Pregnancy, and its ensuing labor, is often referred to as coma marathon. If that's true, then two expectant moms have a distinct advantage.
Paula Radcliffe, 36, the marathon world record holder (2:15:25) from England, and Kara Goucher, 32, one of America's top female marathoners (2:25:53), are expecting babies on the very same day -- Sept. 29.
Until recently, the two women knew each other mainly as competitors. In 2007, they raced each other at the Great North Run, a prestigious half-marathon in England, where Goucher staged an upset victory over Radcliffe. The following year, they both lined up at the ING New York City Marathon, where Radcliffe won her third title and Goucher took third in her marathon debut. But the serendipitous timing of their pregnancies (Radcliffe's second, Goucher's first) has helped them form a close friendship and special bond. As professional athletes in the prime of their careers, Radcliffe and Goucher are used to demanding a lot from their bodies -- logging about 100 miles a week and maintaining a 5:40-per-mile pace over 26.2 miles is simply part of the job. But pregnancy demands a lot from a woman's body, too. They still work out -- twice a day, even -- but at a fraction of their previous speeds and intensities (although world-class "slow," as you'll see, is still pretty fast).
Luckily, Radcliffe and Goucher spent their first trimesters running together in Portland, Oregon, where they commiserated through exhaustion, nausea, and frequent pit stops. In June, about halfway through their pregnancies, the two slowed down in New York City long enough to talk with Runner's World Senior Editor Katie McDonald Neitz, who had her first child in November 2008, about training, belly-rubbing, and craving Marmite and Ben & Jerry's.
RUNNERS WORLD: How are your pregnancies going?
KARA GOUCHER: Because this is my first pregnancy, I didn't know what to expect. During my first trimester, I felt tired and nauseous, but usually 10 minutes into a run, I'd feel better. By the fifth month, I felt great -- I was able to train twice a day and lift weights three days a week. But priorities definitely have shifted. Training isn't about staying fit as much as staying sane.
PAULA RADCLIFFE: You don't understand what tiredness is until you are pregnant. No matter how tired you might feel at the end of a marathon or a hard training week, it's nothing to how tired you are in that first trimester. I never had morning sickness. With this pregnancy, I felt queasier in the afternoons during the first trimester. I don't know whether it's because I'm three years older or just because pregnancies are different. But to get out and run, you feel a little bit better. Like Kara said, running now is about staying sane, but it's also keeping yourself fit because that's what we do, and also because all of the research says that it's good for the baby, too. It's hard when people say, "Are you sure you're doing the right thing? What if you're shaking that baby to death?" That worried me the first time. I'm more relaxed this time. I mean, obviously I still do all of the checks to make sure that all of the kicks are still there in the right places and that I'm eating right. I don't regret anything I did through my pregnancy with Isla [her 3-year-old daughter]. She came out perfect, so hopefully the same thing will happen again.
Any food cravings?
PR: I crave food in general. I have to have something before I run, and I have to eat as soon as I come back. I've always got energy bars or nuts or fruit or something in my bag. My main craving has been Marmite -- it's a spread for toast.
KG: I've been craving dairy. Cheese and yogurt -- I don't know why. My husband told my strength coach that I've been keeping Ben & Jerry's in business.
Has your training changed?
KG: The intensity is so much less. Track sessions now are fun. Instead of doing 8 x 1600, we're doing 200s, or if I am doing mile repeats, they're on an AlterG [antigravity treadmill, which reduces the body weight of the runner]. We're working out twice a day, but it's not like we're going to the well every time. In the morning I'm running an easy 45 minutes to an hour, and in the afternoon I'm just on the elliptical for 30 minutes. I also have access to an underwater treadmill. I think I'm going to be shifting more and more to using that for my second daily workout. That might sound like a lot. But for us, that's scaled back quite a bit. During the first trimester, if I had to put it into mileage, I'd say I was running about 50 miles a week. The fifth month I probably was back up to 75 to 80 miles per week. Now I'm shifting toward running for time and not worrying about mileage. Now it's just more about getting up and running.
PR: I've scaled back mileage-wise about 50 percent. I'm not even adding it up. In terms of intensity, it's hugely scaled back. I'm doing maybe one rep session on the AlterG once a week and then something on the track, but really short, like 150, 200, or 300 meters. I'm not trying to hit times; I'm trying to just run and feel good.
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How has your pace changed?
KG: It's hard to tell what our pace is. The last time I did a hard session on the AlterG, I put the weight at 128 pounds (which is still more than I would normally weigh), but I was still able to do a six-mile tempo at 4:55 pace, and it felt so great. The next day when I ran outside, I was running only 7:30s, and that felt really hard. But there are days when I can run under 7:00. It's not this steady decline -- I still have great days, but then I also have these amazingly awful days. There's no control over it.
PR: To be honest, it just doesn't matter. I've got no idea about pace.
Are you running by feel?
KG: Yeah, I don't use a heart-rate monitor. I feel like I'm pretty much doing what I can do. I haven't ever gotten to a point where I'm gasping for breath. Paula has more experience with heart rate.
