This is part two of the only account online of a woman running ultra distances while pregnant.
First of all, thank you for all your kind notes following the first part of this series. I sure hope more women keep sharing their pregnant running stories with me and that these articles poke more peoples' false notions about elite pregnant athleticism's impossibility. This is part two of the only account online of a woman running ultra distances while pregnant.
This post is designed to support you preggos out there still upping your mileage and enjoying the same uncanny bursts of running power I've experienced these past six months. This is for those of you newly-pregnant who are wondering if it is possible to continue progressing on your path as a mountain runner while pregnant (hint: the answer is 'hell yes'). This is also for you doubters, curious non-pregnant athletes, and men who wonder why I keep crowing about the performance boosts I've had while pregnant.
Enjoy these lessons I've learned about running while pregnant: how to make the most of it, little tricks to help you keep growing as an athlete, and why it feels so damn good.
Blood doping: Pregnancy is one of two ways a person can naturally, legally blood dope (the other way to a much lesser extent is during the unmitigated, healthy premenstrual phase). Contrary to fear-based medical opinion in the US this is not the time to slow down, to fear every twinge, and get lazy. Pregnancy is the time to build one's VO2 max in a way that produces irreversibly improved lifetime fitness. Hey, if abortion doping is a thing then I'll take this pregnancy as a hint to run a little harder.
Pregnancy panacea: For early pregnancy woes (of which I admittedly experienced very little) mountain running is the panacea. Rhythmic, deep swallows of fresh mountain air reduce nausea, the sweat generated by a hard run reduces breast tenderness and swelling, and the exertion allows a food-averse first-trimester lady to eat happily then sleep deeply. Running turns on my god voice and allows me time to process the intense emotions surrounding becoming a parent.
The diesel engine theory: I have this theory about mountain running while pregnant. I imagine my body as a diesel engine. It takes a long time to warm up, often sputtering its way up formerly easy hills and it acts like it will break down any moment. If I remain patient, keep the RPMs steady, remember all I am is this step (then this step, then this one), and I don't allow my long warm ups to discourage me I invariably experience the same unstoppable power, the twisting torque, and the unbeatable endurance of a diesel engine. On every run I reach a point where I feel as unstoppable as a loaded train rolling down the tracks, often running hills I'd never imagined I could run before I got pregnant.
Anaerobic threshold: With all the extra blood in my body my muscles and heart are having a heyday! What was formerly my anaerobic threshold (around 185) is now much higher (closer to 190 or 195). Considering my maximum heart rate is 204 (ever tested yours?) this leaves a huge band of appropriate cardiac workspace in my pregnant state. All the neat things your doctor and girlfriends will never tell you about being pregnant!
Nourishment while running: If we've ever run together, you'll know what a big proponent I am of constant eating and drinking while running any distance. While pregnant my need for water on long runs increased thirty to fifty percent. Many of my runs turn out longer or harder than expected before setting out. With this in mind, I've erred on the side of carrying double the food and water I think I need on my solo mountain runs.
Favor the ultra: Given the longer warm ups and the body's proclivity for an expanded aerobic range, being pregnant lends itself to running ultras (or whatever long distance you prefer to run). While gestating a new human the woman's body processes calories more efficiently and, in the healthy woman, has more energy to burn in the form of raw power and fat stores. Seriously, if you're pregnant and have run many solo, unsupported ultras, go run another one and see how it feels. Willing to bet you'll PR or at the very least gain a lot of confidence in yourself as a fierce, capable athlete.
Training loose joints: I'm naturally a hypomobile athlete so my body relies a lot on connective tissue to support my joints while eccentrically loading them running downhill. During the first six weeks of pregnancy, the surge of hormones caused my joints to loosen to the point that I experienced running-related knee pain for the first time in my many thousands of miles of trail. To counteract this phenomenon I built a joint-stabilizing bodyweight-only circuit to retrain my muscles to take up the load of my lazy pregnant connective tissue. After three weeks on my self-guided program the joint pain disappeared and my knees again tracked straight over my toes while I flew downhill.
Sprints, muscle mass, and weight gain: At six months pregnant I've gained ten pounds. Granted the baby and the boobs certainly aren't doing much to improve my performance as a mountain runner, they are not slowing me down. The extra blood flooding my growing muscles makes up the difference. By allowing my body to direct me to the movement that it prefers on any given day I've noted a growth in my capacity for explosive movement (pistol squats, front squats, box jumps, and sprints). By thinking of the baby and boob weight as a steadily progressing weight vest I am able to appreciate my different pace and preference for workouts. I can only imagine with great relish how good my first run sans baby will feel--watch out Issaquah Alps I'm coming for you.
Recovery: Due to increased stem cell activity (thanks, fetus!) and all the additional blood I'm carrying around I've experienced no soreness after two mountain ultras and many long mountain runs while pregnant. Recovery hurts a lot worse these days and I find myself feeling quite spry the day after big runs.
It is my sincerest hope these tips motivate you to return to the trails for long, productive, pregnant miles. As always, contact me to engage in one-on-one coaching. You can also follow along here as I travel up and down the wintery West Coast hunting out the best new-to-me trails while six to seven months pregnant.