3rd Trimester: What to Expect from Running When You’re Expecting

What to expect from running when you're expecting
Jeff Forman/JForman@News-Herald.com

In my 1st trimester post I discussed the finer points of morning sickness, extreme exhaustion and adapting to running during pregnancy. In the second trimester post I talked about how relatively great you’ll feel. As I finish writing this last installment about the third trimester I’m 39.5 weeks pregnant … and feel like it! And what does that feel like? Read on!

Weeks 27 – 30 (Large, but Still in Charge)

28 weeks! My husband took this photo a few days before I completed a half marathon in 1:53:08 (I had to stop for water or to pee 4 times, so not bad!) I thought that shirt still fit.

At the beginning of the third trimester, if you’ve run pretty consistently from the beginning of your pregnancy you’re probably still feeling pretty good when running. Hopefully you might be one of the lucky few who manages to squeeze in a run on her babe’s birth day.

But by this, the seventh month of your pregnancy, things start changing fast. Your baby is growing like crazy now, getting bigger and bigger by the day. As the baby starts her rapid growth spurt your energy levels might head south. It might get harder to get out of bed early for your morning run dates and it might become more difficult to muster up the energy to run when you have lots of other things going on during the same day. I found I had to scrap my plans for running on days I worked at the farmer’s market or went to the zoo with the kids or other things like that. On top of that the weight gain, and effects from the hormone relaxin might start making runs less comfortable. You may also feel weird achiness in your hips, groin and feet, or notice your calves and shins burn more at the start of your runs. There may be stabbing pains in your belly caused by the strain of the weight of the baby and your growing uterus on your round ligaments…joy!

But in general, the first month of the third trimester, I bet you still feel pretty darn good – pretty much the same as most of the second trimester. I was able to keep up with one longer run a week (10-13+ miles) most of this month. I noticed my pace declining a bit, but it wasn’t particularly drastic. I still enjoyed running a lot and although I didn’t have quite the energy I did during the second trimester and couldn’t get back to 40-50+ miles per week, I was able to run 30+ miles each week during this month.

My training logs for the 7th month of my 3rd pregnancy:

Weeks 27 & 28

Week 29

Week 30

Weeks 31 – 35 (Waddling On)

34.5 weeks! Earlier on this day I placed second at a local 5k (on non-technical trails!) in 23:47. I must have been a sight!
34.5 weeks! Earlier on this day I placed second at a local 5k (on non-technical trails!) in 23:47. I must have been a sight!

This is the month when things start going south for many pregnant runners. You’ve put on a lot of weight and so has baby. Your round ligaments might be overtaxed, you might have problems with blood flow from the internal pressure of the baby and running might start to feel no fun. The key to enjoying running in your third trimester is to be consistent with running throughout your pregnancy.

Caveat: every pregnancy is different and even running consistently throughout most of your pregnancy does not mean you’ll be able to run to the end. There are so many variables that can affect how running feels and how running affects the health of your pregnancy that are (largely) out of your control: weight gain; how the baby sits in your uterus, etc.  You may need to cut back, stop running and switch to a lower impact workout routine or quit working out all together. And don’t feel bad about it! Cut yourself some slack–you’re not a wuss, you’re smart!

That doesn’t mean making the call to stop running is easy–it never is–but you won’t be alone. I quit running at 33 weeks with my first. After anchoring a 5-person all pregnant lady relay at the Akron Marathon in 2008 at 31 weeks pregnant (I ran an 8 mile leg!) I had a hard time continuing with running. The blood flow in my legs seemed impaired and my shins would burn when I ran after about 32 weeks. I couldn’t take it anymore and switched to the elliptical and walking for the rest of my pregnancy.  During my second pregnancy I managed to keep up about 10-15 miles per week through this month, but with a lot of walk breaks. This time I managed 20-30 most weeks, even running 30 miles during my 35th week capped off with a 2nd place finish in a local 5k! I think the difference was that this time I’ve run more throughout the whole pregnancy and I’ve gained about 7-10 less lbs. than the other two times (mostly due to being so sick during the first trimester!!)

