Racing While Pregnant

Paula getting ready for a 10k @ 7 mos. pregnant! Image via

Last Sunday I ran a 5k race while 10.5 weeks pregnant. Even though this is my third pregnancy I still feel a little conflicted about how much I can push myself. Must I jog all the time or can I push a little bit or a lot? Will I know if I pushed too hard? I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling a little confused about what level of running is safe during pregnancy.

Is pregnancy a time to kick back, cut miles and run easy or is it ok for women to continue to push the pace? For years obstetricians set heart rate limits on pregnant exercisers eliminating this dilemma. The reason for these limits was to prevent the woman’s core temperature from overheating which some doctors worried could cause birth defects. But this is a myth and heart rate limitations are both unhelpful and unnecessary.

Still some doctors insist pregnant exercisers take it easy and keep things conversational and others suggest limiting the duration of exercise. But none of these restrictions are based on scientific study. The problem is, as mentioned in this great New York Times article on the subject, that to really study the limits of exercising during pregnancy would require some women to really push the envelope with exercise while pregnant and with even the potential for problems with the baby nobody is going to volunteer for that study!

But all experts seem to agree that exercise during pregnancy is extremely beneficial to mom and babies. The U.S. Government recommends pregnant women get at least 2.5 hours a week of exercise and even suggests pregnant runners continue running under the supervision of their doctors! But we all know by now that women experiencing an uncomplicated healthy pregnancy can safely run through pregnancy. This better not be controversial to anyone reading this!

So we know running at some level while pregnant is fine, but can we push the pace a little? A lot? Actually race?

Before Sunday’s race I thought long and hard about how I would approach it. I had a few things to go on. First, my midwife said I could do whatever it was I was doing before I got pregnant. Well, when I got pregnant I was just returning to running after being injured and doing some workouts.

Which leads to my second point: I’ve been continuing to do track workouts almost weekly since I’ve become pregnant. This is helpful for two reasons: 1) I have a good understanding of how my body handles faster paces and 2) I have a good understanding of specifically what paces are comfortably fast and what paces are probably pushing it too hard.

My first and last pregnant marathon!

Finally, this isn’t my first time on this pony. I’ve been pregnant 3 times now and I’ve raced a little during all three. The first I was way overly cautious. The second I ran a marathon (and won!) while unknowingly pregnant and learned the pregnant body can handle a lot more than I thought. I ran a little less than I did when pregnant the first time, mostly because I was pregnant through the winter and spring and the weather kind of stunk to drag my son out in the stroller. However, despite not doing any workouts when I did run I ran much faster than I did the first time.

So with all this behind me I decided that I didn’t have to run easy. I could run about the effort that I’ve been running 800’s on the track and see how it went. I did one workout where I managed about 3 miles of intervals and I ran a little faster than 7:00 pace, so I figured I’d run about 7:00 pace for the the 5k. That’s what I guessed, but I also knew that the pregnant body is very temperamental and while one day that would feel great, that could also feel insane on another day. I could also feel fine running that pace and then crash at some point and have to jog it in or stop–and I was ok with that. I am a firm believer that the pregnant body speaks very loudly. I’ve heard it talking to me on the track when I attempt one too many intervals and I’ve heard it talk to me when I’m trying to get out the door to sit back and skip it.

6 months pregnant with my daughter and trying to uphold my sponsor contract!

So here are my rules for myself when racing while pregnant:

1. It’s ok to push the pace a bit, but keep it comfortably hard or tempo effort. Never go to the well. Never get to the point where you’re breathing super heavy. If in doubt start easy and slowly pick it up. You can push the last half mile and pass a bunch of people which can be fun.

2. Do not get involved in racing anyone or trying for a particular time or place. I’ve trained an awful lot to be able to turn off the pain monitors in races. I have to keep those monitors on while I’m pregnant. I can run my “tempo effort” and whatever it is, it is.

3. It’s ok to not start, to jog, to walk, to quit. Baby and my health first. Pride at the bottom of the list! So if I feel like crap or it’s hotter than balls or I just need a break I will take one.

4. Cheer others on. Say good job to everyone you pass and who passes you. It is not only a fun and nice thing to do but it’s a good test. If you can say good job to someone while you’re running with ease, you’re not overdoing it!

5. Have fun.

6. Drink a lot afterwards and eat too.

My rules apply to races from 5k – 10k. If I’m racing longer than that I like to run at least the first half at an easy pace and then I can pick it up from there if I feel like it. I’ve never raced longer than 10 miles when pregnant (knowingly!) and I probably won’t race further than that this time either. The longer races are harder on our relaxin-riddled bodies and we start getting into glycogen depletion and other potentially problematic issues. I know plenty of women have run marathons pregnant, but it’s not for me! But if you do, rock on (with the approval of your doctor or midwife of course).

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. These are my guidelines I’ve made for myself based on the research I’ve read and my own experience. Talk over your racing plans with your doctor or midwife and they should help you develop a plan that will work for you. I hope to see you and your beautiful belly at the races!

