Running on faith

photo-188I became a runner ten years ago. I had tried here and there before, but never effectively. Then I watched Paula Radcliffe win the 2004 New York City Marathon. It was a hard fought victory, coming down to a mere 3 seconds after 26.2 miles, and there was something so inspiring about it, and the thousands of other runners crossing the finish line behind her, that I knew I wanted to tap into that. I was newly married, and my husband liked to run, so it was something we could do together. I kept at it. I gradually built up mileage. On our first wedding anniversary in September, 2005, we ran a half-marathon together in Virginia Beach. I remember being amazed, somewhere around 7-8 miles into that race, that I had gone that far and was planning to run 5-6 miles more. A year before, that would have been crazy. But the human body can adjust to all kinds of things.

I run because I love to run. I love being outside. I love the runner’s high that moderates my moods better than anything else I’ve found. I love that running keeps my body strong and, as a perk, thinner than I would “naturally” be (if you consider sedentary American life “natural”). Just as important, though, I also love that running lets me care less about what my body looks like. It is a functional object. It is built to carry me through miles and miles.

Of course, in ten years as a runner, many things have changed in my life. I’m now into my third trimester with baby #4. Many of those ten years have involved learning to run with a baby on board. This has involved learning to listen to my body in an entirely new way — and learning not to listen to a lot of other noise out there. I’ve always run until at least 7.5 months, and aim for 8+. I’ve resumed running about 2 weeks after giving birth. I ran a 5 mile Turkey Trot 7 weeks after having baby #3; I ran my lone marathon 7 months after baby #2, which means I did my first 13-mile training run at 3.5 months post birth.

As I get bigger, I have adopted this mindset: I try to approach runs with no expectations. I’m happy for any physical activity. If I need to take walk breaks, that’s fine. I know that the first mile is usually not that comfortable. I may feel tired. The muscles on the outsides of my shins are stiff. Sometimes my belly needs to shift around a bit. Not all runs will be amazing. But if I keep running, I will eventually feel pretty good, even if I didn’t feel good at the beginning.

This realization has led me to see that the normal running-during-pregnancy advice — cut your mileage! — doesn’t work for me. I run because I love to run. If I need 2 miles to truly warm up, then if I do a 3-mile run, I’ll get a mile of feeling great. If I do a 4-mile run, I’ll get 2 miles of feeling great. Those are the miles that make me want to keep running. I can run a lousy 2 miles on faith, knowing that the later miles will feel better. Whereas if I cut down to a 2-mile run, I’d never reach that moment of feeling great. So I’d probably give it up.

Well, maybe I would. It’s a pretty ingrained habit at this point. And some runs feel brilliant almost from the beginning. On Sunday morning, I got up around 7:30 a.m., and was out the door at 7:40. The day was utterly perfect for running; crisp, cool. The autumn leaves swirled around my feet, and the gorgeous red and yellow trees made a lovely canopy, filtering the glow of the rising sun. I ran through a meadow at one point and felt the cooler air of wind off dew-covered grass on my calves. Within the first mile, I noticed that my legs felt light. So I kept going to 4.5 miles, ending with a giant smile on my face. I could have gone farther but I needed to get the crew going for church.

I know not everyone can run during pregnancy, and I’m fortunate that my body is built so that my belly stays relatively contained. This makes the mechanics easier. So does the fact that I don’t gain too much weight, though some of that is due to running. I have relatively easy pregnancies, but some part of having easy pregnancies also comes from continuing to run. Physical activity mitigates a host of pregnancy-related woes. I am grateful for what my body can do, and also for figuring out that the advice to “take it easy” or the discredited “keep your heartbeat under 140 beats per minute” isn’t gospel. I can run now in my slower shuffle, and when I run again after my baby is born I’ll be flying. Either way, it’s all good.

For those with kids, if you exercised during pregnancy, what kind of activity did you do? Did you switch at some point?

