Running during pregnancy helped one mom-to-be connect with her body—and her baby.
Seriously. I worried a lot about catching my foot on a rock or root and falling flat on my belly. Any doctor would have told me the baby was well insulated in amniotic fluid for the first two trimesters at least, but still I obsessed about staying upright from the get-go. During my road runs, I was carefree, but on my weekly trail runs, I lifted my feet extra high to avoid any obstacles in my path.
Even so, I enjoyed every stride I took during my pregnancy. Before I ever got knocked up, I'd marvel when I saw a pregnant woman running. I'd stare at her belly and think it must bounce up and down like breasts in a bargain-basement sports bra. (How uncomfortable!) But when it was my turn to run with a bun in the oven, I was delighted to realize that my bulging belly was hard and stayed firmly in place as I bounded along.
My pregnancy running routine was to do an hourlong trail run every Saturday. I treasured that time in the woods, communing with nature as well as my baby. In the hustle-bustle of my everyday life, I didn't pause much to contemplate the life growing within me. But on my runs, I turned inward. On the trail, I treated my unborn child like a running partner. I'd call the baby's attention to an interesting birdcall or an especially vivid autumn leaf. Plus, talking to the baby was a good way to gauge my exertion, making sure I didn't push too hard.
I anticipated continuing to run right up until the day I delivered. But then, at eight months, something fundamentally shifted. Almost overnight, I felt a cumbersome fullness. As a competitive athlete, I knew how to push through discomfort and obstacles, but I realized the end weeks of pregnancy trumped the final miles of a marathon or the last few strokes of a rowing race. Plus, I'd reached my goal: During the entire journey, I never once tripped.
Tips & Gear
Avoid overdoing it, but don't sweat heart rate levels. Instead, gauge your effort by your perceived level of exertion. "Don't exercise to exhaustion or until you are out of breath," recommends Mona Shangold, M.D., director of the Center for Women's Health and Sports Gynecology in Philadelphia. When running or walking, aim to be able to speak in at least sentence fragments.
Dehydration, especially later in pregnancy, can spur contractions.While exercising, take sips of water from the Nathan QuickDraw Elite, $25, a handheld water-bottle holster with a 22-ounce, BPA-free bottle and cellphone-size pocket.
Wear stable, wellcushioned running shoes and a supportive, adjustable sports bra.