The other very very serious issue you will likely encounter if you’re still running during your 8th month of pregnancy is finding running clothes that fit and make you feel good about the way you look. If you’re looking for a maternity running outfit or two, I highly recommend For Two Fitness. It’s nice to have at least one outfit that fits and that you feel looks good.

To fill in the wardrobe gaps, improvise! Luckily, I was able to wear most of my running shorts through the 8th month. I rolled down the top and wore them under my belly. After about 34 weeks or so I switched to mostly spandex – longer boy shorts and capris. I also bit the bullet and bought some larger-sized looser cut running shorts after I had my daughter that I found super cheap and wear those frequently as well. Shirts are harder. These last couple of months I’ve been mostly wearing my husband’s tech t-shirts. They’re men’s size large and cover everything and the loose fit feels good. I roll up the sleeves and I’m good to go. Lastly, this is a great time to wear those race shirts you got when you showed up late to packet pick-up and only XL was left! If you don’t have any of those look for men’s tech shirts on clearance at your local running store to save.

My training logs for the 8th month of my 3rd pregnancy:

Week 31

Week 32

Week 33

Week 34

Week 35

Weeks 36 – 42 (Tapering for Birth)

Now this is where things get really interesting. Your body is likely gearing up to deliver your baby and all kinds of weird things start happening. You might experience a return of nausea along with your frequent heartburn and many many more aches and pains. Common complaints are calf cramps and cramps or pain near your groin or inner thighs and low backaches. That’s for all pregnant women, not just those continuing to run!

Most women, even the most hardcore runners, have a hard time keeping up the running routine once they venture into the 9th month. And those that do most often have to scale back significantly. The main thing that limits us at this point is our energy level. Our bodies want us to conserve some energy for the big birthday, so they will really let us have it if we overdo it now! Also, the relaxin, the hormone that allows your joints to expand to allow for the delivery of your baby, will likely make your hips and other joints feel particularly wonky when running. This can range from not bugging you at all to causing severe hip, groin or lower back pain. If running is causing you pain in these joints it’s probably time to switch to walking, swimming or some other lower impact exercise.  The other main limiting factors are having to pee frequently and more frequent and uncomfortable Braxton-Hicks contractions brought on by exercise. Basically, everything and anything that’s been bugging you for the past few months is magnified in the 9th month.

A day shy of 39 weeks and still able to do a little running on the treadmill!
A day shy of 39 weeks and still able to do a little running on the treadmill!

Another thing that needs to be discussed is the attention a 9 month pregnant woman gets when she runs! On one hand it’s nice when people tell you how inspiring you are. That always makes me happy. But the side-eye and the guffaws and the whispers behind your back can be rough when all you really want to do is get your run in in peace. There is no sneaking into the gym or anonymously running through your neighborhood or favorite park. I often joke that I’m the local circus freak because every time I run I attract so much attention and curiosity. I’m “that crazy pregnant runner lady” everywhere I go. It’s worth the minor discomfort I feel of drawing so much attention to myself to stay in shape and continue doing what I love and what makes me feel good.

Lastly, I’ve found to continue running comfortably I’ve needed to add in walk breaks periodically, especially the last weeks of the ninth month. A walk break here or a walk break there is often just enough to allow me to get through a run without needing to take a pee break or deal with annoying round ligament pain. For example, during the 38th week I began alternating a moderate walk for 2:00 with a run for 3:00 and this allowed me to get in an hour workout without hurting, straining or needing to find a bathroom. And I still managed to break 5 miles for the hour each time I did this. I can usually go longer without breaks outside, but I still take them. Also, there have been times when I’ve had to quit my planned run early or that I stayed home and didn’t head out because I was too tired. That’s life in the 9th month! It’s very day-to-day.

My training logs for the 9th month of my 3rd pregnancy:

Week 36

Week 37

Week 38

Week 39

Week 40

For posts about postpartum running go here. For posts about running and breastfeeding go here. Oh and of course we’ll let you know when our newest little Salty makes his or her arrival! Update!

