Kathleen asks: I was wondering - do you wear a heart rate monitor while running? I've been wearing one (to keep my heart rate below 150) and it is making me run super slow (4-5 minutes slower per mile) which is ... not as fun. My doctor didn't seem concerned about keeping my heart rate at a certain level, but I've read so much that says you need to keep it below 150! Any thoughts?
I'll preface my answer by advising you to always heed to your doctor's/midwife's specific advice. You may have certain conditions/etc. that require special attention. That being said: No. I didn't wear a heart rate monitor on any of my runs while pregnant. I also didn't keep careful track of my heart rate.
Let's take a step back, though. When I first found out I was pregnant, I obsessively Googled "pregnant running" and read multiple articles/books related to the subject. I wanted to gather as much information as possible so my experience would be not only safe for me and the baby, but also comfortable. In my studies, I came across a number of BPM (beats per minute) suggestions, ranging from 140 to 150 and beyond. At my first midwife appointment, I was shocked to hear she had learned women should stay below 120 -- a suggestion that I immediately expressed concern with.
Really -- there doesn't seem to be a universally accepted BPM number for pregnant runners. Most "modern" information will give you the 150 number. But better yet -- most suggests to keep your pace conversational. I, like you, found that trying to keep my heart rate lower was not only nearly impossible without slowing to a too-slow crawl, but also made me obsess over the activity way too much for it to be enjoyable.
What did I do? I kept it conversational. In my first trimester, when I was training for my half marathon, I did slow my pace quite dramatically (or so it felt). Part of my decision was based on my own perception that I should . . . but as my body started to undergo the major changes pregnancy brings about, I would notice some days my breathing would be off. The minute I felt out of breath -- like I couldn't talk -- I would slow my pace. Even to a walk, if necessary. Then I'd resume at a slower pace . . . keeping it comfortable. Always remembering that my goal wasn't speed, it was a healthy baby.
What helped the most was throwing my watch in my underwear drawer and rating everything on my perceived exertion. It's true! I've only used a watch a few times while running pregnant. Other times when I have actually measured my pace have been at a race, on a treadmill, or through loosely tracking on a wall clock at the beginning/end of a run.
As the trimesters have gone from one to two to three, my pace has slowed. What I do to keep my running safe (and -- again -- I ended up clearing this with my midwife) is make sure I can talk to myself throughout my workout. Some days, it was easy. Others, and especially during those in the summer heat, I would fail and end up walking. Running while pregnant is a day-by-day thing. The body is changing more on certain days, so the demands on the body's systems are just as variable. But as long as you can carry a conversation, you should be able to suck in as much air/oxygen as is good for you and baby.
Another tip that I've found particularly helpful in the past several weeks is to keep workouts EASY and expectations low. Now that I'm nearing full-term, I don't want to work out so hard that if I were to go into labor, I'd be too tired for the hard work ahead. Instead, I try to end any workout (running or otherwise) feeling energized versus exhausted. I'd rather feel good and keep moving than meet some self-imposed goal.
I hope this helps! And if anyone else has a question related to running while pregnant, just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com. We also gathered all our pregnancy running info together in a post: The Ups and Downs of Pregnant Running.
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