Sometime in the fall of 2012, my husband Matt and I decided that we were “as ready as we’d ever be” to have kids. The last few years had seen us adventuring more frequently in the American West than abroad (our favorite spots are the Sierras and Utah), and ticking off a lot of accomplishments both shared and individual. I started running ultramarathons, Matt climbed El Capitan in Yosemite a few times, and we had countless memories of fun adventures both close to home and on vacation. Our friends were starting to have babies, so it seemed like the right time. Oh, except that I was training for the Red Rock 50-mile ultramarathon, one of the hardest trail running races out there, and it seemed wise to wait until that was over. I found out I was pregnant just two weeks later.
Pre-pregnancy, I ran an average of 25-30 miles a week in 3-4 runs. When training for ultras, I would occasionally get into the 35-50 mile range, but I tended to keep my mileage low because we were often out doing other activities that require a lot of effort – mostly rock climbing or hiking. (Its tough to do a long run on Saturday and then go climbing all day on Sunday.)
While I had read that you can continue to exercise at your current level in the first trimester, somehow I didn’t think that meant to train for and run another 50-miler. That kind of event is stressful for the body, and didn’t seem like the nourishing environment needed to create a little human.
So I decided that my mantra would be to “do what feels good.” I knew this would be a challenge for me, since as an endurance athlete I have trained to work through pain and discomfort. But I also know my body very well, so I’m able to distinguish between “bad” pain and tolerable discomfort with reasonable certainty. Stabbing pains in my IT band? Stop running. Calves burning on the switchbacks up the trail? Put your head down and keep at it.
In those short weeks before I knew I was pregnant, I had already decided that I wanted to focus on building the number of days I ran per week and maintain enough fitness to do a 15-20 mile long run on any given weekend (many of my favorite local runs fall well within this range or lower). I’m at 32 weeks now, and I have averaged 25-30 miles/week so far but spread out over more frequent, shorter runs. That adds up to over 700 miles run while pregnant!
The longest I ran during my first trimester was 18 miles, a 4 hour trail run on the Skyline to the Sea trail in the Santa Cruz mountains. But on average I ran 5-10 milers and kept doing all my favorite trails. The main difference I noticed during this trimester was that I got winded more easily running uphill, but my speed was about the same on downhills and flats. I gained 3-4 pounds, but didn’t notice it. I also had zero morning sickness.
The second trimester I dropped down to a max of 10-12 miles on my runs, and my pace got slower. I had one growth spurt early on where I put on 5 pounds in seemingly a week. I felt it mostly in my bum and thighs (and my shorts), but for the rest of the trimester it was concentrated in my belly, slow and steady.
We also went on a lot of adventures to places like Yosemite, Joshua Tree, the Grand Canyon, and our favorite climbing spot of all: Indian Creek near Canyonlands in Utah. I did one long 18-mile day at the Grand Canyon where I ran down the South Kaibab trail to Phantom Ranch, and then hiked back up the Bright Angel trail. The combination of eating/hydrating well and taking it easy (well, as “easy” as hiking out of the Grand Canyon can be) meant I felt great during the whole experience.
So far the third trimester has had more down-time at home, which means I’ve been able to keep up a regular running schedule. My pace has slowed significantly just in the last two weeks (correlating nicely with increased weight gain), and most of my runs are in the 4-6 mile range. It will be interesting to see how things change and progress over the next few weeks. I’ve definitely been feeling more overall fatigue, and my belly is noticeably getting larger!
So, what do I want people to know about my relationship to running while pregnant?
Read “Exercising Through Your Pregnancy” by James Clapp. The physiology behind pregnancy and the athletic body is fascinating, and this book gave me the confidence that to keep on exercising “as long as it feels good” was the right way to go. However, this really only works by listening to and knowing your own body and its limits.
Really listening to your body to see what works for you. Sometime around 15-17 weeks, I started having major ligament and pelvic pain. I keep a detailed training log, so I could see that the combination of spending extra hours sitting at my desk working (and not getting up for breaks) plus extra hours of running/hiking time were not a good combination. I backed off for the next week – shortened my runs, took little walks at work, stretched/did yoga moves a few times a day, and the discomfort eased up.
Really evaluate what you’re feeling. Is it true stabbing pain, or just not comfortable? I’m used to running through discomfort, and found that frequently if I just took a few minutes to find a bush and pee, that discomfort would go away (at least for the next 10 minutes until I had to pee again!). I prefer to run in the mornings before a day’s worth of food and liquid weighs me down. It also now took much longer for me to warm up. The first 25 minutes of my runs I felt stiff, slow, and heavy, but after that point I could run easily and regain some of my original flow.
Don’t get too hung up on the numbers. As a trail runner, pace/mile has never meant too much to me. Its more about just being out on the trail and having fun. Last year I did get hooked on Strava though, so earning “Queen of the Mountain” on my local trails motivated me to work on speed and pay attention to my times a little more. But throughout this pregnancy, I’ve savored (almost) every run as a gift. I’m extremely thankful that I’ve been able to keep on running to provide a healthy thriving body for this little baby to grow in.
Run with friends. As I approach week 33, this has become more true than ever. It’s a great way to connect with people I don’t get to see often otherwise, and provides a nice distraction from that do-I-or-don’t-I-need-to-pee feeling. The time flies, and not only have I gotten in a good workout but I get to catch up with my pals too.
With Baby Dubs arrival growing close, my curiosity on how life will change with his presence is increasing. I can only hope for a smooth delivery and transition, and I feel confident that all the life lessons I’ve learned through running ultramarathons and in the last seven months will only serve me well. Life will change, but isn’t that the point? On to the next adventure!
About Charity L. Dubberley
Charity is a momma-to-be who has been running for the past nine years and delved into the world of ultramarathons four years ago. She runs trails because she love the effortless feeling of flying down a steep section of singletrack completely in tune with the movement of her body and the landscape around her. She is passionate about connecting children with the natural world through her work at Wilderness Youth Project. When she’s not running the trails, she prefers to be rock-climbing the desert cracks of Utah or playing in the Sierras. She’s excited to adventure with her little one and hopes to inspire others to get outside and stay active.