Finding out I was pregnant was very exciting but also completely terrifying – something I am sure many women find no matter who they are and what they do. While I was excited about what was to come, there was so much spinning through my brain; what if something goes wrong? Could running cause problems? Could not running cause problems? Can I eat X, Y, Z? The first trimester was hard mentally and physically.
I was lucky enough to escape severe sickness but it was just the extreme tiredness (and occasional uncharacteristic grumpiness) that left me side-lined and struggling at times. I napped a lot, as in full fast-asleep-for-hours-on-end naps that I felt I desperately needed to even function. If I’m honest, a lot of the time I really didn’t want to go out running, even the idea of expending energy putting my run kit on felt tiring but once it was on and I shut the front door behind me I didn’t regret it. I boarded the struggle bus most days for the first few miles but put my ego aside and enjoyed moving my body. It has been humbling from the off feeling my body change and being totally out of control of it. No matter how much I train during pregnancy, I won’t get fast but I think I’m learning that I can be strong and mentally tough. It’s a struggle mentally to adjust my expectations and feel the apprehensions that are coming with the journey ahead. My instinct is to make race plans to tie in with travelling and seeing new places but looking into the year ahead I don’t know what will be possible. It’s a real lesson in learning as I go, adjusting to my situation and trusting my instincts – aren’t these all the qualities I’ve been looking to learn to be a great ultra runner?!
I’ve spent a lot of time trawling through the internet for guidance for women who run through pregnancy – advise for women who properly run and want to return to running strong postpartum. The small amount of information I could find indicated that contrary to a lot of advice, exercise in low risk pregnancy will not cause miscarriage and even mid-to-high heart rate activity cannot cause damage to a foetus. Even though I found this information, you don’t see a midwife for what feels like an eternity to even tell you whether you are high or low risk. The first trimester is basically a self-navigated path. If you’re a nervous first-time mum who doesn’t want to broadcast an early pregnancy you can end up feeling very alone and confused. I wanted to just be “me” a lot of the time but this often felt physically impossible. It was like having months of that feeling you get just before your period. Everything felt like an enormous effort, everything made me cry and to top it all off I was pregnant but it was basically a secret so I had to continue to try and be normal me.
For me, running and yoga were my outlets. One would satisfy the endorphin requirement and the other would calm my mind and bring me back to earth. I quickly reduced running to once a day, meaning I could accommodate nap time and have enough general down time. Running helped me to feel “normal” and was the designated time to get out of my head, away from screens and be doing the thing that makes me feel happiest.
For any other women who run, who are trying to navigate the first trimester my advise would be listen to your body and do what feels good for your mind. Don’t get hung up on paces, distances or times and just enjoy what feels right. Eat plenty and often and drink loads of water! The times when I felt the worst were when I bonked. If you struggle with sickness then be sensible though, if you can’t keep anything down it might not be the wisest idea to go run but it could be a good idea to go for a short walk. It seems pregnancy is certainly the “marathon not a sprint” mantra so I plan to be as kind to myself as I can be.