If you follow the running community on social media, it's possible that you've seen photo's and posts featuring women running during their pregnancies. I was personal inspired to look into writing about this topic when seeing elite runners like Alysia Montaño running a race in 2014 at 8 months pregnant and then again in 2017 during the world championships at 5 months pregnant. After that, following Gwen Jorgensen as she continued training throughout her pregnancy as long as possible. Finally and most recently, Neely Spence Gracey is currently doing it as well.
I reached out to a good amount of women who are currently running while pregnant and allowing social media to follow along. A couple of them responded and I wanted to share the conversations in hopes that it may help women who plan to get pregnant and hope to continue running. I wanted to find out as much as possible to help answer as many questions as I could think of that would be important. From the responses I was able to confirm that each pregnancy is different and what these women are experiencing and have experienced does not guarantee to be the same for you. Below are the responses from the professional runner for Adidas, Neely Spence Gracey, as well as Maria Paula Estela and Victoria Phillippi who I discovered while doing research on the topic.
Do you have to wear a support belt or anything special when running?
Neely: At this point, I haven't needed one. But I do think as the weeks progress and I get towards the 3rd trimester I will definitely utilize the FITsplint for belly support.
Maria: No, I haven't used any, just my normal sports/training clothing.
Victoria: There are a lot on the market that work really well for a lot of women. I never found one that helped. I just wore maternity running clothes. Nothing special.
Have you had to switch your shoes for any reason?
Neely: So far so good. I already wear 1 size larger in running shoes than casual shoes to accommodate for swelling while running so I haven't had any issues yet.
Maria: Nope, just socks because for some reason they seem to be fitting small. The shoes are just as usual.
Victoria: Many women find that when they get further along their shoe size goes up. Pre-pregnancy I was already a size 10.5 shoe! I was worried how much bigger my feet would get but my feet stayed the same size and my old running shoes still did the trick!
Have you had to switch your gait?
Neely: I certainly feel different running. My arm carriage is changing and as I get slower, I have much more ground contact time and less vertical oscillation.
Maria: It's not something you do consciously, it just happens because your hip position changes every single step.
Victoria: My stride/form has changed a lot. This is probably the hardest part of pregnancy and postpartum running. As my belly got bigger, my abs got weaker due to stretching. When your core/abs are weak, your back/glutes have to work a lot harder. This is why many women have back pain while running. During pregnancy, the weight in my belly caused me to lean back a bit. As I gained weight, I found my cadence went from 180 (which is ideal) to 160's. It was becoming harder for me to feel light on my feet and have the quick turnover after 5-6 months. After birth, your abs and core are so weak. I remember not being able to sit up in bed because I forgot how to engage my abs! I spent the first month just doing exercises to help my brain learn how to re-engage muscles and strengthen my pelvic floor before I ran. My first runs were very awkward. My cadence was still very low and I found it hard to find my 'light on my feet' gait again. I am 4 month postpartum and feeling like my gait has improved a lot, but it is still a work in process to get it back to pre-pregnancy. The little things like lifting and being conscious of my form help!
How has your mileage and pace changed?
Neely: I backed off to about 30 miles a week prior to getting pregnant. I hit 68 miles one week during the first trimester (I typically do 80 to 100 miles per week). I felt really exhausted after that and realized I needed to back off. I have been doing 30 to 40 miles per week now at half way. My pace is much slower. My heart rate gets high really easily, so I have tried to run more flat routes. I would say I run about 1:30 to 2 minutes slower per mile right now and every mile feels like twice as far. I have mad respect for women who are able to run throughout their entire pregnancy. I do not foresee this happening for me. My current goal is to run every day (at least 1 mile) for the first 6 months, and then just go from there as to what I feel I need to keep myself and the baby healthy.
Maria: My mileage has dropped more than 40% of what I used to do. Now it's not about training to win, it's about training to keep up my health! My pace has gotten slower 1 min per kilometer. I used to run 4:50 minutes per, now I'm between 5:50 to 6:00.
Victoria: Pre-pregnancy was 70 to 80 miles per week. During the 1st trimester it became 50 to 60 miles per week. During the 2nd trimester it was 40 to 50 miles per week. During the 3rd trimester it dropped to 15 to 35 miles per week. At 4 months postpartum, I feel like I am at the fitness level I was at during the 1st trimester.
Does the baby kick and move while you’re running?
Neely: No. I haven't felt him move while running. I'm still at the early stages of being able to feel him so I have to be quiet and remain still to notice. But from what I hear, the motion of running rocks them to sleep.
Maria: Not at all. I do believe she goes to sleep. I don't feel her even on my bike or while swimming. She moves when I'm resting.
Victoria: Generally not after the first 1 to 2 miles into the run. I think he fell asleep when I was running. I usually run at the same time every day, and if there was a day I was not being active during that time, he would kick like crazy. I always thought he was 'expecting' to run and mad that we weren't.
Do people give you any negative feedback about running while pregnant?
Neely: So far, everything has been super supportive and encouraging! I am so blessed to live in an active community surrounded by like-minded people.
Maria: No, people usually look me up to ask me how to do it, but I haven't heard any negative feedback.
Victoria: Random strangers on the internet said a lot of hurtful things, but I tried to listen to my doctor and medical professionals. People are really uneducated on the topic. It wasn't that long ago women were not allowed to run at all. It also wasn't that long ago men were not even allowed in the delivery rooms! Our culture has come a long way in the last 50 to 75 years, but it is still a work in progress. By posting my journey on social media to 60 thousand followers, I hoped to normalize running during a healthy pregnancy.
