“So my advice to you when your pregnancy comes is to calmly let your running take a backseat for a while. For however long it takes. Meanwhile, embrace your pregnancy for all it’s worth.”
As my feet pounded heavily on my attempted run today and I felt out-of-breath and hopeless just two miles in, I got to wondering how the Kara Gouchers of the elite running world handled their pregnancies? What advice can we garner from female runners (elite ones, nonetheless) who have endured the sometimes emotionally, physically and mentally challenging state of pregnancy only to bounce back and rule the competitive field post-baby?
In Kara Goucher’s Running For Women: From First Steps to Marathons, she dedicates a chapter to pregnancy and new motherhood, focusing on her internal tug of war during pregnancy, between continuing to train hard (imagine the pressure on women who make their living as runners!) and accepting the impending bodily changes that pregnancy brings. Though I’m no professional runner, I appreciated the sentiments and advice, and I thought other pregnant runners out there in Salty land might, also.
Kara and her husband Adam were married for nine years before they were able to conceive due to fertility issues. After conception, she was thrilled at the blessing, but conflicted about the whole getting bigger and slower part. It wasn’t until the third trimester that she realized gaining weight wasn’t a result of laziness and wasn’t something she could avoid as a human being. It was just a part of a healthy pregnancy. Good point! She let go of the black and white thinking of wanting to have it all at the same time: at eight months pregnant, you simply will not be the perfect athlete that you once were. And that’s okay.
“This is my promise to myself: If I am ever fortunate enough to get pregnant again, I will try to enjoy it more from the beginning. I feel like I really didn’t fully appreciate the true beauty and the amazing time that it was until the eighth month.”
Some days, I feel overwhelmed with all the changes that come with pregnancy. I moan about how I wish I felt like the old “me” and get envious of all those crushing PRs at spring marathons. NOTE TO SELF: stop bitching, start embracing! Pregnancy is a beautiful miracle and something that not everyone gets to experience. Running faster and training harder will come back in good time. Pregnancy is temporary, and so are the physical side effects.
“Be okay with the weight gain. Try not to obsess about the ever-higher number on the scale.”
Yes, yes, yes. Because of my past eating disorders, I have had high anxiety with the number on the scale. To be honest, for the first two trimesters, I refused to look at the scale during weigh-ins at the doctor. At my last appointment, I did find out that number. After a mild panic attack and some cathartic tears, I realized that my current number is right where it needs to be to produce a healthy baby. I try not to fear that number anymore and will face it head on.
Kara gained 38 pounds by the end of her pregnancy, but said it came off quickly with nursing. It’s a natural process, and you just have to let go of the fear and trust that your body will bounce back.
According to the ever trusty WebMD, a woman of average weight needs to gain about 25-35 pounds, a woman who began pregnancy underweight (under 18.5 BMI) should gain 28-40 pounds, and a woman who began pregnancy overweight may only need to gain 15-25 pounds. These standards should be taken with a grain of salt, however, as each woman is different, each pregnancy is different, and genetics play a huge role in how your body reacts to the whole ordeal. Don’t let these numbers be the end all or be all. For more on pregnancy weight gain, be sure to check out Salty’s hilarious and informative post on the topic.
“My body had changed to hold on to the life inside of me… I finally realized it was what my body was created to do. Here I was, trying to remain as athletic as possible and not wanting to look pregnant. I finally realized how silly that was. For the rest of my pregnancy, I still had plenty of moments when I stressed about how slow I was running and how much weight I was gaining. But at the same time, I had a deeper appreciation for my body and for the transformation that was taking place.”
Just like Kara, I sometimes fear the “look” of pregnancy. At first, I wanted to remain athletic and similar to my pre-baby stature to the best of my ability. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve realized this is completely silly and completely unrealistic. It’s superficial, too! Looking at it logically, the below realities of pregnancy are going to result in a different, well, shape for the next 6 to 8 weeks, and that’s okay. Here is the break-down of where the weight goes during pregnancy:
Baby: 6-8 pounds
Placenta: 2-3 pounds
Amniotic Fluid: 2-3 pounds
Breast Tissue: 2-3 pounds
Blood supply: 4 pounds (did you know your blood volume increases 40-50% during pregnancy?!)
Stored fat for delivery and breastfeeding: 5-9 pounds
Larger uterus: 2-5 pounds
Total: 25-35 pounds
After seeing this breakdown, I’ve better lent myself to embrace heavy legs and feet and appreciate the fact that I’ve been able to healthfully carry a baby for the past 33 weeks, my body making all the necessary accommodations for a safe hotel stay.
Other tidbits of pregnant running advice from Kara which I found helpful – and maybe you will also – are as follows:
Go with Larger Sizes. Consider investing in a few sports bras one size up, early-on in your pregnancy. Also consider investing in a pair of training shoes that are 1/2 size bigger than you usually wear. Both of these rang true for me!
Try Compression to Ease Breast Soreness. If you have breast tenderness when you run, try compressing with wrapping an ace bandage around your chest. This whole actually having a chest thing is new territory for most runners, and it can require a little bit of attention to maintain comfort.
Support The Lower Legs. Kara wore compression socks throughout the last couple of months of pregnancy to control swelling.
Consider The Surface You Run On. Looser ligaments are a result of pregnancy and you may become more prone to overuse injuries, sprained ankles, etc. Even surfaces like roads, sidewalks and well-maintained trails are better than uneven ones. Pregnancy results in higher production of relaxin (gets your pelvis ready to accommodate delivery), which can result in lower back pain. A non-level surface can make this worse. I’ve just recently been having some back pain and have tried to stick to flat surfaces the best I can.
Keep Going! Kara ran 50 minutes on the day that she went into labor! If you have your doctor’s blessing, there is proof that you can run through your entire pregnancy (health benefits include reduces backaches, constipation and swelling as well as an improved mood and sleep pattern, to name just a few!), but it’s easy to feel defeated some days. Embrace the fact that you will get slower and slower, but you CAN keep going.
So, with Kara’s advice and My thoughts as a regular, run-of-the-mill distance runner, we’re interested to hear your pregnant running struggles and successes, especially as you neared the end mark and bodily changes got hot and heavy. How did you keep your eyes on the prize?