24 thoughts on “Running on faith

  1. I’ve exercised consistently through my 1.95 pregnancies, but my duration and intensity is much much lower than normal. For both kids, I ran about 3 – 4 times a week, 3 – 4 miles at a time and did some weight training and/or yoga to round out to 6 days of activity per week up until about 30 weeks when I switched from running to walking the same distance (but kept up the other activities). With running, I found I could handle the 1st trimester barfs and the 2nd trimester bladder bouncing, but not the 3rd trimester B-H contractions and intense pulling on my sides. I was doing great with Body Pump this pregnancy until 37 weeks, and all of a sudden it was just too intense and I didn’t want to give the instructor a heart attack by passing out in class. I had a C-section with baby #1 so I didn’t start running again until about a month PP, but I was amazed at how fast I was able to get back into shape even with the long break. I didn’t want to commit the time to training for a marathon, but I did run a 1/2 marathon PR when DS was about 11 months and by the end of the year my other race times were respectable (for me.. sub 50-min for 10k and sub 1:50 for 1/2 marathon). I really admire you and other women who are able to keep it up all the way to the end.

    1. @Chelsea – 3-4 miles, 3 times a week to 30 weeks is great. I’m hoping to keep doing on-and-off shuffles as I get to the end, though I’ll probably have to add more cross-training just to keep the volume of aerobic activity up. Here comes the elliptical… But yes, it is heartening how quickly it comes back. I’m telling myself that though I’m slower than I’d like to be now, it’s like base-building for training and I’ll be faster in just a few months.

  2. Every time you write about running while pregnant I just shake my head and smile. I did some yoga while pregnancy #1 and some toddler chasing with #2, but my body would really prefer to only do two trimesters so it puts forth a very valiant effort to expel any unknown hosts after that time. I did 6-8 weeks of bed rest for each pregnancy so running in the third trimester (or walking to the refrigerator) was certainly out. It’s amazing how much muscle mass is lost with nearly total inactivity. With both kids however, I started walking within days of their birth. The weight came off and I got the fresh air I so desperately craved after months of bed rest. I also missed the last 4-6 weeks of pregnancy so it wasn’t like I ever felt huge….
    Enjoy your healthy pregnancies! I loved the first 5 months and wish you the best in the weeks ahead!

    1. @Calee – Bed rest sounds awful. I have the opposite problem: my body refuses to let go of the babies, even well after they’re due. For #1 and #2 I was induced at 41 weeks. For #3 I wised up and requested an induction at 39 weeks, which I would like to request again this time around. I know I’m fortunate to have had complication-free pregnancies right up to the point where they refuse to end. I remember your little guy coming early back in 2010, and it’s wonderful that all turned out so well. Another occasional blog reader, Carrie, was due around the same time as me and just had her baby at 27 weeks (he seems to be doing OK, thank goodness — she wrote about it at her blog).

  3. I am 32 weeks today and cannot fathom running. However, running lost its sparkle for me long, long ago. My husband runs ultras; I do a little cardio on a machine (20-30 min) and then a little weight lifting.

    With a gym membership, this is the most active I have been through any of my pregnancies. I am hopeful that that will help with energy and losing the baby weight after the baby comes. But- also- I’m 36 now and weight doesn’t come off as quickly as the first go-round, at 30. So I am hopeful, but also realistic that it will just involve some hard work either way.

    Just yesterday a friend told me to look up a recent marathon winner who is 9 months pregnant. I can’t remember which marathon or which paper, but this woman headlined for her pace at 9 months. Again- I cannot imagine. Off to google that one.

      1. @Katherine – that was a great article. But some of the comments — “just stay home until you have the baby,” like pregnant women shouldn’t be seen in public — are just, ugh. There is a lot of prejudice about this topic. I love the photo of Paula holding her baby after winning the NYC marathon. Just because no man has ever given birth and won a major marathon in the same year doesn’t mean no woman can.

  4. I ran throughout my pregnancy. I too did 3-4 runs of 3-4 miles. Up until 34 weeks or so I felt great – after that running was not appealing – just felt tired but never any pain.

    I think my last run was at 38 weeks. I almost had to be induced as well but eventually went into labor at 42 weeks.

  5. I’ve never been a runner and I wasn’t very active with baby #1. I took up yoga shortly before baby #2 and continued with modifications throughout that pregnancy and after until we moved away from the yoga studio. That was my smallest babe and easiest birth. For baby #3, I had moved to a foreign country and exclusively used public transportation, so I had daily step counts in the 12,000 – 17,000 range depending on the day’s activities. However, hyperemesis gravidarum struck with an additional, rare complication. I was completely inactive, except for knitting, from about week 9 to week 13. It is a long, hard haul to come back while pregnant from massive muscle loss from vomiting and inactivity. I did eventually get back to nearly the same level of walking to get shopping done and kids to and from school . The day after the baby was born, I felt better than I had the entire pregnancy and was back to the high step count within 2 weeks after birth when husband went back to work and I had to resume taking kids to and from school. When baby was 6 weeks old, we returned to the US and bought a minivan and I hate all the driving.