Are there any surprises or unique experience with running during pregnancy?
Neely: The thing that shocked me the most was how tired I get. At 6 weeks, I was able to do workouts, and by 8 weeks, I was so done with anything fast or long. One day in the first trimester, I did a 13 mile long run. (which is my typical easy day mileage in heavy training) and I took 3 naps because I was so exhausted. After that, I cut back to an hour as my max for a run.
Maria: To my surprise I had days when I ran much faster without fatigue (1st trimester before knowing I was pregnant), and I found out being pregnant is considered a kind of "doping" because of hormonal changes. The rest has been as expected, more fatigued as you gain weight, slower pace, needing a restroom more often, etc.
Victoria: It was a lot harder than I anticipated almost instantly. I was really shocked at how difficult it was even before I got bigger. Your body is going through so many changes, and it takes a major toll on your energy. But staying active really did help with the negative symptoms like morning sickness (aka all day sickness).
When has the doctor told you that you should stop running?
Neely: My doc is great! She is a runner too, and she said as long as I listen to my body I can run for as far into the pregnancy as I wish. I just keep the pace at a conversational effort so I don't over fatigue.
Maria: She hasn't. She encouraged me to start again running after week 12 when I had morning sickness and to date I'm cleared to keep up all my training.
Victoria: She told me that I should keep running at all my appointments. I was never told to stop. Each pregnancy is different, so it is important to listen to your doctor! Since I was a runner before pregnancy, it was okay for me to continue. The baby was on track for everything, and I did not have any risks/complications with my pregnancy that would result in bed rest or modified bed rest.
What are some things you've discovered while running pregnant that you think others should consider if they plan to run while pregnant?
Neely: That everyone is different. It is your own journey, and while it is so nice to be able to talk to other running moms and hear their story, recognizing that you need to do what is right for you and for your baby is essential.
Maria: You better get a route where you can easily access a restroom. Avoid running during pretty hot climates or directly under the sun. While being pregnant dehydration occurs more easily, and that could lead to premature contractions, so we have to keep up the liquids. Never ever start your running "life" once pregnant. Running while pregnant is something that can be done if you ran before being pregnant, otherwise this could lead to many complications.
Victoria: It is hard! We have to give ourselves grace. Backing off and adding in longer walks in addition to running actually helps a lot. There are a ton of cross training activities to add in with your running. I also highly recommend pre-natal yoga. I believe that staying active and adding in the yoga portion helped me have a non-medicated natural childbirth!
I've always been impressed with Alysia Montaño and her promoting of running pregnant.
Is there anyone that has been encouraging or inspiring to you?
Neely: Alysia is great! I live in Boulder, and I talk to Sara Vaughn, Kristen Zaitz, Alisha Williams, Kara Goucher, and others who all had fit pregnancies and came back to running post baby. I love having them around to bounce ideas off of and hear what worked for them and what they would do differently in the future.
Maria: In my community it is so uncommon to see pregnant women exercise that unfortunately I have looked up to public figures only, like Gwen Jorgensen.
Victoria: Alysia was a huge inspiration. I love how she ran on the track races to normalize running while pregnant. I follow a lot of other pregnant runners under the hashtag #pregnantrunner and it was nice to virtually follow other women in the same boat as me. Now many of us are 2 to 4 months postpartum and training for the Boston Marathon that is weeks away!
Has the doctor told you how soon you can return to running after giving birth?
Neely: Again, everyone is different here and it all depends on the type of birth that I will have. If everything goes smoothly, I hope to start back in 4 to 6 weeks post delivery. But I won't rush it or force it to happen if my body isn't healed.
Maria: She hasn't yet but I've heard it's 1 or 2 months.
Victoria: They said 6 weeks, this is pretty standard in the US. I went on a few short runs before that. There was really no point in doing that. My body could have used the extra rest, but I was going crazy. Note to all women, it's okay to wait even longer! Your fitness is not going anywhere. It does take a long time to recover
Has the doctor mentioned any benefit and/or negative to running while pregnant?
Neely: Since my body is used to running, the doc has no issues with me continuing for as long as I wish. Unless we would have an issue that would put the pregnancy at high risk. I did realized early on in the first trimester that I couldn't do core and lifting because it was causing round ligament pains. Once I hit the second trimester, I have been able to incorporate safe core and strength back into my routine. It really has come down to listening to my body and knowing what works and what is too much.
Maria: While you are on the first trimester they prefer to avoid any high impact activity since it's still a high risk pregnancy. After that I was given the green light to keep it up and since then she encourages me to keep on going since it will help labor, and post partum recovery.
Victoria: Yes! It helps speed up recovery after birth, increase blood flow to the placenta, and help with stress. Birth is a huge endurance and stress event to the female body. While I was delivering, they monitored the baby's heart rate to make sure he was not under too much stress. If the heart rate of the baby indicates there is stress, sometimes an emergency C-section is needed. I was nervous for this because I was pushing for 3 hours which is a very long time for a baby to be in the birth canal. Every time they checked his heart rate, it was steady and exactly the same as it was during all my OB appointments. I believe because I was so active during my pregnancy, my son was able to have a less stressful birth experience.
I wanted to provide social media links for you to reach out and ask any additional questions you may have in the future or to just following along with them during this journey. I always wondered if it was safe for women to run while pregnant and this research has taught me so many new and very interesting things. It's truly incredible what the human body is capable of and how beneficial running is. Click on their photos below to connect to their websites.