Photo from Mount Royal, Frisco, Colorado.

"Children are fascinated by the ordinary and can spend timeless moments watching sunlight play with dust. Their restlessness they learn from you. It is you who are thinking of there when you are here. It is you who thinks of then instead of now. Stop. Let your children become the teachers and you the student" - William Martin

Share It

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Running a marathon pregnant: Is it safe??

(This is probably not what you expected to read...)

Amber Miller's completion of the Chicago Marathon 38 weeks and 5 days pregnant has changed the world of women's running. Now runners and non runners alike know it is possible for a pregnant woman to run a marathon.

Was her doctor right to let her do it? Well, there has thus far been no evidence that running a marathon pregnant is dangerous for the mother or baby. The evidence is only anecdotal, though. There is however a lot of evidence that "moderate" running is both safe and healthy (and may even produce calmer, healthier, more coordinated and smarter kids... but Klapp's studies were small).

I ran 6 marathons during my most recent pregnancy. Almost every reader here probably thinks I am a biased proponent of running marathons and am going to try to convince you that there are no dangers. But that is actually not the case.

The fact that Amber's marathon appeared to induce her labor brings up a lot of concerns. Had she run the marathon at, say, 34 weeks, would it also have induced labor? Is there enough anecdotal evidence to say no?

She was already far enough along in her pregnancy that the baby could be born without any of the risks of prematurity. But what if she hadn't been so far along?

The last marathon I ran while pregnant was at 30 weeks and was the Copenhagen Marathon. I ran it in 4:54, which didn't seem that fast at the time, but in retrospect was probably too fast and more than my body could tolerate. I felt fine the night after, but the following week, I felt unwell, extremely fatigued and merely walking was enough to induce Braxton Hicks. Two weeks after, I was better again. But WAS I close to inducing premature labor? Was my water close to breaking? I do not know. There is simply not enough evidence.

The 5 pregnant marathons I had run prior to this did not take nearly the same toll on me. Perhaps not unimportantly, they were all run in very small races.

What would my advice as a physician be to women who want to run a marathon pregnant? Well, if they feel they are up to it, I would say it is safe, if their pregnancy was uncomplicated and they were healthy, experienced runners. HOWEVER, I would strongly encourage women who are beyond 26 or 27 weeks to avoid large city marathons and simply run the marathon in a small group or with friends. I find that in large city marathons people push themselves beyond what may be healthy for their body, simply due to the excitement and cheering crowds. If a woman gets too caught up in this, she may start ignoring warning signals that might otherwise stop her from continuing.

It is only a theoretical risk, but until there is more evidence, that would be my recommendation.

But where is that evidence going to come from? Well, I got an idea today. I am going to start a database of pregnant marathons. If you have run a pregnant marathon (or ultramarathon), you are more than welcome to contribute. You send me an email at sealegsgirlblog@gmail.com and I send you a rather extensive questionnaire about the race/s you ran, your time, your previous running experience, how far along you were, how you felt short-term afterwards and of course the pregnancy outcome (also be prepared to answer questions about your medical and obstetrical history). It is biased, sloppy reserach. But it is likely the only kind of research one can do about pregnant marathoning and it is better than nothing. The database will be found at a website, which I don't have a link to yet. Here women who are interested in running a marathon or half marathon pregnant can see what other womens' experiences have been and then contribute their own. Ultimately, women will get connected to it, not through this blog, but through the new website.

As of now, I'm open to any sort of suggestions you have as this project will take a while to implement if it is going to be a good resource.

20 comments:

The Chapples said...

I am interested to see what response you get! I had no desire to run a marathon during my pregnancies but am
possibly changing my mind about the dangers of doing so. Anyway, cool that you're doing this!

pernillesarup said...

Nice idea.
How do you know that Amber would not have gone into labor aprox the same time if she didn't run? Giving birth in week 38 is not un-normal.
Having said that I could not imagine running two paces 38 weeks pregnant let alone a marathon.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking the same thing at pernillesarup. I'm only running 20-30 miles/wk. A lot of women go into labor at 38w5d sans marathon. Furthermore, all women were doing something when then went into labor and that something didn't in most cases cause the onset of labor.

I tend to agree with you that for most women, a marathon is very strenuous and without proper conditioning (prior to pregnancy) not something that most can safely do while pregnant. I do think we should be cautious about saying that in her particular case the marathon caused the onset of labor.

I'm very interested to see what kind of information you collect in a follow up post.

sea legs girl said...

Good point about the marathon maybe not inducing her labor. There is really no way of knowing. I didn't mean to give the impression I was sure it did, but it definitely makes you wonder! (only about 10% of women have given birth by 38 weeks and 5 days (http://spacefem.com/pregnant/charts/duedate1.php?minweek=38)...not sure this is the best source, but it is consistent with what I remember reading)

Stefanie Schocke said...

Well, I mean she had to be training for it. She didn't just get up and run a marathon. She obviously had done 20 milers etc, for training. The article also suggested that she ran 2 other marathons while pregnant. But, I also must say, she barely ran it. Can you call 6.5 hours running? That's more like a super fast walk, slow jog. Not saying that it's not impressive...but you're 4:54 is much more impressive than 6.5 hours. Just my opinion.

I'd be happy to be part of your study, although I was only 22 weeks, so I might not fit what you are looking for.

stefaniejoyphillips@yahoo.com

Marathon Mom said...

