Run Mommy, Run

words: Lorna Campbell

For women around the world who run and like to stay fit and active, the news of your pregnancy can be met with a wide range of emotions.

There is the excitement and exhilaration that you’ve managed to create a baby when you were perhaps unsure that you ever would; the uncertainty around how you will cope being a mom; and the anxiety over how your body will change and knowing at some stage, you’ll have to cut back on your own hobbies – including running.

No more races, no more pushing your workouts to exhaustion, less miles, maybe no miles for some time. We know that you need to give your body – and baby – the rest and attention it needs, but letting go of habits – and the thing that can be the highlight or focus of your week – is hard.

But for most women, pregnancy doesn’t mean you have to sit with your feet up for nine months, far from it. But what are the right things to do or not do? And where do you look for the right information? Everyone (men as much as women) seems to have a comment or opinion about exercise during pregnancy.

“Running is bad for the baby and will bring on your labor.”
“My friend ran a lot until 36 weeks, why can’t you do that too?”
“Oh wait, you’re old, I suppose that’s why you’re not running anymore?”
“Pregnant women shouldn’t be lifting weights.”
“How can you ride a bike with that bump?”

Yes, I’ve had them all over the last few months. As if your internal worries aren’t bad enough, the direct personal comments and mixed opinions and information on the internet really make the pregnancy pathway a hard one to navigate.

To get a new mom and elite athlete’s perspective, I recently connected with Canadian athlete Natasha LaBeaud Anzures following the launch of her book Pregruncy.

Her athletic accolades include multiple podium finishes at the Canadian National Track and Road Championships; she was selected for the Pan American Games in the 5,000m and marathon; and she competed for the Pan America and World Cross Country Teams for Canada.

Speaking to other pregnant runners or new-mom runners really reinforces what a hurdle it can be and that we are not alone.

I was interested in how she managed to run during and after her pregnancy and what advice she had been given.

Again, what worked for an elite like Natasha, will not be everyone but speaking to other pregnant runners or new-mom runners really reinforces what a hurdle it can be and that we are not alone.

Natasha lives in San Diego and gave birth to a wonderful son – Beau Diego Anzures – in May of this year.

She explains: “I decided to write Pregruncy as soon as I found out that I was pregnant. Like many others, I have always been fascinated with the notion of exercise during pregnancy, and what the entire pregnancy experience would be like.

“I was never the person who said that they were going to have a family, but I have always been more curious about the process of pregnancy. But I noticed that there were few resources available for the elite runner trying to navigate the world of training during pregnancy. Most of the guidance errs on the ‘can’t’ side without much evidence supporting it.

“There was no consistent stream of information available that showed what each day of training looked like, and that was what I was on a quest to share. So my husband, who is also my coach, and I decided that I would use my own personal experiences to help others navigate pregnancy.

"I know that my experiences with pregnancy are my own and may not match someone else’s but I wanted to see what was possible during pregnancy."

What pressures did you face when running during pregnancy?
“Because we were contemplating the implications of COVID-19 and if the Tokyo Olympics would take place, I felt pressure and guilt for even considering having a child. I had to remind myself that even if the 2020 Olympics did take place, it did not mean that this was my only chance to reach the Olympics. 2024 is now my goal in either the 10,000m or the marathon.

“One of the hardest things for me in terms of training was seeing some of my workout times become slower during the first trimester despite feeling like I was pushing hard. I had to remind myself that this was part of the process of pregnancy and to focus on effort and not let times guide my training.

"That said, we did use a mile time trial through different points of pregnancy so that I could learn more about what was possible during different parts of pregnancy. I wanted to break 5:00 for my “pregnancy PR” in the mile, and I got close and was able to hit 5:00 in week 31.”

What support and advice did you receive about running during pregnancy?
“Most of the advice that I received during pregnancy was from my own research, which I found to be extremely limited. Emily Oster’s first book, Expecting Better, really helped me to start questioning where the research around pregnancy has come from and to look past what is ‘common knowledge’ and get to the root of studies that support or disprove different theories.

