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The Girlfriend's Guide to Health will be updated every Tuesday.... Stay tuned dear readers and let me rock your world.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Run Baby, Run

It’s been a wonderful racing season for me, my sisters. My muscles are sore but my mind and heart are full as this past weekend I ran (with a personal best, I might add) the Lululemon SeaWheeze Half Marathon.

Full disclosure girlfriends? I indeed hate yoga…. But I do LOVE a good yoga pant. Perhaps it’s a fashion case of “Love the sinner, hate the sin”? Who knows?

I remember my first pair of great yoga pants. Yes, they were Lululemon and yes, they made my butt look good. This was not subjective. This was fact. As a fiercely patriotic Canadian it helped that said pants were indeed Canadian and so I dropped $85 dollars like it was spare change in order to have those pant as a part of my person.

Years later, the yoga pants are long gone- replaced with running tights and more serious, functional attire, but I still remember with fondness the first pair of black stretchy pants that made me want to live the dream.

And so when I realized that I could combine my love for stylish athletic wear with my love/hate for running I jumped at the chance.

Which brings me to this weekend. There I was among the 10,014 runners, almost all of them girlfriends as we embarked on 21.1 km of personal greatness. It was Saturday morning, it was 6:30am and there we were in downtown Vancouver dressed in our Lululemon’s finest waiting to cross the starting line and looking damn well dressed while doing it.

I could not help but smile and marvel at the dynamics of this race. The SeaWheeze really is,  what I would call, “A CHICK RACE”. Say what you want but it’s an estrogen fest. You see, I can get away with this terminology because indeed I have a uterus- but this race is predominantly a female experience. Of the 10,000 plus runner almost 85% are women.

If you think about the logistics of this- men do indeed, on average, run faster than women. I’m not being chauvinistic- it’s a fact. So, if you are like me and you run a half marathon rather slowly, You are not going to find many men around you in a race where only 15% of the participants are men. Chances are the boys in the group are lining up well before you and crossing the finish line an hour or so before you collect your medal.

This was indeed the case at SeaWheeze where there were starting corrals organized based on one’s projected finishing time.

My beloved (a hotty and a damn fine runner- shout out babe if you are reading…) was in Coral #1. Coral #1 had a projected finishing time of 1:10 – 1:30. Coral #1 of the SeaWheeze half marathon might as well have been the men’s locker room.

I was in Coral #6. Back in Coral #6 the projected finishing time was 2:30-3hours. Coral #6 was giving away free pap smears. There maybe were a dozen men in the coral and they were all old enough to be my father.

Make no mistake- I LOVE Coral #6. I loved the whole race. I have never been one to debate about how fast we run; I stand firm in my belief that if the will is willing, the speed is immaterial. Each runner regardless of their time goes through the same highs and lows in a run- this is indeed what make the sport so magical.

Regardless of which Coral you start in, regardless of you reasons to race…. When the rubber meets the road- we all take a similar journey together.

And so there I was with a few thousand other ovaries in Coral#6 waiting for my moment of glory, when I saw her. Over to my left, laced up for glory, decked out in her Lulu best was….. wait for it…. A woman who was easily 7 months pregnant.

There she was- pregnant and ready to race- she was a running unicorn. The woman in front of me saw her too, because she remarked,

“Holy shit. Is she gonna run pregnant?”, This was not quite as poetic as my unicorn reference but similar sentiment all the same.

Another sister chimed in informing all of us in the vicinity that she had indeed just given birth 2 months ago and was still breastfeeding. In fact she had pumped this morning just so her daughter would have breakfast while Mama ran for greatness.

Like any good girlfriend I told the woman in front of me that her daughter would indeed be proud.

But thereafter ensued a debate within Coral#6 about the safety of running while pregnant.

Was it safe to train for the half marathon while pregnant?
Was it safe to breastfeed while running? Well, not while running, at the same time…. But you know what I mean?
Would the banging of the pavement harm the baby?

These indeed were the quoted comments that rose up from around my little group in my new found village on a Saturday morning in August. I should say that usually I try to tune out the world just before a race. I put my headphones on a try to go to a happier place as I prepare for the hours of pain before me.

But on this occasion, I was riveted. Not only did I have running commentary around me- I had a pregnant woman, a running unicorn in my very own coral. Here was a woman who was not going to let her pregnancy limit her abilities. As long as it was safe, (and I was assuming she checked with her OB/GYN before hand) she would not let this pregnancy define her.

The whole thing indeed got me thinking…. When did pregnancy become a disease? When did it happen that people far and wide assumed that exercising while pregnant was harmful for the baby?

In 1967 Katherine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. Sure, she had to sneak into the race and, yes, she was almost dragged of the course, but she did it. In the months that followed doctors told her that running would indeed cause her uterus to collapse and she would not be able to have children.

Fast forward to 1983 when Ingrid Kristianson won the Houston marathon just 5 months after giving birth. This actually sparked the idea among aome athletic circles that pregnancy was indeed a “performance enhancing drug”. Maybe physiologically there was some truth to this? Pregnancy increases blood volume, increases cardiac output and increases stroke volume, but I’m not sure that scientifically it can be seen as performance enhancing.

In 2007 Paula Radcliffe claimed victory at the NYC Marathon just 10 months after having given birth to her daughter Isla. She remarked about how she had been cleared to run during her pregnancy and ran all the way through her 39th week. She had been a world record holder and multiple marathon winner going into the pregnancy and so her doctors did not feel that her training would harm the fetus as long as she trained within certain specifications. 

According to multiple reviews, including one published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology of Canada in 2003, maximum aerobic power (VO(2)max, L/min) is well-preserved in pregnant women who remain physically active, but anaerobic working capacity may be reduced in later in pregnancy (beyond 30 weeks).

According to a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Applied Physiology, the big concerns on endurance exercise in pregnancy are as follows:

An increase in heart rate long term that can cause reduced placental blood flow. This only occurs if someone is exercising beyond 85% of their target heart rate.
An increase in energy expenditure (measured in METs) of greater than 28 MET-Hr/week
A decrease in maternal blood glucose can cause a decrease in fetal blood glucose.

Here’s the thing- this woman running the marathon was indeed actually walking it- briskly. I know this because I watched her do it during one point in the course where there was a turn around. AND, I watched her wearing a heart rate monitor. She was walking the course briskly at best, at about 6km per hour.

When I do my exercise math- she is most definitely not exercising above 85% of her max heart rate… I was running faster than her and I was nowhere near 85%.

Secondly- at her speed and given her weight (she looked to be about 170 lbs) her energy expenditure for the entire half marathon was maybe doing 14-15MET-hrs if I calculate things according to the American College of Sports Medicine Equation on energy expenditure for walking briskly on a flat surface. This is well below the max of 28 METhrs per week.

Finally- There was a ton of food on the course and I am sure that yummy mummy was keeping her sugar levels up.

There you have it. Did we not all learn something new this week?

No I am not suggesting that all my pregnant girlfriends take up running/brisk walking this minute and then promptly sign up for a race. Nor am I suggesting that my running sisters go get someone to shoot  a baby into them…..

But in the name of science and sisters everywhere… its not an unsafe practice if done properly.

And really my sisters- isn’t that the lesson here? Do it right, my girlfriends and do it with style…. Or don’t do it at all. 

Want further info on exercise in pregnancy?

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