Should Pregnant Runners Follow Training Plans?

Catnip
Catnip enjoyed the occasional race during her pregnancy, but did not follow a training plan.

In the few days after learning I was pregnant with my first child, I wondered if should stick with my training plan. I quickly found, however, that was not going to happen. From morning sickness and fatigue in the first trimester to increasing back discomfort and round ligament pain in the second and Braxton-Hicks contractions in the third, I found that listening to my body and running just for the sake of getting out there was the best I could hope for.

However, when a friend recently asked me if I knew of any half marathon training plans for runner moms-to-be, I had to stop and think about it. Are there training plans for pregnant runners? Or maybe the better question is, should pregnant runners use a training plan at all? On the one hand, all of us, around here anyway, know that running during pregnancy while even maintaining pretty decent weekly mileage and pushing the pace from time to time, is perfectly fine for most of us. Running while pregnant (with the support of your healthcare provider, of course) is beneficial to baby’s health and, perhaps more importantly, keeps us mommas sane, which is especially important during nine months often fraught with anxiety … and no wine.

But on the other hand, formal training plans are there to encourage us to be consistent, even when we don’t want to, and to push our physical and mental boundaries. Is this something pregnant women, even the most seasoned women athletes, should do?

***First things first: always clear your running plans with your healthcare provider. We are not healthcare providers and the information here is based on our experiences only. 

So, when my friend asked me about pregnancy training plans, I took to the internet but I couldn’t find anything. Which makes sense because telling pregnant women to push themselves is, frankly, a lawsuit waiting to happen. For our purposes though, the reason that there aren’t any, and I’ll go as far as to say there shouldn’t be, prewritten training plans for pregnant runners is because every pregnancy is uniquely different. What one pregnant runner can do comfortably would cause major problems for another, even if those women ran the exact same 5k time and did the same training before getting pregnant. Some women like Catnip or Salty enjoyed racing while pregnant, albeit more slowly than when not pregnant. Others don’t feel comfortable doing more than a few miles at easy pace here or there. Also, even for the same pregnant runner, one day a run of x-miles at y-pace might feel great, but a week later that feels awful. Again, every pregnancy is different.

The best training plan for pregnancy is to take it day-by-day. Don’t plan too far ahead and don’t expect your body to cooperate with the plans you do make. Each day is going to be different and what is unachievable one day may be completely achievable the next. If you are an easy-going person, you might be able to use a training plan and modify it day-to-day to accommodate your pregnancy. If you’re Type-A, like a lot of us goal-oriented runners, you might consider using your pregnancy as a time to enjoy running without always feeling like you should be doing this many miles or running that pace.

IMG_3491
Instead of focusing on races and times while I was pregnant, I focused on having fun and running local 5ks at an easy pace with my husband.

Whether you follow a training plan or not during your pregnancy here are some standard tips from OB-GYN nurse practitioner, Allison Levering:

1. Running can be healthy for you and baby, but isn’t for everyone. Exercise during pregnancy can maintain or improve fitness and may help prevent excessive gestational weight gain. In addition, exercise can prevent or reduce low back pain, reduce the risk of developing gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and having a cesarean delivery. Of course, anyone who is considered high-risk in their pregnancy (diabetes, hypertension, history of preeclampsia, seizures, pre-term labor, etc) should always discuss with their health care provider before beginning, or continuing, any exercise routine.

2. Pushing the pace and running significant miles might be just fine for you. Pregnant women who habitually engage in vigorous-intensity aerobic activity or who are highly active can continue this physical activity in pregnancy and during the postpartum period, provided they remain healthy and discuss it with their healthcare provider.

3. Pregnant women are more susceptible to  overheating and dehydration. During pregnancy thermoregulatory control is altered. This means just pay special attention to your body and avoid becoming overheated and dehydrated.

