Running with my bump

I’ve been a runner for several years, mostly training for and competing in distance events (my favorites being 15ks and half marathons). When I became pregnant with my first daughter, I knew I wanted to continue running, but wasn’t sure of any risks or benefits that would be associated with it. I had friends who ran up to their 40th week of pregnancy, and I was hoping that could be a goal of mine as well.

There are quite a few myths out there about exercising while pregnant. I’ve heard many (older) fitness instructors say pregnant women should not get their heart rate above 140 (not true). I’ve also heard that abdominal exercise should be avoided and that running can be too jarring for the baby (both also not true). The American College of Sports Medicine recommends exercising while pregnant because there are so many proven benefits. Of course, it’s important to be safe. The safe level of exercise depends on the fitness level of the mama.

Running with both my girls- 33 weeks pregnant

Right before I became pregnant with Carli I ran my fastest marathon to that date. I had been training hard all fall, and already had a 15k and half-marathon under my belt (both were PRs for me at the time). I’m a prime example that strenuous training does NOT make you infertile, and I found out I was pregnant with her 3 weeks after the marathon. My body was already in great shape from all the training I had done that fall, so I was able to continue running at about the same speed and distances. Instead of keeping a watchful eye on my heart rate monitor, I exercised at the intensity I felt comfortable at. Some days that was a 7:30 min/mile pace. Other days it was closer to a 9 min/mile pace. Some days I had to stop and take walking breaks, other days I could run 8 miles continuously. The bigger my belly grew, the slower my pace and distances became. Once I hit about 25 weeks I started using a belly support band during runs. This not only kept my belly more comfortable but it also lifted some of the strain off my back.

By the time I was 35 weeks pregnant with Carli I was still running 4-5 days per week, with 5-6 miles being the longest distance I could cover. My last week of pregnancy I was able to run 3-4 miles maximum, and ended up running 3 miles the day I went into labor with her.

A 5k I ran when I was 26 weeks pregnant with Carli

 

A 5k I ran recently- 31 weeks pregnant with my second baby girl

As a runner, one of the best benefits to maintain my running while pregnant was the effects it had on my fitness level post-partum. Even though I was training at much shorter distances and speeds, my body had to learn to be more efficient at transporting oxygen to my working muscles and the baby. Studies have shown that a person’s VO2 max can actually increase when exercising while pregnant, and this definitely proved to be true once I was able to start running again post-partum. I ran my fastest 5k when she was only 3 months old (I didn’t start running again until she was about 7 weeks old). I ran a personal best half-marathon when she was nine months old and beat my marathon time by 5 minutes when she was 19 months old. The crazy thing was, I wasn’t training as hard as I was before I got pregnant- I didn’t have the time to! I really think that my fitness level just improved over the course of my pregnancy, and I was able to maintain that once I started running again.

My first half marathon post partum

With this pregnancy, I’ve been incorporating more strength training. I’m horrible about resistance exercises, in fact, I HATE them. I can run all day long but I hate picking up a dumbbell. Because I wasn’t weight lifting much before I got pregnant, I don’t push myself in this area. There are a few total body conditioning type classes at my gym, which focuses mainly on light weights and a lot of repetition. One class I absolutely love and plan on sticking with it until the baby comes. I’m not overly straining myself, but I’m also building muscle in areas other than just my legs which feels nice.

Something else I’m doing that I didn’t with my first pregnancy is more abdominal exercises. I’m not trying to have a six-pack form immediately after she’s born, but mainly to build strength in my core which can be beneficial for labor and recovery. If there is core work in a fitness class I’m attending, I do have to modify it at times. Doing a full sit up (from laying to sitting position) can put too much strain on the ab muscles and cause them to tear.