"I then planned to use myself as a guide since I know my body best and know what training I am used to and what my body can handle on any given day.

“I have a friend who had a baby a few months after I did. Being able to speak with her throughout pregnancy, really does make a huge impact, especially when you need to vent.

“I feel like running post-pregnancy is even more of a black hole than during pregnancy! I included logs from the first 90 days postpartum because I knew that this information would be so helpful to others who are in that time period.

You have to learn so many things so quickly; how to care for a baby, breastfeeding (if you choose to do that), breastfeeding timings with training, how your body feels after giving birth, when to train, and the list goes on and on. Like during pregnancy, I decided to follow my own instincts and do what I was comfortable with for running.

Are there any general tips that expectant mums should follow when thinking about exercise/running during pregnancy?
“Trust your instincts. No one knows your body better than you. The more that you can listen to your own instincts, the better. If you think something feels ‘off,’ do not block out that voice. Get the help you need.

“It is amazing how many people will share what they think about your pregnancy, your body, your plans for raising kids, and so much more. Stay committed to your own goals and comfort levels for what you want to share and how you want to share that information.

“You can achieve what you want to achieve. By taking the time to do real research and dive into the data available, you will arm yourself with considerable knowledge to make informed decisions for yourself about what you can and cannot do.

“Engage the pelvic floor.  I had been doing physical therapy for my pelvic floor for years before becoming pregnant. I kept doing my full pelvic floor and core routine throughout pregnancy, which I believe is a necessary component to keeping all muscles engaged throughout pregnancy and beyond. Kegel exercises are also important and were something that I did multiple times throughout the day.

“Visualize your goals. For me, goal setting has always been a big part of my life from sports, to academics to professional to personal. So why wouldn’t pregnancy be any different? I still had many goals that I wanted to accomplish, including a natural childbirth, so I would visualize what a smooth birth looked like to me each day.

It is amazing how many people will share what they think about your pregnancy, your body, your plans for raising kids

“Maintain open communication with your partner. Marco and I have always had the type of relationship where we could share any thoughts or feelings with one another. Discussing pregnancy and raising our child only reaffirmed that we could share even more with each other, and having this constant source of support is invaluable.

“Plan before the baby arrives. I made sure that the house was ready for Beau to arrive as a newborn and into his more active times. This meant having the nursery ready, installing child locks on doors and cupboards, securing childcare before he was born and more. Once the baby arrives, tasks that used to take minutes take so much longer, especially if you are the one having to feed a little human every few minutes.

How has the perception and acceptance of pregnant women running changed in your view over the years?
“While I think that more people are open to women running and exercising during pregnancy, there is still quite a bit of misinformation in regards to the quantity and intensity level that can be reached during pregnancy. The health of the baby is the priority, but the body can still do amazing things physically while safely growing a baby.

“One area that was discussed in Exercised, by Daniel Lieberman was how outside of western culture, women who are pregnant still have to maintain their pre-pregnancy activity levels. This immediately stood out to me and made me reflect on the cultural differences that may take place regarding perceptions of women during pregnancy."

Now that you are a mom, how do you juggle your own running and fitness regime?
“My baby is now four months old! We hired caregivers for the early mornings so that I can get my longer training session in early and then can double in the afternoon when my husband is home. Having the set time in the morning to get my longer workout done allows me to feel my best as an athlete and makes me feel more balanced throughout the day."

Over the past eight months, I have also learned and agree with what Natasha says about doing what feels right for YOU.

Only you know how you and your baby feel when you walk, run, sit or sleep. Every pregnancy is different – so take all the advice with a pinch of salt and do what feels comfortable and good for you.

Feeling like you’re no longer part of your running club or fitness group can be a hard adjustment. But we are strong and fearless women and we can adjust. We accept this period of change and if we really want to stay fit and healthy during and post pregnancy then we can do just that.

We won’t be pregnant or new moms forever and running can still be a part of your life if you want it to be, it just takes a little more planning, a little more patience and looking at it in a way that works for you and your baby.

We’ve got this.