In November 2016, I finished a marathon while 5 months pregnant.
I wanted to keep my pregnancy private and tell only my family and trusted friends. I felt like I had been sharing too much of my life online already. But I am blogging about it anyway. Why?
When I found out I was pregnant, the first thing I did was madly Google stories of pregnant women running marathons. Even before I called my doctor and looked for a midwife. I wanted to know the possibilities and consequences.
Or maybe I was just searching for confirmations. I knew, deep in my heart, that I will run the marathon no matter what.
Hopefully this post will inspire a few women doubting themselves, to continue running while carrying a baby in their womb. Or give them affirmations to trust their own bodies and their decisions.
Robin and I signed up for the Osaka Yodogawa Marathon in July, one month after finishing the Torshavn Marathon in Faroe Islands. We’ve planned to have a baby but didn’t expect it’ll come so soon. We were going to have our autumn holiday and eat our way in Japan – think of lots of sushi, sashimi, all the out of this world food we probably don’t even know exist. And run a marathon on the side.
What we didn’t know was that I was already pregnant by that time.
Support is important
Robin was very supportive of my decision. We agreed that if something happens as a consequence of this, we won’t blame each other. Or more accurately, that he won’t blame me. That gave me peace of mind.
Because not even my midwives were 100% behind my decision. Two out of the three midwives looking after me at the clinic were hesitant to give their approval. And that is putting it mildly. I think if they could, they would have flatly discouraged me. It might have something to do with their age (one is a young woman who doesn’t run and the other is an older guy who also doesn’t run). Or maybe it was really risky. It was the ultrasound technician who told me:
“If you’ve been doing it before, why not?”.
I didn’t post about my pregnancy earlier to avoid unwelcome comments. Although my mother and I argued about it. At the end I told her that it is my body and I’ll be deciding what to do with it.
Running the marathon was a calculated decision. It wasn’t like I’d deliberately be putting my unborn child in harm’s way. I knew the risks. And I was lucky that the people I love understood and supported my decision. At the end of the day, those are the only opinions that matter.
“It’ll be so cool to say that I ran a marathon while pregnant.” I told Robin before race day. “But you’re not doing it to be cool, right?”, he asked casually.
Yes I wasn’t doing it to be cool. I really love running even though I am lazy most of the time.
But I’d be lying if I say I don’t find myself super cool finishing a marathon while 5 months pregnant. But my endeavour is not unique. Women have been running marathons while pregnant for decades. Perfect examples were top runners Paula Radcliffe and Kara Goucher. And Amber Miller who ran the Chicago Marathon while 9 months pregnant. She went straight to delivery, by the way.
But these were elite runners. I am in no way an elite runner and will never be one. I am not a fast runner either. Lately I haven’t even been setting time goals. What I do know is that pounding the roads with my small feet and letting my legs take me to places for hours and hours on end give me extreme satisfaction. It may sound like a cliche but it makes me feel….alive. The pain, the adrenaline, the struggle and the euphoria.
And there are many women runners out there, ordinary runners like me who don’t let their pregnancy take the joy of running away from them.
Taking it slow
The three most important take-aways from the hundreds of online articles I’ve read were:
1. Stop when it becomes painful.
2. Do not force yourself.
3. Stay fuelled and hydrated.
I took these lessons to heart but my biggest worry was that my legs weren’t trained enough to take me to the finish line.
I trained during my first trimester during the summer. But because of morning sickness and tiredness, I feel like I didn’t do it properly. I trained by mood and sometimes I just couldn’t get off the couch. We also struggled with the heat.
Dehydration is very dangerous to the baby. A woman’s body temperature is already a few degrees higher when she is pregnant and while running it can climb up very quickly. We brought litres of water during every run.
Our last endurance run was at the end of September. After that, we barely covered the 3x/week training schedule. We were also in the middle of moving house and with full time jobs and many things in between, we just didn’t have the energy and time to train as we should. We even stopped for two whole weeks. Luckily Yodogawa Marathon has a cut-off time of 7.5 hours and the parcours was very flat.
We finished in 5 hours and 57 minutes, good enough to get a medal in any other marathon races. Read my race recap here.
I took it slow, real slow. I threw all expectations out the window. From the beginning of the training until I stepped on the finish mat, I was attuned with my body. I would stop the moment I feel uncomfortable and they came in many forms – slight pain in my pelvic area, hardening of my tummy, cramps.
Thankfully my baby cooperated. During the race, my baby would kick hard whenever I have to eat and when I needed to take walking breaks. I stopped so many times, for walking and toilet breaks, or to refill my water bottle.
In any other race, that would have frustrated me. I never had to stop for a toilet break in all four races (including two marathons) I participated in. But this time, I was so cool about it. I was even joking about “marking my territory in the woods” whenever I have to duck behind a bush to pee.
Talk about your fears
I was determined but that didn’t mean I didn’t have fears. I questioned my decision many times, whether I am being selfish for pushing on or would I put my baby in danger. Will I damage the baby’s growth? Was I doing the right thing?
Robin was also very honest that while he supports my decision, he too was afraid.
But what do you do with those fears?
We set rules. He would run with me the whole race. We would stop when it becomes painful. We would be careful. Knowing that I can run to my husband if anything bad happens and that he won’t blame me for it, helped assuage my fears and removed whatever unreasonable guilt I had.
For women who are in a similar situation, it makes a huge difference when you have that support with you. If you don’t have a husband, it can be your mother or your sister, or your most trusted friend. I wouldn’t know how it would be like if I did it alone but I’m sure it would have not been this easy.
Always remember, we women are shaped by our DNA to know our bodies more than anyone else (more than you doctor, your mother, your husband or your nosy neighbours). That so-called mother’s instinct didn’t pop up in a day. It was developed through evolution, sharpened by time, experiences and the circumstances of many generations before us. Trust it and trust it fully.
I’m still running. The weather had been discouraging in the last two weeks and I’ve only managed one 12km run last week but I am determined, more than ever, never to stop running.
It might sound crazy but I am even considering running a half marathon on my 33rd week. But who knows? The only thing I’m sure of right now is that I need new running clothes. Because everything is too tight!