrats on the third pregnancy! That is great. Second, I was sort of the same as you – got pregnant with kid #1 (kinda sorta planned) at the end of 2011 (it happened while I was trying a last ditch effort to qualify for 2012 trials) and then got pregnant with kid #2 (planned) after a goal marathon, which was really nice timing. I was able to get back into the same kind of shape after each kid, somewhere in the 9-15 month post-partum timeline. Like you, I also had doubts at times that I could return to the same level of competitive running that I was at before kids, but I will say that once I did it after kid #1, I had more confidence about being able to do it after kid #2. I think if you respect that it’s not an overnight thing and really listen to your body along the way, you can return to pre-baby fitness, and be even stronger than before.

    1. I never got back into great shape after my first one, mainly because I knew I wanted another baby, and by the time I felt physically/mentally ready to, didn’t think it was worth the effort to get back into training hard/racing hard for just a few months. So I just maintained general running fitness, and like you, about 9 months post 2nd baby, was in competitive shape again.

  3. I got pregnant during downtimes all three times. Once was after a marathon, once was taper, and once was while I was injured. I definitely thought about where I was with running and would have considered it much more if I was younger. But we knew we wanted kids and were in our early-mid 30’s so I didn’t feel like I had the luxury of time. I was in the best shape of my life within a year after my second, but so far I have yet to actually recover from number 3! But that’s for a lot of reasons, so don’t let that scare you 🙂

    1. Oh, I am scared. Mainly because the adults in our house will now be outnumbered. But my oldest will start preschool, so some days it will only be like I have 2 kids for a few hours, so I can still run then!

  4. Congratulations!!

    I did not plan around running. I totally agree that you can get back in great shape postpartum. It’s not easy and takes a lot of patience, but it can be done!

    Look forward to reading more 🙂

  5. Interesting discussion! I did not plan around running the first time – in fact, I had to give up running to get pregnant due to IF caused by training/low body weight. When I knew I wanted to get pregnant the second time around, I did cut back to focus on halves to be easier on my body. We’re undecided on #3, but I just qualified for Boston 2017, so I know it will have to wait until after that!

    1. That is certainly true. For some women, planning around running means needing to take a break from it completely! Congrats on qualifying for Boston, #3 could potentially be a post-marathon scheduled down time, haha!

  6. I think your comment “just because you are ready doesn’t mean you will get pregnant when you want” should be heeded. People think that being active and healthy means that pregnancy will fall into place. It”s wonderful it did for you. I am so happy. Congrats.

    I started trying at 31 (because I had been married for a bit and wanted at least 2+). Fortunately, I realized my infertility immediately (no period after stopping the pill and NOT due to low weight/over-training) and started fertility treatment after lots of testing for causes. I got pregnant within the 4th cycle of drugs and after my first IUI. But, after my first, in trying for #2 (18 months after giving birth), I suffered 3 miscarriages (after natural pregnancies), 5 failed fertility treatments and ultimately had a successful second child naturally 5 years later. During this time, running suffered and was discouraged by friends/family that didn’t understand and felt it contributed to my problems. I wasn’t old. I didn’t have infertility in my family (I am one of 7 and my oldest sister has 6). But, it happens. As a runner, you have to decide what matters more. Testing, drugs, IVF cycles, early morning daily blood tests to check hormone levels when you are normally running make a training cycle for a working mom nearly impossible.

    I don’t regret what I did but I know that between demanding work, parenting, and infertility treatments, regular serious training was impossible. For many of us, fertility starts to drop after 30 and can drop significantly after 35. You believe that your health and training make you immune to problems, but the medical community (still dominated by men) is years away from understanding it all. I fortunately live in a world class medical community and got the right treatments (and insurance coverage) soon, but I know many women are not as fortunate as myself. I just caution those who wait “until after the next marathon” before starting. It is much easier to recover from pregnancy and run again (often stronger) than suffer years of unexplained fertility and drugs/treatments that bloat you and take valuable time from training/work/parenting.

    1. I’m sorry you had such a rough time with it all. You are certainly right, once you lay out your priorities in life, you quickly decide what matters the most. Running will always be there, your window to have children will not. I was 32 when I became pregnant with my first, and although it was hard giving up competitive running/racing while I was in the best shape of my life, I had waited to start having kids already, and knew I shouldn’t wait any longer.