Have you run through your third trimester? Tell us about your experience. Are you pregnant and running now? Do you have any questions or concerns about running in the third trimester? Anything we missed? 

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. During my first pregnancy, balance became a problem during the third trimester. I took a nasty fall during a run that really freaked me out (luckily my husband was with me). That was around 30 weeks, and I stuck to walking after that.
    I was fortunate to run up to 39 weeks during my second pregnancy. Those runs often included a lot of walking too, but I think the key is to keep doing something if you can! I felt really good up until I delivered, and I believe that regular exercise had a lot to do with it.
    The judgmental comments about running when you’re pregnant do get old, but it prepares you for all the unsolicited advice you will get once you’re a parent!!
    Best wishes to you for a smooth labor and delivery!

    1. That’s a great point about balance. I fell during the third trimester with my second and was alone on the trails! I just laid there crying and feeling like a horrible mother! I and baby were fine, but i only ran with others after that! I would definitely steer clear of techinical trails and icy conditions, for sure!

  2. Can’t wait for the upcoming segments to see your point of view! For me, little Leo is 9 weeks old today and I’m just back up to 3 miles. I had to start with alternating running and walking and I gradually got myself back up to 2 miles running straight and then added on that last mile. It’s so hard to have the motivation to get out the door and run when I have to time between feeding the baby and making sure someone else is here to watch him since he’s to small for my jogging stroller.

  3. You’re incredible to still be running. I was cycling when I was pregnant and cycled up until birth but running?? Much harder.
    So excited about the baby!!

  4. Congrats on running through your entire pregnancy Salty! I’m always glad to hear the experiences of other pregnant runners…I ran up until the day I delivered with both of my kids, and I couldn’t agree with you more…suddenly, you are not just the crazy running lady on the street anymore…not only did I become, like you, the crazy pregnant running lady but I became the crazy pregnant running lady pushing a baby jogger on the street. I will never forget faces of people who would stop me when I was running and ask when I was due. Since I was overdue with both, the looks on their faces were priceless. They would always take off running in the opposite direction…no one wants to be around an overdue, pregnant running lady! Best of luck to you and thanks for sharing your journey and experiences with us! Sending you good labor vibes and looking forward to hearing about the newest little spice : )

  5. My last “run” was on Tuesday. Just walking on the treadmill on Saturday was pretty uncomfortable. I experience a lot of false labor at the end and I was getting tons of super uncomfortable contractions. I really wanted to run until the end, but I’ll have to settle for 39 weeks. Oh well! I’m glad I have such good company in my craziness! 🙂

  6. You are SO inspiring, I love it! I’ve had so many people tell me I shouldn’t be running at 20 weeks which is really frustrating BUT, it just makes me feel so good, both physically and mentally. I do however have a question for you pregnant-running experts, I’ve got my heart set on an ultramarathon next year but am due with my first bubs in October. If I keep fairly active during pregnancy, do you think 6 months is too short from birth to start line? I’ve never done a marathon before but have done several Ironmans. Your thoughts would be much appreciated! LOVE your blog!

  7. Hey just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of
    the pictures aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking
    issue. I’ve tried it in two different browsers and both show the same results.

  8. Thanks for posting about your running! It’s hard to know what others have done and most people just think we are crazy for continuing to run. I am 37w and just running 15-20 mi/week ~9-10min/mi now; maybe more this week since already 4 days in a row. Still want to run, not forcing myself to go. I was 31 mi at 30 w and dropped pretty quickly after that. I had to stop trail running at 32w after I feel and bruised a rib. The trip was not pregnancy related but the poor fall position certainly was. I just get too tired to do house projects (and mowing the lawn!) and work all day if I run more than 4 (more like 3.5). My dog and husband don’t mind my slow pace these days 🙂

