Running Preggers: Relaxin

I wish I were trying to be cute and leaving the “G” off Relaxing, but Relaxin is a hormone produced in increasing amounts during pregnancy. It’s a necessary hormone, but as an athlete, it’s not something you want in increased amounts. Relaxin is a protein-based hormone found in men and non-pregnant women. Pregnant women have ten times the amount as non-pregnant women.

Relaxin relaxes the blood vessels, ligaments, and tendons in your body. It begins its work in the beginning of pregnancy (before actually) by preventing contractions in the uterine wall and making implantation easier. It allows your blood vessels and arteries to expand to accommodate the extra blood volume. As you’re baby grows and shoves your internal organs into your ribcage you’ll be glad relaxin has made expansion of your abdominal muscles and ribcage possible. What you’ll be most happy about is relaxin ensures that your pelvis will be able to expand not only to accommodate your growing child, but to allow the child to be born.

Relaxed tendons are a problem if you are an athlete. It can be problematic if you’re not an athlete and you just want to go about your day without any pain or discomfort in your joints. Instability in your ankles, hips, and knees is something runners try to minimize and correct through strength training. When you’re pregnant, strength training isn’t going to help and you really, on some level, don’t want it to help because that baby has to exit somehow.

The instability can cause achiness and pain in your joints with just everyday activities, let alone running. Relaxed tendons and ligaments places you at higher risk of injury, even when doing exercises you have been doing for years pre-pregnancy.

What all of this means for pregnant runners is be careful and rethink increasing your miles or the intensity of your running workouts during your pregnancy, especially, during the first and third trimester when relaxin levels are at their highest. You’re also likely to feel increased soreness after runs, especially, in your pelvic girdle, hips, and lower back. Try using a maternity belt to help reduce the pressure of the baby on your pelvic joints.

You’ll likely have to decrease your miles and your pace as your son or daughter grow and their debut approaches. Reducing your miles to prevent injury, especially, an injury that could stop you from getting back to running after baby is born, is a small price to pay. Cross training with low impact exercises, such as swimming and cycling, will become your go to activities at the gym. I know this can be frustrating, but keep in mind it also means you’re closer to holding your little one in your arms.

Start and Restart

Over the last year, I’ve had to restart my running four times. It’s been very frustrating. I know everyone gets injured eventually. It’s just part of running. I skated by without injury for years and years and then it caught up to me, hamstring, rolling left ankle, and rolling my right ankle. I tried so hard to reframe and find the positive in restarting. Often, it was difficult to remain positive, especially, when you’re running better than ever and then you watch and feel all the gains you’ve made slip away.

I know many runners who have experienced injuries of all levels and never returned to running. Some picked up another sport and others just hit a wall in the area of physical fitness. There were days where I considered walking away (cause I sure as shit couldn’t run) and doing something else.

I thought maybe the universe was telling me it was time to switch to triathlons. I know, I know it’s like sacrilegious, but if I’m being totally honest that’s where I was at on some days.

How did I keep starting over? I told myself you started once and look what you achieved. You can start again. You’re not a quitter. You don’t quit during 100 milers and you’re not quitting now. I told myself it was the ultimate endurance event and I had to stay focused.

I also had a lot of support from family who reminded me I could get back to where I had been and reassured me that it would come back faster than gaining it in the first instance because the foundation was there.

This fourth time of restarting is for an amazing reason, being pregnant, but it’s still been difficult to come to terms with it and I’m sure part of that is the three other restarts and the future restart I know will happen.

Running as always is one of the best metaphors for life and teaches life lessons we often don’t learn the first go around or resist when presented in other areas. Restarting is another wonderful example of this.

I’ve restarted many times in my life, but my most epic restart was when I was 17. I had just overcome an addiction, returned to high school, recovered from a rape, and was raising my first son. This is a picture of me then. If you are needing some extra inspiration or just love stories of hope and determination, I’ve linked a short story published about my restart on Epoch Times. Here

Rising from the Dead

I really must apologize for my serious lack of posting over the last month or so. I had to take my own advice and let one of the juggling balls fall while I kept others in the air. As some of you know, I’m a full-time attorney by day and an ultrarunner by night (and day). I’m also the program director for the Homeless Youth Legal Clinic here in Utah. I sneak in writing when I can (I was hoping to publish another novel this year, but that doesn’t look like it will happen). Oh, and I’m a mom of two amazing sons and now a third little one is coming in May 2018!

Needless to say, between being pregnant and everything else, sleep became more necessary than writing my weekly blog posts. But the first trimester is behind us and the energy is supposed to come back soon…zzzzzz

Here is another confession. I chose not to run after I was five weeks pregnant. I’ve been hating on the elliptical and the stair master for the past eight weeks. However, I will be starting back running now that the first trimester is complete.

Running during pregnancy is a personal choice for each mother and child. And subsequent pregnancies can be treated very differently. It is completely possible for a healthy pregnant woman to run throughout her pregnancy. However, running is not a sport a woman should take up during pregnancy. Other, non-impact, activities are totally fine and should be pursued by pregnant women.

