People are keen to offer me their unscientific advice. But I’m careful and know my limits and have no intention of stopping running until I no longer enjoy it
So far, no one has shouted at me during my early-morning runs round the park. Given the freedom with which total strangers have seen fit to swamp me with unsolicited torrents of uninformed advice about all other pregnancy-related issues, it can only be a matter of time. The thing that has surprised and enraged me most about being pregnant is how strangers assume that pregnancy is somewhere on the spectrum between being ill and having had a lobotomy. If one more person without any relevant medical knowledge chooses to lecture me on my drinking, eating or birth plan, I’m going to … well, I don’t know what I’m going to do, but my days of pretending to listen politely while fuming on the inside are nearing their end.
I have been a keen runner for years, running up to three times a week for at least an hour at a time, seeking out hills, embracing rain, wind and even snow.
On the advice of a friend who has written books about such things, I gave up running for a month before I started trying to get pregnant. I confess to having no idea what the evidence base is for this decision, but I decided to buy into her opinion that I would have a better chance of conceiving if my body was a calmer, more hospitable place. “You need to become more bovine,” as she put it so winningly. “More earthy and fertile.”
When I then became pregnant, I chose not to run for the first trimester simply because, if anything went wrong during that delicate period, I didn’t want to be able to torture myself with any agonising “What if?” scenarios. The fact that I felt mind-blowingly bad for much of the first three months also had something to do with my choice: nausea, mind-numbing exhaustion and a fairly terrifying lack of breath that made walking up stairs a near-death experience, turn out to be unconducive to slipping on the Lycra and bounding off over the hills.
Since the second trimester began and the morning sickness vanished, however, I have been back on track. There was a bit of a learning curve at the start: I soon discovered that, although I was still physically capable of running for an hour, it wiped me out mentally for a couple of days. I reduced my running to 45 minutes and started taking it much slower: at 22 weeks, I would guess I am running at less than half the speed I did previously.
And it’s that adjustment that I have found hardest: the realisation that I can no longer push myself when I’m running. I used to love that post-run feeling of total physical exhaustion, swiftly morphing into happiness and new energy. Now I have forced myself to accept that I need to take breaks when I get out of breath and that I have to head home long before I am anywhere near tired. I still feel a bit of the old post-run zing, but it’s nothing like the old days.
I have been interested to discover that I have a lingering, superstitious sense that I shouldn’t bump my bump around; that I should be giving it as smooth a ride as possible: gliding around on roller skates, perhaps, or going into some sort of Victorian-like state of sofa-bound withdrawal from the rough world. It’s nonsense, of course: a bouncing baby is surely what every mother wants – but it’s not surprising that pregnant women feel the tug of superstition – and that strangers feel entitled to give us the benefit of their prejudice: the lack of clear, evidence-based advice for pregnant women reaches its tentacles into every part of our world and the sphere of running is no exception. Some studies claim that running raises a child’s IQ, others give dire warnings – all unfounded – about what happens if you continue running after a certain point in the pregnancy.
This morning, my running jacket barely zipped up over my bump. As I ran, I entertained myself with thoughts of how anyone who happened to glance at me over the weeks might well mull on how my apparent weight-reduction programme is working in reverse. I have no intention of stopping running until I no longer enjoy it. Perhaps I will become too unstable on my feet to feel safe, or too exhausted to bother. Perhaps I will just feel more like doing aqua-aerobics and taking long walks. But perhaps I will be able to keep going right until my due date. I do hope so.
Did you run when pregnant – and, if so, did you get bombarded with unhelpful and unscientific advice?