Data is beautiful

Sundays are strange now. Even if it wasn’t a long run day, I would usually go to running club and brunch afterwards. More recently it’s been a gym day. Today it’s been neither, & although I was awake before 8, the dull skies and rain made it very easy to take a cup of tea & breakfast back to bed.

Running has taken a back seat recently due to dark evenings and busy weekends, but I’m aware that every week I don’t run, the more likely I am to not get back to it. There has been plenty of walking, which is apparently just as good for keeping up cardio fitness. A few months ago I was sceptical of this, but these days the data proves it.

This graph shows my heart rate getting consistently up to around 140bpm with a day of nothing but intervals of steady walking. Fair enough it was a busy day of doing things, but usually I would get to about 100bpm with a very brisk and uphill walk, and this is off the scale. Resting heart rate has increased from 45-50bpm to around 70bpm and I’ve never felt so unfit in my life. Keeping an eye on data & metrics does attract eye-rolls from certain people, but it has been useful for me to see the slow decline and keep an eye on my fitness in this temporary weird state.

In the past few weeks I have felt physically out of breath from periods of walking too, as the space available for my lungs & diaphragm keeps decreasing. I went on an 8km hike around my favourite loch last week and was pretty tired by the end of it, & very glad that I’d changed course from the planned 20km hike due to snow & poor weather.

still amazing, though

Next week I’m planning a couple of steady treadmill running sessions, to keep out of the rain & so that I can keep an eye on speed & heart rate a bit better. Lifting still feels good, but my big lift loadings are now around 50% of my 1RM and I aim for 30-50 reps over 3 or 4 sets. My muscle tone is holding up fairly well, and although my abs are still just about holding it together, the next few weeks will be the challenge to that. Will be making an effort to cat/cow every day, not just on yoga day…

Checking in

Over half way now: the spare room still has my weights & stuff in it (“you can’t keep calling it the spare room, Heather…”) & I am enjoying the space before it gets taken up by a cot & a pram & whatever else. Still not sure how to explain it all to the cats.

I have news for you, my friend

People keep asking if I am going to buy a running buggy. I am now an expert on prams* so the answer is yes, probably, when I have replaced the ££££ I have already shelled out on miscellaneous nonsense so far, & figured out how to run again. No point in splashing out until I know whether running will even be an option.

*up until a month ago, I thought a car seat was a carrycot, a carrycot was a pram, & a travel system was a separate thing

It’s also time to slow down a bit. A moderate workout gives serious DOMS, & a couple of days of work travel can ruin me for the rest of the week. I am yawning my head off at 9:30pm even after an average day.

I am enjoying the shopping, although my bank balance disagrees.

what else for a tiny marathoner

So what am I missing?

Fast (ish) running. Natural but frustrating, even though I’ve never been a particularly fast runner. Keeping an eye on my heart rate isn’t always working as it always goes high at a moderate effort (and then recovers really quickly). Running once or twice a week right now, and fitting in Cyclebox once a week or so if I need it. This is enough cardio.

Caffeine. So bad. I have a couple of filter coffees a week & those days are *chef’s kiss* even when they are usually saved for stressful work days.

Sleep. I know it’s a cliche but I didn’t expect the crap sleep to start so soon, it kicked in quite early & was mostly about anxiety & a racing mind. Now it’s more about discomfort, or for NO REASON AT ALL I AM JUST AWAKE AT 3AM. I am good at sleeping on my left side but I must be a thrashy sleeper most of the time: several hours of not moving much can wake me up with a killer ache in my hip & I have to get out of bed to alleviate it. I’m a 6am riser during the week & still quite early at weekends – a marathon training habit that refuses to die – so my sleep is quite diminished. It’s manageable for now because every 10 days or so I have a huge crash & go to bed at 8pm. I think I am now just permanently tired.

Tying my shoes easily. Enough said.

Cheeses. I have ordered & sent back blue cheese dressing several times, because I am stupid. I have also been merrily eating unpasteurised Parmesan until a few days ago because apparently I can’t read either. Christmas will be tough because cheese is a staple. I am going on a proper Brie binge in the new year.

Those are the big things for now, as I approach the six month mark & start to worry about fitting behind the steering wheel.

But yes: still running (slowly, not far), lifting (not heavy, no snatches), spinning (occasionally dropping a sprint) and going out (if I can be home by 10:30). It’s still good.

Running for two

Are you still running?

Is it safe?

Are you sure?

Several times a week, this happens.

Running is fine. CrossFit is fine. Depending on your specific circumstances, almost everything is absolutely fine.

