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Pregnancy and the Paris marathon

Updated: Jan 11, 2023

A little while ago, I posted on Instagram that I was a little bit sad to be missing the Paris marathon because I was 28 weeks pregnant at the time. We first started talking about Paris about half way through the year, as part of a bigger Europe trip that we had planned. My initial thought was that I might not enter, I hadn’t planned to be doing a marathon around that time. I was hoping to be either pregnant, or have a small baby.

We had missed the boat on the baby, but being pregnant was still a possibility. Training for a marathon was the furthest thing from my mind.

When I ran Berlin in 2016, I thought that might be my last one for a while. Within about a month, the opportunity presented itself to run Amsterdam in 2017. It would DEFINITELY be my last one for awhile. We were getting married two months later, and my husband and I both wanted children.

2018 was going to be the year.

In a lot of ways, I was looking forward to taking a bit break from heavy training. I had a lot of niggles in the lead up to Amsterdam, and felt that the way I approached my training for both marathons probably needed a bit of a change. I probably needed more strength work, more endurance, and in some ways, more rest. Commuting an hour to and from work each day probably wasn’t helping.

But all of those things were future Bron’s problem. After our wedding and honeymoon were over at the start of January, my mind went straight to baby mode. I had an app, and two hours on the train each day to do plenty of research.

There were only two slightly complicating factors.

One, initially we only had a small window because we had committed to going to England in March for a significant birthday celebration and we needed to make sure I could travel. And two, what exactly was I supposed to do about running?

Sure, I wasn’t doing full on training for a marathon, or a half, or anything in particular. But I was still a runner. It’s a huge part of who I am. It’s what I do almost every day in the morning when I wake up, and sometimes in the evening. It doubles up with weekend breakfasts and monthly pub nights, it can be an important social activity. It’s what I do to keep fit, and it allows me to fulfil my competitive instincts, to improve myself and push my limits. It’s safe to say that running is important to me.

Was I supposed to give it up because I was trying to fall pregnant?

When I trained for Berlin and Amsterdam, I was taking the pill, so I didn’t know if heavy training had affected my cycles. If it had, that would have been an obvious reason to back off the volume and intensity. I raised it with the doctor when I went for a pre-pregnancy related check up, and she said if my cycles seemed normal I should be okay to keep doing with whatever I had been doing.

I definitely wasn’t going to do that, but decided that I would keep running on the days I usually did, and swap my interval session for a longer steady run to reduce some of the intensity.

At first I really enjoyed it. It was nice going out and just running, and not pushing myself through hard speed training. I still did parkrun and some short tempo sessions, so got my speed fix. But overall, it was a very different type of running.

It wasn’t long though before another question came up: what to do about races.

January very quickly turned into April, and we had missed our initial window for getting pregnant before the UK/Europe holiday. The plan was to put it on hold for a few months to make sure I would be under the cut off the fly, but we decided to just keep trying and shuffle the travel dates if we needed to because nothing was booked yet.

But what about racing? The Sydney:10 was just around the corner, and since I wasn’t actually pregnant, surely I could do it. I had no idea how I would go because of the different type of training, but it’s a great event, and if there was any goal that I thought might be achievable in 2018, it was improving my 10km time.

I entered, raced and finished in exactly the same time I did in 2017, an equal PB. It was still a way off what I would like to run for the distance, but given the approach I had taken to training, I was pretty happy with the result.

It wasn’t long though, before that one race became a couple more. We made plans to go to Adelaide for the half marathon in May, and we had already booked Gold Coast half in July. I had the same initial thought, well I might not be doing them. But until then, I was still going to be running so I may as well train just in case. If it turned out I wasn’t pregnant, I didn’t want to miss out. But if I was, then I just wouldn’t race.

Seemed simple in theory, but I wound up in a strange position where I didn’t feel totally committed to either. I had one foot in each camp and was hovering between the two, waiting to see what would happen. I didn’t really know what the solution was, either than to completely pick one or the other. While that sort of made sense if I wanted to race, it felt harder in terms of trying to get pregnant. It occurred to me that maybe I did actually need to stop running if that is what I wanted.

