Good news: I have someone to run with during a pandemic. Bad news: my new running partner has slowed me way down since day one, when they were the size of a sprinkle.
The sprinkle is my second kid, which makes me feel like I know what to expect and also surprised when it turns out I don’t (a lesson I’m sure this kid will teach me again and again).
Last time I knew running was perfectly safe (despite the remaining naysayers that claim running is bad for the baby—just like it wrecks your knees—doctors agree it’s really good for you and the baby), but worried about summer running, since it’s approximately one million degrees and a billion percent humidity in Virginia where I live. Fear kept me on the treadmill for the early weeks since some books caution about heat (especially hot yoga, saunas, and hot tubs). But after more research and assurance from my doctor, it turns out it’s unlikely that my body will overheat by exercise alone. Having dealt with this weather before, I feel more confident in my approach: go early when it’s cooler, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate (no matter how much I need to stop and pee), and listen to my body when it says take it easy or slow down.
(As a neuroscientist, I can’t help but mention that the molecule that helps create some of the cognitive benefits of running, like better memory and new brain cells, also reaches the fetal brain. Running during pregnancy makes smarter babies. Take that, naysayers.)
I’m used to pushing myself and find it hard to know where the line is.
I started trying to conceive after racing the Marathon Trials in February (sigh, the good old days of races…) and cut my mileage by about one-third, more for my sanity and time since I wouldn’t be competing anytime soon. I kept that same mileage once I became pregnant but slowed down, unintentionally, almost instantaneously. My runs are about a minute slower these days than usual.
I don’t monitor my heart rate, so didn’t notice until later, but within a few days of conceiving, my heart rate jumped about ten beats per minute during harder efforts. The body immediately starts expanding blood vessels for the extra blood it’ll soon be pumping, but that blood doesn’t exist yet, so the heart has to work harder to get oxygen to the muscles. (This also explains why I have to do everything slowly—even standing up—or I’ll get light headed. And why I was so exhausted immediately, even when the baby was sprinkle-sized.)
My heart is working harder, but it’s not into hard workouts. I stopped doing them when I realized I was pregnant—they hadn’t been going all that well anyway, given the weather. There are plenty of women who keep up workouts (the legendary Joan Benoit Samuelson finished ninth at the 1987 Boston Marathon while three months pregnant!), but I struggle to find the balance. I’m used to pushing myself and find it hard to know where the line is. How much does my body need to slow down? How much am I just making excuses? So I just run whatever pace comes to me, however slow. Fortunately, another lesson learned from my first is that it will all come back to me on the other side.
Though I’m running less and not as hard and basically skipping all the little extras (not recommended, core strength is more important than ever), I feel more exhausted than training for a marathon—the stairs seem too tiring to climb, I want to curl up in a ball on the couch all day (who doesn’t these days??), a nap sounds like a present from heaven. Another similarity to when I’m training really hard: I crave foods not eaten with a fork or spoon. Enough with stir fries, pastas, salads, soups, grilled meats and veggies. Give me the handhelds, the bigger the better: burritos, burgers, overstuffed sandwiches, pizza, fries.
While this kid shares their older sister’s cravings for burritos, they’re also making their individuality known. For one thing, I feel a lot sicker this time around. With my first, I was worried since I didn’t feel that terrible—I assumed overwhelming nausea was a requirement for a healthy baby (it’s not). This time, no problem there. Although I’m lucky it just makes me want to camp out in the fetal position—apparently my preferred position when growing a fetus—rather than parking in front of the toilet bowl.
Some mornings I wonder if I’ll be able to run or just end up doubled over in the bushes, but I know intellectually that exercise can help, even though it seems absurd. So I lace up, thinking I can at least walk, and sure enough, after a few minutes jogging, I do feel better.
But of course, that doesn’t work for everyone. Some women are too incapacitated by sickness to run in the first trimester. The common trope is every pregnancy is different—woman to woman, baby to baby. Even every day is different. One day this week, I had a good run—I surprised myself by running at a decent pace, aka one I used to deem easy. The next day on a shorter run, I had to stop and walk in the middle.
There seems to be one thing that’s universal: worrying. Worries cloud the first trimester because ten to twenty percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Most women and their partners, too scared to share their news until the risk decreases, have to shoulder these worries alone until the first trimester ends, which feels like an eternity.
The worries are constant. Of doing too much or too little. (If something happens, will people blame my running? Will I? Even if I know that’s not true?) Of being too sick or not sick enough. Not eating the right foods, not getting enough rest (thanks to having to pee in the middle of the night), not having enough energy to tackle my myriad to-dos before the baby comes. After a good run, I worry something happened that made me feel better.
While the worries may never subside (welcome to parenting), at least there’s hope for the second trimester: when the nausea and tiredness will lessen (at least temporarily). And when we’ll feel more comfortable sharing the good news about our new running partner.