As I’m lucky enough to be healthy, I wanted to keep up my race commitments this year as much as I could. Mostly because entry fees are steep, & I’ve already lost out on two race entries in the last 12 months due to circumstances beyond my control. So I’ve still been completing races (but not racing) 😀

Edinburgh Marathon doesn’t really count because it was so early in the first trimester, but I am slightly pleased to know that my breathlessness, perceived effort & generally feeling ‘off’ was probably due to making a human from scratch rather than not training well enough. I look forward to telling my offspring that I ran a marathon with them when they were an embryo.

Run The Blades was already entered, & was never going to be a pb effort for the distance even if I was at full fitness: a hilly trail race on a midsummer Friday evening has enough factors making it difficult . Never at my best during evening races, it’s tough underfoot, has a lot of narrow sections and a selection of steep & long hills. I stayed very steady and kept an eye on my heart rate, dropping the speed if it got too high. Which it did, but I am sure a one off is fine. I am sure that hill is more than 30m elevation.

Great North Run was unexpectedly hot & as noted in the debrief, probably a bit too far. Had it not been a race I would have called it a day at 10 miles. The evening & the next day was quite like post-marathon stiffness, which worried me a bit, but with proper rest and stretching, I was back at the gym a few days later.

So far, running’s been consistently ok. Perceived effort is difficult to manage, mostly because working harder for a slower pace is messing with my brain a bit. I thought I would get frustrated with going slower – parkrun is the worst, as all my local ones are 3-4 laps and I am getting overtaken a lot – but it’s for the right reasons. In the couple of weeks when I felt very tired and nauseous, gentle running or training in the gym made me feel better, which was a great help once I’d actually managed to get out the door. Iced water also really helped, as my sense of smell was very heightened & the chemical scent of room temperature tap water was very unappealing.

My last race this year will be the Great Scottish Run 10km, tomorrow. It’s a race I’ve done every year since I started running properly, except 2018 when I failed to start due to not feeling well on race day, and I missed it a lot. Things can change on a weekly basis in terms of how I feel and what I can achieve, but for now it seems like a good way to end the season: seven races, over half of them pregnant. Back in December, when I was planning my marathons & everything else around them, I had no idea it would end up like this. But I’m grateful for every day I feel able to exercise, & much stronger & happier for doing so.

Debrief: Great North Run

I randomly popped a ballot application in for the Great North Run at some point last year – can’t even remember when. It’s clearly an awesome race & the largest half marathon in the world, but it’s never been a bucket list one for me. I know plenty folk who’ve ran it, including a friend who raised money for WWF by running with a life-size stuffed panda on her back, & my cousins, who’ve ran it several times in a big group to raise money for a local charity. It’s always had a good report, despite the course congestion, & it’s fairly close to home. I like all these things.

The email came in with confirmation of a place back in February, but I was heavily concentrating on something else & it barely even registered. I think I did an insta post or story about it, but September seemed ages away, and at that point in marathon training I was running 13.1 regularly as an easy run or in the rest weeks, so it didn’t seem like that big a deal.

Fast forward a few months and it was a lot sooner & I was not massively prepared for it. There’s been no training plan, except maintaining fitness as much as I can. There is no goal in mind, aside from completing it, but even then I’m not going to push myself to keep running if I need to slow down.

such bridge, tho

This way of thinking is not how I usually run. It’s different to Run The Blades, which I undertook at 12 weeks pregnant, because I’m now more or less halfway through at almost 20 weeks & running is getting a little more difficult every time. I haven’t really mentioned this race to many people, & those who did know mostly assumed I was going to drop out or defer the place.

But despite slowing down quite a bit, I didn’t see any reason to not run. I was lucky enough to have lots of friends and family running it too, it’s a very inclusive race that caters well for a lot of slower runners, & there’s no merit in not trying. Mostly, I have no idea what life will be like in September 2020 so it’s a much better idea to have a crack at it now, even if slow.

Lol at being in the 1:50-1:55 finish wave, though

I’m writing this on the train home, tea in hand. Tyneside is close enough to Scotland to be there, raced & back in 24 hours, which is good. Today has been the furthest distance I’ve run since knowingly pregnant, & I was quite apprehensive about it. Most people are very supportive, & those that aren’t aka my mother are just concerned. I get that. But I might never get a chance to run GNR again & I’m not chucking an entry fee unless I absolutely have to.

So. Full sun was forecast and was very much a feature of the day. Not ideal, but I sought the shade at all times, made use of almost every water station & every shower, & will be forever grateful to the good people of Tyne & Wear who stood in their gardens with hosepipes. Higher temps definitely slowed me down a lot & I walked several times, always keeping an eye on my heart rate and perceived effort.