It felt like that was a really hard to decision to make. I had no idea how long it would take, and it could mean that I was putting other parts of my life on hold that were important to me for an indefinite amount of time. While it might have been the reality of the situation, it didn’t feel like something I could do easily.

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t have the best races in Adelaide or Gold Coast in terms of time goals. Things reached a peak in late July when I had my hardest race for years at the Sydney Harbour 10km. It just wasn’t working. I didn't know it at the time, but hormones could also have been a factor in my difficult races.

So when discussions about Paris first came up not long later, I knew there was no way I would be able to train for a marathon and think about a potential pregnancy at the same time. I didn’t have to decide then and there, and after the SH 10km experience, I was done for racing for the time being anyway.

We paid our deposits to the travel company for Paris at the start of August, and I had a few months before I would need to start marathon training to decide what to do. If I decided to race, I would start base training in October and begin to increase it for the marathon in December.

By the start of October, it was looking likely I was going to race. I was still a bit indecisive about a few things, but they were mostly running related, such as if it would be a good idea to do the Queenstown marathon in November as part of my training for Paris (so glad I stuck to the half).

The game changer came when I saw a job advertised that I felt I had a reasonable shot at, that was located about five minutes drive from home. I had wanted to work closer to home for awhile, but looking for a new job was something that I had definitely put on hold in the hope of falling pregnant. This seemed like an opportunity that was too good to pass up.

Applying meant putting trying for a baby on hold as I’d need to wait a short period of time before I could access to maternity leave. Coincidentally, it was roughly the same period of time as I would need to train for Paris. It all seemed to fall into place, the interview went well, reference checks were done. I was confident I going to get the job, and I was going to run Paris. It was nice to have some certainty about where my focus would be.

Then, the bombshell: although I didn’t know it at the time, when I accepted the role I was already pregnant.

To say it was a shock was a huge understatement. When I finally made a clear decision to focus on running, I fell pregnant. The timing may have come as a complete surprise, but it wasn’t hard to let go of Paris when the baby was what I wanted all year anyway. I think some of the anticipated FOMO in the week leading up to the race came up from the fact that I still have running goals I want to achieve.

While I ran a PB in Amsterdam, I still feel like I can go faster, and hope that I have another opportunity down the track.

And if the situation was reversed, and I had run Paris, I think that trying for a baby again would have been the first thing on my mind when I crossed the finish line.

In some ways for me, while running during pregnancy has had it’s challenges, it was almost harder working out how to approach running when I wasn’t pregnant but wanted to be. A lot of women balance when to fall pregnant with career, family, finances, and some don’t choose if or when it happens. But either way, it does have a big impact on other areas of your life.

If I am in the situation again, I’m not sure what I will do differently. In the end, I didn’t need to stop running to fall pregnant. I had actually started to step up my training slightly when it happened. But that might not be the case again next time. And the way my life has panned out, my opportunity to have kids and reach some of my running goals have happened at very similar times.

I’m not sure if it will be the case of one or the other, but runners like Sinead Diver doing PBs at their early 40s after kids give me hope that I might still be able to keep improving (obviously not at the same level!). And if it is one or the other, I am extremely glad to have the baby that is currently wriggling around in my belly.

In the case of Paris, I naively thought that I might have been able to defer my entry to next year. When I realised that wasn’t possible, I briefly considered running or walking it just to take part, but it didn’t seem worth it when relying on travel insurance if anything went wrong.

I didn’t actually think of contacting the race and seeing if I could defer due to pregnancy. A couple of days following the race, I got a survey email asking why I didn’t run. One of the options was pregnancy, so it likely wouldn’t have made a difference anyway.

While watching from the sidelines may often make a runner want to run, by the time race morning came around I was definitely glad I was spectating. It was almost freezing, only a few degrees above zero when we left the hotel, I’d had a cold all week, my feet hurt and I needed an unscheduled toilet stop to get through parkrun the day before. There was no way I could get through a marathon.

We made plans to get to four points along the course to cheer my husband on. It was an overly ambitious plan, we (me and his parents) made it to two of them and I think it was more stressful than running. But it was nice to watch him out there.

If we get to do another one together in Europe, it will be our baby and her grandparents cheering us on. It probably won’t be Paris, but there are a few others I’m interested in. If or when it happens, I will be making sure my focus is 100% on running!

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