Hello, ultrarunning women!!! I’m writing this blog because there isn’t much information covering the topic of ultrarunning during pregnancy. I’ve had friends reach out to me with questions because they’re either expecting or are curious. When I was pregnant, I experienced all the niggles and anxiety of wanting answers, but I couldn’t find them! I still wanted to run ultra, but could I? Was this safe for the baby and myself? How should I go about making this important decision? What should I expect during the race? What are my reasons for wanting to do this? What are the risks, the pros and cons? [There are a few good blogs and articles about running while pregnant that have caught my eye. I will add those links at the very end.]
* NOTE: I’m mainly speaking to women who are experienced ultrarunners. I’m not a doctor. Everyone’s body is different and everyone experiences pregnancy (and ultramarathons) differently. This isn’t medical advice, it is my personal experience and opinion. *
A bit about my pregnancy. I was having a wonderful and healthy pregnancy, and already trained up for Badwater Cape Fear 51.4 miler. Training during my entire pregnancy was pretty similar to my usual training, just less intensity, lifting lighter at CrossFit, and the same monthly mileage. I felt amazing and I was getting enough rest (I’ll write up another blog about my training.).
About the distance. I don’t recommend attempting your first 50 miler if you’re expecting, even if you’ve completed a handful of 50k races. A few reasons why. There is a HUGE difference in mileage (distance-wise). An extra 19 miles is a lofty leap and is harder on the body. Running while pregnant is strenuous enough on the body, and I mean even a 5k around the local park could feel challenging some days. I don’t think it’s a good idea to run your first 50 miler while pregnant, no matter how diligent you trained.
At the doctor’s for a routine checkup, when my husband and I asked her about how much I could exercise, she responded, “don’t do anything new.” We nodded our heads and I hid my grin. I didn’t mention the ultramarathon to my doctor, I knew she wouldn’t understand, just as anyone who isn’t an ultrarunner doesn’t. This race wasn’t anything new. This would be my 7th, 50 miler within three years. I felt fully confident that I could fuel properly, keep my heartrate lower by moving slower, stay comfortable (if I’m comfortable, baby is comfortable.), and safely complete the race. I knew that I would be out on the course all day, I had 13 hours to work with, so I was mentally and physically prepared. I was a “low-risk” pregnancy and actually stopped seeing my doctor. I began seeing a midwife because I’m a more natural way-of-life type person.
A lot of thought went into the decision to participate in Badwater Cape Fear. I was already registered for the race, it is a Spring race, and being pregnant, I knew that this would probably be my only chance to race for the year. I considered that I would be in my second trimester, 18 weeks pregnant, on race day. For many women, the second trimester is the best feeling, which was true for me. I was sick almost everyday, all day, of the first trimester. Being 18 weeks along, my baby bump wasn’t going to be too big. Something to keep in mind, as with any ultramarathon, how it goes cannot be predicted, anything can go wrong, the weather and environment can’t be controlled. If safety was going to be a concern during the race, I planned on dropping down to the 50k distance or fully from the race.
I completed this race two times prior and knew what to expect, course-wise. The course is flat and only has about a mile of trail. A word of caution about trail running while pregnant. Trail running is dangerous, there is a risk of tripping, falling or bumping into something and injuring baby. Trail running requires balance, and during pregnancy (I read this everywhere), joints and ligaments are more loose in preparation for giving birth. The body has more difficulty with balance during pregnancy. Not to mention the bump adding a little weight on the front of the body, pulling at the hips and back. All of this is why extra clumsiness on the trail might happen. While I am on this topic, I thought about how my bump would affect running form, especially late in the race. The Badwater Cape Fear course is pretty much road and sand. There is a 1 mile trail section to be careful on, but nothing dangerous.
I’m so thankful for the support at the Badwater races! I have friends who are race staff, I see them at races and talk with them online, I trusted that they would keep an eye on me and take care of me at aid stations. They had my back. Aid stations are about 5 miles a part, so the fuel (that I was not carrying on me) wasn’t too far away. I ate a ton of food! I needed everything I ate and was tired of eating and even thinking about food. During the 40 miles of beach running, there are officers and security who drive up and down the sand, making sure that everyone is well. Badwater races have fantastic, top-notch support. I knew a lot of other Badwater athletes participating. During the race, I felt safe and looked after by fellow runners, even though everyone was out there running their own race. My husband, who was running the 50k, wouldn’t be hard to get a hold of if something happened.
It really came down to knowing my body and my limits. I signed the race waver stating that anything and everything that could happen is my responsibility, and that I’ve prepared for the race. I know what my body needs and when it needs it. I understood risks out of my control and knew I might have to drop. But all the pieces came together as planned, and I had a good, safe race. It was fun! My baby girl was born in July, a few months after the race.
One of my biggest takeaways from this experience was that as long as I listened to my body, I could continue to do what I loved. I feel grateful that baby and I were healthy and able to do this. Thanks to all the mamas out there who have supported, motivated and inspired me to keep running, exercising and to have a healthy pregnancy.
If you want to read about my race:
Articles that I mentioned earlier: