Sports Law • Risk Management

Marathon Mom: Should Pregnant Women Run Marathons?

Amber Miller, 27, finished the Chicago Marathon, and then barely had enough time to shower before giving birth to a healthy baby girl 7 hours later. Miller is an experienced marathon runner and had previously run two marathons while pregnant, one in 2009 while pregnant with her son and one earlier this year. She was 39 weeks pregnant while completing the Chicago Marathon and did so with her doctor's knowledge and consent. Her doctor had told her that she could do her usual physical activities, but nothing new. Miller finished the marathon by alternating running 2 miles and walking 1 mile.

One of the issues to be concerned about with running and pregnancy is the possibility of overheating, which could cause problems for the baby, whose major organs are forming. Another challenge is that during pregnancy a woman's joints loosen, making her more prone to injury from the pounding of running. Generally physicians caution women not to start running during their pregnancy, but may allow patients to continue running if they were already regularly doing so before pregnancy.

Whether it is safe to run is certainly a risk management issue for the pregnant woman, but it is also an issue for race directors. Should pregnant women be allowed to run marathons? Ordinarily, a race director will not be advised in advance that an athlete is pregnant or has a health condition. Athletes must sign a liability waiver, but will generally not be asked to disclose medical issues or pregnancies and so race directors don’t necessarily have the opportunity to weigh in on the issue. If an obviously pregnant woman is observed to be starting the race, what should a race director do? It may be reasonable to discreetly and politely ask the woman if she has her doctor’s permission to run the race. As long as the athlete understands the risks involved, has her doctor’s permission and has signed a well drafted liability waiver, the race director should probably treat the woman like any other athlete, considering that there are athletes with all sorts physical challenges that they are competing.