Running When Pregnant: My Experience So Far

Today I am 20 weeks pregnant! Very exciting but also slightly scary to think that we are already halfway through. So far, I have found pregnancy to be a positive experience but I also know that this could change at any time, so I’m making the most of things whilst I can.

Whilst I fully believe that a ‘normal’, healthy pregnancy should not mean that you have to wrap yourself in cotton wool for 40 weeks, it’s certainly true that if you’re already used to being active, you will have to modify things slightly. This may mean giving up hobbies such as scuba diving, starting to take things a little easier, and tuning into your body’s (and baby’s!) needs even more than you have so far.Since running is my main form of exercise and just such a huge, central driving force in my life, I thought fellow runners might appreciate hearing about my experience of running when pregnant so far. As always, please remember that this is my experience and that yours may be entirely different…and that’s ok! I hope you enjoy reading.

Some days you feel great…which lulls you into a false sense of security

running when pregnant

During the first trimester, I found that running and being outside helped me to deal with nausea.I wouldn’t say I felt particularly amazing on these days, but as I felt sick and tired anyway, and running didn’t make me feel any worse, I figured that I might as well keep going.

The second trimester has so far brought with it other challenges. I’m still pretty tired and am currently trying to work out whether running is making me feel more fatigued than I should be, OR if it’s helping me to sleep at night after a spell of jetlag/insomnia. I’ve also had some hip and back pain and I don’t know whether it’s related to running or just something that I’d experience as part of pregnancy anyway. So, some days can be pretty rotten, but as far as the benefits outweigh the discomfort and fatigue, I’m happy to keep going, although it can be much harder to get out of the door these days.

On the other hand, some days feel amazing. These are the occasions when I don’t worry about pace, when I don’t have a set distance to run, and when I can just relax, enjoy the quiet of the early morning, listen to birdsong or chat with a friend. Perhaps I’ll find myself running faster than expected (anything under 6 minutes a km is good these days!) or I’ll feel that welcome rush of all too familiar endorphins and energy afterward. I somehow tell myself that things will get easier from here on, although I know that won’t be the case. The next run usually brings me back down to earth with a jolt, and once again I’m reminded that things aren’t going to get easier or faster for quite some time!

You’ll need to pee. A lot.

This is another issue which I’ve discovered is not going to go away anytime soon. TMI maybe, but I’ve gone from needing a toilet break every now and again, to every 5km or so. It seems to be a cycle of:  Go to the loo. Start running. Realise I need the loo again 10 minutes later. Think about how much I need it until I finally find another toilet (or a bush). Start the cycle all over again.

Coupled with this is a constant pressure on my bladder which makes things very uncomfortable indeed and only adds to my non-stop thinking about how much I need to go.

It’s hard to tell if you need to take a break/give a session a miss or are just being lazy

running when pregnant

Before I was pregnant, I very rarely skipped my training and was pretty good at sticking to my planned paces, even though it hurt and the thought of doing tempo runs or intervals filled me with dread. Now, I find myself cutting at least one session a week (granted, I’m still running 4-5 days a week, down from 6), and adding walk breaks when I feel I need them.

This is something that would have filled me with horror before but has now become necessary, particularly since it’s really heating up here in Dubai. However, what I struggle with is working out whether I’m just not motivated enough anymore – since I have no races or running-related goals – to get myself out there, or if my body is really telling me to rest. In other words; am I just being lazy?

Fuelling sufficiently and with the right foods (when your body might be craving something else) is a challenge

This was a nightmare during the first trimester. One night I had a meltdown because all I wanted was vegetables, but all I could stomach was cheese, crackers and pickled onions washed down with a Coke. Such a change from my usual diet and not exactly nourishing. At first, I would go about my long runs as normal (I would run up to 20km fasted before I got pregnant), but I soon realised that although my baby was only tiny, I needed more fuel, more regularly. There were a couple of runs when I felt absolutely ravenous from halfway, and one scary long run when I had to stop due to feeling dizzy. Now that I can eat more of my normal food, I try to ensure I eat more on the days I run, and I always have a gel on me, even for shorter distances. During the Boston Marathon, I had 6 gels (and a bigger breakfast) where normally I’ll have 3 or 4, and I made sure I ate something immediately after, too.