After a 4 mile run- nine months pregnant with Carli

Here’s some encouraging evidence about exercising while pregnant from the IOC, based on a systemic review of studies:

  • There is little risk of abnormal response in the baby’s heart rate when exercising at <90% of maximal heart rates in the second and third trimesters.
  • Baby’s birthweight is less likely to be excessively high, but also not a greater risk for being at a low birth weight
  • Exercise does not increase the risk of preterm birth.
  • Exercise during pregnancy does not increase the risk of induction of labour, epidural anesthesia, episiotomy or perineal tears, forceps or vacuum deliveries.
  • There is some evidence that the first stage of labor (before full dilatation) is shorter in exercising women.
  • Exercise throughout pregnancy may reduce the need for caesarean section.
  • Exercising while pregnant can decrease risk of developing gestational diabetes or preeclampsia
  • Exercise can reduce maternal weight gain
  • Exercise enhances psychological well-being (something that has been crucial for me this pregnancy- those hormones have been extra crazy this time around!)

So yes, exercise (in elite athletes, even strenuous exercise) is safe during pregnancy. I have gotten some disapproving looks or looks of shock from some when I’m out running with my big ol’ belly. I know it probably seems weird to some people. But as long as I’m listening to my body, I know both me and my baby are safe.

 

My decision to quit marathon running

Exercise is something that is considered healthy. Not only does it benefit us physically, but also mentally. It is a good tool to use for stress management and can also help people manage various types of psychological issues.  It’s that adrenaline produced by exercise that can bring out the competitive nature in exceptional athletes and motivate others to live a healthier lifestyle. Even people who joke to have an exercise addiction is something most consider to be admirable. The drive and determination it takes to train multiple hours a day for a certain sport is a quality that is both respected and envied. It can be hard to understand that even too much of a good thing can be negative. I’ve struggled for years with an exercise addiction, and it’s something that’s been terribly difficult to admit. There are multiple signs that have shown me the amount of exercise I was engaging in wasn’t healthy, and the steps I’ve been taking the past several months to put an end to it has definitely been more of a challenge than I thought it would be.

When I started running, it came from a healthy place. I was a freshman in high school who just wanted to be in better shape. The first running loop I created in my neighborhood was 2.5 miles. I remember liking the feeling when I was done, exhausted but proud of what I had accomplished. I liked the way my body felt, my muscles were tighter and being dehydrated made me feel lighter. My clothes began getting baggier and the compliments started coming in.

“You look great!”

“Have you lost weight? I’m so jealous!!”

“You’re such a fast runner!”

The praise motivated me to run harder and eat less. I liked feeling small and light. My mood started to become dependent on the endorphins from running- if I wasn’t able to run that day I would become depressed, irritable and angry. 2.5 miles turned into 5 miles. 5 miles turned into 10 miles.  Once I started my sophomore year of high school I was running 10 miles. Every. Single. Day. The compliments stopped and instead people were starting to worry. My doctor placed me on exercise restriction but that wouldn’t stop me. I would do anything to exercise- before school I would run up and down our stairs 100 times while my parents were still sleeping. I would come home from school and immediately go down to the basement to do aerobics. There were even Sunday mornings where I would find an empty room at our church to run laps in while my parents thought I was sitting in the service with my friends elsewhere. The need to exercise consumed me, and the amount of calories I was burning coupled with the amount I wasn’t eating was taking a toll on my body that I was in denial of. My self-worth was 100% based on how many miles I ran that day, how little I ate (or how long I could hold off eating entirely that day) and the number of ribs I could count that were protruding through my skin.

After being diagnosed with an eating disorder the middle of my sophomore year, I began the road to recovery the summer going into my junior year. I was eating again, but was not willing to stop running. It was the only thing I still felt like I had control over and the thought of giving that up terrified me. As I started to eat normally again and put on weight, my doctor was okay with me running as long as I kept my weight up. I continued to run 10 miles every day, only allowing myself a day off once every 3 weeks. I dreaded every minute of it, but I couldn’t let it go because it was the only thing that allowed me to eat. Although I looked healthy on the outside, I was still fighting a difficult battle with myself on the inside. I told myself that once I went to college I wouldn’t exercise as much because I would be too busy. I was convinced that going away to college would make everything better, but it actually made things worse.