I had genuinely considered wearing a long sleeve top

It was quite difficult & I am more than happy to admit that. With hindsight, I wouldn’t do this distance again at this stage. It was a long way & I currently feel the same as I’ve done in the past after running a lot further. I’m sore everywhere & I want a warm bath & some more tea & to not be at work for 8am tomorrow. I felt fine when actually running, though, so I’m guessing how I feel now is just heightened fatigue rather than unusual or dangerous. & baby’s currently fluttering away in there, which I started to feel a couple of weeks ago, so that’s good. I am going to take a few days recovery & make sure I get plenty of rest too.

Random points:

  • I don’t realise quite how much I’m flexing the bump until I’m tired & stop doing it. Right now it looks huge because I’m sitting down & have eaten loads of snacks all day
  • Number of women who slowed for a chat before overtaking, or said nice things: loads!
  • Number of mostly men people who elbow-barged me out of the way: also loads, unfortunately
  • I walked about 7 times for 1-2 minutes each time, usually during a hill or when my watch peeped at me for a high heart rate
  • Comparable to London in terms of route congestion, iconic bridge moment, crowd cheers & good marshalling. The end/event village was absolutely chaotic though & would put me off running or spectating again. Volumes of people meant no phone service & it was really strangely laid out.
  • I will have actual nightmares about the mile 9 portaloos 🤢

All in all, I’m glad to have been able to run this but as above, had I not had the race entry ready to go, I wouldn’t deliberately take this distance on during pregnancy. It might be bad timing, & even a couple of weeks ago might have been better for me, but we’ll never know. For now, I’m grateful that all I’m feeling is mild discomfort, tiny fluttery kicks & a crazy desire for sleep.

The new normal

So. With increased total blood volume & ligaments relaxing all over the place, how does exercise fit into all this?

Opinions vary. The traditional advice for expectant women to rest & take it easy is no longer chucked about with as much sincerity as it used to be, thank goodness. But there are plenty of people who say stuff like that to me anyway, when I was marathon training or even when just generally maintaining fitness. It’s easy to forget that exercise isn’t part of a lot of people’s routines at all. “Have a rest! Put your feet up! Just relax!” is the battle cry of people who have never racked their bodyweight across their shoulders & dropped 5×5 like a boss, or ran for two hours without stopping & unravelled all the problems in their mind.

The other side of the coin is aspirational social media/generic internet positivity. “You can do anything! Pregnancy is not an illness!” which must be a terribly grating thing to hear for people who are quite unwell during pregnancy. Although they’ll be stuck in the bathroom most of the time & won’t really care. It’s usually illustrated with pictures like this:

from a website advising no supine positions after 13 weeks (which is outdated anyway) clearly doing JUST THAT
I really hope that’s not been cleaned from the floor

& again, not illustrative of most people’s experiences. Exercise is hugely important for my mental & physical wellbeing, but I’m out of breath sometimes now if I walk up a few flights of stairs carrying a heavy bag. My body is changing already, & my diet is a little different, so my training will have to change too.

Sad face

The internet is fantastic & full of wonderful tips & tricks, but it’s also full of nonsense, & separating the good advice from the well-intentioned-but-terrible, as well as the genuinely bad, can be difficult. NHS, Mumsnet & similar recommend that exercise should be the usual triad of gentle walking, swimming & pregnancy yoga. I have actually been to pregnancy yoga and it was quite nice, although the hippie nonsense relaxation practice has never appealed to me & it’s even less appealing now the guided savasana involves bonding with the baby. At least no one can see my rolling my eyes because there’s an aromatherapy bag over my face. But still.

I love the NHS but they’re obviously terribly cautious with the advice and need to appeal to the mainstream, who tend not to exercise at all. So far I’ve found specific lifting/CrossFit advice for women to be the best, as sensible suggestions about listening to your own body is key. The importance of what a lighter weight means to you specifically is also mentioned in this type of advice, rather than the generic ‘light weight’ or just no heavy lifting at all.

The first few times I went to the gym after finding out about the pregnancy, I did my all usual sessions with no change to the weight on the bar, but then panicked a bit, went too light & wasn’t feeling the benefit. Right now, the intensity depends on the lift I’m doing. Cleans, snatches & deadlifts feel less comfortable already so my weights are lighter for these lifts, & I have modified some of the techniques for more support & less risk whilst still getting a benefit. Squats & overhead lifts all feel fine, so I’m sticking with weights only slightly lighter than my pre-pregnancy efforts.

Listening to my own body is a little bit more difficult than I expected because I’m half a stone heavier than 2 months ago & full of weird twinges. Ligaments hold your uterus in its normal place in your pelvis – in my head it’s like BB8’s retention cables when he’s rolling around on the Millennium Falcon

& when these stretch to accommodate the expanding uterus, it aches a bit. Mostly it’s when I stand up too fast (all the time), forget that I shouldn’t lie on my front (more often than expected) & earlier this week it was when I tried a set of hang cleans with a weight only 5kg lighter than my 1 rep max. I managed three reps before realising it was a bit of a dick move; I’ll try this exercise with lighter weights for the next couple of weeks, as I want to keep to my normal routine for as long as I can.