For more on running, training and racing through pregnancy pick up a copy of this book!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. Love the Paula Pic! I am so nervous to find out what my body is and isn’t capable of once with child. Thanks for figuring this all out for me one step at a time so I can be a little less clueless when I finally go there!

  2. You look fantastic in your fit prego state! I agree with what you have to say. I ran to the end of both of my pregnancies and race a bit (also unknowingly did a race at beginning of second pregnancy). My gauge was always how I felt, and the temperature, especially first trimester. I didn’t worry about heart rate at all, but didn’t feel like overheating was ever a good idea in the Maryland summer. On that note–lining up for the hot Boston this year was a woman who was 7 weeks pregnant. I didn’t think that was probably the wisest move given the heat and how early along she was. No idea if she finished.

    1. Thanks, Miss Z! If Boston pregnant lady finished she’s amazing (or maybe unwise?) The thing is the heat will just shut a pregnant woman down so fast between the actual temps and the dehydration. Your body is just not going to have it. The one thing that scares me about saying, “race away pregnant ladies!” is that well trained runners are trained to ignore pain signals. If you get wrapped up in the race and focus on beating this person or running a particular time then you might ignore your body screaming at you to take a rest. I just worry that someone would get so caught up in finishing-Boston-while-pregnant-yeah! That she’d not hear her body telling her to get back on the bus and high tail it out of Hopkinton. But at the same time, maybe she planned to just see how it went, listened to her body and dropped out when she’d had enough. Who knows!

  3. Good for you! Thanks for this post, and sharing your successes. We support you, and love to find these kinds of stories. Our maternity “running for two” apparel is our best selling line by far – you are not alone ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. So far I have been afraid to push it to hard. I was thinking about signing up for a 5k I typically do in June and just going out and running it easy, but from all my training the last couple of years its hard to wrap my mind around doing a race without focusing on a time. I am all about running as long as my body allows it though! 1/2 way there and still running several days a week!

  5. Your blog is just what I was looking for! Thank you! My plan is to run 2 relays, one at 17 and one at 18 weeks pregnant on my first pregnancy. The first relay has 3 legs, 3.9m, 3.7m and 6.4m. The second relay has one leg of 10.5m. It is good to know that you were able to log 45m weekly during your second trimester and that you even won races. I try to be cautious because it is my first pregnancy and I don’t want to do anything wrong. However, I am so excited when I think about the two running events that are approaching because they make me feel that I can still carry on with my favorite workout routines despite my pregnancy. I am looking forward to reading your future postings.

  6. Finding this blog was a Godsend! I am also pregnant with my 3rd, planning to run through it again, and due almost a year after yours, so the summer running will be similar.
    Thank you – your advice & details are awesome!

  7. Reading your blog makes me want to put on my shoes immediately and head out for a 10 miler! I’m 16 weeks with my 1st and being overly cautious, i’ve only been doing 4 miles max 4 times a week at tortoise pace. I find that I get breathless and tired much more easily if i up my pace even a little. It doesn’t help that I’m from sunny Singapore with temperatures hovering around high 80s all year round and that dehydrates me rapidly too.

    Thank you for the advice you have dished out! You are an inspiration!

  8. Thanks for this awesome article! Feeling inspired to keep running throughout my pregnancy! I was just wondering if you consumed energy gels or electrolyte drinks while running. Would love to hear your reply.

    1. Thanks for the great question! During my last pregnancy, my peak running was done in the summer and it was very hot and muggy. I used a handheld and drank water like a fish when I rarely normally drink on the run. For long runs (12-14 miles during my last pregnancy) I brought a gel with me just in case, but I never needed it. I ate before and after running though. If you feel like you need extra fluids, electrolytes or gels during pregnancy go for it! Definitely not a time in your life to worry about tones training! Good luck and have a great pregnancy!

  9. I am 22 weeks and still running regularly – just REEEEEEAAAAAALLLLLLYYYY slowly. I mean like 11-12 min/mile pace. I’m still keeping up with my weekly long run although I have cut the distance some – down to 13-15 miles. There is also quite a bit of walking involved. I can usually make it about 10 miles without needing to walk except up hills (I’m allowing myself otherwise I would probably lose motivation really fast and just quit). After about 10ish miles, I walk .1 and then run .4 til I get finished. I am going to “run” a half marathon in a couple of weeks. I’ll be about 25 weeks for the 1/2. How long did you or other pregnant runners keep up your weekly long run? What were you able to do? My OB is totally good with what I’m doing and I’m really cautious, but it would be nice to know that I’m not the only one doing this. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. This post helps a lot! I’m 27 weeks along and still holding a 25 mile week and around 9:15-9:30 pace (slooowww but happy Im still going!)
    Your feelings and opinions are spot on a lot of mine so… I feel encouraged ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. So glad the post helps. Sounds like you’re doing great. Hope you keep feeling well and can keep on running to the end. Good luck and CONGRATS!!!