By the middle of my freshman year at Purdue University, I was running a minimum of 11 miles every day, some days I would run 20-22 miles with some upperclassmen who were training for the Chicago marathon. 3 days a week I would run at least twice per day- whenever I had a chance between classes I would exercise. The cross country coach saw me run by the athletic complexes, and impressed with my pace, invited me to join the team. Again, I thought joining the team would give me more discipline to run only the amount my coach told me to. Nope. I became worried that the workouts were too short and would run extra on my own, sneaking in treadmill runs at the Co-Rec and running off-campus so I wouldn’t get caught. The stress on my body lead to multiple stress fractures and other injuries that would put me out of running for months at a time. I didn’t know how to cope with stress and emotions without being able to run, and every injury was a trigger for relapsing back into my eating disorder. I coped with binge drinking, blaming my thrown up dinner on the tequila shots I took that night.

During my last year of undergrad I was finally injury-free and impulsively decided to sign up for the Chicago marathon. A reason to run excessively without giving a cause for people to comment that I was running too much?! Sign me up! After completing the Chicago marathon at a respectable time of 3:29, I decided it was my first and last. Two years later I made another impulsive decision to run the Arizona marathon (only because the entry fee was only $15 more than the half-marathon- I thought, why not??). Running that marathon 7 minutes faster than my first, I had qualified for the Boston marathon twice and decided to go for it. I thought Boston would be my last, I had over-trained and was going into the race mentally and physically drained. However, the year I ran in Boston was the year of the bombings. The events of that day were difficult for me to process, so I coped with the emotions the only way I knew how- running. I ran my next marathon less than 6 months later with another PR, and then after finding out that I was pregnant, took a 2 year break. When Carli was just 14 months old, I ran the Chicago marathon again and then just 5 months later ran the Atlanta marathon. Having had a lot of success in Atlanta (I placed fourth overall female with a time of 3:16) I immediately signed up for my 7th marathon, which would take place in Columbus, IN in September, just 6 months later.

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Before running Boston, April 2013

 

Letting Go

I was able to surrender my eating disorder and body image issues to God years ago- but I’ve grasped onto my exercise addiction with excuses that allowed me to believe it was okay. It’s been easy to let myself thrive in the success I’ve had with marathon running, and I had big goals for myself when I started to train for my 7th marathon. I was going to run close to 3:10- I wanted to get faster and faster so that someday I could beat 3:00. I believed that this drive to be a faster runner was normal because all athletes are motivated to get better. I didn’t want to accept or consider that the success I wanted came at a price- not just the price of the relationships with the people closest to me, but also the price of my health. Even the price of staying in recovery from my eating disorder. Although I refuse to let myself fall into that place again, I’m realizing that training so intensely (the way I have been) can so easily open that door. I’m also learning that training for such long distances is a trigger, one that I’ve been in denial of.

There has been a transformation in my thoughts over the past several years that has allowed me to be at peace with food and my body. I didn’t allow that transformation to get in the way of my running, I wanted so badly to protect that because I was too scared to give it up. It was the one thing that my eating disorder had left to use against me, to stir up those feelings of inadequacy that food could no longer compress. I want my approach to running be similar to my approach to food- something that is healthy and well-balanced. I no longer want to use running as a form of punishment or source of self-worth. I don’t want it to be my only coping mechanism- something that I’m finding to be quite difficult but very rewarding all at the same time.

I no longer want to be defined as just being a hard-working, dedicated runner. I want people to know me as a good friend, a loving wife, a wonderful mother. Running still has a place, it always will. It’s just going to take a backseat to more important things in life.

I don’t plan on never racing again. In fact, I’m running a half-marathon with one of my best friends in early November. I have decided to resign from marathon running – I’m not sure if it’s going to be forever, but I know that right now I can no longer put so much focus on training for a 26.2 mile race. A lot of people who run marathons are able to do so without becoming so consumed by the training. I’m able to train this way for shorter distances, but it’s very hard for me to train for a marathon without running an excessive amount.

I decided to drop out of my 7th marathon just 8 weeks before I was due to race. Honestly, I’m just tired. I’m only 29, but my body feels like I’m 79 sometimes. It’s worn out and defeated. I enjoyed spending my summer running less and allowing myself to do other forms of exercise. I spent more time with friends and family. I slept in (as much as Carli would let me) and I feel refreshed. Although I felt a twinge of guilt yesterday morning when I looked at the clock and realized that I should be running mile 18 at that moment, I was at complete peace with my decision.

