I’m a runner. I’ve been running since I was 15 years old, falling in love with it because of its simplicity, the power of running a fast mile, the fact that it can take you places both in your legs and your mind.
Enter pregnancy. You hear a lot about running in pregnancy. Every runner is different. Some athletes avoid running while pregnant because of the risks. Others admit it just wasn’t comfortable. Some just want a break. And yet others will continue until the day the baby is born.
When I got pregnant, I got worried – would I still be able to run? I’ve never given up running. I’ve taken 3 week post-season breaks before but beyond that, I live, I breathe, I run. So, I set out with intentions to run while pregnant. Sure, I love to swim. I love to bike. But it’s not running. Nothing is like a good run. Even a bad run is still better than a good swim. Because you’re getting somewhere, you’re in the world, hearing and experiencing it. Give that up? Convince me why. I did enough research to dispel the myths – there is no increased risk of miscarriage nor harm to the baby. Once my mind was settled with that, I knew it would be a matter of my own physical comfort as to whether or not I kept running.
I've told myself I will run as long as it is comfortable. I’m glad I didn’t define comfortable before I started because my old definition of what is uncomfortable has totally changed. I recall days when being overdressed was uncomfortable. When wearing the wrong pair of socks was uncomfortable. When having a Fuel Belt around my stomach was uncomfortable.
It just occurred to me the other day that my Fuel Belt will no longer even fit me!
There’s a new level of discomfort here. And honestly, it’s a level of discomfort I will remember for the rest of my life. These days I am running with what feels like a bowl of spaghetti in my stomach, the lung capacity of a flea and the urge to urinate every 5 to 10 minutes. All of that has become my new level of comfort. Uncomfortable is my new comfort zone.
As the weeks go on, though, it gets more difficult. Breathing-wise, I am fine. It’s hard to huffy puff when you are running this slow. It’s the biomechanical stress that is getting to me. Every runner has that pace where they know they cross over into biomechanical inefficiency. I crossed that pace about 30 seconds per mile ago.
I was talking with another woman the other day about running while pregnant. She is a pure runner and during pregnancy even as she gained 25 pounds, she kept running. Talking with her I felt hope that I might be able to continue this. No sooner did I turn around and start talking to another woman, a triathlete, who stopped running halfway through her pregnancy. Baby was carrying too low and it didn’t feel right. She went on 6 months after birth to medal at a world championship. Talking with her I felt hope that even I have to stop, things will still be ok.
Conversations like that float in my head every time I go out for a run these days. Of maybe I can keep going or maybe I will need to stop. And, this week in particular I was thinking about running. You see, in celebration of my 21st week of pregnancy, I set out to run 21 miles. For a week it doesn’t sound like much. For me, right now that’s a lot of running!
On Monday, it was raining so I hopped on the ‘mill. One of the hardest things about being pregnant is the inconsistency – with your energy levels, your sleep patterns, the way your clothes fit day to day. When I start a run, I have no idea how it will end – or even when it will end. Some days I cover 10 minutes and feel so poorly that I stop right there. Other days I can go for an hour. There is no rhyme or reason to it. And because of that, I’ve enjoyed the treadmill. If the run doesn’t go well, I can hop off and return to life – no drive involved, no extra time invested. Today, the run went well. Really well. In fact, I was running at a pace that was only about 1 minute per mile slower than my usual slow pace. Right now, that’s a fast run for me! There was no reason for it. And I knew it would be fleeting. Every run is fleeting. I never know when it will be my last run.
Wednesday I set out to run again. And again it was raining. Again with the treadmill. 10 minutes into it, it felt like ass. Pregnant running ass is a whole new level of ass. My old level of ass was – maybe something is sore, maybe I can’t breathe well. Pregnancy ass is a whole body cannot take one step further ass. I got frustrated. All I want to do is go for a run. Why is this so hard? Waited a bit, the rain passed so I decided to try again, outside. And wouldn’t you know it felt amazing?
This is what I mean by the inconsistency of running while pregnant.
On Sunday, I went outside to run. The wind was whipping but at least it was dry. 5 minutes into it I had to pee. Another 5 minutes into it, I had to pee again. Not only that but my lower legs felt really bad. I tried stretching – and like I’ve felt all along during pregnancy, stretching does nothing for me. I switched to walking for about 10 minutes then decided why not try running again. It felt better. 5 minutes later I had to pee. Another 5 minutes goes by and I am peeing again. Finally at 40 minutes into the run I feel good. And finish up nearly an hour’s worth of running.
I met Chris back at the car and he asked me how my run went. It was a typical pregnancy run. It ended in a completely different place than it started. It went from hurting bad to feeling great. I took 5 potty breaks. I went from convincing myself that I will need to give up running - to realizing I had – after all – accomplished my goal of covering 21 miles this week.
I am now beyond the halfway point of pregnancy. Next week begins week 22. I think to myself sometimes that maybe it is finally time to give up running. I’m running 15 pounds heavier. If you are not convinced of the effect of running heavier, let me be your science experiment – I am feeling every extra pound. I worry about the impact or injury. I worry about my pelvic floor. I think some point it might be easier to wear a diaper out there.
I think about switching to the elliptical but then again – have you seen those people? They look miserable. Every so often I abandon a bad run on the indoor track and resort to the elliptical. There they are, machines lined up in a long row, two deep, with people that make exercise look like a chore rather than an escape. They are plugged in to iPods, watching tv, talking on cell phones, reading magazines, doing anything to distract themselves from what they are doing. The few times I have done this I think to myself it is no wonder people hate exercising.
I tell Chris I don’t want to give up running – in the gym on a beautiful day doing something like running but nothing like it at all. I know I only have less than 20 weeks left but these are some of the most beautiful weeks of the year. I can’t ride a bike outside. I can’t swim outside. The only way I can get outside is if I run (or walk – but...it's not the same). As with everything in life, Chris reassures me. Tells me to keep running as long as I can. To do what I can when I can. Not to think too far ahead – some days I’ll go 10 minutes, some days I’ll go 7 miles. Enjoy it either way.
And he’s right. Enjoy it.
As I set out to run today, I remember Chris standing at the car, suiting up with his Fuel Belt, Garmin and complaining about the wind only because he had a tempo run with specific paces to hit today. But as I ran from the car, at my can you run this slow and still call it running shuffle, I didn’t even feel the wind because it didn’t matter to me. There was nothing to accomplish, no pace to hit, no expectations, I could stop and walk/pee/stretch as much as I wanted to. Yes, I spent most of it totally uncomfortable but I was running - which brings great comfort to me. And today I was just out there to run. Which I’ve found over the years is the best reason to do anything. To enjoy it while you can - just because you can. And as long as I can, I will.
And when I can’t, I’ll going to need all of your phone numbers so I can give you a call while I’m ellipticizing.