Luckily, I am surrounded by some incredible women who have been there and done it all. PTs/fitness instructors with pre & post natal specialisations or experience are definitely on my radar at the moment – please recommend resources, people and accounts to follow!

Well.

With two marathons out of the way  by the first half of 2019, I’d always intended a rest & a change in training after the plan was over and done with. I had no idea what kind of change was coming.
Finishing the Edinburgh Marathon with a glance to the finish line & the beginnings of a smile. Stressing afterwards about my slow time, which I’m now firmly pinning on the new knowledge that I’m nearly six weeks pregnant in this photo. I had absolutely no idea. After a very strange couple of months, it’s quite easy to look back now & think how could I not know.
Well, tiredness, nausea and hunger are also pretty common in marathon training & the days following a race. When my period didn’t show up I thought that was due to stress. I didn’t fancy a glass of wine after finishing Edinburgh but I assumed that was tiredness and sunburn. (The more I write this, the more it seems like classic denial…)
But something clearly wasn’t right. Similarly to Kelly, my heart rate was up for quite a few days after the marathon, which isn’t normal. My resting heart rate is quite low, but was still 10bpm higher than usual over a week later. It’s remained around that ever since. I am more obsessed with my Garmin stats than ever.
My menstrual tracking app sent me a helpful notification to think about maybe doing a pregnancy test. I put it off for a few days until realising I had social events coming up that would involve drinking so it might be better to know beforehand.
I took three tests over two days, & reader, they were all positive within what seemed like seconds. Like any millennial with questions, I immediately began googling & figuring out what the hell had happened  & what my options might be. I’ve never been remotely broody or maternal, but since hitting my thirties I had been sliiiiiightly more curious about the potential of children, as well as facing up to the reality of ageing. And always envious of those who seemed so sure of what they wanted, whatever it was.
I’ve discussed these feelings so many times with friends of similar ages and stages who feel exactly the same way – happy as we are, but apprehensive about the future and continually fearful of making the wrong choice. That’s not the same as specifically wanting to have a child, though, which has never appealed strongly.

Nothing like having the choice made for you, then.  Once the initial shock had worn off, which took a good few days, I surprised myself when continuing the pregnancy seemed like the right thing to do. The status quo usually appeals to me, although this has the highest of all stakes attached to it.
A few things happened, then: I tentatively went for a 5km run at a very steady pace, & enjoyed it. I stopped drinking coffee & the crushing tiredness set in & I had to go to bed at 9pm most days. ‘Morning sickness’ was more ‘daytime nausea’ & only relieved by constant beige snacks – mostly salt & vinegar peanuts and Babybels – but was luckily quite mild compared to some horror stories I’ve heard.
I read some good books & started drinking small amounts of coffee again. Plenty of other irritating early pregnancy symptoms appeared, but I’ve never done this before & there was always a vague feeling that this was some sort of elaborate joke, or my body playing tricks on me.

Then, there it was.

going from ‘pregnant, apparently’ to THERE’S A BABY THERE

So, yeah. Truly the next level.

The whole summer so far has seemed like limbo, & punctuated with fleeting thoughts of “I wish I’d known that was the last time I would do x/y/z/whatever”. I’m pleased that 2018 was so good in so many ways. I know it seems a bit fatalistic to assume everything will be less good from now on, but as someone who’s never had any broodiness or soft-focus daydreams of parenthood, it’s difficult to change perspective, & I really like my life the way it is. I’m apprehensively happy about where I’m headed, but there’s no void to fill, no emptiness, no desire for change that women getting older are supposed to have.

Luckily, I do have good role models in real life and online. Those I’ve known for a while but didn’t think their situation and experience would ever be relevant to me; those who I’ve recently discovered following this change in trajectory; those who are in the same boat, or have been, but I didn’t pay attention at the time. Reading and listening is good, especially now life must slow down & I am taking more time to rest & relax rather than prioritising exercise & socialising. I’ll never not be honest about how unexpected and unplanned this has been, because I have no idea how things will progress & how I’ll feel further down the line.

Right now, 4 months in, I feel podgy, bloated and hungry. I can still lie on my back comfortably & it’s only then that I notice a bump. Happily, I can still do my usual training, although running is slower & the weights are lighter. I am being sensible, taking advice from the correct sources, & getting used to rest days & naps in a way that has never appealed before. This time it’s serious, though. We need the energy. It’s not just me any more.
Change can be good. Except the change to decaf coffee. Twenty five weeks to go!