Marathon Training- the importance of proper fueling, long runs and recovery. Part 2

Proper training is the key to running a successful marathon, and nutrition is included in that. The type of food consumed, the amount and timing all need to be considered. I’ve seen nutrition go both ways in those who are marathon training. Some may think that just because they are training for a marathon they can eat whatever they want. Yes, your body will need more calories to sustain your training but if you eat more calories than you are burning then you will gain weight. A lot of people tend to overestimate the calories they are burning and underestimate the calories they are consuming. The other end of the spectrum are those who want to be as lean as possible for their marathon and don’t consume enough calories while training. This can make you more susceptible to injuries, illness and less likely to train to your full potential because your body isn’t getting the nutrition it needs to recover. I have been on both ends of the spectrum and finally found balance.

 

Nutrient Timing- how much, how often, and when?

To train to your full potential, your muscles need to be fueled with enough carbohydrate to provide energy for your entire run, with adequate nutrition provided after each workout for optimum recovery. Carbohydrate is stored in the form of glycogen and is used by the muscles during exercise. Your body has limited carbohydrate stores and when these stores get too low during exercise, you “hit the wall.” Anyone who has ever experienced this knows this feeling mostly consists of overwhelming fatigue and an urge to quit. I always get that feeling around mile 18-20 of my marathon and this is usually when I consume some sort of carbohydrate- usually a gel pack or chews.

Here is a 7- step plan for nutrient timing developed by Nancy Clark MS, RD, CSSD, one of my favorite sports dietitians who has had the great opportunity to counsel Olympic athletes and is a marathon runner herself:

1) Carbohydrate load daily to assure your muscles are always saturated with glycogen. By carbohydrate loading, I mean taking in 3-5gm carbs per lb body weight to prevent chronic glycogen depletion that can happen with low carbohydrate intake and intense training.

2) Taper your training- do your final hard training 3 weeks before the event and begin to taper at least 2 weeks out. This gives your muscles enough time to completely refuel with carbohydrate. This can be hard for most athletes- I’ll speak for myself on that one, I’m as hard headed as it gets when it comes to my training- but research proves that athletes perform better when they tapered for a least 2 weeks. Maintain your standard carb intake (3-5gm/lb), your body will use the excess calories to double your glycogen stores.

3) Eat enough protein- your body does use a small amount of protein for fuel and your muscles need the amino acids provided by protein to rebuild and repair muscle fibers. 0.6-07gm/lb body weight is sufficient. Most people get more than enough protein in their diet, and this generally is not an issue.

4). Choose fiber rich foods to promote regularity and keep everything in your GI tract running smoothly. If you carb load on white breads, fruit loops and jelly beans you will more than likely become constipated.

5). Plan your meals carefully. You know your own body- it may take some trial and error to figure out how to best fuel your body before a marathon. For example, if you have a jittery stomach you may need to eat a big lunch the day before a morning marathon and a smaller supper. You can carb load up to 2 days before the event to reap the benefits, this can allow you to eat a little less the day right before if you are worried about a nervous stomach.

6). Drink extra fluids- drink plenty of water and/or juice the day before the event and abstain from alcoholic beverages; they are poor sources of carbohydrate and can also be dehydrating- I learned this the hard way. Drink 2-3 glasses of water up to 2 hours before the event but refrain from drinking too much. Over-hydrating can be just as dangerous as under hydrating.

7) Eat breakfast on event day- carb loading is just part of your fueling plan, eating a good breakfast will prevent hunger during the event and help keep your blood sugar stable.

Eating before your runs

Eating before a workout is important for any exerciser. Just like you put gas in a car before taking it for a drive, you need to fuel your muscles before engaging in a workout.

Not eating before you run does you more harm than good. Some people have told me they don’t eat before they run so they can burn fat. It is true that your body will rely on fat as a secondary source of fuel if there is an inadequate amount of carbohydrate available. However, just because you burn through fat as an energy sources doesn’t mean that you will actually lose body fat- to do this you must create a calorie deficit. By eating a pre-exercise snack, you are giving your muscles the fuel to go longer and harder, which can create a higher energy deficit than you would have if you didn’t eat anything at all.