PR: The first pregnancy, I didn't do anything without the heart-rate monitor. I had the beep set to go if I went over a certain amount. I was really focused on that, but this time around I'm more relaxed. Sometimes I will just go out for a run and I can gauge by my breathing whether I'm working too hard, whether I need to back off. But I still wear the monitor if I'm on the treadmill or the track.
Are you enjoying the pressure-free training?
PR: It's different. There are some times I think, Well, it doesn't matter if I'm running slow, or if it's a run that's not measured. I'm taking the opportunity to explore new trails. So it's nice to have that side of it, and to have the pressure not there. It's good for your body to have a break. It's a way to recharge. At the same time, because we're so used to being in control of our bodies and being able to push them to perform, it's kind of frustrating. Like, Oh God, I just don't want someone to see me running so slow. The last time I was pregnant, I missed being able to just go out and run hard and that feeling of really pushing your body.
KG: There are days when I appreciate that I'm running just because I love it. And then there are days where I'm running so slow. But it's good. In our sport, we don't take a break. There's always an other race, there's always something to be reaching for and another goal. So this really forces us to just take a break from it all. Watching the spring marathons was tough though -- we were both itching.
What has it been like to not be the leaders of the pack?
PR: The last time when I was pregnant, I ran 5-Ks and 10-Ks for fun. Obviously you're never going to beat the buzz of winning. But it's a whole different race when you run with the pack. There are women who have different goals, and I liked being a part of that and that camaraderie. A couple of times I paced groups. It's fun to see a much more relaxed side of the sport. That's what we both love about running -- that it's this whole big family and that it's fun.
KG: In this time away from racing, we've both taken advantage of that -- to interact with people who, normally, as elite athletes we don't get to interact with. I've gotten to travel to different races to experience that. It's been really rewarding. It reminds you of why you started running in the first place. You meet people who are running because of their pure passion for it. It's been really fun to be a part of that other side of the sport.
How have people reacted toward you -- and your bumps?
KG: I was at the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in San Diego, and I did a little talk and then met with people afterward. And there was a lot of belly-touching. I was like, Wow, we're that close? I love meeting people and they're so friendly; it's just something I'm not used to yet. It threw me for a loop. And then one of my neighbors pulled up the other day and she's like, "Make sure you don't lift anything -- a friend of mine went into labor early because she lifted a box." I know she meant well, but she would drop dead if she could see me in the weight room, because I'm still squatting, and throwing medicine balls, and doing everything I did before. Some people are shocked. But our bodies are used to working hard, and I'm not doing as much as I normally did. It's just all relative.
PR: You feel like saying, I'm not sick. There's nothing wrong with me. I'm just pregnant. Even people I know really well will come up and say, "Are you still able to run a bit?" And then they'll see me on the track and say, "Should you be doing that?" And I'm like, yeah, 'cause if you look at how slow the times are compared to what they've been before, it's not really comparable at all. But at the same time, it is keeping me fit, it is good for the baby, and it makes me feel better.
KG: It's strange for people like us. We're always pushing ourselves to the next limit and people are asking that of us. So then to have people baby us and be like, "Well, you don't have to do this," it is a little frustrating. If I can't do it, I'll tell you. I mean, it's nice that people are concerned, but I'm okay, you know? Everything still works.
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How hard was it to fit pregnancy into your careers?
KG: My husband and I have been married since 2001, and he wanted a child right away. We talked about having one after the Athens Olympics . But then we didn't make the team, so we said right after Beijing [2008 Olympics]. But I really wanted to run in New York, so he said okay, right after that [2008 New York City Marathon]. And then I wanted to run the Boston Marathon . I started to feel this angst, like I don't know if I'm really ready to have a baby. So I decided to run the World Championships . As soon as I ran that last race, I felt totally calm. There was no more doubt, no more anxiety. Paula said I did the right thing by waiting, because you never want to have that feeling of, I didn't allow myself to have this opportunity I've always wanted. I felt so at peace when we finally decided to do it. It was hard getting to that point, but when I did, it was very clear to me that it was the time.
PR: The big thing for me was that running is something that I love doing and I couldn't see an end to. But at the same time, I always saw myself as a mom, and I didn't ever want to sacrifice that. If I wasn't able to accomplish the goal I've had since I was a little girl, of being a mom, that would have just taken away any enjoyment that I've had through running. I never thought the desire to train hard and be competitive would die in me just because I had a child. What I actually found was that it increased it, really, because for me, if I'm happy and balanced in my life, then I run much better.
How do you think being active influences pregnancy, childbirth, and recovery?
