Pregnancy and Running

Pregnancy and running (really all exercise) have been hot topics around our household for the past eight months. One view of pregancy is that it is an ultramarathon, just like one of those long distance running races. You have to pace yourself (so I have been told), you tire at the end (I don’t need the end so that I can be tired), and then you rally for the big sprint finish (if you have the legs). Debbie Livingston is an inspiration for other women who remain active and fit during pregnancy. Three years  ago, when she had our first child, she sought as much information that she could find on the subject of pregnancy and exercise. Unfortunately, she didn’t find much, and what she did find was very basic.

Very little research exists on pregnancy and athletics, and here isn’t anything specifically about pregnancy and ultramarathon trail running. There haven’t been any documented studies of women who go from being elite athletes to mothers, and back again. Last year, Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain, made news with her comeback after having her first child. She is a top level road marathoner and track and field distance running star. She most recently won the New York City Half Marathon…yesterday. It is pretty cool what Radcliffe has done, though she does do it for a living with coaches and professional support staff. There have been many other notable athletes who have come back strongly after pregnancy, including triathlete Karen Smyers, swimmer Dara Torres, and ultrarunner, Kami Semick.

The best information that Debbie could find were anecdotes about the experience from mothers who had been through the process. She connected with some via phone and and others via e-mail. Testament to the age we live in, there seems to be more information in the blogosphere than in traditional media outlets. The Internet has allowed a really small network of super-fit mom’s to connect. Now, she is one of those mom’s that other women reach out to for shared experiences, and she is going through it again. By the end of 2008, Debbie had pretty much gotten back into top shape. It took some time and there were some obstacles, but she regained her form. It was a little frustrating to let it go again, albeit for a wonderful and unique experience. However, this time, she has the lessons of her own prior comeback to refer back to.

2009 has been another year of transition because we are expecting baby #2. Debbie has stirred a lot of conversation, especially at the races, because she has maintained a very high level of activity. Most people view that as a risk. They can’t help but be worried for her. She is the first to point out that exercise level during pregnancy should be relative to the exercise that an expectant mother did prior to pregnancy and intends to do after pregnancy. This is an important notion. Last November, she was in peak ultramarathon shape and the Javelina Jundred was the last of 16 ultras that she ran in 2007 and 2008. This was in addition to all of her shorter trail running events, the run training that she does in preparation for racing, and the cycling that she does as cross training. It is important to note that she is a yoga, Pilates, and fitness instructor so she is very much in tune with her body. She isn’t the average expectant mother, but that is OK. Any expectant mother can adjust her exercise regiment to suit her needs. The keys are that there should be exercise, and there should be a regimen.

There aren’t a lot of references for how active you can be during pregnancy when you have the kind of fitness level that Debbie has. With about a month to go in her latest pregnancy, she is making news again. Hopefully, the latest coverage might contribute to the limited amount of information about pregnancy and running. If another expectant mother reads the story from yesterday’s Hartford Courant and gains confidence from it, then Debbie feels like part of her mission has been accomplished. Her number one priority with this pregnancy is to deliver a healthy baby, but I know that she cherishes the role of being an inspiration to other women. I’ve been to all of her races this year and I get a lot of comments and questions. She isn’t racing to place. She is racing because that is what she loves to do. It is motivating for her and when she pins on a number, she can focus on the task at hand. She loves being part of the trail running community and racing permits that. People are amazed that she has maintained such a high level of activity. I wish that it wasn’t such a foreign concept for them, but alas, at least they see that it can be done.

