Pregnancy doesn’t mean you have to give up running

Many women runners can continue running during low-risk pregnancies but might have to modify their workouts, doctors say. Here, Alice Doyle of Durango runs on the Animas River Trail in mid-November during her 38th week of pregnancy. Enlarge photo

Marjorie Brinton/Special to the Herald

Many women runners can continue running during low-risk pregnancies but might have to modify their workouts, doctors say. Here, Alice Doyle of Durango runs on the Animas River Trail in mid-November during her 38th week of pregnancy.

An avid runner since childhood, Alice Doyle of Durango was hopeful that she could continue running throughout her pregnancy. After consulting with her doctor, she was given the OK to run through the first six months.

“That was a bit tough for me to hear,” said Doyle. “I feel better running than I do walking, so after doing some of my own research, I felt OK to continue running throughout the pregnancy as long as I was honest with myself, monitored my heart rate and felt good.”

Although each pregnancy is different, “it is safe for women with low-risk pregnancies to continue running at their previous training regimen as long as they carefully monitor their hydration status and caloric intake,” said Dr. Marisa “Brie” Todd of Four Corners OB/GYN Associates. “I do not recommend that they exert themselves beyond a level where they are able to carry on a conversation.”

Doyle continued running about three times per week, reducing her time, frequency and intensity as the pregnancy progressed.

“I stayed at a talking pace when running, but also as a reminder, I wore a heart-rate monitor so I wouldn’t get carried away on the uphills,” she said. “The monitor helped remind me that I have other priorities these days.”

Trisha Kellogg of Durango, a mother of two, ran throughout both of her pregnancies, averaging five to six miles most days of the week.

“I ran four miles the day before my son, Camden, was born and three miles the day before my daughter, Kayli, was born;” said Kellogg. “I just went with how I felt. If I felt ‘off,’ I would walk or get on the elliptical, it’s all about listening to your body.”

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, “If you were a runner before you became pregnant, you often can keep running during pregnancy, although you may have to modify your routine.”

Todd believes that all of the practitioners at Four Corners OB/GYN encourage their patients to continue exercising as long as their pregnancy is low-risk.

“Exercise during pregnancy has been shown to reduce backaches, constipation, bloating and swelling,” she said. “It can prevent the development of and helps control gestational diabetes. It increases energy, improves mood, posture, muscle tone, strength and endurance as well as improving sleep and reducing the risk of pre-eclampsia.”

The national news media recently picked up on the story of Amber Miller, who ran the Chicago Marathon at 39 weeks pregnant, giving birth to her daughter a few hours after finishing the marathon. Her doctor cleared her to run the first half, and she completed the remaining distance using a run/walk approach.

“For me, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary,” Miller said. “I was running up until that point anyway. I am crazy about running.”

Elite runners have trained throughout their pregnancies: Marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe and American marathoner Kara Goucher both ran up to 80 miles per week at times. However, it is the rare woman who is in good enough shape to run a marathon while pregnant.

Doyle feels fortunate that she didn’t experience any complications or discomfort during her pregnancy.

“I didn’t have any morning sickness, and I also have the benefit of being very long-waisted which gave the baby lots of room to grow up and down and closer to my body, making balance and maneuverability easier,” she said. “Another bonus of a long torso is that the baby was never up against my lungs or pushing on my ribs. All of this added to my comfort level.”

One potential difficulty with running during pregnancy is that the body produces the hormone relaxin to relax the joints in the pelvis, allowing space for the birth. Unfortunately, this relaxes other joints in the body and can cause pain or even injury.

At one point, Doyle had a small problem with piriformis syndrome, which occurs when the piriformis muscle pinches the sciatic nerve.

“I stopped running for a few weeks and did some at-home massage, and it went away,” she said. “Luckily, I have not had any other injury or pain issues.”

Kellogg became known as the neighborhood pregnant jogger, and she heard all kinds of advice as she ran past smiling. Now, more than two years later, people still remember her because of it. A little girl said to her recently, “Hey, I know you. My mom says you ran a marathon when you were nine months pregnant.”

“I wish I could say I ran that far,” Kellogg said.

I had the pleasure of running weekly with Doyle during the last few months of her pregnancy, and I was always amazed at how relaxed and effortlessly she ran while carrying on a conversation the entire time.

“I am a shuffler rather than a bounder,” Doyle said. “This keeps me low to the ground and prevents bouncing.”

One piece of advice that came from all the women I interviewed was to make sure to run where there is access to bathrooms, trees or bushes as your bladder gets pretty squished by the baby.

On Dec. 10, Doyle and her husband, Eric Hutt, welcomed healthy 7-pound, 9.6-ounce Lila Elizabeth into the world. I anticipate recovery will be swift for Doyle, and before long, we will see her putting in the miles again with Lila along continuing to share in the experience.

Reach Marjorie Brinton at runswim55@gmail.com.