Why I Run: Roma van der Walt

Roma van der Walt is founder of Chitta Wellness, a fitness expert and Team-EMC runner who is participating in the New York Marathon next week.

Roma specializes in helping women get and stay fit before, during and after pregnancy. In addition to sharing with us why she runs for EMC, she shared a few tips for pregnant and postpartum runners.

I have been a runner my whole life. My father was Kenyan and preferred walking (fast!) over any other form of transportation. Keeping up with him from a very young age defined our relationship in a way that I am only beginning to grasp as I get older. When he died unexpectedly, I was 15 years old and a modern pentathlete on the verge of joining the German National Team. Running kept me sane, and provided familiarity and comfort that few things could during a time when nothing made sense.

Throughout my life running has taught me lessons, helped form bonds, tested my resolve and made me insanely happy. It was ‘my thing’ and that perspective only changed in the last few years when I started observing the effects of running on others — namely, women… particularly those who are pregnant and postpartum. Pregnancy is the one experience that eludes me but it is a fascinating one to watch.

As a prenatal and postpartum coach in NYC, I have been talking to women who run for all kinds of reasons and have run on all kinds of levels and they all tell me one thing: if you have experienced labor and delivery, the pain of running races doesn’t scare you anymore.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women stay physically active while pregnant provided that they don’t have a high-risk pregnancy. For many women who were physically fit before getting pregnant however, there are suddenly obstacles to what they can and cannot do. Everyone tells them what not to do. Nobody suggests anything more strenuous than gentle prenatal yoga. For most women who are runners, that leaves them frustrated, and as they often admit, bored. Some continue to run and for a previously active woman this can hold many benefits such as improved cardiovascular function, limited pregnancy weight gain, decreased musculoskeletal discomfort, and mood stability. In comparison, many women in developing countries continue manual labor until late into their pregnancies.

After giving birth, women are asked to not engage in physical activity for 42 days, a time, which particularly for first time mothers can feel overwhelming and isolating. Many report that their friends don’t have children at the same time and meeting new people amidst this entirely new life situation feels daunting. This is where I believe running — or initially, walking — can be a wonderful catalyst for not just getting stronger and being active but forming friendships. All runners know at least one person that we love to do our long runs with and share the elation, sometimes frustration that comes with running. This can be replicated for new mothers who need a community to discuss new situations they suddenly find themselves thrown into. I have observed firsthand that providing this community can help with postpartum mood stability and meeting others increases the motivation to get out and get active again, which is beneficial for mother and child.

One year has passed since EMC called and suggested I run for them. I have spent most of the year training amongst a group of passionate runners with the same goal to raise awareness for maternal health. When I mention EMC to the women I work with, they come forward with their own labor stories. They appreciate the support and simple solutions that EMC has found to address issues of maternal health. Some of them have taken up running inspired by this cause and I know they will be cheering the loudest on November 2nd when I run my first full marathon, on their behalf.

Here are Roma’s tips for running during pregnancy or the postpartum period:

  • Always consult with your health care provider before engaging in a running program.
  • Women who ran before getting pregnant can probably continue as long as it feels OK.
  • After delivery, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends waiting 42 days before resuming workouts.

During pregnancy:

  • Hydrate well before and during your run
  • Run at a perceived rate of exertion around 4–5 on a scale of 10
  • Watch for high-risk symptoms such as vaginal bleeding, cramping and dizziness and discontinuing running if any of those occur

During the postpartum period:

  • Start slow with walks and short runs
  • Stay hydrated especially if you are nursing
  • Have a good support system and friends to exercise with
  • Investing in a good sports bra especially if you are nursing
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