  9. Thank you so much for writing this! I am in week 26 and running my last committed half tomorrow (last day of 2nd tri). Throughout my whole pregnant running experience to this point I have felt completely alone. It is so wonderful to find some insight! I’m excited that there is hope for another good month now! I haven’t signed up for any more runs because this is my first pregnancy and i didn’t know how I’d feel past this point. Tomorrow is my 10th half and I feel great and want to keep going but have nothing left on my schedule. Thank you so much for the inspiration. 🙂

  10. When you’re pregnant you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. I had a horrid first trimester this time around and I still have to take Zofran for morning sickness so I don’t starve to death. When I was sitting around on my ass all day I hardly had enough energy to make a sandwich. After being prescribed the Zofran, my body was like, “AWESOME EAT EVERYTHING!” I gained like 25 pounds in my second trimester. I picked up running in my third and started eating REALLY well. And now I have more energy than I did in my entire pregnancy. Running while pregnant makes me feel damn good and I don’t give two shits what anyone else thinks about it (except my doctor of course);

  11. I am almost 36 weeks pregnant and I started having joint pain since about 30 weeks, at first I stopped running all together and rested for some time due to the pain, then I started walking, and now I combine walking and jogging. The pain is not as bad as it was at first, but I still have some pain, should I not be jogging???

  12. Nice to read about your experience! I’m 29 weeks pregnant now and still running, but I’m noticing my hips are starting to hurt sometimes. Still hoping to continue at least for the month to come! Would love to read also about how to pick up running after giving birth.

    1. I wrote all about my postpartum return to running in 6 months of training logs. You can find the start of those here which should help. There are also other posts on postpartum running there too! Hope you keep feeling good. I found walk breaks when thing felt a little icky helped me get through the rough patches. Keep us posted!!

    2. Selma, have you considered getting a support belt? The Gabrialla is amazing. I wore mine all of the way through. Ran 5 miles the day I went into labor. it was the one thing I actually blogged about. If you want to check it out (I tried 3 bands)… Megafitthoughts.blogspot.com

      1. I’m nearly 35 weeks and running 3 to 4 times a week with a support belt. Don’t really know if the belt is really taking the pressure of my pelvis but I like that it makes me feel less wobbly. I’m doing “jog/walks” now, which have been great in keeping pelvic pain under control. Thanks for the tips, Salty and Meg!

  13. I’m 39 weeks tomorrow and still running 3 miles/day with a day off for lower-impact elliptical or something else. The running has taken a serious nosedive in the last month, though, drastically slower. Pre-pregnancy, I was doing 5-6 per day at a 7:30 pace (now slowed to at least 10 min/mile). I’ve battled a fair amount of hip and pelvic pain in the last two months accompanied by really nasty shin splints, all of which have worsened exponentially in the last two weeks. Recently also, I’ve noticed numbness in my lower legs/feet happening somewhere in mile 3, probably due to the baby pressing on my spine. Yet, I just can’t seem to throw in the towel. My husband has been encouraging me to stop, but running is a certain livelihood for me that I don’t relinquish easily. I too understand the “looks” that people give to very pregnant runners. It does make you feel like a giant circus freak, no question. If only they could mind their own business and just let us freaks be.
    Your article was very therapeutic for me to read. Until then, I thought I was all alone between this rock (running through all of this pregnancy pain) and a hard place (not running at all).

  14. I came across your blog when I was searching for cramping while working out in the third trimester. I’m now 36 weeks but not a runner, but I’ve been working out – kickboxing, cardio kickboxing, Taebo and body combat hitting bags 6-7 days a week (for 18 years until my second trimester and had to cut back to five days, now 4 days in the third trimester). I do feel all the above that u have described! And it is winter now, so it’s pretty bad and frustrating! I get SO annoyed when I feel the stitch coming as that limits my movement and speed argh! I know that sounds selfish but I just want to workout and get a good sweat. As uknow, it makes u feel so much better in pregnancy that makes u feel like a lethargic slug.
    I really admire u for still going strong right up to the end!

  15. Good for you girl! Im 27 weeks and I run at the gym only for 10 mins . I can’t stand that people stare too. Pregnancy isn’t an excuse to be lazy! I listen to my body and if im in any pain I stop.