PR: Being fit definitely helps. Even if you have a complicated pregnancy, the fact that you're fit is still going to help your body handle that situation. And I think that being fit through labor helps. The mental techniques you know from getting through races help to keep the concentration and stay focused. You come back stronger because you're happier, because you have a child that you love and cherish, and it's something you really wanted in your life. You probably become a little bit more focused as well, because your priorities are sharpened. And the time away from intense training means that you come back more refreshed. There is a flip side, though, because you are so used to being in tune with your body, and having this body that responds so well to what you ask it to do. You can't do that during pregnancy. You feel frumpy and fat. You kind of have this anxiety because you know you have to put on a certain amount of weight and hit the target so the baby is healthy, but it's hard to get fat and to go through that.
Paula, how did the pain of labor compare to racing?
PR: The pain of labor is more intense. But I found that it was just not comparable. When you run a marathon, your body is working with you and you've trained and prepared for it. With labor, for me, my body seemed to be working against me. But you handle it because you're in shape and because you have that mental outlook of getting through training or a marathon.
KG: My husband was tossing around the idea of a natural, at-home birth, so he rented this video, The Business of Being Born, and it had the exact opposite effect that he was hoping for. I'm open-minded. I definitely want to deliver in the hospital, and I want the option of the epidural. But I'm in denial about the whole birthing process still.
Paula, you had a pelvic stress fracture after Isla's birth. What did you learn from that?
PR: I had too much inflammation in the pelvic area, and labor probably caused some damage. I've learned that the elliptical machine stretches the sacral area and I didn't realize that. I thought I was being safe, so I was doing more than I should have done on the elliptical. I was maybe a little too eager to get back into things, and certainly I set goals for myself a little bit too soon. I shouldn't have set them then, because then I wouldn't have pushed through warning signs and little pain signals. This time, I won't set those goals, even in my own head. I'd rather get back to feeling good and to being in shape to run a race and then pick a race, rather than say, "Okay, I'm going to do that race," because that's dangerous for me.
What advice can you give Kara and other running moms?
PR: Motherhood is totally going to change your life in the best way. And yeah, there are times when you think, Oh God, will they just stop crying? Will they sleep through the night? There are those times that it's hard, but there are so many more big, rewarding times. I think that if you're happy, then you're going to run better. And any worry that you're going to come back and not be as strong or that competitive instinct isn't going to be there -- that's rubbish. That never goes away. The only time it goes away is when you have the priority of a baby inside you. But when the baby's born, you can see that they are fine, they are healthy, and you can leave them with someone while you run. Don't worry that you can't come back. You can enjoy your running and be a mom. It sounds corny, but it's important to be relaxed. You do have to get over that guilt trip. I never took Isla to the track. Because there, I need to be focused, and I didn't want to hear if she was crying. I knew she was being looked after and fine. Running is my time, and it's my job, so it needs to be done as well as possible. I don't train with a jogging stroller. My runs need to be quality training.
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KG: Yeah, when people ask me about using a baby jogger, I say, "Why would I take my son to work?"
Have you experienced any uncomfortable moments on runs? Bladder issues?
PR: I think we had one nightmare run, didn't we?
KG: I've had a few.
PR: Kara and I were in Portland on this long run, and I just had to keep stopping. You have to just listen to your body. You can't ignore it. Some days I feel really uncomfortable. And if I stop and get down on all fours just to kind of move the baby, suddenly running will be a lot more comfortable.
KG: I'm sure all the people in my neighborhood have seen me pop a squat. It just comes and there's nothing I can do. At first I was horrified. But then my husband's like, "Just laugh about it."
How are your husbands doing?
KG: Adam's been great; he's been very supportive. He's taken up a lot of slack around the house. Literally since we've started trying to have a baby, I have not changed the litter box. Now he can feel the baby kick, but there's a little part of me that feels bad that he doesn't get to have all of the really intimate feelings.
PR: But he will. He'll get to share so much. I remember when Isla was born, they took her to a little side room to get checked out. And I could hear Gary talking. I was thinking, He shouldn't be using his phone in there. He's going to get in trouble. Then I realized he wasn't talking on his phone, he was talking to Isla.
Kara, what has surprised you about pregnancy?
KG: I thought I'd be able to keep up certain amounts of speedwork. And then I quickly learned in the first trimester that's just not how it works. Paula was a great help on that, helping me realize that I'm not immortal. Your body changes so much. It's amazing to me how your body just knows what to do. You see these books and you see the outline of the woman, and you think, I won't look like that, and then you do, and it's just a beautiful thing. It gives you a new respect for your body. I think we already respect our bodies because we're athletes, but your body is so much more complex than that, and it can do so much more than just run.
How has running helped you with the emotional ups and downs of pregnancy?
PR: You still have that normal mother-to-be-anxiety, like, Will I be a good mom? Will I do the right thing? But running does help. Sticking to a routine is good. You also find yourself bonding with the baby and talking to the baby on the run.
KG: I have my most intimate thoughts when I'm running. That's when I'm most honest with myself, and I think about what I want out of life. I've definitely had thoughts, especially in the last month like, Wow, my baby knows me better than anyone. He's the only person that's ever been behind that curtain. I mean, obviously, he's not really hearing my thoughts, but there's just that feeling that there's some connection that I could never have with another person.
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