Chicago Marathon

How I Ran a Marathon 5 Months Pregnant

Feeling nostalgic as we head into marathon weekend again. It was just shy of one year ago, when Paul and I announced that we were expecting. This announcement, while somewhat delayed, was a very conscious decision, as I’d be running the 2017 Chicago Marathon while nearly 5months pregnant, and frankly, I was afraid of judgement. I can’t tell you how many people told me not to run, but I also can’t express how incredible that run felt! It was my best first half and while I slowed my pace for the second half, I felt better after this race than any race prior! Running the 2017 Chicago Marathon was by far one of the most empowering experiences of my life!

So why’d I do it and how?…

It was teamwork through and through– I’ve always said, this was as much baby’s marathon as it was my own & I stand by that statement!

I was already registered and training when I learned I was pregnant, and while I knew this little  bundle would add some difficulties to the process, running was never in question. In fact, from the moment I learned I was pregnant, I’d gotten excited about the idea of baby’s first marathon! Like any mom, it was important to me that baby get the best start possible in life, and to me this translated as completing this race for him. I loved the idea of baby having completed his first marathon before being born, and I wanted this to serve as testament that he was fully capable of accomplishing anything he wanted in life! I realize it sounds cliche– maybe even superficial to some, but this race was symbolic of so much more than 26.2miles, this was my way of offering babe a “go get ‘em” outlook for life– a springboard for his future!

Like I said, running while pregnant was never in question, but the logistics were a day by day reassessment. 

I still remember our first doctor’s visit. We’d just seen babe for the first time via ultrasound and were giddy with excitement and still somewhat in shock. We’d just stepped into my new doctor’s office and while I don’t remember exactly how the subject came up, I remember saying the word “marathon”, and immediately receiving a firm “No”. In fact, I was strongly advised not to run more than 10miles on any given day. I want to be clear that this had nothing to do with my pregnancy, we were not a high risk case, had no complications, and everything was going smoothly, nevertheless, this was the general and immediate recommendation. Keep in mind this was our first introduction with this doctor, so first impressions were officially not going well.

I don’t like being told “NO” whether I’m pregnant or not, so as you can imagine, I sought second opinions… turns out, everyone and their mother agreed. 

I was incredibly frustrated, but like any well intended mother, I wanted what was best for my baby, I wanted to put his safety first, and if that meant not running a marathon, then that’s what needed to happen! Therefore (though reluctantly), I obliged and quit training. Two months went by, and daily I questioned whether I could complete the distance. I was still running a leisurely 4-6miles, and averaging 5-7 miles in walking. That was 10-13miles a day right there! I couldn’t shake the idea of doubling that, and ultimately I knew in my gut that completing a marathon safely was well within my reach! 

Disclaimer: there are so many reasons why you should not try this at home, and my doctor (and all others) weren’t wrong to tell me “no”. A marathon is no small feat for anyone– pregnancy excluded, but ultimately, no-one knows my body better than me. 

This was my area of expertise– both as a runner and fitness professional. Not only am I regularly engaged in physical activity, and trained in the risks and precautions of pre/postnatal care, but as a fitness expert, I am highly in tune with my body. So, after two months of holding back in my runs, I was back in training mode.

Again, the logistics of marathon training while pregnant were a daily reassessment. While I was lucky to experience a fairly easy pregnancy, my most prevalent symptom was fatigue, which made sticking to any training schedule daunting. Every week felt different, the side effects of pregnancy were unpredictable (especially for a first time mom), and my body was physically changing as it developed and made room for a whole new little person. The entire process still fascinates me, and the fact that our bodies can continue to perform under these circumstances is incredible, but that’s a whole other soapbox for another time.

I forgot to mention, nothing was fully decided until game day. I cannot emphasize how carefully we went about this. Training was extremely casual compared to years prior & fully dependent on how I felt each day. I remember constantly feeling bad as my pace would slow or I would fail to cover our set distance for that day, but Paul was extremely supportive and trusting of my judgement at all times. That being said, we did decide that he had veto power. Come race day, if for whatever reason he didn’t feel comfortable with me putting myself and our baby through the stresses of race day, he could ultimately say no. If I’m completely honest, every day of pregnancy is so different, that I didn’t even fully know my commitment until race day– had it been raining or the forecast predicted higher temperatures, I would have probably backed out, but as it stood, the conditions were prime for a safe and enjoyable race!

On race day it wasn’t about pace or finish time, I was so intentional about listening to my body and baby that I decided to run alone, didn’t listen to any music, and was constantly meditating, praying, or mentally chatting with baby. I also refrained from any supplements. Whereas I would typically partake of energy gummies/gels, I was already so particular about my prenatal nutrition that I decided to stick to natural options such as bananas and orange slices offered later in the race, though I was incredibly grateful for the woman at mile 12 handing out Sour Patch Kids & Sweedish Fish– who knew those could be such an amazing race day treats!

Like I said, it was my best first half marathon ever– though I pushed myself a bit more in order to avoid that afternoon heat. Being that extreme heat is a major health risk during prenatal exercise, I wanted to get as many miles in as I could before full afternoon sun exposure hit.

Honestly, the whole race was a runner’s high! When you’re pregnant, there are many risks to look out for, but your body is also operating at a higher capacity with added red blood cells and oxygen pumping through your system. I want to be very clear, that I am not a medical professional and highly advise seeking medical clearance before engaging in any physical activity while pregnant, but in my experience, I never felt any shortness of breath, joint pain, or signs of overheating. Aside from some sciatic pain during part of my training, nothing ever felt abnormal.

