In the fall of 2017, I remember asking my husband if he would rather run a marathon or have another baby. He really wasn’t sold on either, but reluctantly agreed to a marathon to hold off on the baby idea a little longer. I felt like I had won either way and couldn’t believe I convinced him to actually go for it with me. After a Christmas half marathon, we started training for our first marathon in March 2018.
To say the least, the marathon was a serious struggle, but we did it. Along with my training partner, Katie, and a good running friend Michelle, we all completed our first marathons. It was cold and windy, but super flat and forgiving. Soon after we finished, the post marathon blues kicked in. I knew I needed something else to work towards. But I was also pretty excited that it was now time to have a baby! So, I passively worked towards an unknown running goal and a sibling for our little girl.
I found out I was pregnant in May, a few days after competing in a SwimRun competition. I sat on the couch and googled pregnant ultrarunning. Did women actually do that? Was it possible? Apparently, yes! I found a great blog from a badass ultramarathoner who ran through pregnancy. Her mileage was far beyond mine, but I figured if she could do it, so could I. Staying quiet on my plan, I didn’t actually commit to it until my running partner sent me her registration. I figured I might as well go for it and I immediately registered.
We trained from July to October with a few short runs during the week and longer distances on the weekends. I’d lost a little of my marathon conditioning, so I started with my long runs being about 8 miles. I’ll admit, these weekend runs were hard on me. After a long distance of 12 or 14 miles, I would have some serious pelvic pain and feel pretty disabled for the rest of the day or the weekend.
I talked to my gynecologist about my ultra plans and she said as long as I wasn’t pushing myself too hard, I would be fine to do it. During the training I would need to pay serious attention to my energy level, hydration and nutrition. I would also need to listen to my body. If it just felt like I was running too much, I would take it easy that week. Maybe I’d shorten my weekday runs from five to three miles and give myself some time to recuperate. When the pelvic pain got pretty intense, I started seeing a women’s health physical therapist. She was a godsend! I highly recommend this to anyone attempting to be physically fit while pregnant if you’re having any issues. We went through different stretches and exercises to strengthen areas and alleviate pressure in others.
So I trained for the next few months with my makeshift schedule and did my exercises whenever I could remember. There was a week that the pelvic pain just got too much and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to continue. I’d read that this could put me on bed rest and make labor awful. I wasn’t entirely ready to give it up yet, so I took a week off from my long run. I’m pretty sure that decision helped me actually make it to the ultra. My body was given time to heal, realigned and destress. When I did my next long run, the pain really wasn’t as bad and it never came back as intensely.
I’ll be honest and say I skipped a few long run towards the end of training. I had some big life changes happening and my schedule didn’t allow five to six hour long runs on the weekends. I ended up giving myself a three-week taper and hitting a max distance of 18 miles. This isn’t entirely smart and wasn’t the best idea but I figured willpower would get me through the last 13.5 miles. If my body could run 18 miles, it could run 31.5 miles.
We chose the New River Trail Run 50K due to the super flat course, beautiful scenery and good location. Camping was included with your registration, so a few girls and I turned it into a full-on girls weekend. We arrived late that Friday evening, set up a tent in the dark, and carb loaded and laughed to our heart’s content. As a pregnant mom with a toddler, I’m pretty used to getting minimal sleep so the five to six hours that night got the job done.
We woke up to what felt like the first Fall day of the season with temperatures right around 43°. I planned to run in capri pants and a fitted running shirt, with a long sleeve zip up on top. Layers are definitely best for a run that’s expected to take seven hours or so. After multiple Porta-John stops before the start of the run, we finally took off at 8AM. We had a time limit of seven hours to complete the 31.5 miles. It was overcast, breezy and a little misty but the course was flat and friendly. Katie and I hadn’t seen each other for a few months so we really enjoyed having so much time to talk and catch up. The first five to six miles were a breeze. We stayed around a 10:30 pace and it just felt great! The first restroom and aid station was around mile six so we stopped there to start taking in some nutrition. We ran with running belts that held two water bottles plus all the gels and bars we needed. I personally prefer protein bars while running instead of gels. I feel like they’re closer to real food and they don’t upset my stomach nearly as much.
