Pea in a Pod. How Running and Exercise is Helping Traverse Area Expectant Moms

Jessica Stark, 33 of Kingsley, pushed her daughter, Ally,4 years old, in a stroller while 7 months pregnant in the recent Leapin’ Leprechaun 5K in Traverse City! Is Jessica crazy or “crazy smart”?  Jessica, a recreational therapist at Lighthouse Rehabilitation Center in Kingsley, is not new to running. She says; “I ran track and cross country at Harrisburg High School. I was first team all-conference in both. I formally started running in middle school track. My husband, Chris, was in track in high school but only threw discus. He was about 50 pounds heavier then. He started running 5 years ago, as a way to cope with his PTSD, caused by being a first responder in the past. He has since lost 50 pounds and gotten faster each year.” Chris places in most local races. Jessica’s son, Eric, is a speedy 6 year old who enjoys the races and probably has his share of medals. The family who runs together, has fun together.

Jessica adds the following about the benefits of running; “My doctor said I’m cleared to do my usual physical activity as long as it feels ok. In addition, it physically helps my hips feel better and mentally lifts my mood. I also feel running is helpful for making a smoother delivery when a person remains active for as much of their pregnancy as possible. I want to show my daughter, too, that just because someone is pregnant, it doesn’t mean you have to stop everything. It is a pet peeve of mine when others think you should be at home sitting down for 9 months. I might be slow right now, but it beats sitting on the couch.”

Rebecca Noffke is 6+ months pregnant. Rebecca says, “I spoke with my doctor early on, about running. He said I could do what is comfortable and to listen to my body. I stopped running between week 5 and 17 due to pregnancy nausea and fatigue and winter conditions for safety.  I ran a whole 5k race in February at 19 weeks. And then ran most of the Leapin Leprechaun with a few short walking breaks at 22 weeks.  The further in pregnancy the more walking I need to do due to the weight of baby in the abdomen area.  My family likes to walk 5k’s and are my biggest supporters.  My 4 year old son has likes to go running with me for short distances in the neighborhood, 5ks with the stroller and fun runs.  I ran my first 5k at the Cherry Festival in 2010.  After that I was hooked.  In 2011, my mom and I set out to do one 5k a month together, as she lives in Grand Rapids and I did 16 that year from April to December.  I had my son in 2012. After that I got back into running one or two races a month, for the next few years.  In January 2016, my family decided to do the Run 2016 miles in 2016 program. That started me off on my biggest running year where I did at least 10 miles a week the whole year. Ending up with around 750 miles for the year.  I started training for the River Bank 25K on January 2, 2016.  For the year (January-October), I did fourteen 5k’s, one 10k, one 15k, one Half Marathon, one 25K, the 5 mile Mackinaw Bridge Run, and a team marathon relay.  I took a break due to pregnancy symptoms and possible complications early on from November-January 2017.  I have done one race in February and March of 2017.  Running has given me time for myself, to help process situations and work through stress.  Also, to be able to set goals and push myself to accomplish them.  Being pregnant running, I’ve had to adjust and listen to what is comfortable for my body.  I haven’t done as much as I have in the past but it’s helped me to get out doing things I love to do and being around the other runners.  It has kept me motivated to keep exercising.


Alissa O’Hagan, MD (Board Certified Obstetrician/Gynecologist), moved to the Traverse City area three years ago, with her husband, Tom, a board certified orthopedic surgeon.  Both did their residencies at the University of Chicago. Their children are Kellan (boy, age 4), Connor (boy, age 2.5) and Skylar (girl, age 1 year).


I asked Dr O’Hagan what is her philosophy of running and pregnancy. She said, “As a physician in Obstetrics and Gynecology, this comes up in my work a lot and allows me to combine my passion for running with taking care of women in pregnancy.  There has been more consistent data that exercise in general can be advantageous during pregnancy to help reduce certain health problems, as well as help with delivery and the recovery.  ACOG (American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology) actually recommends that pregnant women engage in 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most days of the week.  It is recommended to discuss with your doctor to make sure that there are not unique medical or pregnancy issues that would preclude this recommendation.  Women in pregnancy, like all runners, should take care to stay hydrated and monitor risk for overheating while running.”


Dr O’Hagan added her own history of running and pregnancy. “I had just finished my 8th marathon when I got pregnant with our first.  I was fortunate to feel well enough to run throughout all of my pregnancies.  I had 3 babies in 3 years, so by my 3rd baby I was running a little slower, but I was still going.  I was able to run on the actual day that I had all of my babies. I played sports my entire life.  I loved being active, loved being part of a team and loved competing.  I played basketball in college and as soon as that was done transitioned to running more consistently.  I have also done a significant number of triathlons.  During my first year of medical school, I trained for my first marathon.  I found that running became my outlet and allows me to relieve stress and regain energy.  I love hitting the pavement or the trail to relax, think about nothing or do my problem solving.  I have been fortunate to do 8 marathons and countless half marathons and other distances.  My husband and I are both doing Bayshore Half Marathon.  We each try to do at least one half marathon each year.  Now that the kids are a little older, we will try to start doing more triathlons again.  A jogging stroller was the most important purchase we made prior to having our first.  I put a lot of miles on my single jogging stroller during my maternity leave and beyond.  As soon as I was pregnant for our second, I got the double jogging stroller.  After our third, running with the kiddos involves both my husband and I pushing a stroller or our older kid on a bike.  From a personal and medical perspective, I think it’s important for people to just be active.  It can be traditional like running, biking, swimming, or can be unique such as hiking, kayaking or yard-work.  It’s good for your body and good for your soul.”



Do you have a “Pea in a Pod”? Expecting or thinking about expecting? Try exercise or better yet, keep running, don’t stop. These moms all agree, running helps make pregnancy and delivery easier and you’ll feel better for the effort. Remember to get permission to exercise from your doctor.


Mickey Fivenson is the former director of the National Cherry Festival Races. His sons, Zack and Adam, both started running as “Peas in a Pod.” As young adults, they both are still running.  If you’d like tips on running, if you have a story to share how running has impacted your life, or if you would like coverage of your race, contact Mickey through the editor.

End 1345 Words

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s