Sunday, September 18, 2011

Race Report: Eaaasy there 5km

I'm trying to finish off this local series I have been participating in all year before my belly explodes. I was on track to place very well in the series prior to my foot injury. Now I am on track to, well, waddle on over the finish line. But today, at 16 weeks pregnant, I thought I might have a reasonable 5 km in me.

The night before I decided to brush up on the "rules" for exerting oneself while pregnant by re-reading portions of the bible "Exercising through your pregnancy" by James Clapp. Actually first I did the obligatory googling of "running 5 km" "pregnant", "racing 5 km" " second trimester", "road racing" "pregnant" and got a ton of hits... from my own blog and the blogs that are on my blog roll. So I turned back to Dr. Clapp who, as far as my limited research has taken me, seems to have done the most exhaustive (pun intended) research on exertion in human pregnancy. And I promptly remembered how frustrating I found his book at times during my first pregnancy. All I want are simply, clear rules regarding the maximum possible amount of exertion I can safely undertake during pregnancy. Is that so unreasonable? Um yes, human physiology just does not work that way. The book is full of  "it depends", "generally" and vague qualitative statements about what is and is not safe. In fact in the entire book he only gives two, heavily couched, quantitative guidelines: 1) thermal shifts of up to 1.6 deg C during work-outs are not associated with negative pregnancy outcomes, heating more than this should be avoided 2) the pregnant woman should not lose more than 3 pounds in sweat during a work-out. The latter is interesting - this is pretty basic physiology which I had forgotten or never knew in the first place, but as we lose fluid throughout a work-out our heart rates accelerate to compensate for the greater difficulty the dehydration causes in circulating the blood - apparently this effect is called creep and is to be avoided in the pregnant woman.

So, being the quantitative beast that I am, I greatly appreciated those two guidelines but I wanted more. Specifically, I wanted: do not let your heart rate go above X bpm (where X is hopefully a number >= 180). I know... I know... it is inaccurate to set a safe limit on heart rate in any circumstance because resting heart rate and effect of exercise on heart rate is significantly affected by genetics, in others words my 150 could easily be someone else of equal fitness' 180. So this is where I go off onto one of my Patent Pending Piccola Pinecone sPiels in which I over think something to death and come to a very mundane and obvious conclusion.

{*Begin sPiel*} It occurred to me as I was re-reading Clapp and getting frustrated by the lack of cut and dried rules that ultimately what I wanted was to not have to think for myself and just be given the answer by a leading expert on the topic. In my work, I often have to advise researchers on acceptance criterion for data and the truth is that there is no cut and dried rule, there are guidelines and there are factors to be considered of which I can make them aware however ultimately careful, informed judgement must be applied. But that is not what they want to hear; they want simple rules to follow. I think this is how people want to operate. They want to leave the expertise to the experts and just be told what to do. Or, to be more generous, they want to be expert in their chosen field of interest but in other areas, they just want to be told what to do. But... as we become experts in something one of the first things of which we become aware is that things are rarely straightforward and linear. Typically outcomes are multi-factorial, non-linear, dynamic chaos influenced by many, interconnected factors and careful, informed, critical thought is involved to chose the appropriate course of action. Thomas Edison said something to the effect of there are seemingly no limits to which man will go to avoid the labour of thinking. I know this is often true of me. I think it is probably true of most people. {*/sPiel*}

Anyway as I realized the above, I stopped being annoyed with Clapp. The man is a hero. He pioneered research into exercise in pregnant women and showed us that not only can it be safe but there are benefits to the woman and benefits to the fetus, the infant, the toddler and the child - (aside: in his book he actually claims that his research shows that the 5 year old children of women who exercised during pregnancy perform significantly better on general intelligent tests and on oral language skills (he claims to have controlled for amount of exercise done after pregnancy so he is really looking only at the effect of exercise DURING pregnancy, parental education level, socio-economic status, birth order, parental weight & height, working outside the home, general health, breast feeding etc. etc. etc)). But surprising and difficult to believe research findings aside, the message of Clapp's book is: we don't exactly know how much exercise is safe but we can be sure that some degree of exercise is safe and probably a good deal more than previously thought, enough in fact that a woman can actually improve her level of fitness during pregnancy. However the woman should be followed closely, monitored and pay attention to her body cues and use common sense. Thus ends my little plug for the Clapp book which I re-skimmed right before bed the night before my race.

The race itself was fairly uneventful. My mantra was eaaassssy there. I ignored the fact that I needed a good age group placing in order to maintain my standing in the series and focussed instead on my level of exertion and kept it reasonable. So reasonable in fact that I ran a 4:29 first km. Followed by a 4:12, 4:01, 4:15, 4:06 good for 21:03 overall. I made sure I could always sing throughout the race - I figure if I can sing, I am not overdoing it. I kept my HR below 160 as that is what it usually is at when I warm up for work-outs when not pregnant. I steadfastly ignored ALL the other women on the course. I was not tired afterwards. My urine was clear before and immediately following the race. I feel good about the level of exertion. Comfortable with the effort. My biggest fear going in was that I would not be able to dampen my competitive nature and would get carried away but as it is I have no regrets. About this race. Now onto the regrets...