Being pregnant, it was really important to me that I ate and drank as much as possible during the run. I believe that was my downfall with my marathon, so I really focused on getting enough in this time. Plus, that baby needed to eat!
After stopping at the first aid station, things didn’t feel quite as comfortable but there was no pain really. It was just my body adjusting to the longer distance. We continued to take in some nutrition about every hour after that point. In the later miles, it probably got down to every half hour. By the time we reach the aid station around mile 16, I was contemplating on whether I would finish. This was our turnaround point, and a good time for me to evaluate the situation. I’d been having Braxton Hicks contractions for a few miles and was slightly worried about that. It seemed like whenever I started really pushing my body, they would come more frequently. So by the halfway point, I was walking regularly.
We stopped at the aid station, I googled some pregnancy stuff and checked in with the race staff. Everyone knew I was the only pregnant woman on the course and they were keeping an eye out for me. After grabbing my peanut butter and jelly sandwich out of our drop bag, Katie and I started our way back, getting a plan together. We would just walk when the contractions got bad. I would make it to mile 20 and see how I felt there.
From that point on, we ran half mile segments, took walk breaks for a few minutes then continued. Katie was seriously the best running partner. She walked whenever I needed, constantly reminded me to eat and drink and never stopped chatting to help take my mind off the situation. By this point, everything was pretty painful. It’s honestly hard to say which felt more uncomfortable, running or walking. My muscles were just done.
At some point, I started feeling better and we’d made it to mile 20. Before I knew it, we’d made it to mile 26. We were probably an hour longer than our marathon time, but I kept reminding myself that I was six months pregnant. I told Katie during one of our training runs that if I finished this ultra, it would be the greatest accomplishment of my life. I started really holding onto that feeling and told myself that I could just walk it in if needed. I also told Katie to go ahead of me but of course, she said she would absolutely not leave me.
At this point, I was painfully aware that we were the last people on the course. We were behind schedule and it was looking like we would finish right in eight hours. That was an hour after the cut-off time. Around mile 26, race personnel started trailing us and a pickup truck. It took us a while to figure out what they were doing but we realized we were the last people out there and they were just making sure we got in safely. These poor guys crept behind us for hours. They would have to stop and idle on the trail because we were moving so slow. It just felt ridiculous, but I was also so grateful they were there.
Those last few miles were pretty brutal. I started pulling out all the mantras I could think of. I’d just listened to Scott Jurek’s book, Eat and Run, and I kept recalling his phrase, “sometimes you just do things.” Why the hell was I putting myself through this? Because sometimes, you just do things. And at mile 28, I’d pretty much done it. I just had to finish. We kept saying, “one foot in front of the other, pain is temporary, it’s just a thing.” Somehow, all of this worked. With these saying, being a little delirious, and with Katie‘s help, I got through it.
That last mile was much quicker than our previous mile had been. We were so close and we picked up the pace! Coming to the finish line was the most amazing feeling in the world but by that point, we were right at an hour past the time limit and all the race equipment has been taken down. There were just a few volunteers and one of our girls left hanging out, waiting for us. One sweet man gave us are finisher medals and then packed up to head home.
I didn’t care one bit that we missed all the hurrah. We finished. I couldn’t believe it but I freaking did it. I ran 31.5 miles, a 50K, an ultramarathon. My sweet sweet friends pretty much took care of me from that point on. They let me sit down and not move for a while. They gave me water, pickles, potato chips and an amino acid recovery drink. They even packed all my camping supplies in my car.
I was wrapped up in this surreal moment of running. What seemed impossible was actually done. Yeah, I believed I could do it, but it took every ounce of strength that I had. Would I do it again? Heck yes I would. Would I recommend running an ultra pregnant? Heck yes I would. It’s all about listening to your body and being smart. Don’t get too caught up in the run. Know that at any point, you might need to call it quits. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and know that any effort is an amazing effort.
For me, running is an outlet. It’s an amazing stress reliever and it brings me so much joy. During pregnancy, you do need those sort of things in your life. You need outlets. Whether it’s putting puzzles together or doing daily yoga, find your thing.