Have you seen this article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/13/exercise-and-pregnancy_n_1009236.html

I ran a pregnant marathon and actually enjoyed it, it really helped me learn to focus on listening to my body. I think the big thing is whether or not a woman is well trained prior to pregnancy and her body is used to the rexercise level she is continuing.

Jacqueline said...

I don't think running while pregnant is bad -- obviously, I did it with both my pregnancies. But I agree that it is easy to get caught up in the moment in races, or with groups, even, and push beyond what you should. I found myself doing that a few times. While it wasn't dangerous, it wasn't smart, you know? But I didn't have that pressure when I ran alone or with friends or in smaller races. But that probably depends on how competitive each person is. I am very. ;-)

She was an experienced marathoner, and I think what she did -- the run/walk -- seems fine.

It's still interesting to me how much misinformation there is out there for pregnant runners. I just heard a woman the other day, a runner, say you shouldn't get your heart rate over 140 when running while pregnant. I wish I had a stack of pamphlets to give out to women!

Kirsten said...

Why do you say it's a sloppy and biased survey? If you make a statistically valid questionnaire and if you can get enough women to answer you, you should be able to make a research that can be useful? You make into something valuable!! When I studied for my Masters of Public Health we did the most crazy statstic assignments, but they could have been valid if they had been in a larger scale. Try it, it could make an awsome paper for some publication and make your future. Go for it Girl!!

Diana said...

What an interesting project. I agree with Kirsten. If you can get a large enough group, you could make a valid study of it.
I am in awe of women who complete marathons during pregnancy, although I certainly had no desire to complete one before my baby arrived. If your body can handle it, and you've trained smartly, I don't see why a woman couldn't run that distance all the way up to the end of pregnancy.

Robyn said...

Your database is a great idea. I would be very interested in seeing the results (says the physician-mom-training for a marathon-er).

Anonymous said...

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2011-10-11/sports/bs-sp-marathon-pregnant-20111011_1_pregnant-women-pregnant-athletes-131-mile-race
Hi I am not a runner. I am trying to post a link to you for a recent Baltimore Sun article where doctors at Johns Hopkins says it is safe for a pregnant woman to run a marathon.
Lynne in MD

sea legs girl said...

Thanks both marathon mom and anon for the articles. Clearly the times are changing and it is for the better. I agree almost 100% with both of the articles. Though I still have issues with the Danish study mentioned in the first article that links running with miscarriage. Basically because they look at running along with ball sports and horseback riding, which in my mind are pretty unrelated and pose very different sorts of risks.

sea legs girl said...

Stefanie - well, I know what you're saying about 6.5 hours, but I don't think I could not have done that 38 weeks along. I could barely get myself to run a half marathon in 3 hours at 36 weeks, so she was kind of booking it considering her state!

Katie said...

I don't think one can assume the marathon induced labor. As you know, anywhere from 38 - 42 weeks is the "norm" to go into labor. Thus, being 38 weeks 5 days...this was normal. Also, she only ran the first half and walked the second half. Her completion time was 6.5 hours, and her normal marathon completion time was 3:30. I don't know. I think she probably just received a lot of attention because it's a huge marathon...

Stefanie Schocke said...

Not trying to argue with you SLG, just surprised someone as fast as yourself considers 6.5 hours at 39 weeks (yes, impressive she was that far along) is booking it. I have several friends who were still running 10 min pace for long runs at that time. (Not a marathon, but still). I was able to complete 12 miles at 8:30 pace at 37 weeks, however, I got injured. So, maybe if I had run slowly I wouldn't have gotten injured. I am not impressed with her time at all (just impressed with the will/drive to do that at 39 weeks). I just would not want to deal with the heaviness on my bladder/round ligament/contractions for 6.5 hours. I think several of the pregnant runners on this blog could have done it in 6.5 hours at 39 weeks if they tried. Experimental Running girl, Marathon mom, you, me (not injured), and some of the others who read this.

Stefanie Schocke said...

Not trying to argue with you SLG, just surprised someone as fast as yourself considers 6.5 hours at 39 weeks (yes, impressive she was that far along) is booking it. I have several friends who were still running 10 min pace for long runs at that time. (Not a marathon, but still). I was able to complete 12 miles at 8:30 pace at 37 weeks, however, I got injured. So, maybe if I had run slowly I wouldn't have gotten injured. I am not impressed with her time at all (just impressed with the will/drive to do that at 39 weeks). I just would not want to deal with the heaviness on my bladder/round ligament/contractions for 6.5 hours. I think several of the pregnant runners on this blog could have done it in 6.5 hours at 39 weeks if they tried. Experimental Running girl, Marathon mom, you, me (not injured), and some of the others who read this.

sea legs girl said...

Stefanie, I totally agree that there have been many more impressive pregnant marathon stories than Amber's. I actually just got really irked when I saw someone wrote that Amber's 6 1/2 hours was more impressive than Ingrid Kristiansen's 2:33 4 months pregnant. No way. Your 3:30 at Chi 6? months along is also much more impressive. BUT this is a case of the difference between what we can do and what we actually do. She did it and happily brought attention to pregnant marathoning/running that it deserves.

sea legs girl said...

Plus, I was having such terrible contractions the whole 38th week that I wouldn't have been able to do it (I don't think).

Krie Andruch said...

What ever came of this study?

sea legs girl said...

Hi Krie, I have heard only from a few women. If you are interested in being part of the study, that would be wonderful. Write me at sealegsgirl@gmail.com. Best with your pregnancy, too!