  6. I did run through both pregnancies (until 40 weeks the first time, though I just got tired and quit at about 35 weeks the second time) and am AMAZED at your energy. While I did run, I just didn’t have the energy for things like 20,000 steps 🙂

    If it feels good — that’s fantastic! Our bodies are smart and if you aren’t feeling run down and your runs still feel great (after the warmup miles) then yours is telling you it likes the movement.

  7. I did barely any exercise at all during my four pregnancies. This was mostly due to hyperemesis. Especially during my last two pregnancies (they got worse each go-round), I felt like it was a major accomplishment to keep myself fed and hydrated, and if I got that done, there were about 5000 other things I needed to expend my energy on before I thought about exercising.

    Now, after the babies were born is a different story. I was always itching to get back in the saddle and work on getting my body back to normal.

    1. @The Frugal Girl – I am so glad to have avoided hyperemesis. I lost my appetite for about the first 6 weeks post positive pregnancy test, but never had the vomiting. Well, except during one bout of food poisoning. But I can’t blame that on the pregnancy. I blame some bad kale.

      1. My mom’s only symptom was feeling kind of tired in the first trimester!

        If only I had been so lucky.

        Fortunately, hyperemesis doesn’t seem to be hereditary, so I have high hopes for my three girls being spared.

        1. I remember when Princess Kate had it through pregnancy #1, some expert being quoted that we don’t have a lot of modern research on whether it is likely to happen in subsequent pregnancies, because there often aren’t subsequent pregnancies. It really is that bad. Glad to hear it’s not hereditary…

  8. I pushed 3 boys on bicycles on the uphill to the park last night. I too have problems with preterm labor and realized that’s the last time I will be able to do that- I could feel my uterus tightening with contractions. (I’m 25 1/2 weeks along.) I should be good for walking for a few more weeks yet- my doctor’s advice is “Don’t do anything that causes contractions” and I try to follow it

  9. For my first I was relatively active – lots of walking the dog, aqua aerobics & pregnancy Pilates. I had bad low back ache and exercise helped. For baby #2, I was trying to organise a major move and had a lot of other stuff on so I did pretty much nothing. Baby #2 is now 3 months & I’m back to walking the dog. I’ve also bought a bike and am getting out for a cycle. I will start running again soon but I need to figure out a schedule that works.

    1. @Zenmoo – the scheduling issue is why I’m hoping to get a treadmill for my birthday. I prefer to run outside. Much, much prefer it. However, I’m pretty sure that finding a time that’s light outside, and not actively snowing, and in between feedings, is not going to be easy for Jan-Feb-March.

  10. I will say that one regret I have is giving up all exercise in the first trimester of my first pregnancy 5.5 years ago.

    I *just* started regularly exercising again and it is a long road ahead. I really, really, wish I had at least kept walking at minimum, just to have the habit and desire to keep exercising.

    1. @ARC – it’s interesting in terms of public health messages. Most pregnant women get the message to not smoke, but aren’t necessarily given the message that it is really important to get 30 minutes of exercise per day, even though the research on improved outcomes for mom and baby is pretty good. I am not sure if this will change.

      1. That would have helped in my case, for sure. I mean, I knew it wouldn’t hurt, but I hadn’t come across a ton of stuff that said it would actually HELP.

  11. As a fellow exerciser-during-pregnancy, I loved reading this. I was able to exercise ’til the end with both of my pregnancies and think it made me feel SO much better. I ran until 28 weeks and 32 weeks in my two pregnancies, then hit the elliptical at the end. I’m an avid exerciser in general and always tell people it gives me back so much more energy than I exert. Devoting that time to exercise easily gives me enough energy to get more done and “add” time to my day.

    1. @All- I like the idea of somethings being so productive that they add time to the day. I find that I’m often better able to think in the afternoon after going for a run. What I lose in exercise time I gain in focus.

      I’m sure someone’s done a calculation of how much time exercise adds to the average lifespan. I know someone did a calculation on how much TV watching subtracts from it! (yes, yes, correlation and causation, but still).

  12. Sadly, I had 3 bleeds during my twin pregnancy and was told to stop ALL exercise from 26 weeks on…. and then I only made it to 31 weeks and 6 days before the babies were born.

    It sounds like I’m reading fiction when I read how you’re SO active with all the running 🙂

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