Running during pregnancy (the first eight weeks)
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
Before I start this post, I just want to say that this reflects my experience only, and obviously everyone is different!
Looking at my blog recently, the thing that stood out to me was that my last update was on October 25 last year. I knew I hadn’t been updating it, but seeing that date really made me realise how much my life changed within a few days.
I posted that update while I was in Melbourne, on a short holiday following a work conference, and I was oblivious to the fact I was about four weeks pregnant with my first baby. Completely oblivious.
In hindsight, there might have been a few clues. When I did parkrun the week prior, my watch died after about 3km. I was surprised at the finish time when I got my email because I felt I had run faster than I did. Then during a few recovery runs on that trip to Melbourne, I found it a bit harder than normal to run and chat at an easy pace. I put it down to heat at the time.
I don’t think I will ever forget to the week or so before I found out I was pregnant. After waiting impatiently for it to happen for most of last year, I eventually found a job I wanted to apply for and a race I wanted to enter (Paris marathon). So we decided to press pause on trying for a few months. I guess that decision came a little bit too late, because I started training for the marathon, got the job and then found out I was pregnant. It was definitely a case of everything happening at once!
One of the first discussions I had with the GP was about running. He was happy for me to keep doing what I had been doing, which was never going to be manageable considering I had started the early stages of marathon training. That week in Melbourne I ran about 90km including a hard lunchtime fartlek session on a hot day and a sub 18 parkrun (like I said, oblivious!).
He wasn’t keen for me to actually do the marathon given I would be much further along (counting forward to roughly 28 weeks, I wasn’t very keen either), but was definitely happy for me to run both for the fitness and mental health benefits. A different chat with a physio about pelvic floor exercises covered all my initial questions, and I was happy to hear I could keep going.
One thing I definitely wasn’t expecting before I got pregnant was how hard I would find it mentally. In the early stages, I experienced small amounts of morning sickness and a lot of tiredness, but generally felt alright. What I wasn’t expecting was to be so worried that something could go wrong, probably because in the past I had no idea about most of the things that could go wrong.
So despite the ok from the doctor, I decided to be a little bit cautious. The biggest concern I had initially was that it was starting to get hot. The doctor’s advice was just to avoid running in the hottest parts of the day and it should be okay, but I decided to drop my parkruns back to roughly mid-19s, which felt pretty comfortable at the time.
I also decide to reduce the weekly kilometres a bit, with an initial aim of about 70km each week. Despite being left behind when I started a bit easier on a few runs, which made it pretty obvious pretty quickly that something was going on, I was pretty happy with that amount of running.
The other thing I had to think about was that I had entered two half marathons, Queenstown and Central Coast. I had been tossing up changing my Queenstown entry to the marathon to boost my training for Paris. In the end, the main reason I didn’t was that it wasn’t a certified course for the purpose of qualifying for other events because it went off road. It was a blessing in disguise because with the way things turned out I definitely didn’t want to do it!
The half was a bit of a different story though. I had been planning to run it pretty hard (sub 84mins) and I thought I was a chance to place. Because I had started to up my training for the marathon, I was pretty fit even though I had cut things back a bit in the few weeks prior. And the weather in Queenstown was a lot cooler than the early parts of Sydney summer.
When we arrived, I still hadn’t really made a decision on how hard to run, though I was leaning towards going out a bit easier and just seeing how I felt. It was cold and rainy in Queenstown, but such a nice place. It was a great distraction for me because we had a dating scan booked for not long after we got back. If I had been at home, I probably wouldn’t have been thinking about anything except for if the pregnancy was viable.
The race morning was about 6 degrees and spent shivering in a field before we were brave enough to put our jackets in the bag drop. I told myself to go out easy, but couldn’t help but wonder how ‘easy’ I could go and still place. Looking around at the girls gathered at the start line, there were definitely some that looked speedy. I went out at around 4min/km pace, which I told myself was ‘easy’ (of course it felt easy in the first 5km, plus there was the benefit of a big downhill). I found my way into third place, and then wanted to maintain it.
The middle section of the race was really tough with a few hills and the pace slowed. I got back into a bit of a rhythm on the flat last few kilometres, which we had run before as they went right past our hotel. I was definitely not feeling comfortable or like the pace was ‘easy’, and decided that if a girl caught me I would slow down because it wasn’t worth pushing on.
No one did, and I managed to hold on, finishing just over 86 minutes. It might have looked ‘easy’ compared to my initial goal time, but in the context of where I was at that point, it was a pretty big effort.
In the days following, I had a few moments of wondering if I did the right thing. Heat wasn’t a factor, but I definitely did race. I’m not the first and definitely won’t be the last person to race a half marathon (or further) during pregnancy. Ultimately, based on my fitness level, the weather and doctor’s advice, I was comfortable with it. But I was also more than happy to take it easier a week later in the Central Coast and enjoy a steady half marathon.
Even with those few moments of wondering if I had just pushed too hard, the flip side is that running is a great distraction and something that generally makes me feel good. Without it, I probably would have started to go insane.
Despite the Queenstown success, our holiday over there did end up resulting in a change to the amount of running I was doing, mostly thanks to an unexpected snow storm. I have written a bit more about that in my next pregnancy post, which includes tips to keep motivated when running while you are pregnant.