Pre-exercise fueling guidelines for running a marathon or fueling a training runs:

  1. Having a snack within an hour of exercise can help maintain normal blood glucose levels but does not allow enough time to replenish glycogen stores. Eating the recommended (3-5gm/lb body weight) amount of carbs every day will allow for you to perform at your best. Carbs are NOT the enemy!!

 

  1. Be sure to eat 60 minutes before the marathon or a long run with both carbohydrate and protein (such as a bagel with peanut butter or oatmeal made with milk). This will allow for sustained energy throughout the marathon as the protein will slow down the digestion and absorption of the carbohydrate.

 

  1. Before a short training run (lasting less than 60 minutes), consume carbohydrate 30-45 minutes before you run that will digest easily. Examples include a granola bar or crackers.

 

  1. Be cautious with foods high in simple sugar such as jelly beans and honey, syrups, and jelly. These foods have been known to cause rebound hypoglycemia in athletes (a spike in blood sugar followed by a sudden drop) which can lead to dizziness and early fatigue.

 

  1. Allow adequate time for digestion. If you are participating in a high-intensity workout, allow for additional digestion. Your muscles will require a stronger demand for blood flow which will have priority over the digestion that may be taking place in your stomach. Failure to do so will result in GI issues during your race or training run- never a fun experience!

 

Fueling During Training Runs and the Marathon

When running for longer than 60 minutes, you can greatly improve your stamina by consuming 100-250 calories of carbohydrate per hour during your workout. The best would be to mix up the source of carbohydrate during prolonged exercise to get in a variety (sports drink and a banana, sports gels plus a fruit). Different sugars use different transporters in absorption, so you can absorb more carbohydrate and provide your muscles with more fuel by having a couple different types of snacks on hand.

 

Recovery Foods and Fluids

Your #1 priority after ending a hard workout should be replenishing your body with fluids and electrolytes so that your body can return to normal water balance. By weighing yourself before and after exercise you will know how much water weight you lost- 1lb lost= 16oz of fluid. When exercising in extreme heat or for long bouts (60 minutes or greater), be sure to replenish electrolytes lost in sweat by opting for a sports drink such as Gatorade or Powerade.

Your second priority should be to replenish the glycogen stores (energy stores) in your muscles. Aim for 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per lb of body weight taken at 30 minute intervals until your next meal.

 

My diet varies quite a bit, but this is typical when I’m training for marathons:

Breakfast (6:45 AM): oatmeal with granola and PB2 mixed in, 1 banana  or 1 egg scrambled with egg whites (probably about ½ cup) with fruit and Greek yogurt

After run: If I’m training in the summer I like to do a big smoothie with almond milk, frozen fruit, ground chia and a little bit of protein powder. This winter I’ve been grabbing a banana or orange and spreading some peanut butter on a couple crackers.

Lunch: salad with hummus for the dressing, chickpeas, avocado, handful of nuts, salmon or veggie patty on top.

Snack: I crave salty foods when I’m running a lot. I’m a grazer in the afternoon and try to eat whenever I get a chance- veggie sticks, pretzels, chips and salsa are typical choices. I make homemade sweet potato fries and carrot fries (recipe here) for Carli to snack on and reach for these as well.

Dinner: This meal varies the most but I always try to include in our family dinners a protein, grain or sweet potato, and lots of veggies. Our favorites are fish tacos, fajitas, chicken parmesan, chicken sausage with peppers, homemade veggie pizza. I always include lots of veggies and nutrient dense carbohydrate and aim to make the meal 25% protein. I add healthy fats in the form of oils, fatty fish and avocado.

Snack: typical choices would be a bowl of cereal, ice-cream, popcorn.

 

Marathon training- the importance of proper fueling, long runs and recovery. Part 1


**Disclaimer– I am not a running coach or certified in personal training. This post is solely based on my experiences as a marathon runner and I do not necessarily recommend that anyone follow the same training plan I do/have.**

I am currently training for my 6th marathon which will be right here in ATL- I’ve heard the hills are brutal but I’m ready to take them on. I feel like I have finally learned how to train to run my best and stay healthy in the process. It takes a lot of patience to train for these kind of long races and there is a lot of learning involved.