In 2007, USA Today published a story about her last pregnancy. For as much as there is written about pregnancy in general (entire magazines, including one titled Fit Pregnancy, are devoted to the topic), it really is surprising that more isn’t written about the importance of remaining active with exercise during the nine month gestation. Fit Pregnancy itself, is an inaccurate title. The magazine is loaded with all of the other trite information (and advertisements) that the general pregnancy magazines are filled with. Top baby names, celebrity mothers, the latest baby gear…I flipped through a copy and scanned the website…the longest article was pretty short. I was naive to expect that there would be hard hitting information about fitness and pregnancy. I know that a magazine that is supposed to be devoted to fitness could really do so much better, but I think they are just like the rest of the lightweight pregnancy offerings that are tapping into a multi-billion dollar marketplace, only with the benefit of a catchy title. Their website suggests that if you want to model for them, you should “seek representation.” Lovely, so they can agree how to air brush your image after they shoot the photos.  

The stereotype of the pregnant woman taking it easy is one that is hard to shake. Couch potato syndrome is a bad enough problem in our society that we shouldn’t be saying is OK just because of pregnancy. Pregnancy shouldn’t be an excuse to overindulge in anything. Realistically, women should be supported and encouraged to be as fit as possible before, during, and after  pregnancy. Dare I suggest that they should get even fitter in the run up to birth? Being fit can only benefit the mother and baby to be. There are so many good things that come from exercise. Having stamina and endurance are huge advantages for the challenges of birth and the stressful time following delivery. Months of sleep deprivation and nursing (drains energy) can be overcome with the help a great level of base fitness. One of the primary benefits of exercise: increased blood flow, benetits both mother and child.

Understandably, complexities do arise in some pregancies. Some women are told by their doctors to “take it easy.” What does this mean? Stop moving at all? Bed rest? Yikes, that can’t be healthy for anyone. Medical matters outside the scope of a “normal” pregnancy do arise. Sadly, it happens. We could debate the merits of monitoring and intervention for a long time. The hospital centric modern medical model, especially in the USA, requires a lot of doctor engagement. We could also spend lots of time discussing the challenges that ObGyn specialists face, including the high cost of liability insurance.  Tort reform as it relates to obstetrics is a huge topic these days.  Not all women subject themselves to the normal approach, but it is the dominant one in our culture. We are also a sedentary society. Our medical model, lack of emphasis on health and prevention, and our sedentary nature are very much related.

As the stories indicate, Debbie has shocked many and disturbed others. There are folks who just refuse to believe that a pregnant woman should be trail running. Fortunately, she also has a lot of admirers. Those people are encouraged by her rational testing of the limits. She knows when enough is enough, but her limits are much greater than the average. She is slowing in the last month with no big events on the schedule. The heat of summer is finally here and it takes a bit out of everyone, whether you are carrying an extra 20% of your body weight or not. I don’t think she is ready to give in yet, I think she is merely tapering…relaxing a bit…just so she can accelerate for the big sprint finish.

4 Responses to “Pregnancy and Running”

  1. 1 bewell88 28 August 2009 at 3:36 am

    WOW! That is incredible. I gotta sat, I have never seen a pregnant athlete. Kudos to her. Just hope that there is no harm to child. Although I’m sure if she feels she is ok, there really shouldnt be.

    Thank you for being an active voice in the running community. I am the Director of Blogger Relations at Wellsphere and I believe that you would be a valued resource in our HealthBlogger Network, which currently has over 2,600 of the best health writers on the web.

    After reviewing your blog, I see that you meet our standards joining, so I’d like to invite you to participate as a Top Health Blogger. As a Top Health Blogger, you would republish your writing on the Wellsphere platform (now with over 6 million visits a month), and yet you retain ownership and all rights to the control of your content.

    If this opportunity interests you, please visit or email me at hua [at] wellsphere [dot] com.

    Have a wonderful day,

    Director of Blogger Networks

  2. 2 pregorunning 20 September 2009 at 9:13 pm

    came across your blog and it was a great! I am pregnant with our 4 child and have started my own pregnant running blog! Now I no ultra marathon runner just a halfs are just fine with me but I hope to inspire pregnant women to stay healthy and active during their pregnancies.

  1. 1 Trackback on 28 November 2013 at 12:58 am
  2. 2 Trail Running Women Podcast Episode 4 | Life Adventures Trackback on 3 November 2018 at 10:28 am

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