Here is why I chose to back off my running during the first trimester. The first trimester is the time with the highest risk of miscarriage. My chances of miscarriage started at 20% and slowly decreased during the first trimester. There is some research out there that says running can increase the chances of miscarriage during the first trimester.

A research study done with 90,000 pregnant women in Denmark, which found women who exercise more than seven hours a week during the first trimester increase their chances of miscarriage four times. And women who participate in running or ball sports during their first trimester increase their chances of miscarriage by four times.

I don’t think this study says women shouldn’t run during their first trimester. I think it says be smart and know your limits and know your body. I wasn’t willing to increase my risk of miscarriage since it was already higher than average because I’m over 35.

After the first trimester the risk of miscarriage is below 2% and all of the baby’s major systems are established and the placenta is fully functioning. Miscarriages happen for many reasons and most of them are out of the control of the mother-to-be.

Reverting to less impact forms of exercise for the eight weeks after we found out I was pregnant was a sacrifice I was willing to make to increase our chances of a healthy full-term pregnancy. Plus, I’ve come back from low impact training to full running many times and know it’s not as hard as grieving after a miscarriage and wondering if it could have been prevented.

Looking forward to running this new adventure!

Is your sunscreen working?

Everyone knows there is a risk of developing skin cancers by exposing unprotected skin to the sun and that risk increases depending on how long you’re in the sun and when. Where you live also increases or decreases your risk.
Factors such as time of day latitude, altitude, and time of year change the amount of UV’s you’re exposed too. The EPA’s sunwise app predicts UV levels based on these factors. Other personal risk factors include, facial cleansers, fair skin, blue eyes, red hair, and freckles.
Every year companies review the Effectiveness of and harm caused by sunscreens. Prior to 2014, there were no regulations on sunscreen effectiveness, ingredients, or claims of preventing skin cancers.
In 2011, after 4 years of multiple articles being published about the harmful ingredients and lack of actual protection, standards were created by the FDA. In 2014, testing standards were implemented. Although, the US standards are lower than Europe’s. Now in the US, companies can no longer use the claim that their sunscreen “prevents skin cancers.”
Ongoing air pollution has increased our risk of skin cancers. Cases have increased by 35% over the last 30 years. The FDA also, now, requires sunscreen to screen both  UVA and UVB rays. But about half of products do not screen them equally and they could not be sold in Europe.
Most sunscreen companies have stopped putting a harmful type of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, in its product. This ingredient may increase the speed of developing melanoma. However, consumers should still check for it-14% contained it in 2017.
Higher SPF claims do not mean more screening. SPF over 50 is misleading and does not mean more protection. Most countries cap the SPF claim at 50. The FDA is drafting a regulation to address this issue.
Nor are the claims of sweatproof, waterproof, or sunblock entirely accurate and thus no longer allowed to be printed on the screens. A skin cancer warning is required.
Spray on sunscreen are not as effective as creams/lotions. They don’t go on evenly or thick enough. There is a danger of inhalation as well.
Sunscreens need to be reapplied every two hours and sunscreen is not enough. If you’re going to be in the sun for long periods of time or between 10 am and 4 pm wear UV protective clothing, a hat and sunglasses.
Indoor tanning is also a big no-no. It increases your risk of all types of skin cancer including melanoma, which is the most dangerous. It’s illegal for someone under the age of 18 to use indoor tanning beds in most countries, including the US. It’s like smoking when you know the risks for cancer and other health problems. You are actually more likely to get skin cancer from indoor tanning than you are lung cancer from smoking (although it may cause other serious health/lung issues).
Best sun screen list here.

Giving Back

Races of every distance could not happen without their volunteers. Giving back to the running community is essential because of this. We’ve all be “saved” by a volunteer at some point during our running careers. It could have been something simple, like them handing you a Gu or a cup of water, or as complex as helping you remove your shoes, take care of blisters, and get your shoes back on your wet muddy feet.

The volunteers out there may or may not have family or friends running in the event. I’ve run into many an aid station to find out the aid station is run by a family or community group who does it every year and no one runs.

I know we are all very busy with training, working, family, and some minimal form of social life, but there are races nearly every weekend, especially 5k and 10ks. They are not a huge time commitment either, just a couple of hours.

Experiencing the running world from the volunteer’s side, will give you a new perspective and much appreciation for what they do. It will help you make their lives easier when you come into their aid station. It will also help you, if you ever decide to be a race director or organize a race of your own to benefit a non-profit agency.

How do you get started?

  1. Contact the race director for a race you have run or that supports something you can get behind. There are always 5k and 10k races support things like prevention and research of medical and mental health problems. There are also a ton of races raising money for local non-profit groups. Even schools have them to raise money.
  2. If you don’t know about any races, go to your local running store or get on their website and find the race calendar.
  3. Search on the internet.
  4. Once you have a race selected, email/call the race director or volunteer coordinator.
  5. Let them know you’d like to volunteer.

If you are considering a big event, such as a ultra, it’s good to let them know your experience as a runner so they can place you at points in the race where you will be the most help to the runners. The other thing to know about volunteering for an ultra, especially if you’re going to be the captain of an aid station, is you have to bring a lot of your own stuff.

