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Distance running labor of love for expectant moms

| Saturday, April 27, 2013, 11:05 p.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Suzie Everett jogs near her Plum home as she trains to run the Pittsburgh marathon while being 20 weeks pregnant on Wednesday, April 24, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dis
Suzie Everett poses for a photo with her daughter, Annabel, at their Plum home on Wednesday, April 24, 2013.
Dr. Megan Groh Miller, 31, of Butler, ran about 35 miles a week through her 38th week of pregnancy.
Autumn Hughey, 33, of Franklin Park, has run 11 half marathons. Running pregnant, she said, made her “feel healthy, even if I didn’t feel slim.”
Dayna Triolo, 35, of Shaler said running while pregnant feels like you’re wearing “a weight vest.”

Dr. Megan Groh Miller found nothing odd in her daily routine of running on a treadmill at her local gym.

Judging by the stares she got, however, others found it strange indeed.

“Oh, the looks you get are really priceless,” Miller, a primary care physician and sports medicine specialist with Tri Rivers Surgical Associates, said recently in her Slippery Rock office. “People were like, ‘You realize you're pregnant, right?' ”

She did.

Still, she ran — more than 30 miles a week, up to her 38th week of pregnancy.

Miller is among a growing group of doctors and local women who embrace running through most or all of their pregnancies.

Time was doctors frowned on any form of rigorous physical activity for pregnant women, regardless of their fitness levels. Such exertion could lead to premature births or low birth weight, they cautioned.

Now, however, Miller and others encourage exercise, even high-mileage running programs, for women used to running such long distances.

“I actually went running the day before I went into labor,” said Suzie Everett, 31, of Plum, who ran while pregnant with her daughter, now 22 months, and will be 20 weeks pregnant on May 5, when she runs her ninth marathon in Pittsburgh. “It's definitely a different feeling. There's a point — and I'm getting there right now — where you sort of feel awkward. ... Sometimes I feel crazy, but it's a good thing.”

Opinions on pregnancy and exercise are evolving, Miller said.

In 2002, Dr. James F. Clapp wrote the book “Exercising Through Your Pregnancy,” which cited the benefits of women exercising before, during and after pregnancy. He wrote that running “actually may decrease the incidence of both” premature births and low birth weight.

The benefits of running through pregnancy include reduced risk of hypertension and diabetes, reduced back pain, easier labor, less additional weight gain and a decreased risk of depression during and after the pregnancy, Miller said.

“I never considered not running when I found out I was pregnant,” Miller said. “I knew it was very safe,”

Autumn Hughey, 33, of Franklin Park ran through both of her pregnancies, a decision she credits for her surprisingly easy labors. She gave birth to both her children after less than 12 minutes of pushing, she said.

“I was very lucky,” Hughey said. ‘And I lost my weight very quickly afterwards.”

Everett said running helped her recover quickly. Fifteen weeks after giving birth to her daughter, Annabel, she ran a half-marathon. Less than a year after giving birth, she ran all 26.2 miles of the Pittsburgh Marathon.

When she lines up for the start of this year's marathon, Annabel will watch from the stands, wearing a shirt reading “Mommy's #1 Running Buddy. Everett's shirt will read “Future Running Buddy #2,” with an arrow pointing to her stomach.

“I am slow these days, both because of my growing belly and because I just take it easy while pregnant,” she said.

“If I'm struggling then I know baby is struggling. So I walk when I need to.”

Kelsey Jackson, a spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh Marathon, said race officials do not keep stats on pregnant runners, but prepare for a wide variety of potential medical emergencies.

“We have more than 700 medical professionals who volunteer on race day as part of the medical team,” she said. “There are 15 aid stations on the course and a medical tent on the finish line.”

Running through pregnancy is not for everyone, Miller said.

Women who do not normally run should not start a new training program when they are pregnant, she said. And even seasoned veterans must be vigilant for any signs of trouble, including pains and cramps, bleeding and light-headedness.

“Use common sense: Watch out for things not feeling right,” she said. “It's a different mindset. Normally I'd run through anything. But being pregnant, there's a lot more stopping and walking.”

She said pregnant runners must pay close attention to hydration, and be careful not to overheat, especially when running in the summer.

And always check with a doctor before starting or resuming a running program, she said.

Otherwise, Miller said, go for it.

That is, if you don't mind the gawking.

“A lot of people give you funny looks, like you're deliberately hurting your child,” said Dayna Triolo, 35, of Shaler, who ran through most of her pregnancy with now 10-month-old daughter Ayla.

“You get tons of unsolicited looks and comments. I'd just laugh it off.”

Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

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