While training for my first marathon, which was the Chicago marathon in 2009, I didn’t follow any sort of training plan. I just did a long run (16-22 miles) on the weekends and ran an hour or more every other day. No speed or hill work, not a lot of recovery days either.I ran decent, my finish time was 3:29- pretty solid for my first marathon. I had no race strategy and let my excitement get the best of me, my first mile of the marathon was the fastest mile I’ve ever ran- 5 minutes on the dot- and I paid for that later on in the race. The last 10 miles were ugly. For my first marathon though, it was all about the experience and the finish.

My second marathon was in Phoenix, and since we were living there at the time it’s also where I trained. I had no idea that in Phoenix temperatures do not get of the 100 range until mid-October. A lot of my runs were done in pretty extreme heat, and I don’t think I was able to train to my full potential. I ran surprisingly well once marathon day came, and PR’d at 3:22.

Marathon #3 was the Boston marathon. I was so excited and wanted to run a perfect race. I followed their training plan which involved a long run, a recovery day, easy days, 2 speed workouts/hill workouts per week and tempo runs. Best training I have ever done for a marathon, but my nutrition was terrible. I wanted to be as lean as I could, thinking that would make me faster. The course was brutal, I was tired and my body wasn’t fueled the way it needed to be. I ran 3:35 and some odd seconds, making it the first time ever that I didn’t qualify for the Boston marathon (qualifying time for my age group is 3:35 on the nose).

My fourth marathon (the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon) was the closest I have ever come to training perfectly. I didn’t exactly follow a plan but I ran just enough and rested just enough to match my body’s needs for building that perfect fitness level I needed to run 26.2 miles. My nutrition was great. I ran my fastest marathon at a time of 3:20. I felt great afterwards too, and a little disappointed in myself because I felt like I had held back. I could have run faster!

Finally, the last marathon I ran was just this past fall, almost 2 years after my amazing run in Indianapolis (I was busy being pregnant and birthing a baby during that break). I ran my 5th marathon in Chicago again and thought I would definitely PR.  My half marathon times had improved since having a baby and I thought my marathon time would as well. It ended up being the worst marathon I had ever run. I don’t even remember my time…I think it was around 3:45. Much slower than the 3:15 I had trained for and envisioned. Looking back, I think I was placing a pretty high expectation on myself. I was over-trained and my body just wasn’t getting the fuel it needed. I knew how to train for a marathon but was running much more than I should have been, all while pushing Carli in the jogging stroller. I would run longer than I had planned because I wanted her to get a good nap in, and if I stopped running it would always wake her. I was eating nonstop but I was also breastfeeding. My body was pulling a lot of the calories it needed to fuel my running for making breastmilk. All in all, it was disastrous but also a learning experience.

As I’m training for my 6th marathon I’m following the Level 4 Boston marathon training plan (it can be found on their website here). I’m taking one rest day per week, I’ve learned through the years that I can run high mileage as long as I’m allowing my body a day off every 7 days. If I don’t, I get injured.

This is a peek at what my last week looked like. My training paces are as follows:

Long runs/easy: 8:10 min/mile

Aerobic runs: 7:40 min/mile

Marathon pace: 7:20 min/mile

½ marathon pace: 6:55 min/mile

10k pace: 6:35 min/mile

5k pace: 6:15 min/mile

 

This weeks total mileage: 62 miles

Monday: 8 miles (aerobic)

Tuesday: intervals- 2 mile warm up, 6x ½ mile @10k pace, ¼ mile jog between intervals, 2x ½ mile @5k pace, ¼ mile jog between intervals, 3 mile cool down

Wednesday: 6 miles easy

Thursday: 22 miles

Friday: 5 miles easy

Saturday: 2 mile warmup, 2x 3 miles @½ marathon pace, ½ mile jog between sets, 2 mile cool down

Sunday: rest day

As I don’t go too hard on my easy days and take Sundays off it’s a training plan that works really well for me. I have worked hard to build up to the training level that I am at, and the hard work has paid off. I just hope my marathon time reflects it and I don’t have a repeat of Chicago!

Nutrition is just as important, if not more important, than the training plan. I have a lot to say about that, which I will discuss in another blog post. Stay tuned!

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