Monday, May 9, 2011

5 miles, 40 minutes, 20 weeks

I ran five miles yesterday, bringing my week’s tally to around 17 miles. It’s a far cry from the 35 to 45 miles I was tallying this fall. But my body deserves a break. I am, after all, nearly 20 weeks

This all may shock some. In fact, I think the sight of me and my burgeoning belly bopping down the road has turned more than a few heads. Some friends call me crazy. My mom urges me to take it easy. At my friends I just smile, to my mom I send assurances.

Besides the physical benefits, running has always been a time for me to feed the mind and soul. There’s something meditative about the tap, tap, tap of my running shoes hitting the trail. My mind clears as the sounds of office phones ringing and keyboards clicking are replaced with wind, rivers and birds singing fitfully in the woods; in running, I find sanity.
Jill Homer / Juneau Empire File
Trails that are clear of ice, snow and slippery objects, such as roots or rocks, are a good choice for women looking to stay fit while pregnant. Abby Lowell, who is currently maintaining her running regime while pregnant with her second child, runs along the Treadwell Ditch Trail last summer.
The reasons for staying fit for life are many, and during pregnancy the benefits take on a deeper meaning. Studies have shown increased placental blood flow as a result of heightened activity. That blood is not only highly oxygenated, but it is also rich in fresh nutrients and endorphins — the feel-good hormone. Most know exercise keeps the extra pounds at bay, and for pregnant women, this can mean good things in a society with obesity levels climbing. Staying fit can mean an escape from some of the common ailments that plague pregnant women: leg cramps, fatigue, constipation, swelling, insomnia, high blood pressure and overall mood. It’s hard to argue, despite what some doctors have been saying for years, that exercise is not good for a developing fetus and the mother.

As soon as that blue plus sign — Clear Blue Easy’s equivalent of “yes, you’re pregnant” — appeared on a pregnancy test back in December, I resolved to keep running, hiking and walking as long as was comfortable and personally rewarding until the baby’s due date in September. This isn’t my first trip around the block, however.

Nearly three years ago, I had my first child — a boy. During that pregnancy, I worked as an assistant ski coach for the Juneau Ski Club. This meant spending every weekend on the slopes of Eaglecrest, hauling gear, gates and equipment — lots of drilling holes for gates, screwing in those gates and then undoing it all after a day full of being on my feet. It wasn’t until nearly my eighth month that I began to feel like downhill skiing was a bit much. It was then I switched to running. In my 39th week of pregnancy I was hiking Perseverance Trail and loving every minute. Elias was born, on time, a week later weighing in at 7 pounds, 1 ounce.

Now, many might balk at the thought of an extremely pregnant woman engaging in a typically high-risk sport like downhill skiing. But my doctor was supportive. In fact, he encouraged all types of physical activity, as long as I was skilled enough to do them safely.

This time around things have been a bit different. During my first trimester, which lasted through the winter, I was no longer spending weekends on the ski hill. And instead of jogging around Juneau for those first three months (like I had envisioned), I found myself sleeping 12 hours each night and still seeking naps at every opportunity. Then there were the headaches — the constant, pounding anguish that stretched from temple to temple and lasted for days. It took all I had just to look at my computer screen. So, those 12 weeks consisted of yoga and, well, eating. (I was really hungry!) But that’s about it. I gained 12 pounds, found a new blemish daily and suffered from painful cold sores every three weeks. Yes, pregnancy — what a joy. I must admit, I was faithfully counting down to the arrival of trimester two and hoping my body would adjust to the tiny human inside me.

It’s times like these that test new moms-to-be. Doctors and midwives might be saying a little activity will boost energy levels, though simultaneously, the body is screaming the opposite. But the pros are right, and it’s important to give the body what it craves and then some — within reason. Even a 15-minute walk will turn a dismal day around. It doesn’t take much — just do what feels best.

Because after month three, for nearly all expecting ladies, life gets great. I mean really, really great. I found myself giddy as I shopped for new running shoes. Outings felt amazing again. My energy was back and my legs, strong from the yoga and refreshed from a few months off, were ready to run again. I listened to what my body needed and since the beginning of March I’ve been hitting the pavement and trails faithfully.

Keep in mind that I’ve always been a runner. It’s not something I would recommend picking up mid-pregnancy. I think the benefits of exercise during pregnancy are far from fully discovered, but the effort has to be catered to the individual. It’s not a time to start something new. Instead, pick up an activity you know you’ll be comfortable doing safely and take it slow to begin. When I first started running again, my body (and belly) weren’t used to the bouncing. I’d walk until the round ligaments (those that support and stretch as the uterus grows) relaxed and my body warmed up. Now I feel great on all types of terrain. Yesterday, I even passed a guy on a long downhill. He couldn’t see, but I had a grin from ear to ear.

It’s also important to make sure, especially during pregnancy, that all activity is coupled with ample fluids and food. I don’t eat during activity (it gives me side aches), but I make sure to have a snack of water and complex carbohydrates or fruit available within 15 minutes of finishing a run. The sooner you replenish depleted stores, the faster your body will recover.

With the sun making more regular appearances these days, it’s time to get out and enjoy the Alaskan scenery. Trails at lower elevations, such as the Salmon Creek, Dupont and Rainforest trails, are currently snow and ice free and aren’t too long or arduous for most.

In an effort to inspire and educate other women, I’m going to continue this column until my due date in September. I’ll interview local midwives and doctors to help gain insight on how exercise can affect an expecting mom and baby. I’ll touch on topics such as gear, foods that pack a punch, preventing complications, dads, and what it’s like to be Alaskan and pregnant. I’ll offer reports on local trails and which ones clumsy ladies (especially those that can no longer see their feet) should avoid. And I’ll keep it real, offering up my own experiences — the celebrations and the challenges.

Remember, everyone is different. Make sure to check with your doctor or midwife before beginning an exercise program.

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