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Training and racing through pregnancy

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Training and racing through pregnancy

by: Cool Running Team

Q: My wife is training for a marathon ... on Dec 7th. She is not elite (she expects to finish in around 4.5-5 hours) but she has been running consistently now for 2 years. Her long runs are now up to 3.5 hours.

We were told today that she is 5 weeks pregnant... We urgently need to know about running during pregnancy. Can she continue to the marathon and then cut back etc.

Gail is 36 years old and this her first pregnancy. If you have any help to offer or people you know to contact can you please help us?

A: Kevin Tiller writes:

Your question is a very interesting one: my wife is in her 3rd pregnancy, due end of Jan (aged 32 now) and is also a vegetarian. She is a mad-keen runner (3:03 marathon pb) so closely matches Gail.

Dawn runs right up until the end of her pregnancies, till the day before - she would run the day of the birth too, but they have so far occurred too early in the morning. In fact, she calls it running, but by the very end it is really just a glorified walk, although she would still cover approx 8km per day even at the end. This might take almost 90- mins though.

I am pretty sure that if you speak to a doctor then they will advise not to run a marathon. Dawn herself is really seriously into running lots of miles, but would still never run a marathon whilst pregnant, although she was regularly running 30km at one time in the 1st 10-12 weeks of the pregnancy. I think that the critical thing is to not push it, and to not get too hot. If it is Gail's first marathon then I wouldn't advise it, as it is important that she knows what a "normal" marathon feels like and how it affects her before she runs one whilst pregnant.

Equally, as it is your first pregnancy, then there is no harm in being EXTRA cautious - I am sure there will be other marathons.

As regards special dietary needs, we think that if you have a balanced diet and are sensible then you won't need to do anything special. Dawn occasionally takes some "Women's multi-vitamins" but that is about it. In fact we are both pretty much vegans, but Dawn does have a weird liking for old-fashioned tea, with regular milk when she is pregnant, but otherwise she doesn't really have any dairy products. She is of course a picture of health and our previous two were born normally (+ drug free) just a wee bit early (a few days) and both about 7 pounds weight. Not big, but pretty average.

We've heard so much about iron/meat/no strenuous exercise etc but just ignored it all and did what seemed to feel good.


Kevin Tiller, Cool Running Australia, 13.11.97

A: Fiona Pelly adds:

I agree with all that Kevin has said. The most critical thing is to not overheat and not let your heart rate get too high. ie. it is recommended to keep below around 125-130bpm. Of course whether you reach this when you run will depend on your level of fitness. As Dawn has been running regularily for a long time, she probably has quite a high aerobic capacity and most likely maintains a relatively low heart rate when training. If Gail is an experienced runner with at least a few years running experience, she could continue training throughout her pregnancy. The distance she runs should also be kept to what she normally trains. Obviously in the third trimester running is very uncomfortable, and there is more risk of muscle tearing as muscle joints become looser in preparation for the birth. I would recommend sticking to walking at this stage. I wouldn't recommend undertaking any 'race' during pregnancy due to the higher intensity and greater risk of over heating, although I know women who have raced (usually only very experienced runners). If it is Gail's first marathon (and first pregnancy) I would definately NOT race, as it is a huge stress on the body (more than us runners appreciate) let alone a developing foetus.

Pregnancy requires extra folate in the very early stages for cell division. Without this there is increased risk of spina bifida (neural tube defects). Unfortunately many women find out there pregnant after this critical phase, which is why there's so much emphasis to increase folate intake of women in child bearing age (ie. fortification of b'fast cereal). Otherwise energy requirements are only about 200-250cals extra per day i.e. extra glass of milk / soy milk (not eating for two). Once you hit the third trimester, increased blood flow means extra iron is needed. If you are vegetarian or vegan a supplement such has fefol may be handy. Kevin should point out that low iron intake is associated with learning difficulties in infants, so just be a bit cautious. As to dairy, yes calcium requirements increase to around 4 serves dairy (or dairy substitutes) per day. Once again, if vegan a supplement may be needed. If you don't get enough you will not know the consequences until you are older and at risk of osteoporosis (or you can run the risk of stress fractures). The calcium for the growth of the babies bones is taken from the mother's bones if insufficient is supplied. Of course some people are genetically more at risk than others and doing weight bearing exercise such as running decreases your risk. It seems the bigger you are, the less risk you have.

Also good luck!! Hope this info is useful.


Fiona Pelly, Cool Running Australia, 13.11.97

A: Ian Kemp adds:

Firstly Congratulations! Secondly, although I have three children, being male there is not too much I can add from first hand experience..!

I agree with most of the advice and comments above. I would just add that I would not consider it any problem at all to continue running as long as you are happy about doing it. However, during a pregnancy is not the time to undertake an aditional major challenge, e.g. starting a running program, nor undertaking an increase in workload.

There is plenty of evidence that aerobic exercise during pregnancy is good for both parties involved! However, the same cannot be said for sure about anaerobic exercise. Remember when running that you will be carrying extra weight, therefore you must expect to drop your pace to stay safely below the anearobic threshold. As mentioned above the other major consideration is temperature - it is extra important to maintain fluid intake and avoid dehydration. The need to avoid dehydration & heat stress is probably the main factor which would restrict your ability to complete the marathon smiling!

If the marathon means a lot to you, I believe it is possible to complete the event, but with a reduced goal, i.e. aim to jog or walk at a rather slower rate than originally planned. However, on balance I would advise do the half instead of the full marathon (if available) & and set your sights now on completing that first marathon on the baby's first birthday!

Ian Kemp, Cool Running Australia, 15.11.97

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