I’ve never really given a lot of thought to what being pregnant would actually feel like. If I had, I’d have been very, very wrong. I think it’s safe to say that running through pregnancy has not been anything I thought it would be. And whilst I know everyones experiences are vastly different, here are some of my naive assumptions. Not to mention the very steep learning curve of my first 3 months.
Naive thought number 1: Pregnancy tests tell you if you’re pregnant or not.
Reality: Obviously they do, but not until at least 4 weeks and even then those pesky faint lines are anything but clear. Who knew?
Given that it’s been 16 years since my last biology lesson, and that as we weren’t actively trying to get pregnant, I really had no clue about fertility windows, how long HCG levels (the hormone in your urine that results in a positive pregnancy test) takes to become detectable, or even how long my ‘normal’ cycle was. And yet, despite 6 negative pregnancy tests (an expensive habit!) I was still convinced I was pregnant.
It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what was different, but I do think that a lifetime of training makes you more in tune with the subtle changes in your body. I suppose the closest I can get to an explanation is that I’d had PMT type symptoms with a bonus dose of nausea…. for almost 2 weeks. I’ve since learnt that pregnancy tests are only really accurate after you have already missed your period. A fact that is only helpful if you know when your period should be!
So anyway, after 6 practise rounds to perfect the art of peeing on a stick, on the 7th day, the word ‘pregnant’ finally confirmed what my body had been trying to tell me all along. It was 5.30am on a Saturday morning and I was about to drive the 125 miles to Luton airport to fly to Slovakia with a friend. Somewhere during that car journey before arriving at St Albans for a spot of on route parkrun tourism, running had already changed.
Naive thought number 2: Until you have to adapt for an expanding belly, nothing really has to change.
Reality: For me, everything changed almost immediately. A doctors at work even knew I was pregnant because my ‘heart rate was so high for how slow I’d become!’
If you look at my Strava account, it’s almost funny. My mileage quite literally drops off a cliff. I go from 50 mile weeks to 12 (at best!). There were many reasons for this, but the biggest was that it just didn’t feel right. I remember the 2 semi-fast parkruns I ran in the limbo period before a pregnancy test was positive. I felt crampy and uncomfortable for hours after both. So, when I knew I was pregnant it just felt wrong and potentially even reckless to be pushing the pace. I lost about 60-120 seconds off my mile splits almost overnight just by running to feel. That parkrun at St Albans was six minutes slower than Moors Valley the previous week. And yet it still felt just as tough. Something I definitely hadn’t anticipated happening so soon.
Naive thought number 3: Morning sickness occurs in the morning
Reality: I think morning sickness must have been named by a man. It’s really the only explanation. I woke up feeling sick and it got progressively worse until I inevitably fell asleep on the sofa at 8.30pm. Who am I kidding? 8pm.
So I couldn’t run fast any more. Not a problem, I could still clock up my miles at a comfortable pace, right? After expecting to start my first year of club running, I was actually okay with the pressure being off. Now, I know that morning sickness varies hugely for everyone and even between pregnancies, but for me it kicked in with a vengeance somewhere between 5 and 6 weeks, and although I was never actually physically sick, I found the constant nausea really debilitating. It meant that if I hadn’t exercised early in the morning, it probably wasn’t going to happen.
So instead of heading back to club sessions when they restarted after Christmas, 7pm became prime potato wedges, fish fingers and spaghetti hoops eating time; literally the only thing I could stomach for weeks! Between trying to run early and needing to be at work for 8am, I quickly found that 3-4 x5km runs a week was my limit. The hardest bit of all this, especially when you are an avid Strava user, is hiding it from the world. In one low moment, I even found myself considering sending the dog out with my Garmin to clock up some extra miles. Just as a diversion!
I started using the gym to make up for the lack of running, but even that felt clunky and different. The low impact classes like body balance still didn’t feel right. Lying on my stomach was uncomfortable, even though there was no reason not to be at that stage. So at a point where, let’s be honest, many people don’t even know they’re pregnant yet, my body was clearly going to have none of it. A very harsh lesson in taking each day as it comes and not judging yourself against anyone else’s journey.
Running aside, I actually found the period between about 6 and 12 weeks really challenging. I had almost constant cramps as well as fairly persistent left sided pains that made me paranoid either something was wrong or it wasn’t a viable intra-uterine pregnancy. On numerous occasions I came close to booking a private scan to check. But as we finally got closer to our 12 week dating scan, lots of those symptoms eased off. To the point where I was then paranoid that I’d dreamed the entire thing and I wasn’t pregnant at all! As we sat in the waiting room of the ultrasound department, I was actually petrified they wouldn’t find any evidence of a baby at all and ask me why I was there.
The day everything changed
It was actually there in the waiting room for our 12 week scan that the reality of life as we all knew it changed. Due to COVID-19 from that minute, husbands were no longer allowed to attend any antenatal appointment. At 34 weeks, my husband has yet to see our baby, or meet anyone involved in their care. Later that week, gyms were forced to close, shops shut, and the entire UK went into lockdown. Working in a GP surgery, I’d gone from a fit and healthy individual likely to have worked in the ‘hot sites’ that were rapidly being set up to see COVID positive patients, to being in an ‘at risk’ group advised to work at home. Little did I know when I left work on March 16th that I wouldn’t be returning until after maternity leave. Or, how it would affect the rest of my pregnancy.
To be continued…