Today la cocotte made her debut as a road racer in the children's 1 km event. I had no idea if she would take to the idea or not. In the end I think the disaster that was her road race debut was largely due to the fact that we were at the race site for three hours prior to her race and during that time she had spent a hard core hour in the playground, a good long while dancing to the finish line music and run probably a mile or so around the grassy fields and parking lot. Let's say by the time I got her to the start line of her race, she had pretty much done the impossible and exhausted the near bottomless toddler energy pack. I was very eager not to soccer-mom her into the race (oops, I mean hockey mom her) but I just wanted her to start... just start and if she didn't like it, we'd stop (that's how hockey moms start isn't it?). So the gun went off and she instinctively knew what to do, okay, I guess it's not really instinct given that 200 kids and toddlers in front of us started running. Anyway she was doing great for about 150 m and then she saw baba (a.k.a. hubby) on the sidelines taking pictures and stopped for a little chat. We got her moving again but at that point the race actually passes by its own finish line which she was bound and determined to cross but the officials were determined to funnel her into the "passing through" lane and not over the finish line. Why? Because the toddler's 1 km was being CHIP TIMED! Yup. Chip timing. For kids and toddlers. Hockey mom indeed. Anyway not being allowed to cross the finish line caused a little temper tantrum which only grew more fierce when the winner of the 1 km who had by this time lapped us crossed the finish line. NOT FAIR! (is what I am sure la cocotte was thinking). So I was ready to call it a day at that point and started moving her towards the car to leave and the temper tantrum grew more fierce. It appeared she wanted to finish the race. So on we went. Some toddling. Lots of carrying. Lots of her yelling "down!" and then "up!" as soon as she had been put down (we were so far beyond nap time at this point it had all but disappeared in the temporal rear-view mirror). We carried her around the course. Our goal at this point was to get her over the finish line before they started the boys' 1 km so she and we would not get trampled. Finally, in sight of the finish line she had so desperately wanted to cross 12 minutes earlier, I put her down thinking for sure she would sprint towards it. Nothing. I carried her 10 feet closer. This time she let her legs go floppy in a ploy I call "broken landing gear" so it is impossible to put her down. It seemed ridiculous not to cross the finish line at this point especially with all the cheering of the patient crowd. I got her to within 5 feet of the finish line and put her down. She sat down. and stayed put. The announcer and photographer had a field day. I dragged her over the finish line feeling exactly like the hockey mom I had been so afraid of being and we got her whopping big finisher's medal. And suddenly everything was all right in the world again.

100 m in, looking good!
Found the rhythm.
Just a little bit of illegal outside assistance.
Toddler says: "No finish line! No! No!"
Mom says: "You MUST cross the finish line so I can re-live my glory days through you" (oh please no!)
Even better reward.


  1. Ah-haha! LaCoccette's run cracked me up! How cool would it be to get just metres from the finish timing mat, sit down and refuse to go further???!!! We should get a mass of non-competitive adults together and stage a sit-in protest.... But - nice work on the run and containing your own competitive instincts. I cam across a very interesting post on Runners World by a doctor...let me see if I can find it is...

  2. Comment from a Runners World Forum:

    "Just to give you a little background-I am an emergency physician who raced throughout both of my two previous pregnancies and am currently running now at 3 months pregnant. I am semi competitive ( 19:15 5K, 40:10 10k, 3:11 marathon) and usually average 40-50mpw when not in marathon training. Running is completely safe during pregnancy as long as you use your head and are not high risk (history of preterm labor, placenta previa, cervical incompetence, etc).
    During the first trimester your baby is only a few cells and does not need much from mama (in terms of blood flow, oxygen, etc). You can safety run at a high intensity (intervals, races,etc) during this time if you are lucky however many women do feel tired during this time or have severe morning sickness which may make you dehydrated limiting your efforts. If you feel great then go for it-but also don't feel bad if you have to slow down-listen to your body. One thing to remember however is that hyperthermia (body temps above 103) is harmful especially to vulnerable cells and it should be avoided at all costs.
    The placenta will continue to adapt and grow up to 18 weeks. Any exercise you do will cause the placenta to grow larger and more efficient at transporting oxygen and nutrients to the baby which are all good things-long as it is done gradually. So once you reach 18 weeks you should just try to maintain what you are comfortably doing. 22weeks is not the time to up your mileage or intensity as the oxygen carrying capacity of the placenta is fixed and theoretically you could stress the baby. Some doctors will give you a certain heart rate to stay in-this is baloney! There are no studies that prove there is a safe heart rate. It really depends on what your resting heart rate was to begin with, how good of shape you are in etc- a better way is just to listen to how you feel. If you feel overly tired, dizzy, out of breath- slow down. Stay hydrated as dehydration can induced preterm labor. If it makes you feel any better I got beat by a pregnant lady (4-5ish months) in a 5k who ran under 19 mins (normally she runs 17ish not pregnant)-her child turned out fine. I for one, intend to run as long as I can comfortably do so with this pregnancy. I find that for someone who is competitive it is actually pretty fun because all the pressure is off and I don't stress about mile splits. I do drink alot of water and hit the treadmill instead when it is hot and steamy outside. I no longer gauge my workout by times only by how I feel which actually varies quite significantly from day to day. Last pregnancy I made it to 8 months until the groin pain (round ligament pressure) after runs was no longer worth it so I started walking instead. "

