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.
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?