On the third Monday in September 2019, I went for a morning three-mile run. I felt fine, even in the late summer humidity. By the afternoon, I was holding my baby girl in my arms as the drugs from a C-section wore off. Even to my own surprise, I ran through my entire pregnancy, up until the day I went into labor.
I honestly did not have the goal of running throughout my entire pregnancy. I told myself I would run as long as it felt good. Early on, I even planned on switching to cross-training (pool running) after 36 weeks. However, running felt good throughout my pregnancy – and I felt good with running as part of my routine.
I have experience in coaching multiple pregnant athletes, and if I have learned one thing, it is that every single woman will have a different experience of running throughout pregnancy. Some women can run their entire pregnancy, while some choose not to. Some stop for medical or physical reasons.
This is not a prescriptive post; I am simply sharing my experience of how I ran through my entire pregnancy. When I was pregnant, I enjoyed reading about other women’s experiences of running through pregnancy; my hope in this post is to share my experience for others.
More than Just Easy Running
Variety helped my running feel good. I never forced a faster run and did not attempt the big workouts I would do leading up to a race. However, I did run tempo runs, progression runs, and surges until the end of my second trimester. They were never high-intensity or high-volume workouts; most were simple like 3-mile tempo runs or 10 x 30 second surges. I used my effort as a guide and ran slower than before pregnancy in hard workouts; for example, tempo runs dropped from a 7:15/mile pace to 8:00s. (I followed these general guidelines for modifying hard workouts during pregnancy.)
My gait felt more natural when I ran faster. These harder runs often felt the best; most likely, because I ran them on days when I already felt good. However, I do think the variety helped running feel good for so long. The fitness boost also helped me run later into the pregnancy when even easy runs became more challenging.
The cessation of harder workouts was natural. I shifted to all easy runs during my third trimester, which coincided with summer. Running in summer heat and humidity during the third trimester is challenging enough! (Here’s how to make summer running when pregnant more manageable.)
It’s easy to look at mileage alone: she ran 50 miles per week, while she ran 25 miles per week, etc. Mileage during pregnancy is even more individual than mileage
Your mileage is based on several factors:
- Your mileage prior to pregnancy
- Time of year: summer and winter pose more challenges than fall or spring
- How you carry and how much weight you gain
- Trimester; it’s natural and healthy to lower mileage based on how far along you are
During pregnancy, the focus shifts from progressing to maintaining. Pregnancy presents so many physiological changes and demands that you do not want to introduce new stressors such as increases in mileage. However, if you are adapted to the volume, it feels good, and you enjoy it, you can continue it.
Most likely, your mileage and intensity will decrease naturally as pregnancy progresses. Weight gain, fatigue, round ligament pain, and changes in your center of gravity all affect how much training load you can handle.
I became pregnant while sidelined by a running injury, so my mileage was lower due to building back up while pregnant (although I did not know I was pregnant until five weeks into running again). I built back up to about 30 miles per week, which is my normal baseline mileage. For the majority of my pregnancy, I ran around 20-29 miles per week, until the third trimester, when I ran 10-20 miles per week. (For reference, I usually ran 30-35 miles per week as a base and up to 55 miles per week when training.)
I scaled back frequency and volume in the final trimester of my pregnancy. I dropped down to four days at the start of my third trimester, and then down to three in the final couple weeks.
An Intuitive Approach to Running
How did it feel? I continually assessed my running throughout pregnancy, with my response to this question guiding each run. I based my mileage and intensity off of how I felt that day. Some days, if I started off feeling okay and felt worse as I went, I shortened my route even walked part of the way home. Those days were rare, but I never forced a run when it did not feel good.
Most runs felt good, though. Some runs made me forget I was pregnant (in a good way). Most runs made me feel better through all of the changes of pregnancy. I even enjoyed a few runner’s highs, which were even more welcomed after some of the more challenging runs of pregnancy.
Some weeks I ran fewer miles than others. I based on how far I ran on any given day based on how I felt. If I felt good, I ran for longer (usually 45-65 minutes). Some days, I didn’t feel good and ran only 25-30 minutes.
When I needed to, I used run-walk intervals. This was not often; I was able to run continuously until I hit full-term. However, I was always open to the option of walk intervals if I needed them.
If I needed a rest day, I took it!
Prioritization of Recovery and Nutrition
Your body does not prioritize recovery during pregnancy. The priority is growing a baby! Eating plenty, hydrating well, and sleeping sufficiently all help the body recover. Recovery during pregnancy felt a lot like recovery during marathon training, even though I was running roughly half the mileage of marathon training.
I gained 30 pounds in pregnancy due to how much I was eating (only six of those were a baby!), but I believe the nutrition helped me sustain running so well.
Pelvic Floor Training
A strong pelvic floor is vital for running throughout an entire pregnancy. As pregnancy progresses, the growing uterus and baby place increasing pressure on the pelvic floor.
Leakage is common, but it is not normal except in the very late stages of pregnancy and the first few weeks postpartum. Leaking indicates a weak pelvic floor. A weak pelvic floor can cause incontinence, prolapse, and overuse running injuries (since your pelvic floor is connected to your core).
I did Kegels throughout my entire pregnancy. I focused on both strength (short 1-3 second contractions, high reps) and endurance (10-12 second holds, low reps). I incorporated pelvic floor exercises such as bridges, bird dogs, and pelvic tilts into my strength training. I continued to practice Pilates at least once per week.
Consistent Strength Training (including Core Work)
Strength training was a struggle in pregnancy. It did not always sound fun and often require several days of recovery. However, strength training undoubtedly helped me run through my entire pregnancy. Strength training helped me tolerate the weight gain of pregnancy and run relatively close to my normal easy pace until the final few weeks.
I modified my strength training, especially core work, as pregnancy progressed. The movements became simpler, I completed fewer reps, and I reduced the amount of weight I lifted. I did Pilates once per week and lifted weights once per week. I scaled the movements as appropriate to pregnancy, such as avoiding planks or anything that could cause my stomach to cone.
Communication with a Supportive OB
I worked with a team of OBs who were incredibly supportive of my running (and some were runners themselves). I updated them on my running with every visit and they cleared me to continue each time. They informed me of reasons to stop at every stage (bleeding, discomfort, pain along the pubic symphysis joint, etc) so that I could make an informed decision and not risk injury or complication.
Things I Did Not Do
- Change my running shoes. Some women report needing to change their shoes during pregnancy, due to needing a bigger size or more support. Personally, I did not – although I did need to loosen my laces as my feet swelled in the final weeks.
- Monitor my heart rate. It works great for some women, but I personally chose to focus on my effort and not stress too much about numbers.
- Run long distances. Since I was coming off of injury, I capped my longest run at 9 miles. I simply did not have the desire to run more than 9 miles during pregnancy.
- Run in dangerous or uncomfortable conditions. On one icy winter day, I turned around after ½ mile and walked home. I skipped runs during summer heat warnings, heavy rains, dark mornings, and other conditions that made overheating or falling a risk. I stopped running my dog around the start of the third trimester because his pulling affected my balance (and made my pelvis hurt).
Again, this is just my experience. Every woman and pregnancy is different. Always speak to your medical professional first and listen to your body’s signals.
Did you ever run during pregnancy? What was your experience?
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