Running might be a physical sport, one that we sometimes love to hate, but it is also a constant battle between our minds and our hearts, our legs and our lungs, our will and our survival. As runners, we are constantly processing the pain and discomfort we feel, assessing whether this is something we can endure, a necessary evil to reach our goals, or if it is something that is not worth fighting, possibly with the risk of a long layoff from injury lurking just around the corner.
Every runner of every level, speed and ability struggles with the fight against their ego; knowing in our hearts which pains we need to stop and listen to, but often unwilling to do so until it is too late.
You might get slightly better at it as the years go by, but one wrong move, and you can be back on the injury (or burnout) bench before you know it. Running has a way of humbling you, and that is one of the things that makes it so special. No one is exempt.
Running while pregnant brings on a whole new set of ego vs. confidence battles. As a pregnant runner you expect it to feel uncomfortable, and you expect there will be good and bad days, but you have to learn to read your body better than ever before, or you will end up bedridden or laden with guilt for letting your selfish desire for reward take over your growing baby’s needs.
It has only really been in the last decade or so that running while pregnant has become accepted and encouraged by the medical industry. Unless a woman has an abnormal placental location or function or a history of preterm labor, running is generally considered safe for pregnancy. Of course, it is very important to check with your doctor or midwife before you continue running or any exercise.
But fair warning: there are still a lot of people who are very against it, and are not afraid to make remarks towards pregnant women out running to show their distaste.
As a former professional runner, getting out to exercise is part of who I am and something I had always intended to do while pregnant, as long as it was safe. My doctor, Dr. Jennifer Fuson of Lexington Women’s Health in Lexington, Kentucky, agrees that maintaining fitness is important for a healthy pregnancy.
“Running while pregnant can be both safe and beneficial,” she says. “While it is not a time to start a running routine, it is certainly possible to maintain your running and your fitness throughout an uncomplicated pregnancy.”
However, Fuson does caution her patients to reduce speed and distance to a pace and duration that’s comfortable for their body.
“Running reduces the risk of high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, excess weight gain, labor dysfunction and postpartum depression,” Fuson says. “It also makes it far more likely that a woman will regain her pre-pregnancy weight within three months of delivery.”
However, running while pregnant is not as simple as it seems. We can reduce our weekly mileage, while keeping in the habit of running, but there are a lot of challenges pregnant runners face. During pregnancy your blood volume doubles and your lungs are compressed into a smaller and smaller space, meaning that your heart has to work much harder to get oxygen to the blood stream and get the waste products out. You will notice this difference almost immediately, and it can be very difficult to accept that your previous easy pace is almost impossible to maintain without it feeling like a hard tempo run.
But that’s not the only complication, unfortunately.
“There is also the physical instability of joints during pregnancy. Every muscle works harder to stabilize joints while you are pregnant,” Fuson says. “You are more likely to have inflammation in your muscles, including core muscles supporting you and your growing baby.”
Running can suddenly become uncomfortable in whole new ways. Not only are you dealing with the usual back and forth in your mind and body from the discomfort of running, but there are strange sensations, aches and pains to contend with, and it makes it all the more difficult to continue going when that voice tells you to quit.
But here’s the thing with pregnancy: If you do feel like it is too much, and today is just not your day for running, you have to be OK with stopping and walking home, or even calling for a ride, and accepting that this is not a good day.
In the past, I might have beaten myself up for the rest of the day in a situation like that. “What a quitter, you couldn’t even make it through a run!?” That guilt can follow us around like a black cloud, and our confidence can shrivel. However, in pregnancy, you have to remind yourself that maybe your little love is having a growth spurt in there, and they need all the energy and strength you can give them. Growing that bundle of joy into a healthy baby is what is most important right now; your instant fix of post-run endorphins is not.
That can be hard to accept. For the first time, you have to put another’s needs completely before your own. Let them have today to use your strength, and you can try again tomorrow.
When there is pain during expectant running, it adds a whole new level of confusion. Pain will occur, and instead of stopping immediately, panicking that you have broken your pelvis, you have to acknowledge it and decide whether it is something that is expected or a warning sign that today should maybe just be a walking day.
“Pain from the abdominal wall is not dangerous. This is commonly experienced just above the pelvis on the lower abdominal wall. It is easy to injure or exhaust your core muscles while pregnant,” Fuson says. “Abdominal wall pain is not dangerous to your baby, but left unaddressed, may limit your ability to run late into the pregnancy. Caring for yourself every step of the way will make it far more likely that you are doing some running late into the pregnancy.”
“Women also experience round ligament pain while running. This is a sharp or aching pain in each side very low on the abdomen near the groin,” Fuson says. “It is not dangerous.”
I have personally experienced this one. Thankfully the pain subsided and went away within 5 minutes, but it’s important to realize running while pregnant is different for everyone.
Finally, Fuson says it is important to know that, “pain associated with bleeding, loss of fluid or rhythmic contractions should prompt you to stop running and contact your physician or midwife.”
As long as you are following these guidelines, most women are able to run well into their second trimester. How long you are able to continue is up to you and your individual experience with running while pregnant. Some days you may feel as though this is the end of your running during pregnancy, as the pain, discomfort, and exhaustion are just too much, but you may try again a few days later and feel amazing, running further than you have in weeks.
The biggest thing is that you have to learn to take it one day at a time, and listen for the signs from your body that this is enough for today. I have had to learn that even though in the past I might have been able to say, “OK, I am going to run 6 miles today,” does not mean that I am in fact going to run 6 miles today. You might head out with that intention, but find that today is just not happening, and you have to swallow your pride and accept it.
Running during pregnancy is a highly individual endeavor, and unfortunately there is no expert in the world who could tell you what your body feels like. With your growing baby always at the forefront of your thoughts, go out there, and let your body tell you what today has in store. If today is not good, maybe tomorrow will be better.