The bigger races such as Western States, Leadville, Hardrock and the like, will have bigger sponsors and more supplies. But your smaller races that draw mostly locals and rarely the top runners of the ultra world don’t have as much and you may be expected to bring things, including food items, canopies, chairs, cots, heaters, and whatever else you want for your own comfort and that of the amazing runners.

Don’t be put off by bring your own stuff. Call in friends and family. I’ve always been able to gather the things I need and haven’t had to buy more than some food items and even that cost is split between my friends who volunteer with me at the aid station.

Remember none of us would be out there without the amazing volunteers.

Opposition

 

Not all runners have a wonderful support system who understands when they take off for hours at a time to get long runs in on the weekends or spend hundreds of dollars on one race. Those of us who do, count our lucky stars.

Having supportive friends and or family is important. Why? Because running can be hard. There will be times when you lose your motivation. There will be times when you want to celebrate and you should be celebrating.

Supportive family and friends offer you the chance to improve even when they don’t really know anything about running because they give you a sounding board. They may be able to give you new ideas because they see it from outside the running box. If they do know about running or are runners themselves, they probably like to talk about running stuff: new gear, new shoes, upcoming races, training strategies and so on.

You can build and adjust what you are doing based on their experiences about training, particular/similar races, injuries, fueling, and preparing (other than running) for a race.

How do you handle the lack of support? If you’re support system is just indifferent to you, it’s much easier than if they actively oppose your running hobby.

If they’re indifferent and don’t show up to your races, don’t take any interest in your accomplishments, or just project an attitude of we don’t care, find people who do care and who are supportive. Get involved with the running community more. You don’t have to abandon your family or friends who just don’t get it, but you do need to find a support system that does for all the reasons stated above.

If they actively oppose you, seek understanding first. Friends are unlikely to actively oppose your running. They may give you a hard time about it once in a while. Active opposition comes from family and significant others.

Find out what it is about your running that they don’t like: the time commitment, concerns for your health, the cost, or feeling like an outsider.

Provide information to address their concerns.

I can’t count how many times people have told me running as much as I do is not healthy. I send them the research that says it is and I explain what it does for me personally regarding physical and mental health.

Running can be expensive, especially, if you are running multiple 100 mile races at about $300 a pop just for registration. Then there is gear, food, travel costs, and shoes, just to name a few things. This one is obviously going to be a potential issue with significant others who share financial resources. You’re going to have to compromise and explain why running is so important to you. Encourage your other half to engage in a hobby. Make sure you are not using all the extra spending money for your running. Help them feel like they are a part of your running experience and team.

If they are “jealous” because they feel like an outsider around your running friends or when you talk about running (because you do and you use running metaphors to teach life lessons), get them involved. Include them with planning races and choosing races. Pick places they want to see. Try not to use inside jokes around them, unless you’re ready to explain.  Help them learn the terminology.

The big one is the time commitment. This one can become a sore spot for the runner too when they have conflicting desires. It’s always a balance. Try to choose times when your family is engaged in another activity where you can’t really be such as working, school, or asleep. This works well when you have young children. Help the other person understand the benefit running has on you and how that impacts your relationships. Everyone needs time for themselves to recharge and breathe. If you don’t take care of your own needs, then you cannot be fully present for others. Be willing to adjust things for important events the other person has. Get them involved with your running. They could meet you along your run for refueling or lunch. They could run a portion of the route with you. Both of these work even on training runs. Make sure you are contributing to family chores and other “unpleasant but necessary” activities as much as the others. Try scheduling a down season and commit to spending more time with the family. Make sure you are taking your rest week every fourth week and make an effort to spend quality time with those you love.

Appreciation

appreciation

Sometimes we get so caught up in our busy lives that we forget to stop and really appreciate what we have right in front of us. It really hits us hard when we lose something we under appreciated.

Our health is one of the things most people take for granted. If we look around our immediate environment we’ll see others who are struggling with their health. We all have family members and friends who are dealing with some health condition that limits their ability to do some things.

I’m guilty of this same thing. There are a few circumstances where it always hits me though: race day and long runs, which in many ways are the same thing. Maybe it’s just the endorfins that make me stop, literally, and look around me realizing how lucky I am to be out in the mountains running.

I’m very conscious  of what I put into my  body and try to make good decisions about 90% of the time, but even this level of awareness hasn’t saved me from taking my health for granted.

It’s more than just our health that gives us the ability to run. Our friends and families give us the freedom and space to do our running thing. Our socioeconomic status gives us the ability to take the time off to run or not have to work two jobs. Running also takes a certain amount of financial means, not as much as other sports (cycling or triathlon), but shoes can get expensive even if you are not running in the top brands.

The condition of our country plays a role too. Can you imagine trying to be a runner in a country riddled with war? I thank my guardian angels I am able to run safely in the mountains, the city, and the neighborhoods near my home.

Another one is the availability of food and clean water. Running burns through a lot of calories and without enough food to eat on a daily basis would be difficult as would running without enough clean water.

Appreciate the gifts you have been given and don’t waste them. Work hard when you are out there and show your gratitude do those who support you in your efforts.