From Paula Radcliffe running at 10K at 7 months pregnant to Alysia Montano competing in the 800m during both of her pregnancies, racing during pregnancy is becoming more common. For some women, racing during pregnancy is part of maintaining their identity as a runner. Others opt not to miss out on events they registered for prior to pregnancy or on the community experience of racing. Some women choose not to race during pregnancy. For those who do, you can safely approach racing during pregnancy.
Some women will opt run the race at a comfortable, easy effort. They may be in your first trimester and may be dealing with nausea or fatigue. Further along into the third trimester, the changes to one’s center of gravity and extra weight will make running harder in general. Running at a comfortable pace might be the most comfortable for you, whether mentally or physically, which means it is the best choice for you. For others, they may feel good and want to push the pace.
Racing during pregnancy is not the time to dig deep and give every last ounce of energy on the race course. You will likely not PR unless you are very early on in your pregnancy and had been training hard for a big PR before you got pregnant.
There is an approach between racing to PR and running at an easy effort. You can push the pace a bit more than you would for a normal daily run. For women whose bodies are adapted to harder workouts and years of racing, this is a reasonable approach.
These tips can help you feel prepared and confident when racing during pregnancy. As always, consult your OB first about running. All these suggestions assume a healthy pregnancy and clearance to continue running.
How Far Can I Race While Pregnant?
The simplest guideline is to race what you were trained for before your pregnancy. If you were completing long runs for a half marathon, you can run the distance so long as you do not have complications. However, if you had taken a significant break from long distance running before pregnancy, it may not be the appropriate time to train for a long distance race.
Marathons are trickier when pregnant. The distance is more demanding, muscle damage is more significant, recovery is longer, and the risks of dehydration, overheating, or glycogen depletion are higher. Women who were far along into their marathon training programs when pregnant and not doing their first marathon could complete the distance if they wanted to. However, if you are a first-time marathoner or have not started your training by the time you find out you are pregnant, it is not the most advisable decision to train for and run a marathon while pregnancy.
(It is worth noting that while many female elites raced in the 800m to half marathon while pregnant, virtually all elites took a break from the marathon distance during pregnancy. Personally, I would not run a marathon while pregnant.)
Ultimately, what matters most if your comfort. Do you feel mentally and physically comfortable doing the distance on that day? If yes, proceed; if no, there is nothing wrong with a DNS (did not start).
Your race week preparation might look different. Typically, most competitive runners will do a race week tune-up workout and gradually taper mileage. Pregnancy slows down your recovery rate, so you might need to taper more drastically than normal. Consider forgoing the race week workout and running short, easy runs the week of the race. Here’s how to taper for a 5K or 10K and how to taper for a half marathon.
Don’t skip your warm-up! If anything, a thorough warm-up is important if you plan on pushing the pace. Jog for 5-10 minutes and perform dynamic stretches before the race starts.
Since most pregnant runners would likely race a 5K, 10K, or half marathon, these pacing suggestions focus on those distances.
If your body is adapted to hard workouts and racing before pregnancy, you may be able to run faster than easy pace on race day. If you are training for your first race of any distance or have not done any hard workouts in training, focus on finishing at an easy effort.
Racing during pregnancy is more relative. You aren’t running at maximum effort, but maybe at 80% or 90% maximum effort. A comfortably hard effort is a good goal, as this will let you push some without overexerting yourself or fatiguing early in the race.
When in doubt, start at a comfortable effort and pick up the pace as you go. The longer the distance, the more conservative you want to be in your pacing at the start. Many pregnant women fatigue sooner than they did pre-pregnancy. It’s better to err on the side of caution than to start too fast, let your breathing get a bit out of control, and have to slow down. If anything, slowing down during a race is not enjoyable nor confidence-boosting.
Assess your effort and how you feel with each mile. Check your breathing rate, your form, and your energy levels. Adjust accordingly for that mile. If you begin to feel too warm or out of breath, scale back.
You do not want to push so hard that you are gasping for breath throughout the race. For most pregnant women, their bodies naturally hinder overexertion; you will likely notice you cannot run at a high intensity for very long. If you do find that your breathing is very labored, scale back to a comfortably hard but more controlled effort. You will most likely find that a race effort when pregnant is equivalent to about tempo effort when not pregnant.
The marathon requires a different approach. Because of the unique demands of the distance, you want to maintain a comfortable, easy effort throughout. Depending upon how far along you are, run/walk intervals will keep your effort under control and minimize fatigue.
It’s okay if you have to walk, slow down, or quit, even in a short race. Pregnant running varies day to day and you simply could have an off day on race day.
Don’t compare your paces. There is no pregnancy pace conversion chart. Women slow at different rates throughout pregnancy. Some might slow down early on, where a racing effort is what used to be their normal easy day pace. Others may experience a more gradual slowdown.
For example, I raced a 10K at 16 weeks pregnant. I ran a 48:37 (7:49/mile pace); prior to pregnancy, my 10K PR was 43 minutes. I probably would have been training to run a marathon at a faster average pace if not pregnant. However, I was doing most of my runs at an 8:30-9:00/mile pace, so this was a “race” effort in comparison.
Hydration, Nutrition, and Other Considerations
Everything from how you fuel to what you wear may be different. Everything from your hormones to your blood volume is different during pregnancy, so do not just blindly rely on your previous race day routines.
Thanks to high levels of progesterone and extra weight, your body temperature is higher than normal. You will likely sweat more. To prepare for this, consider dressing as if it is 15-20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. Dress lightly and have layers that you can easily remove if need be. In the heat and humidity, you want to be very careful about not overheating.
Your blood volume increases by 40-50% within the first 16 weeks of pregnancy. As a result of higher blood volume, your hydration needs will increase. Even in a shorter race, you will likely need to hydrate during the race. Listen to your thirst signals and do not deliberately skip an aid station if you need fluids.
Likewise, your nutrition needs are higher. Without counting in calories burned during exercise, expecting runners need 300-350 calories more per day in the second trimester and 500 calories more in the third trimester. Essentially, your body’s energy demands are higher.
Different runners will address these demands differently. Some will opt to eat more before a race, in order to prevent low energy. If you are still dealing with morning sickness, maintaining steady blood sugar will minimize nausea. Others find their digestion is slower and opt to eat the same before and eat more after. The only recommendation is to not race fasted, which can lead to an energy crash. Your body needs energy on race day for both your baby and your running.
If you are racing for longer than 75 minutes (for most runners, 15K and beyond), you will want to consume sufficient calories during the race. Glycogen depletion is a bigger concern while pregnant. Aim to take in your fuel at 30-45 minute intervals throughout the race, with fluids. Approximately 30-45 grams of carbohydrate per hour or 1-1.1 calories per pound of bodyweight per hour are good starting guidelines.
In short? Listen to your body and do not compare to your past race times or other pregnant runners. The fact is, racing during pregnancy is a huge accomplishment – so enjoy the race and celebrate what you ran.
For more on running during pregnancy, read this post about my approach to training during pregnancy.
Did you race during pregnancy?
What’s your favorite part about racing?