Earlier this year Blacks Ambassador, Ellie Lacey, got some good news: she was pregnant! After surviving an emergency liver transplant in 2017 it was a perfect way to announce her return to physical wellbeing. However, it has also proven to be a hurdle in her running regime. She offers her story and some advice for how to balance impending motherhood with an endless pursuit for fitness in the outdoors.
Before pregnancy, the outdoors was a huge part of my life. I had no intention of giving it up when my husband and I decided to grow a little person. When it comes to fitness, and especially running, I’m stubborn in my quest.
Early last year I had a very unexpected and unexplained liver transplant and I fought tooth and nail to get back to my pre-transplant fitness as quickly as a healing abdomen and new medication would allow. After that palaver, I’d reckoned on fitness throughout pregnancy being an absolute doddle.
It started well! In week 12 I bagged a new 5k PB. In week 14 I joined Team Blacks to race the adidas Infinite Trails in the Austrian Alps. Week 20 saw me bag medals at the British Transplant Games. All good.
By week 25 I was completely ready to give up running forever. Breathing was harder; my pelvis ached to the point I couldn’t walk normally for two or three days after a run. I was more and more scared of tripping over and my legging-induced-muffin-top was a sight to behold. And don’t even get me started on trying to lace up my running shoes.
Thankfully though, I’m now 34 weeks pregnant and me, the bump and my swollen legs have found a get-out-and-keep-up routine we’re all on board with.
Walking is the new running
Six days of serious running has become a few . . . oh alright, one or two . . . 30-minute plods a week, I’m desperate to continue these because I know I need to keep my body familiar with the mechanism of running so I can get back to it ASAP after the big push. But I’m now taking full advantage of the local woods and hills for long weekend walks too.
I feel most alive when surrounded by mountains and fresh air and deep, dense forests. I think that’s when my mind is at its calmest and has the space to order the mayhem going on inside it. It seems to do this best when I’m a bit out of breath. As if, when my body is preoccupied with working, my mind is free to think and feel and align itself.
I walk as fast as I comfortably can and imagine doing the same when the baby is out and strapped into a carrier on my chest, seeing these larger than life surroundings for the first time ever and taking it all in, while I kiss the top of their tiny head.
Of course, I casually say “I go walking” as if it could be so simple. Even walking currently requires a strategic approach. My top-tips would be to make sure you’ve emptied your bladder completely before setting out and wear sturdy shoes because pregnancy clumsiness is a real thing. Take water and a snack for emergency energy and, if you’re heading out alone, a charged phone.
More than anything else, I have to take a good whack of confidence along with me. I’m not sure if all pregnant women experience this, but I do feel more vulnerable carrying around something so precious, so much so that even a walk in the woods requires an extra deep breath and some good planning. Don’t be put off though. The boost to your self-esteem and wellbeing is even bigger and better once you’ve got out there, faced down the anxiety and nailed it.
I also try to get the odd gym sesh in too. To fire up my cardio system on a Wattbike and strengthen my pathetic upper arm and bum muscles. Though it’s not my favourite part of the week I do like to imagine the baby sharing the same rush of endorphins I get from a hard workout. I hope that this in-utero training will lead to a life full of health and fitness and total appreciation for the amazing body that baby will grow. OK OK I admit it: the pushy-mum in me sees this baby on an Olympic podium. I’m starting their training off early to give them the advantage!
What the Experts Say
The advice for pregnancy exercise tends to be to do no more than you’re used to. This makes sense but it’s been tough for me. Because of the transplant I’m in the high-risk pregnancy category and being watched like a hawk. I was advised to cut down my activity quite drastically. After a year of hearing the same from my transplant doctors I took this with a bit of a pinch of salt, reckoning that nobody knows my body like I do.
I’ve definitely felt my body guiding me during this pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean I can push things recklessly. If something feels right, it is, if it doesn’t, I’ve not even questioned it. On several occasions I’ve stopped straight away without a speck of guilt.
The exercise I do for me and the baby isn’t about just strengthening my body ready for childbirth, it’s about absorbing every bit of life and showing the baby right from day one how important it is to be part of the world around us, to treasure our surroundings, our bodies and our minds. Not just for a one-off event like labour, but for our whole lives, so our bodies can take on anything - a mountain race, a difficult day at work, an emergency liver transplant.
You do have to get a bit creative, especially with work and less and less daylight in the evenings. There are countless exercise classes and yoga sessions designed for pregnancy, but for me it’s all about the great outdoors!
Read Ellie's incredible story of her road to recovery here.