Pro runner Neely Spence Gracey explains what she’s learned so far as a new mother to a 3-week-old infant.
Ever since pro runner Neely Spence Gracey announced her pregnancy and resulting break from professional running in January, runners have been curious to learn more about how pros tackle this important life step–especially when they want to maintain their fitness while doing so. Earlier this week, we asked our readers on social media what questions they have for Neely about her commitment to staying fit while pregnant, several of which she answered here:
Why did you and your husband decide to have a baby now, when you’re at the early stages of your marathon career?
I’ve had two big goals as an adult. 1. To see what is possible with my running career. 2. To have a family and be a mom. [My husband] Dillon and I have known we wanted kids, and since there is no World Championships or Olympics in 2018, it seemed like a good time to pursue this goal so that I will be able to chase both goals simultaneously.
What was your original vision of fitness/training while pregnant? How has that changed with the realities experienced during pregnancy?
I always hoped I would be able to run throughout pregnancy. I knew I would back off and be more conservative with my training, but I thought that if I did that, it wouldn’t be too hard. HA. At seven weeks, I did a long run of 13.5 miles (that is a typical easy run distance for me in full training) and it felt like an eternity. Afterwards, I took three naps. No joke. At that point, I realized that there was nothing to gain from forcing fitness.
I also was lifting at the time and wanted to maintain strength. I started getting really strong pains in my lower abs (assuming round ligament pain) and had to stop. After the first trimester, I picked it back up and now lift a few days per week without any issues. I also had to stop running at 18.5 weeks. My lower back got really sore out of nowhere and it didn’t make sense to force running when walking and sneezing hurt!
How do you stay committed to training/exercising while pregnant?
For me, I feel like I haven’t. But I do get in the gym or outside every day for activity. It’s just far less than normal. I dedicate an hour to myself every day to walk/elliptigo/bike/lift/core. In peak training, I typically spend three to four hours per day between running and strength/cross-training. I do believe that forcing fitness is never a good thing. I do what I enjoy and I am a better and more productive person when I take care of myself. I am used to the routine of an active lifestyle and I prioritize this no matter what it looks like.
Is just aerobic running okay while pregnant, or can I do intensity/interval workouts, too?
Everyone is so different! I noticed within four weeks of being pregnant that I was struggling at full intensity. At that point, anything harder than normal was really tough on me, breathing-wise. I decided to back off intensity at eight weeks. Some women can run hard all the way through! My doctor is a marathoner, and she said it is fine to continue running and training as long as I listen to what my body needs. She recommended no more than 45 minutes of continuous elevated heart rate (over 150) and to keep the majority of the runs in a conversation-pace zone. Listening to my heart rate, I had to slow way down. I was running one to two minutes-per-mile slower than normal to keep my heart rate in an aerobic zone. So listen to your body and do what is best for you and your baby! Nothing to gain from pushing too hard.
Are the Olympics still a goal of yours?
Of course! I have had that as a goal for a long time, and I continue to have my eyes set on becoming an Olympian. I also recognize that a lot has to come together to make this dream possible, so the first step for me is getting my Olympic Trials qualifying time as my main goal for the year 2019!
What are some fun new things you have done to work out during pregnancy?
I started doing barre classes at Define Body and Mind. I love it! So good for runner-specific weaknesses. I get to bike along with my husband while he runs, and that has been really fun for us. I also plan to do some barefoot walking on the infield at the track to help build foot strength.
What are your cravings and aversions?
I hate meat. All meat, but especially red. I can’t even cook it or smell it cooking in the house. I haven’t loved veggies, but that has gotten better. As for cravings, pizza, ice cream, chips and guacamole, fruit and yogurt have been the main food groups in my pregnancy diet. Nothing to weird yet, thankfully.
What are some pelvic floor/inner core exercises you are doing now and how will those change as your pregnancy progresses? Are there any rules about what to do or not to do? What will you do post-baby to rebuild?
The rule of thumb is to not squish the baby. So any exercises (crunches for example) that squeeze the baby is not recommended. I wanted to have a pregnancy-specific plan to follow, so I started working with Celeste at RecoreFitness (I found her on Instagram) and she sent me exercises weekly so I could learn about using my breath to engage inner core muscles and strengthen the pelvic floor. I love the routines and continue to do them three to five times per week. Post-baby, I plan to work with her, as well, to regain the strength I need to get back to running and training.
What are your training plans post-baby? Do you have a timeline for getting back to racing or any exact goals in mind?
NOPE. If there is one thing I have learned thus far, it is to have no expectations. I certainly hope that my delivery is smooth and my comeback fast and painless, but I know that realistically, I need to be prepared for bumps along the way. My hope is to be back to training three months postpartum, and then race around at six months. Which puts me at February of 2019. I have heard that I should expect it to take about nine months to feel back to myself since it takes nine months to grow the baby.
What are your favorite and least favorite parts of pregnancy?
I love that my body is creating a human! It is incredible that it just knows what to do. That being said, my least favorite part is the worry of something going wrong. The moment I found out I was pregnant, all I could think about was whether or not the baby was okay.
Are you concerned with the weight you have gained? How do you deal with body image changes while pregnant?
Dude, it is tough. I gained five pounds (on top of the seven I had already gained to be at a healthy non-race weight and get pregnant) before I even knew I was pregnant! It has just grown from there. A lot of the books and charts say that you gain the most in the third trimester, but for me it was the first. I do think it made running more difficult, but to be honest, I am enjoying not worrying about it. Everybody is so different and every baby/pregnancy is different. Ultimately, my goal is to have a healthy and happy baby at the end of this. I want to listen to my body, and I know it will be tough coming back and losing the weight and regaining fitness, but right now, I can’t worry about that. I know so many friends who were not that fortunate, and nothing they did or didn’t do would have made a difference for their baby, so I am not at all saying that there is a right or wrong thing to do. It’s just important to let your journey be your own and not compare it to others!
What’s a good strategy to get back to running post-baby after such a long break from running?
I have yet to find out! But I do think I will listen to the doctor and wait to get cleared before I try running. I plan to walk, which I hear is the best way to shrink the uterus back down. My mindset coming back post-baby is that I had a huge injury and I’m starting from the beginning. I plan to clear my watch so every new run/distance/pace is a new PR and begin with a run/walk method to retrain my body on what to do. I’ll have to share more next fall once I go through it!