Sep | 6

Voices of the Run: Roma Van der Walt

It was a no brainer that I’d run while pregnant. I’m really competitive. I started running at age six and later was a member of the German team for Modern Pentathlon for seven years. Running is my favorite thing to do, and it’s my community. I didn’t want to leave it when I became pregnant.

I’d followed a few professional runners on social media who ran while pregnant. They inspired me to pursue what I love. After I got pregnant, I ran a race a month for six months. I remember showing up to races as my belly got bigger, and men in my corral would be surprised to see me. But I was really proud–running while pregnant shouldn’t just be an example for other women.

The first 10 weeks were hard though. I felt really sick. I remember racing up a hill in Central Park in New York City and thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to keep this up.’ It took a bit of dialing back my ego, but it was fun to push myself.

Each month my legs adjusted to how the weight was distributed. I ran 30 miles a week at the beginning of my pregnancy and gradually brought down my mileage to 15. The last run I did, two days before I gave birth, was a sluggish two and a half miles with my dog. When I eventually got to the hospital, once my epidural was in, I couldn’t help but track friends that were running the New York City Half Marathon as I waited for labor to progress. I’m a prenatal and postpartum personal trainer, and I’d coached a few runners in the race. At least one was hoping for a big personal record, and I was probably as nervous as he was. Tracking the race was a good distraction from waiting for labor to progress.

Running is a bit of an addiction. It’s always been my way to feel really free. So after the birth of my son Max, I was so happy to start running again. Running became my adult time.

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Four weeks postpartum, I carefully went for my first run. I’d started pumping milk, enough for one tiny bottle that I’d leave in the fridge as a reserve. My husband could touch it only if Max needed it while I ran for a half hour. I started by running 15 minutes out and 15 minutes back and told myself not to focus on pace or distance.

Initially, I didn’t know how it was going to feel to bounce down the street again. It was weird. I’d lost the feeling for my body as it had been–I didn’t remember the sensation from not being pregnant.

I’d get to the end of a block and was grateful for every traffic light. My abductors, hamstrings and glutes hadn’t fired in forever. Despite feeling sore the next day, I was on a high. I wanted to run everyday, but I had to remind myself to take things one step at a time. I continued to plan outings to run, which made me so happy and gave me something to look forward to.

Six weeks postpartum, I took Max for his first run. I put him in a car seat, which weighed 20 pounds, and pushed him in a jogging stroller that also weighed about 20 pounds. My lungs burned. I easily broke out in a sweat, but I managed to run four miles. A week later, I ran seven. That’s when I started to feel like my old self again.

It’s been an interesting journey so far. As I rebuild my fitness, I have a lofty goal in the future: to break three hours in a marathon. And as I keep running, I want to continue to share my passion with Max. I hope that other people get inspired. Women can do amazing stuff with their bodies.

About Sarah Gearhart
Sarah Gearhart is a sports journalist based in New York City. Formerly a senior producer for USA TODAY Sports, her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Runner's World Magazine, ESPN, Vice Sports and Victory Journal. An avid runner for 17 years, she is a three-time Boston Marathon qualifier and has completed 11 marathons, most recently in Berlin, Germany, where she also curated a running-related photography exhibition.
  1. Lanae Dailey

    I, too, ran while I was pregnant. The year I got pregnant I had planned to run a half marathon a month, all over the country. I got pregnant in June and managed to run 5 more that year. It is a great thing to show both male and female runners how strong the pregnant body is and that pregnancy doesn’t automatically equate to sitting out. Running with a jogging stroller is whole new level of training. I think of it as resistance training. My splits are always slower when pushing the stroller but the runs I have solo feel so much faster and easier. Whenever I see people training in those altitude masks I always want to tell them to save their money and just run with a 30 lb baby in a 25 lb jogging stroller!

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