In order to play it safe, I allowed myself to slow down after mile 13, this was always part of the plan and an commitment that made many family members feel better about the whole undertaking. And come mile 21 I’ll admit my run became more of a walk/run, but I crossed that finishline feeling 110%! Paul will be the first to say my smile was unnatural for having completed 26.2 miles, and I’ll say that’s the only time I’ve believed that whole “pregnancy glow” idea ;)

Would I do it again?… I can’t tell you how many times people have asked this, but truthfully, there’s no way to tell!

I firmly believe that each women and pregnancy is unique, so I would need to re-evaulate the situation entirely. I can’t emphasize enough how carefully we made this decision. Running while pregnant is tough and messy (I had to resort to short treadmill runs in my third trimester, purely out of bladder control), but it is possible when executed carefully. Again, it’s my job to train clients safely and effectively towards their goals, this is my area of expertise, and I am highly in tune with my body. No one knows my body better than me, and I knew from day one that this was a task I could complete, but I still stand firm– crossing that finish line was as much baby’s victory as it was mine, and perhaps it’s that teamwork from those early stages of our relationship that made the experience that much more rewarding!

Marathon Training Tips

Whether it's your first marathon or you're just dabbling in the idea of running for your own fitness, I'm sharing 10 marathon week training tips to guide you to the finish line! 

  • Download a training plan… Personally, I’ve always used the Nike+ Run App, it keeps you on track, adjusts as you progress through your training, connects you to community through the Nike Run Club, holds you accountable and keeps you on track, which can often be the hardest part. Regardless, be it an app or printed program, get on a running schedule, there’s a reason they’re out there. 
  • Cross Train… This is one of the most under-rated and overlooked aspects of marathon training, but it’s critical to your safety & success. Cross training will not only improve your performance on race day, but will protect you from injury. Make sure you’re working on your core, legs, and your entire posterior chain. The more muscles you engage during your runs, the easier your runs will become- train smarter, not harder. Also recommended: visit a running specialist and see what areas need work. Corrective exercises, might feel tedious, but if you’re not using the proper muscles or movement patterns, you literally won’t be capable of functioning at your full potential. Read more about Glute & Core exercises here.
  • Recover… I encourage all of my clients to incorporate massage therapy into their training. Often times, they feel like it should be a treat that needs to be earned, but that’s where we get it wrong. Recovery, be it sleep, self-myofascial release (foam rolling), or massage therapy is a necessary luxury, and your body will respond accordingly. Personally, this week I’ll be seeing my chiropractor for one last adjustment, spending extra time on a foam roller, and if possible adding in a massage early in the week to work out any tight spots.
  • Slow it down…. The week prior, begin to taper off. No need to show off or prove anything this week, you’ve trained for months, and now it’s maintenance mode. Keep moving, keep cross training, but nothing crazy. The last thing you want to do is stumble upon an injury or burn out in those final days. Reserve your energy for when it counts.
  • Fuel up… ALL WEEK! Your nutrition this week is critical to setting you up for success. Stay well fueled & hydrated throughout the week. The idea of “carbo-loading” the night before is all wrong. Yes, you’ll need more carbs for race day, trust me, you’ll burn through your full storage supply, but rather than overloading the night before, begin incorporating more carbs into each of your meals this week. Think quality carbs, not fat, and remember it’s not about eating more, but about increasing the percentage of carbs in your daily caloric intake. Have some pasta the night before, but if you’ve done well fueling up throughout the week, there’s no need to eat the whole lasagna. 
  • Collect yourself… A marathon is not only a physical battle, but an emotional and mental battle as well. Typically, my mental hurdle arrives around mile 17, here things start to feel harder, my energy is dropping, and the finish line feels far away. Around mile 20-22, I start to hit my emotional hurdle. Suddenly, those witty signs, don’t seem so funny, and if you’re being cute telling me to ‘Suck It Up, Buttercup” I want nothing more than to see you get out here and “Suck It Up”. Beware, these moments will come, you might feel angry, you might want to cry, everyone’s different, just shake it off and remember why you’re here. Keeping your own library of motivational mantras will help as well. My favorite: ”Push your limits & you will have none.”
  • Dress the part… Race day temperatures can vary, so set aside a couple options just in case. Most importantly, make sure you’re running shoes are worn in. One of the biggest rookie mistakes you can make is running on a new pair of shoes- talk about blisters, ouch! Personally, I don’t pack water on race day (there’s plenty of water stops along the way), but I will have a waist band for energy gels/gummies. Often, these aren’t offered until later into the race, and you may need them a few miles before or after that option becomes available. Also, don’t be afraid to pull out the vaseline or anti-chaffing stick, there’s no shame in being cautious.  
  • Rise & shine… This is where you need to know your body, it’s going to be a long day, so you want to get started on the right foot. For some, this might mean waking up even earlier than most, some runners prefer to get a warm-up mile in before the race (that’s not me). Regardless, when it comes to breakfast, avoid runny food selections, no smoothies, yogurt, or eggs as they don’t tend to sit well. Oatmeal is my go-to race day breakfast, I might add some chia seeds, or peanut butter for added fuel. If you’re in a rush, try to grab a banana with peanut butter or protein bar. And fun fact, there are two Clif Bar flavors that offer an added boost of caffeine– look for Cool Mint & Toffee Crunch. 
  • After party… Completing a marathon is huge achievement, so make sure to plan a celebration for afterwards. For many, this might be as simple as ordering takeout and resting for the remainder of the day, but If you have friends or family coming to cheer you on, plan ahead and make dinner reservations early. 
  • Finally, have fun!… Remember this is a celebration! You’ve logged countless miles training for this, you’ve already won & believe it or not, today is the easy part!

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