Pregnant women will join the running crowds in Baltimore

Sitting in the doctor's office in August, elated to learn she was pregnant for the first time, Amanda Weeks had a question.

Could she still compete in the half-marathon at the Baltimore Running Festival?

"I've raced all 10 years (of the event)," said Weeks, 33, of Ellicott City. "I want to keep the tradition going."

Told she could run, Weeks relaxed.

"Running is my stress reliever," she said. "To take it away, especially now, would be tough."

Weeks will be nearly five months pregnant when she answers the gun Saturday for the 13.1-mile race through the streets of Baltimore. Meanwhile, Kellie Batz, of Arbutus, will be almost six months along with her first child when she tackles the festival's 5K, a 3.1-mile run for which she has long prepared.

"When I'm out jogging, people look at me and call me 'Little Mama,'" said Batz, 35.

Her reaction, upon hearing she was expecting?

"I was happy to learn that I'll have a training partner in the future," Batz said.

Whereas pregnant women were once told to avoid strenuous activity, doctors now advocate staying fit.

"We encourage those who are athletes to keep running when pregnant," said Dr. Andrew Satin, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Johns Hopkins Bayview. "Running is good, in the absence of complications. It's not like in your mother's time, when such exercise was frowned upon."

On Sunday, in fact, a woman who took part in the Chicago Marathon completed the race, went to the hospital and gave birth to a daughter that night. Amber Miller's doctor had permitted the 27-year-old from Westchester, Ill. to run half of the marathon; 38 weeks pregnant, she walked the other half. About seven hours after finishing in 6:25:50, she gave birth to a healthy daughter, June.

Ultimately, Satin said, strenuous exercise for pregnant women should be undertaken only with a doctor's approval. Generally, physicians embrace activity for mothers-to-be.

Collaborative studies by Satin and Dr. Linda Szymanski — which began in 2009 and continue, having included 100 women so far — bear this out.

"There as so many old wives' tales out there," Szymanski said. "Our purpose was to fill in the gaps."

Their research suggests that "most recreational runners can run safely, with few caveats," Satin said. "We've imaged the fetuses of women running on treadmills. We thought the babies would be kind of shaking in there, but they actually move (in sync) with the uterus, as do all organs, when we run."

Still unknown, he said, is the effect running has on top-flight marathoners who are pregnant.

"We do have some concerns with 'elite' athletes, who tend to run through cramps and pain, beyond what's good for their babies," Satin said. "We tell pregnant athletes, 'This is not the time to push your body past what it is telling you.'"

Nearly three months along, Sarah Mack will compete in the half-marathon Saturday. She'll not rush to finish.

"I've thought of writing 'I'M PREGNANT' on my shirt, so people won't think less of me because I'm running so slow," said Mack, 31, a graduate of Meade High and UMBC who now lives in Evans, Ga.

Since she'd been competing in races for three years, her doctor allowed Mack to go for it.

"She told me to stay hydrated, take an easy pace and just listen to my body. No huffing and puffing, and no racing heart," Mack said.

With two kids already, she takes solace in her evening training runs.

"It's a nice escape, a relaxing moment in my day," said Mack. "Come 7 o'clock, I say, 'Yay, my husband's home!'

"I grab my headphones and I'm out the door, see you later."

Weeks, a former cross country star at Mount Hebron, said the race dovetails nicely with her condition.

"Why not celebrate, halfway through a pregnancy, with a half marathon?" she said. "It's not like the baby will be bouncing around in there. Right now, he or she is only the size of an avocado.

"I don't have that big of a belly, but the weight I've gained (8 pounds) is tough. What will be hard is to go slow and not be competitive. Last week, in a 13-mile training run, I felt like I'd been passed by everyone. But I finished, and I felt good."

Saturday, Weeks will dress in her version of maternity running wear — a baggy t-shirt and shorts.

"I hope that doing this race will influence my child to want to run," she said.

Then Weeks paused, in thought.

"You know, technically, this will be his, or her, first half-marathon," she said. "I wonder, if you're running for two, will the (race officials) will reduce your final time?"

Batz, whose due date is Feb. 9, plans to peel off her number after completing the 5K and save it for her daughter's baby book. Married 13 years, she began running last year, for health reasons, and has stuck with it.

"The first thing people asked, when I said I was expecting, was, 'Are you going to stop running?'

"I said, 'No, are you crazy?' " Batz said. "Before I took up running, I had high blood pressure. Now. I'm pregnant, off that medication and training for races.

"Pregnancy shouldn't be a crutch. You should be able to go out there, and do what you have been doing."