Should You Race While Pregnant?
As a newly pregnant mom, it’s difficult to navigate the waters of what you safely can and cannot do while pregnant. Fortunately, we have come a long way from the days when women were forced to be bedridden while they carried a child. Just look at Alysia Montano who, in 2014, ran the 800 meter dash at the USATF championships when she was eight months pregnant!
As someone who ran through her pregnancies, I can tell you that people still have some strong and misguided opinions about exercising while pregnant. If you choose to continue racing during your pregnancy, you need to develop thick skin and witty comebacks. Women who have given birth are notorious for giving unsolicited advice to pregnant moms, whether they want it or not. But don’t worry my fellow Running Mama, you’ve got this!
For years the standard rule for exercising while pregnant was thought to be that you should not let your heart rate go above 140 beats per minute. Many misinformed people still believe this holds true. Racing brings even the elite runner’s heart rate above 140. Therefore, It would obviously be out of the question. Fortunately, however, this “rule” was proven false in recent years. Now the standard rule isn’t standard at all. Instead it is what women have been doing for centuries: Listening to their body.
Should You or Shouldn’t You?
Pregnancy is not the time to start a new fitness routine. If you have been active up to the pregnancy, the belief now is that you should be able to continue your workouts. I found out about my first pregnancy when I was only five weeks along. My husband and I were overjoyed, but I was also concerned. I was running the San Francisco half marathon less than three weeks away. The first thing I did, which is what all women should do before they exercise while pregnant, was talk to my doctor. At my initial visit we discussed my training thus far and what was to come on race day. Since an 11 mile run was already under my newly-pregnant belly belt, I felt certain that I could complete the race. My doctor assured me that my body was used to the running and it posed no known threat to my unborn child. So off to San Fran I went.
If you choose to race while pregnant, the most important thing you can do is to stay hydrated. Your body needs water to keep your baby safe in utero. Dehydration can be life-threatening for your new addition. Whereas the average person should drink between six to eight 8 ounce glasses of water per day, the average pregnant woman should drink between eight to ten. This is the recommendation if you are not sweating excessively. Since you will lose water from sweat while racing, you will have to plan accordingly.
Pre-hydrating can help. Pre-hydrating means you start hydrating well before the race, 2-3 days. If you enter the race with a good base, you are less likely to get dehydrated during the run. However, you need to plan your water intake according to the distance of the race. If you are only racing a short distance, you may not need to adjust. However, the average person loses about 27.4-47.3 oz. of sweat per hour of exercise. If you’re running long distance while pregnant, you need to learn to take in more water than you normally do. This requires training yourself to drink during a run.
Pregnancy alone requires a woman to increase her intake of calories, iron, folic acid, and calcium. Doctors estimate that women need to eat 300-500 additional calories per day to maintain a healthy pregnancy. (The 500 is believed to be necessary in the final trimester.) If you add these calories plus the calories that you’ve burned while training and racing, you may find yourself eating for even more than two people! Regulating your caloric intake while racing when you’re not pregnant is already a difficult task. Now you will be forced to be even more diligent.
Where you might normally take any old GU or energy gel to get through a long run, you will have to be a little more selective now. Many gels contain caffeine. Avoid these since you don’t want to ingest too much caffeine while pregnant. Plus, caffeine can dehydrate you faster. You may choose to use an organic gel simply because it seems healthier for your unborn child. I like Huma gels because their main source of protein is chia seeds but there are several other natural options out there. Be sure to read the labels before trying them. Stick to natural and simple. If you have someone out there on the course, you may even consider asking them to give you something more substantial like a half of a peanut butter sandwich. Just be sure that you have trained with whatever it is you’re about to eat. You don’t want to be pregnant and racing with an upset stomach!
Baby the Belly
If you’re far enough along, look into a belly support to wear. Look specifically for ones that are designed for running while pregnant. Some people swear by them and others find them horrible. I used one my first pregnancy but could not use it during my second. You will have to try a few out to determine if one will help.
Try to get a support that mimics the type of maternity pants you like best. If you prefer the low-waisted pants that go under your belly, there is a belly band that has this shape. If you prefer the pants that are hiked up to your armpits, then find a running support that does the same. Again, listen to your body. It will tell you what to do. And a pregnant body will especially tell you what not to do.
Shake it Off
Don’t be surprised by the stares you get if you’re running a race while visibly pregnant. Just make sure you have that witty comeback handy. In the end, will these nine months of bliss result in a racing PR? Probably not. Will that matter when you hold your little bundle of joy? Not one bit.