Tips on Running a Half Marathon While Pregnant
Full Disclosure - My Background Running Half Marathons
Whenever someone is offering tips, the first thing I want to know is where they are coming from. I want to know how much I am like them, so I can take their advice with the appropriately sized grain of salt. So it only seems fair to start this article in that way.
I am 34 and ran my first half marathon at age 28, since then I've run 6 more, all after the birth of my first son in September 2009. My best pace was averaging 8:08 minute/miles, and my slowest (when not pregnant) was around 9:30 minute miles (nine months after the birth of my second son).
Before running my first half marathon, I had never run more than 8 miles, and that was only one time - other than that my longest runs were probably around 5 miles. I had played a lot of sports since junior high - soccer mostly, and then starting in college, I played competitive ultimate frisbee (training and practicing 4+ times a week) for 11 years. So I came into distance running with some background of working out a lot, but most of the training I'd been doing was sprint and strength training, and endurance for field sports, but not a ton of straight up jogging/running. Also, my dad started distance running in his mid-50s and has turned out to have good aptitude for it, so I think I got some distance running genes from him.
Books on Exercise During Pregnancy
Exercise During Pregnancy in General
There is a wealth of information out there, online and in books, about exercising while pregnant. I think it all boils down to some basic, common-sense principles. These are my versions of the principles, and are not to be taken as any sort of expert advice!
Basic exercise principles while pregnant:
- You know your body best! If something feels weird or off, don't push it. This is not the time. At the same time, if you feel great even though others might think you're doing too much, you should be fine if you are truly in tune with your body.
- Hydration is key. You need more water than normal for a lot of reasons. For one, you simply have more blood coursing through your body and the body of your growing baby.
- When in doubt, don't push it. Pregnancy is weird, and especially if it's your first time being pregnant, you may wonder why a tendon or ligament is randomly hurting. It could be just due to the pregnancy and exercising won't make it any worse. Or it could be something that you could aggravate by exercising too hard. Take it easy - there are lots of gentle ways to keep your body moving.
- This is not the time to start a new strenuous exercise program. If you are already in great shape and do some hard core stuff, you may be able to keep doing it no problem. But if you weren't a runner to begin with, wait until after your pregnancy to start running.
I think prenatal yoga, swimming, and walking are the safest and best forms of exercise throughout your pregnancy.
That said, this is an article about running, and I also think that particularly for those of us who love to run (or at least love how we feel when we're done!), there are plenty of safe ways to keep running through most, if not all, of your pregnancy.
It's Very Important to Have Good Gear!
Stay Hydrated and Energized!
Running While Pregnant
There are a lot of great resources out there about running while pregnant, and I won't repeat what they say here.
I want to focus on running a half marathon while pregnant. This includes a few different considerations since it is a decent distance, and you have to figure out what your approach will be. So as to not be overwhelming, I've boiled my thoughts down to five tips on running a half marathon while pregnant:
Tip #1: Pick a plan but be flexible!
In other contexts, I would say pick a plan and stick to it. But so much changes throughout your pregnancy. Be ready to simply say you are done running at any point it doesn't feel right anymore. For me, with my first pregnancy, my lower back starting killing me while running around 25 weeks. I would not have been happy at all if I did a half marathon at 26 weeks as I did with my second pregnancy.
Tip #2: Keep your mileage down, but run frequently.
I don't think it's wise to run too far at a time while pregnant. Of course, top runners can, but let's face it, not many of us are top runners. And they probably aren't turning to this article for guidance.
I tried to keep my runs under 3 miles. My plan for the half marathon was to simply jog as long as I could, then walk, then jog. I averaged 14 min miles over the course and was just happy to complete it. I felt great and didn't hurt myself.
Tip #3: Get the right gear.
This is a good time to make sure you have clothes for running that will support your stomach and your ligaments. I was amazed at how many ligaments in my hips and legs were impacted by running while pregnant.
It's also important to have water you can carry with you in some fashion. Staying hydrated is key. Dehydration can lead to contractions and early labor.
Tip #4: Use your runs as a time to feel connected to your baby.
As a competitive person, I had to shift my mindset from my regular runs, when I really want to push myself, and often imagine I'm racing people. Instead, I thought of my runs as something my baby and I were doing together, and something I hope eventually he would be proud of me for doing with him.
Tip #5: Get massages!
Of course we can't all afford massages, but hopefully you even have a friend or partner who will massage your weary legs as you prepare for your half marathon.
I also highly recommend using a foam roller to roll your IT bands or a softball to roll on. This is a very important time to take care of your body.