  3. Whenever I write about training, someone always comments: What am I supposed to DO with that information? Just tell me what to DO!!! People always want an "expert" to do the mental work for them (my having written a training plan for you being embarrassingly beside the point).

    I loved La Cocotte's first race. I can only imagine, if she's so stubborn now, how she'll be as a teenager!

  4. I have a lot to say, but have two crying boys surrounding me! Do what is right for you - most people could NEVER run a 21 minute 5k pregnant, but you can because you're used to it! Do what makes you happy - there are VERY FEW things that are dangerous. Congrats on an awesome race!

  5. I would do anything to avoid the labor of thinking when I know that I am not an expert and someone else can do it much better and more efficiently. Thus I have you to tell me what/when/how to run:)

    I do not get those kids races in the North America. 1k?!? In Slovakia, when we have kids races, they are separated into age groups in 2-3-year increments. Smallest kids run 100m, then older run 200m, then 300m and so on, up to adults. No kid can run 1k, that's just too far and small kids do not have patience/concentration to go that far. And that way smaller kids are not discouraged by being beaten by older kids. And kids get prizes, teddy bears, books and stuff like that. Sure, it creates more work for race organizers but it makes more sense and it is more fun.

    And congrats on your wise race and on la cocotte's first race!

  6. I found this on (hidden inside the "who else thinks Morgan Uceny is hot?"):

    "First, a little background. I'm a competitive runner and an obstetric epidemiologist. My group just completed a study of 928 pregnant monozygotic twins, randomized to run various distances ar various paces. Primary outcomes were birthweight, infant mortality and IQ at 3 years. All subjects ate the same and lived in the same compound ouside Montreal. Our results, which will appear in JAMA next month, show that the ideal amount of running is 45.5 miles a week at 9.03 mile pace.

    We are planning a study with pregnant, conjoined twins. This will involve specially constructed treadmills, which will enable twins joined at the hips and/or shoulders to run at different pace. This study will, once and for all, eliminate all confounders usually found in obstetric epidemiology studies"

    Seriously, PPC...

    You ask questions that no one can answer. You know perfectly well that some amount of running is good for the baby, whereas you theorize (as most do) that there is an amount of exercise above which you risk harm. There is a "sweet spot" of distance and pace, which is probably different for every woman, and no study will ever determine where it is.

    Sometimes the answer is just "we don't know" and this is one such case.

  7. fast bastard - you had me until "conjoined". seriously 928 pregnant monozygotic twins DID NOT TIP ME off. so first, yes i think morgan uceny is hot though i had to google her to find out. but moreover... i AGREE we don't know. THAT was kind of the point of my post that people WANT some all knowing expert (who has conducted a study of conjoined twins running on custom treadmills) to give them THE answer but THE answer is always a multi-factorial mess and that ultimately the individual must critically think for oneself (ugh... the labour of thinking).
    so i agree with you.
    thanks for you comment. hil-fricken-arious.
    cherelli - thanks for that (presumably) real post form runner's world. very interesting... i didn't know the placenta was fixed after a certain point. there's a solid physiological reason not to "pick it up" after 18 weeks.
    monyka - i don't mind thinking for you. as long as you appreciate there is no one "right" answer. i agree - 1 km is too long but it gives parents along time to take pictures.

  8. I so understand your frustration. I so just wanted someone to tell me what I could and couldn't do. I am such a good rule follower. Unfortunately for me because I have complications my rule right now is no running but still that leaves me with "so how much walking is okay?" and "is water running really running?" Anyway, fabulous job taking it easy at the 5K and surviving the 1K. We've had toddler trots like that. He's great for the first 100 yards. Then he wants to be carried. But no matter how ugly it is, he always thinks he's won when he finishes.

  9. Morgan Uceny IS hot (and getting well enough known that people can pronounce her name). Still... Cinthia Dicker is my screen saver (it's very bizarre to hear her speak; you wouldn't think she's Brazilian).

    Now, will PPC and FB Google that name or not? Am I playing some mean mind game? [evil laugh]

  10. Typo. It's Cintia Dicker, which I guess answers my own question.

  11. Wow, looks like I can finally comment so COngrats on the pregnancy! Nice job on the run.