Oiselle teammate, marathoner, and soon-to-be mom of 2, Teal Burrell shares her experience with running in the second trimester.
Admittedly, in a race, the middle miles can be the worst. The start is full of adrenaline and anticipation, towards the end, the taste of victory and celebration is almost tangible. The middle can be a slog, the adrenaline has worn off, tiredness set in, the finish still a long way away. But on an average run-of-the-mill long run, I’d say the middle miles are the sweet spot. The first mile can seem halting, aching, slow. (Never judge a run by the first mile.) The last miles tiring, you’re ready to be done, put your feet up, get to brunch.
I think pregnancy lines up with the latter scenario. The first trimester is rough: there’s morning all-day sickness, debilitating exhaustion, miscarriage worries, trying to keep it all a secret. The third trimester is uncomfortable enormousness: there’s heartburn, leg cramps, backaches, all-over aches, more debilitating exhaustion, worries about labor and delivery, trying to get things in order for a newborn. The second trimester is the sweet spot. Oh, bless the reprieve of the second trimester.
But the demarcation between trimesters is not as clear as some people suggest, in my experience anyway. I didn’t wake up the morning of week thirteen and suddenly the cloud had lifted. (Of course, it’s hazy: people can’t even agree on when the first trimester ends, some say twelve weeks, some thirteen.) The first few weeks of the second trimester felt much like the first: the nausea slowly subsided, but I felt generally exhausted. Running wise, I hit a new level of slow. (I feel like I’ve slowed in a stepwise manner, rather than more gradually. Every few weeks my pace seems to drop precipitously.) Fortunately, the miscarriage worries lessened as the risk decreased, but there are plenty of other things to agonize about these days.
A few weeks into the second trimester, though, I started to feel better. I had the surprising desire to pick it up on my runs a bit, doing different fartlek workouts just to break out of my usual pregnancy slog. It’s a cardinal rule that when you write “fartlek” you have to translate the word: it’s Swedish for “speed play.” And it did feel like play. I don’t worry about pace at all, I run whatever feels right. As a normal watch hawk, I’m hoping this is a lesson I can take beyond pregnancy.
I ran a Halloween 5K during my first pregnancy and decided to do a virtual 5K this time around. (Almost entirely because of the pumpkin-spice-themed t-shirt, because I crave pumpkin spice everything, pregnant or not.) I wondered if I could beat my time from the last pregnancy, but didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself. (Every pregnancy is different!) I committed to not looking at my watch except at mile splits (i.e. about three thousand times less than usual) and only out of curiosity, not judgment. I kept my promise, a feat I may be prouder of accomplishing than my time, which was nearly a minute faster than my last pregnancy. (The course, which I got to choose myself, was significantly easier.) Amazingly, my splits are the most consistent I’ve ever run: just two seconds difference between the fastest and the slowest mile. Seriously, I need to adopt this strategy post-pregnancy. In sticking to the theme, I treated myself to a pumpkin spice milkshake, because I always expected pregnancy to come with more milkshakes than it does. (Okay, full disclosure: the milkshake was topped with a slice of pumpkin-spiced cake, because there’s a restaurant here that does that, and virtual races deserve real celebrations, too.)
In the midst of this added motivation, Oiselle created the Mile to the Polls: four-week training plans leading to a virtual mile race on election day. I immediately thought it sounded super fun—when have I ever trained for a mile?—but dismissed it—I’m pregnant, I can’t be ripping 200s. A few weeks later I saw Makenna Myler ran a 5:25 mile at nine months pregnant—!!!—and was inspired. I can’t run that fast, but what could I do at six months pregnant? I’ve never tried, so I have nothing to compare it to and zero pressure. I dusted off the plan and got started (a little late, but in fairness, the election ran a little late, too), paying extra careful attention to my body and learning to run more by feel than goal times and watch splits.
It’s been super fun; it feels like play. Trying to run fast—however I define it these days—is a much-needed distraction from all the P stresses in my life at the moment: pregnancy, pandemic, politics, having to pee all the dang time.
Obviously, pregnant women need to listen to their bodies. Sometimes that means resting instead of running, other times that means running slowly or walking. But sometimes it can also mean giving yourself permission to churn the legs a little bit. We also have to accept that we don’t have any control over how it’s going to feel. I know the start of the third trimester is a point that a lot of runners feel too uncomfortable and have to stop. That’s making me extra grateful for the ability to get out there now, with the help of a maternity belt and a flyte shirt stretched over my belly. To take it one day at a time, to listen to my body. Maybe this mile thing will happen, maybe it won’t. For now, in this little sweet spot, I’m going to play.