Rediscovering the Runner In Me

While battling morning sickness and early pregnancy fatigue, I could no longer bear the thought of lacing up my running shoes. Now that I’m in my second trimester, is there still a runner in me?

I found out that I was pregnant 12 weeks ago, and it’s been exactly that long since I laced up my runners. During that final gruelling outdoor run – which I didn’t know at the time would be my last – I was quickly out of breath but figured all the holiday indulgences were to blame. Twenty minutes later, seeing that double pink line on the at-home pregnancy test sent my stomach soaring and my legs hell-bent on staying put on the couch. Suddenly, my usual 5K pick-me-up was the least appealing activity.

I became sick within 48 hours of finding out I was expecting and haven’t felt the same since. I’m just turning the corner on entering my second trimester and am hoping against all the cold weeks behind me that I can make up for lost time and feel like a myself again. Like a runner. Since my doctor has given me the green light to exercise, I sought some expert advice for getting back out there.

Turns out, it’s actually quite common for pregnant women to put on the brakes when they start to feel those first trimester queasies. “The hormones and changes in your body are all nature’s way of saying whoa nelly!” says Erin Shannon,  a psychotherapist who works with mind-body connections. “So cut yourself a break and listen to your body.”I’ve been generally eager to oblige that kind of advice, but I worry that my cravings for sweets will lead to the kind of unhealthy weight gain that leaves some women struggling to recover.

“Start low and go slow and see if you feel somewhat better,” Shannon says. “Sometimes exercise will give you a temporary break from the nausea. The endorphins can give you a bit of a boost for a while and help out the wild hormone fluctuations.”

Despite the moniker “morning sickness”, I usually feel my best right when I wake up, so that’s probably going to be my surest bet when it comes to reinstating a weekly regimen. Although Shannon advises not being rigid about routine, she supports the idea of exercising in the morning when there is sufficient sunlight but the temperatures aren’t at their peak.

Still, I can’t expect to log my usual mileage right away. “Ease into exercise by doing five minutes a day and then adding five minutes every week from there. You may want to begin with walking to build your endurance,” Shannon says. The thought of such slow progression is a little frustrating, but she assures me that it’s for the best. “If you start to experience any discomfort or unusual symptoms, stop. Remember that when you’re short of breath, your baby is short of breath.”

Similarly, Dr Mona Shangold, director of The Centre for Women’s Health and Sports Gynaecology in Philadelphia, US, recommends running at a comfortable pace where I can carry on a conversation. “During running, blood is diverted to the exercising muscles and away from the pregnant uterus,” she says. “It isn’t known how much blood can safely be diverted away from the uterus or for how long, but 30 minutes is likely to be safe.”

With these new limits in mind, I started to wonder how my changing body will affect my running form. There’s no way my expanding midsection won’t throw off my balance. Shannon confirms that a growing belly’s altered centre of gravity adds pressure to joints and muscles in the pelvis and lower back. What’s more, pregnancy hormones relax joint ligaments, increasing the chance of injury. So what can I do? She suggests a treadmill for a more stable surface. Thankfully, I’m game for some easy indoor running if necessary.

Although I’ve promised not to send my heartrate skyward or run to the point of dehydration, friends and family are still worried that it’s possible for me to hurt the baby if I start running again. But as long as I’m self-monitoring and not pushing myself hard, I’m confident that I’ll stay within safe territory.

This means being careful during any pre-run or post-run floor stretches as well. “After about 20 weeks of pregnancy, women should avoid lying flat on their backs because the pregnant uterus can compress the inferior vena cava [the large vein that returns blood to the heart] in this position, and this would decrease the blood being pumped by the heart to supply the pregnant uterus,” Shangold says.

Shannon echoes that alert, adding that I should stop running and contact my doctor if I experience any vaginal bleeding and/or fluid leaking, dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, muscle weakness, calf pain or swelling, uterine contractions, or decreased fetal movement.

Armed with this new knowledge and a stronger second-trimester stomach, I plan to hit the pavement this weekend. Slow and steady.

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