“You’re pregnant!” a spectator shouted around mile 3. “You go! Looking strong!”
I ran the Popcorn Panic 5 Miler at 38.5 weeks pregnant. When I think about it objectively, I almost can’t wrap my mind around the fact that I did that. I felt great on race day – certainly not almost 9 months pregnant!
Initially, I did not even plan to run this far into pregnancy. I anticipated feeling heavy and uncomfortable, so I had the contingency plan of switching to cross-training at about 35-36 weeks. But pregnancies rarely go as planned. I found that running felt good most days and even on the harder days, it did not bad. More importantly, I felt better through the final weeks when I did run. Running alleviated tightness and swelling. It boosted my energy levels. Most of all, it gave me confidence in being able to handle the physical demands of childbirth.
The Popcorn Panic is a tradition in Valparaiso; this year was its 41st running. It is part of the Popcorn Festival, a huge Northwest Indiana celebration.
At first, I planned on signing up for the 5K run/walk. But then I found that I was still comfortably running 5-6 miles and enjoying these runs. So, I signed Ryan and myself up for the Popcorn Panic 5 Miler. In my mind, this race represented a conclusion to running during pregnancy. I knew I would likely do a few runs after, but I wanted to wrap up the experience on a high note.
On race day itself, I felt surprisingly good. The weather was mild and pleasant, which definitely helped me feel good. I ate half a plain bagel with PB and a banana and drank a cup of coffee and some Nuun. I’ve been ravenous in the final month of pregnancy and this kept my energy levels high. I skipped a warm-up run for a short walk instead.
The logistics of the Popcorn Panic are seamless. You can pick up your bib either at the local running store in the three days prior or race day morning. The corral was self-seeded and people did surprisingly well at seeding themselves; we did not have to dodge any walkers at the start. The course was clearly marked with multiple aid stations and plenty of volunteers. The trickiest part was parking; we arrived at the start approximately 40 minutes before race and had to do street parking a few blocks away. (Had I not been pregnant, we would have just jogged a warm-up mile to the start.)
The race begins with a downhill in the first quarter mile, followed by a slight ascent for the remainder of the first mile. I used the downhill to gently ease into running and then kept my effort conservative during that first mile. We ran a 9:27 for the first mile.
Miles 2, 3, and 4 looped through a few neighborhoods. I felt good these miles but focused on maintaining a controlled effort. The splits were surprisingly even: 9:07, 9:06, 9:08.
Every once and a while, I would start to speed up and Ryan would remind me to keep it comfortable. We played a game throughout the entire race to ensure I maintained a conversational effort. We counted dogs (30 total). If I could say “look at that cute puppy, number 15,” then I was not overexerting myself.
From about mile 3-3.8, we enjoyed a nice downhill stretch. The roads had a few potholes and uneven surfaces, so I kept my pace under control.
I found myself in a game of leapfrog with one woman. Ryan and I would pass her simply by running the pace we were comfortably settled into. She would then surge to pass me and then cut in front of me, but then slow down again. Then, when I gradually began to pass her again, she began to try to cut me off again. I had to seriously shorten my stride and I accidentally bumped into Ryan to avoid tripping over her. Enough was enough – the last thing I wanted was to trip when 38 weeks pregnant – so I threw down a slight surge of my own until I had about a 200m gain on her.
Right before the start of the final mile, we encountered the big hill of the race. Our pastor had warned us that this section is the hard part of the race. Hilly is relative here – this was only about a ¼ mile with a 4-6% incline – but I had to noticeably rein back my pace. Once we ascended the hill, I gained control over my breathing again.
Ryan and I both felt good, so we pushed the pace over the final mile. I still kept it relatively aerobic – this wasn’t even a tempo effort until the final ¼ mile climb. The final mile returns back over the same stretch as the first mile, so most of it was slightly downhill – until a small climb at the final ¼ mile. We finished the final mile at an 8:31 – the fastest I’ve run in weeks!
We finished in a time of 45:38, which is faster than I anticipated based on recent runs. I didn’t feel tired at the end of the race, which was my goal – especially since we ended up walking at least six more miles at Popcorn Fest!
I was absolutely elated upon finishing this race. I had so much fun running it with Ryan and we both really enjoyed the course. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment for running the time at 38 weeks pregnant, especially since I kept it comfortable for the race. The Popcorn Panic wrapped up the experience of running while pregnant on a very, very positive note.
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