Slowing down will bring completely different mental battles

running when pregnant

Runners are used to mental battles, whether it’s sticking to a planned pace for a tempo run, running further than ever before, or those last painful kilometers of a marathon when you have to speed up to sneak under your goal time.

Running when pregnant is a whole different mental game. The paces aren’t ‘hard’ (although they feel more uncomfortable than they should); it’s just difficult to get your head around the fact that pace no longer matters. Running Boston Marathon a couple of weeks ago, it felt strange every time I looked at my watch and saw a number starting with a 5 or a 6 instead of a 4. Just as the idea of actually being pregnant takes some time to get used to, so does the acknowledgment that you will slow down and that this slower pace will most likely not feel easy. One of the ways I try to get around this is to take in nature or listen to a podcast. I often have my watch set so that I cannot see the pace as I know that despite all of my good intentions, it will still disappoint me.

Comparing yourself to others and your past self is dangerous

In a way, this is related to the whole “slowing down and the completely different mental battle you’ll face” issue. It’s so easy to get drawn into the comparison trap, particularly when you’re already feeling more vulnerable.

Friends will get faster as you get slower, events that you would normally take part in but can’t this year will give you serious FOMO, and you’ll start to get jealous of anyone you see running in the street. Looking at your race results from six months or a year ago and then realising that you can’t even run a minute at that pace will come as a real shock.

You’ll wonder what your future running will be like

Will you ever be able to run again once the baby arrives? Whilst I’m trying not to look too far ahead, I do intend to return to running at some point and have plans for future marathons and ultras. Finding the time to train and starting from scratch is going to be a big challenge, plus no one ever really knows how it’s all going to feel physically, especially during those first couple of months on the road. I know plenty of women who have had children and are still smashing their PBs into their late 30s and 40s, so this gives me hope that, with time, that could be me too. Plus, there’s always the knowledge that you got there once, so you can get there again. Keeping healthy now and then giving your body adequate time to recover before building up slowly seems to be the best way forward.

Not knowing if or when you’ll have to stop is disconcerting

As a mother-to-be, I’m fully prepared to stop running at any point during my pregnancy if it starts feeling ‘wrong’ or if there are any medical reasons that mean either mine or the baby’s health would be put at risk if I was to continue running. Pregnancy changes everything so quickly and each week is so different from the last that it’s hard to know how long running will remain comfortable. Living in the heat of Dubai is also an issue, as our days of 40+ degrees Celsius and high humidity are just around the corner.

Realistically, I think that by the time June rolls around, it might be time to hang up my running shoes and stick to walking and other forms of exercise instead. It’s a scary thought, but running in the summer is hard enough at the best of times. And of course, the comparison trap then becomes all the more brutal, as social media shows us women who run right until they give birth. But the thing is, each pregnancy, each woman and each circumstance is very unique, and sometimes we have to take all of these things into account, put our pride to one side, and do the right thing.

Running when pregnant: my main takeaways

Running is not supposed to be easy, let alone when you’re growing a whole other person inside of you.

If you miss focusing on race-related goals, try to refocus on your baby and see your pregnancy and delivery as an endurance event in itself (which it is!).Look at the positives. Less running = more time for strength/flexibility.

Use this amazing time as another chance to be more in tune with your body. It’s even more important to really listen to your body. Remember that you’ll need more recovery than you are used to.

Talk to fellow running mums who say they’re so much faster/stronger after a baby. You’ll realise that this is not ‘the end’ of your string of PBs.

Think about running to time, not distance. So, for example, if 10km would normally take you 50 minutes, run for 50 minutes and don’t worry about the distance you cover in this time.

Make sure you have hydration/fuelling options available…and a toilet!

Remember there are no prizes for putting yourself through pain or in risky situations…think of the bigger, long term picture. Stopping running, no matter at what stage, may save you and mean you can return to running post-baby. It’s 9 months to a year out of your entire running life…people have injuries and illnesses which prevent them from running for much longer, and often without the happy outcome of a baby at the end of it all.

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