Running while pregnant – first trimester

It’s been a long while since I posted something, and an eternity since I wrote about running. The reason is that my workouts have changed considerably.

It started this summer. I had been taking it relatively easy (running four times a week at a mostly comfortable pace) because of the month of Ramadan. I was not disappointed about how my trainings were going and looked forward to taking up the intensity and mileage again after the end of this month, in which people here fast from dawn to dusk.

However, towards the end of the month, I noticed something strange: I couldn’t push myself anymore like I used to. The last day of Ramadan I did an interval training I had done weekly and could not complete it. I blamed the lack of sugar in my body and expected it to get better the weeks after, but it didn’t. I thought I suffered from anemia again and began taking iron pills. To no avail.

Long story short, I found out several weeks later that I was pregnant! I couldn’t be happier, but I hadn’t expected it to affect my running performance from the first week. Throughout the weeks, I learned how to continue my workouts and enjoy my runs while respecting my limits. Find here my tips for the first trimester.

Note: These tips are based on my personal experience. Every body reacts different to pregnancy, so some things may not apply to every pregnant athlete.

11.1 km run in Houten, The Netherlands, at 13 weeks pregnant

11.1 km run in Houten, the Netherlands, at 13 weeks pregnant

1. Listen to your body

This tip does apply to every pregnant woman, whether you are bursting with energy or feeling exhausted. Pregnancy is not the time to push your limits. If you scheduled a tempo run but can hardly get out of bed in the morning, adjust your plan. If you are feel pain or discomfort while running, stop immediately. If something doesn’t feel right during your workout, it probably isn’t. Your body will give you signals to slow down when you go too fast or even stop when you are harming yourself or the embryo.

2. Accept your changing abilities

I noticed from the very beginning that I couldn’t run as fast anymore as I was used to, and I found it at times rather challenging to accept this. However, acceptance is the only solution, and the sooner you do the less frustrated you will feel. Focus this period on other things (I’m sure there are enough other things that need to be done, such as reading about pregnancy and having a baby, preparing a room for the baby, prenatal yoga, etc.) and tell yourself you will pick up your runs with renewed energy once you start feeling more energetic. There are numerous other ways to stay fit, so do some walks, strength training, biking or swimming.

Baby's first medal. 11.1 km race in Houten, the Netherlands at 13 weeks pregnant

Baby’s first medal. 11.1 km race at 13 weeks pregnant

3. Set new goals

Sorry if you already planned that marathon or race several months ago – you’re going to have to postpone them. Or if you can still participate in them, you will probably have to adjust your goal pace and finishing time. I still join races from time to time, but these days my goals have changed completely. Rather than aiming a PB, my objective is to feel good during the race, maintain a steady pace (which is very difficult, as I tend to start way too fast!), or keep my heart rate around 160 beats per minute.

You will also need to adjust your training goals. Say you used to run your 800 meter intervals in 4:17 min/km (as I used to), slow down to 4:37 min/km (as I do now) or whatever feels OK. My tempo runs don’t exceed 5 min/km anymore, even though I ran the marathon with an average pace of 4:44 min/km less than a year ago! My main goals at the moment are to run four days a week, to keep running as long as possible, and to strength train three times a week. I try to vary my runs as much as possible, but it really just depends on my mood what I do on a given day. Again, listening to your body is key.

4. Monitor your heart rate

For me, the easiest way to guard the intensity of my runs is to wear a heart rate monitor, though perceived exertion works mostly fine as well. Generally, you should be able to carry on a conversation while exercising, but the intensity also depends on your pre-pregnancy fitness level. I like to not exceed 160 beats per minute, while the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity without mentioning any specific heart rate limits. In terms of perceived exertion, you would want to be working out at 6 or 7 on a scale of 10.

5. Avoid excessive heat and dehydration

Hyperthermia, a higher-than-normal body temperature, is the biggest risk for the fetus when exercising during pregnancy. When you work out, your core body temperature rises, especially when you do so in the heat. During the first trimester, the fetus cannot yet regulate its own body temperature and takes on the mother’s heat. This may possibly lead to birth defects. It is therefore recommended to avoid excessive heat by exercising in the early morning or evening, wearing light and breathable clothes, and avoid strenuous and long training sessions. Drinking water also regulates the body temperature and prevents hyperthermia. Pregnant athletes should drink 6 to 8 ounces of water for every 15 minutes they exercise as well as prior to and following their training.

Note: studies indicate that fit women actually have a better ability to dissipate heat, and if you are used to working out in the heat it is less likely to do the fetus any harm.

6. Think small

This is closely related to accepting your abilities and changing your goals, but I would just like to stress that thinking small will help you to stay fit. During the first trimester, I often found myself wondering how I was going to survive the day, let alone squeeze in a workout. I was exhausted and nauseated. Had I told myself to just speed-walk for 30 minutes instead of the 1-hour run on my agenda, I would have more likely stuck to my plan. Remember that every little bout of exercise will help you and your baby to be fit, healthy and strong. On days you feel like you want to crawl back into bed, just do something very light.

New shoes - a perfect way to spoil yourself and a good investment, as your pregnant body will need the extra cushioning.

New shoes – a perfect way to spoil yourself and a good investment, as your pregnant body will need the extra cushioning.

7. Invest in new clothing and gear

Excuses to invest in new running clothes and gear are always welcome, right? But this is not just an excuse. You will need a better supporting sports bra, some maternity shirts and new shoes if you plan to keep running throughout pregnancy. I invested in a new pair of well-cushioned shoes (I used to run on minimalist shoes) to support my increasing weight and softening joints and ligaments. If you haven’t got one yet, you may also want to buy a heart rate watch to monitor the intensity of your workouts.

With these tips, I am pretty confident you can get through the first trimester fit and healthy. The good news is that exercising became much easier for me from around week 11. I felt more energetic and got rid of the nausea. Perhaps the decreasing temperatures also helped. Next time I will give you my tips for running during the second trimester.

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