Stephanie Bruce shares her tips for running with a baby bump—and why it's awesome.

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Training and racing through pregnancy is a hot—meaning touchy, not attractive—topic. It’s one that both excites and inspires me. It’s a hot topic because history previously had one stance on it, but over time research, facts and opinions have evolved. Thank goodness! Decades ago women were encouraged to do no more than sit in a chair throughout their entire pregnancy. The fear of causing any harm to the fetus by any activity performed by the mom percolated through all of society. As time went on and humans wised up, the term “heart-rate monitor” became a topic of conversation among OB/GYN offices, and expecting moms were prescribed a max heart rate during activity. This seemed to hold weight for a number of years until people discovered that heart rate was all relative to the individual woman. How could you set a max HR of 140 beats per minute to all pregnant women when all women had varying degrees of exercise routines and fitness levels? You can’t; it’s not sound reliable advice. We tend to forget about the moms thousands of years ago who lived in the wild as hunter and gatherers, constantly on the move without heart-rate monitors. They were perhaps more active than our current society as a whole—yet babies were born and the human race continued.

Here’s a story about 2 expecting moms, “Judy” and “Susie.” Judy doesn’t exercise regularly but occasionally goes on leisurely walks. When she got pregnant, she decided she would try to walk a few times a week to stay active. She would go for a 45 min walk and her HR would hit the “benchmark” 140 within the first 15 minutes. Judy felt fine 15 minutes into her walk so she pressed on to finish 45 minutes. She got smiles and waves from passersby. Her HR went up to 160 by the end of the walk, but she was full of energy. Susie on the other hand ran 40-50 miles a week regularly and raced 2-3 marathons a year before she got pregnant. When she set out for a one-hour run, she didn’t hit 140 until 50 mins in; it would stay in the 130s. As she sported her belly with a sports bra and spandex, she experienced staring, head shaking, and double takes from those she ran past. Her HR never eclipsed 140 until the last 10 minutes of her run.  So what’s the point of this story? Prescribing a recommended HR for all women exercising during pregnancy can’t be standard practice. Instead, taking each individual woman’s history and health into account is best when planning to train through a pregnancy. A more debated and close-to-home topic for me is judging a book by its cover, or in this case, judging a woman by her belly.

Related: The Year Of Two Worlds Colliding

Here’s my true story. When I got pregnant with my second baby a few months ago, it was unplanned and unexpected. If you’ve followed my journey, I was recovering from my first baby born last June and training for the 2016 Olympic year. I was getting very fit early in the year when the news came. After a few weeks of feeling low energy and taking some days off to allow my body to adapt to building a new human, I continued my “normal training routine” with some variation and relativity.

Training

As a professional athlete I train at a very high level most of the year. This means running 85-100 mile weeks, running 7 days a week, double runs 3 days a week, a long run of 15-20 miles, drills and strides/gym work 2-3 times a week. This also means I must sleep 8-9 hours a night, nap when I can, fuel properly, have regular massage and chiropractic work, work on preventative exercises, get blood tested often and supplement my diet with any missing nutrients.

Related: How Do You Fuel For Your Training?

During this pregnancy I have averaged 40-50 miles weeks, 40% less mileage than normal. My long runs are 13-15 miles, the lower end of normal. I sleep 8-9 hours and nap when I can with a 10-month-old. I hydrate with water, Gatorade and juice more than normal. My pace on easy runs is between 7-minute and 8:30 miles, which is relatively equal to pre-pregnant pace. For days off, I take these as often as my body feels; it might be one every 10 days to two weeks versus normally taking one only every few months if needed. For tempo pacing on workouts, I use my HR to gauge the pace, keeping it under my threshold HR of 179. There are longer rest breaks between intervals on the track. Although paces have stayed fairly close to normal, I shorten the interval length so my HR doesn’t get too high.

Racing

I’m not talking laying-it-all-out-there, hands-on-my-knees, smashing-PRs kind of racing. To be truthful my 2015 began with a very different mindset from carrying a baby for most of the year.  I just recovered from my previous pregnancy and worked very hard to get my body strong again and had big goals of dusting off some old half marathon and marathon PRs. I was going to hit up the track for a few races and see if I could lower my 5K and 10K times. There were also a ton of road races and U.S. championships I was hungry to compete in. Life had another plan, so my focus shifted; however, my mindset and desire as a competitive athlete did not change. I set a goal of averaging 50 miles weeks during this pregnancy. Goals are important because they keep you accountable on the days you are struggling mentally and feel unmotivated. The difference in my goal setting while pregnant versus before is I won’t strain to hit the 50-mile mark and beat myself up for not doing it. I take days off whenever I feel like it and take advantage of the days I feel amazing. You’re not a failure if you make a goal and don’t hit it—you’ve already succeeded by taking the risk of setting a goal.

Related: Why Alysia Montaño Ran Through Her Pregnancy

I also set goals to run a few races while I was pregnant, but, again, with a different mentality. Racing is a relative term I have used throughout this pregnancy. So far I have run three 5ks and a two half marathons. The first half marathon I ran I completed in 1:32 averaging 6:49 pace. During normal training, I would do a long run of 15-18 miles and average anywhere between 6:30-7:00 pace. So this half marathon was run in that zone. I raced a 5K on the track a few weeks ago at a college/pro invitational. I set out to run 85 seconds per lap (5:40 mile pace) the first few laps and progress if I felt good. I did feel good as the race unfolded, so I chipped away and ran a 17:19 5K. My personal best is 15:49 for 5K. To put it into perspective, I’ve run 5:42 mile pace for the marathon, which is a 17:42 5K, run eight times in a row! This past weekend I raced and won the SLO Half Marathon in 1:23:14 at 19 weeks pregnant. Another comparison: I’ve run 1:10:53 for the half, so nearly 13 minutes faster than what I ran on Sunday. My HR also never hit 179, my normal threshold level. So how do you know what’s right for you training through your individual pregnancy? Here are the rules of thumb that I follow and have helped guide me:

  • Don’t begin a new training plan after you’ve become pregnant and, as a result, exercise more than you ever have before.
  • Plan ahead and stay hydrated before exercise, and immediately follow with water, electrolytes and carb solutions.
  • Ensure your caloric intake is upped based on how much exercise you are putting in.
  • If my belly is measuring under the amount of weeks I am along, I’ll scale back training.
  • If I feel more tired and worse from the training I was doing, I’ll cut back.
  • If my doctor thinks I’m not gaining enough weight, I’ll cut back on training.
  • If I feel any pain while running, I’ll stop.

Encourage, don’t discourage

For all the ladies out there concerned about their friend, sister or daughter who is running during her pregnancy, don’t worry. Each woman knows what’s in best interest for her health and body during pregnancy. When you see a pregnant lady running or lifting weights, don’t judge her by her belly. Far too often is the public is more concerned about a woman because she’s carrying around a baby. They feel the right to tell her what she should and shouldn’t do.  If you happen to see me out there, I will smile and say hi, rocking my growing, sometimes bare belly on the trails and doing intervals on the track, even if it seems crazy to you. I’m encouraged and inspired by all the women who’ve reached out to me that train and race through pregnancy and are doing the same thing as I am. There are likely many women who train and race through their pregnancy; I simply wanted to transparently share my story with my followers. I am most happy training and staying fit so in my mind: happy mom = happy baby.