4. Your body will tell you to stop. LISTEN TO IT! Anyone should stop exercising if they have any of the following: vaginal bleeding, leakage of fluid, lightheadedness, unusual shortness of breath, chest pain, headache, muscle weakness, calf pain or swelling, contractions or decreased fetal movement.

As for my first pregnancy, I got out there pretty much every day and, although my mileage decreased and my times got slower, I maintained my fitness and felt good up until I delivered. On days when I needed to take walk breaks, I didn’t beat myself up because I didn’t have a specific plan that I felt like I was obligated to follow.

As my pregnancy progressed, my running speed naturally became slower. Instead of focusing on pace per mile, I transitioned to running for time and threw off the Garmin. I didn’t want to focus on numbers because I knew I’d just drive myself crazy. Being a Type-A person with an eating disordered past, I knew that following a training plan or even racing could be particularly problematic for me; I had to be very careful and keep myself in check. Even after taking it relatively easy, I was able to bounce back with a half marathon three months after delivery and was only 10 minutes off of my PR.

Pregnancy is short-term and running can be a part of the journey, but flexibility should be your goal, rather than a strict training plan that might end up causing more anxiety than it’s worth.

Did you train through your pregnancy? What was your approach? Did you follow a training plan? 

I'm a new momma, full-time non-profiter, and coffee lover. I write about healthy body image, half marathon training, and recovery from eating disorders. I'm currently training to maintain fitness throughout the winter and break 1:27:00 in my next half marathon.

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6 comments

  1. Mom of two who ran through both pregnancies. But the question that comes to my mind on this, honestly, is why? Why follow a training plan when pregnant–I just don’t get the purpose. This is a time, above all else, to listen to your body (as you say). I think we have gone a bit too far lately with what we try to achieve while pregnant. If ever there was a time to just chill and go with the flow–not try to push limits–it is the 9 months of pregnancy. There’s a lifetime after to push for achievement in running. My two cents.

    1. I completely agree with you! It’s cool to push a little if you feel up to it, but having expectations of being a pregnant badass or pushing through to reach mileage or pace goals during pregnancy is a really bad idea. But of course, now that continuing to run during pregnancy has been normalized, the next step is to push the boundaries and train like elites through pregnancy (most of whom don’t train like elites through pregnancy themselves!) At the same time, some of us can race a little and do pretty well during pregnancy. Catnip (in the top photo) broke 20:00 in a 5k at 20 weeks pregnant, but that was still 3:00 slower than her PR. So while it’s impressive, it’s reasonable for her.

    2. I remember days when I felt like I “should” go run when I was pregnant with Connor. I tried to challenge myself on the “why”. If my body didn’t feel like it, what was I going to gain from it? I think you are right in saying that society (and ourselves) are pushing us to go too far. Maybe it’s the elite pregnant runners that we see in the news, who are still competing at 34 weeks (think Alysia Montano).

  2. Love this post!! What a great list!! I agree with Misszippy1 and Salty. I ran in all of my pregnancies, but had to stop at different points for different reasons with each one. I didn’t run much with my first child, as I had a miscarriage before her and I was so scared about losing that pregnancy. I ran longer with my second child, until about 26 weeks. With my twins, I only ran until about 14 weeks. I was considered high risk and followed my doctor’s orders to keep it to the elliptical. With my last baby, #5, I ran until 31 weeks. I raced, but I would never follow a training plan. I don’t see the point in it. I was just happy to be out there racing. I felt empowered and I felt that I was empowering other woman. I would have ran longer, but I deal with plantar fascitis and it was killing me at 31 weeks. I was able to spin and do the elliptical until delivery day, though:).

    1. Thanks for your examples of each pregnancy. I have a feeling when I am pregnant with #2, I’ll compare my running with how it went during pregnancy #1. But, from what I hear, each pregnancy is entirely unique…just as you say!

  3. Having not had a baby yet, my experience in this is obviously non-existent. I know that when the time comes, I will need to shift my thinking (I love having a plan on the schedule) and go with the flow and whatever works from day to day.