When I found out I was pregnant my first thought about exercise was, “well, I’m definitely going to keep training.” I knew nothing about being pregnant but figured I would still have a normal body and stomach for the first several weeks. What I didn’t take into consideration was how much energy my body would be expending to create a tiny human. I was in for a wake up call.
Obviously I trained hard for the first four weeks of my pregnancy, when I hadn’t yet discovered that I was in fact pregnant. In hindsight, those weeks took their toll on me, but I figured it was due to the hard work I was putting in and not to the fact that I was pregnant. As you can see from weeks one, two and, three of my training, I was giving it my all. Justin and I calculated it out and figured that we got pregnant on Christmas. What a gift, eh?
However, once I knew I was pregnant, something mentally and physically shifted significantly in my workouts. As someone who is incredibly structured and schedule oriented, I had to stop and modify the way I do things. Exercise became a big question mark every day because I would never know how I was going to feel or how much energy I would have. During our trip to Hawaii it really struck me that I would need to be more flexible and listen to my body. I had planned on running or doing some form of exercise every day, but my body told me otherwise. While I was still able to run, I needed more downtime and days off as well.
Once I was able to talk with my doctor about exercise and running, I became a lot more confident about what I should and should not be doing when it comes to fitness. While he strongly encouraged me to keep up daily activity and continue enjoying the things I love, he suggested doing so—like everything else related to pregnancy—within reason. It was recommended that I not increase my heart rate past lactic threshold, as this can decrease the amount of oxygen and nutrients reaching the baby and potentially be harmful. A light bulb went off and I realized that while I may like intensity and pushing myself hard, I care more about the life inside me than anything else. While I can still insert short bursts of intensity (inevitable when running or cycling up hills) I would never push myself too hard for too long.
One of the biggest changes I have had to adjust to and learn to accept is that I am no longer running to get faster. This was really weird at first, as I love seeing improvement in speed and was at the peak of my running fitness. Suddenly, an 8min/per pace was no longer an “easier” pace for me. I slowly watched my speed and intensity decline over the weeks, which at first was difficult to see, but then I accepted the fact that this wasn’t me, it was me pregnant.
Because I am now paying close attention to heart rate and intensity, I find that I can keep my heart rate around 140 (as suggested by my doctor) at an 8:30min/mile pace, so this is where I have settled in for the time being.
Do I miss being able to test the ropes and push myself beyond aerobic threshold and to the point of anaerobic exhaustion? Yes. The competitive side of my personality will always crave that feeling of sweating a little more and pushing it a little harder. However, am I able to accept the fact that I need to neatly fold and put away that competitive mentality for the time being? Absolutely.
I have finally developed a running mentality that is no longer about time, speed, distance, intensity, but rather about getting out, enjoying the fresh air, time to myself, and time with friends. Letting go of the numbers has actually given me a different perspective on running and cycling.
Things have learned about running/exercising during the first trimester:
- Listening to your body, first and foremost. There were days when I felt horrible while trying to run and called it quits after a couple miles – this never happened before pregnancy. There are also days when I add on miles because I am feeling really good. For instance, last week on my birthday I went out to do a 7-mile run and it turned into a 9.5 mile run. It’s all about going with the feel, not schedule.
- I find myself walking a little more, and give myself permission to do so. I can’t remember the last time I had to walk during a run (aside from speed work and track workouts). While it was frustrating at first, it was also humbling because it was an indication that my body was working hard in other important ways.
- Support from friends/family is incredibly helpful. There are days where I am a lot more self-motivated than others, and days when a nap is a lot more tempting than a run. When I don’t feel very motivated, it helps to have a friend or family member reach out and get me moving. I have probably done about a third of my workouts with other people since finding out I was pregnant. I’m grateful for this!
- I have become a lot more mindful of the running conditions and surroundings. When running in warmer weather and humidity (as I did in Hawaii), water and hydration became even more important. When I am out of the trails vs. pavement, I slow down and focus on the placement of each step. Did you know that when you are pregnant your ligaments and joints become a lot looser and more vulnerable to injury?
- Something is better than nothing, on most days. Yes, there are days when I don’t feel like moving an inch from the comfort of my couch, but then I know that going outside and getting the blood flowing will lift my mood and make me feel better. Even if it is just a walk around the neighborhood, or a 20-minute session on the elliptical, some activity is better than no activity. Do what you can.
- I notice that I am a lot more positive and energetic on days when I exercise. As it has done many times, running saved me at the beginning of this pregnancy. There were days when I was really down and going on a run lifted my spirits and allowed me to work through my worries, insecurities, and fears about pregnancy. I am in a much better place today and I attribute a lot of that to running and maintaining my fitness.
- Rest and recovery are incredibly important. When your body is working hard in other life creating ways, it can take a lot longer to recover and feel fresh. I found it incredibly difficult to workout twice a day and had to give up most two-a-day efforts. I also allow myself more time to rest and take a day off if my body needs it.
- Probably the most surprising thing I’ve learned about exercising while pregnant is that it has allowed me to connect with and start building a relationship with my baby. When I am out there doing something that I love, I feel as though my baby can sense the calm that flows through my body and joy I feel both during and after any kind of activity. There are even moments when I talk to the baby and share my thoughts.
The most common reaction I have received when I tell people I’m pregnant is “what about your Ironman?” and second, “Are you still going to race?”
A lot of people have a lot of different opinions about racing while pregnant and it can be quite confusing when trying to soak it all in. Some believe that I can easily do a 70.3 distance triathlon – this is, if I can fit a baby bump into a skin tight wetsuit – while others say no way, don’t do it. Could I do a half Ironman early on in my pregnancy (i.e., 4-5 months)? Probably. Would I enjoy it? Probably not. I am the type of person that always wants to perform at my personal best. Mentally, emotionally, and physically. I fear that a race of that magnitude would make me nervous and my mind would obsess over heart rate and how the baby is doing. I don’t want that type of racing experience when I’m putting in the time, money, and effort. So in short, yes I will continue to swim-bike-run, but no I will not be doing any triathlons while pregnant.
However, I am planning on doing a few 10Ks and a half marathon or two, just to stay involved and keep up my fitness. I am going to be running the inaugural Bend Half Marathon near the end of April, not to compete at my best, but to represent and support a local race. Racing at this point in my life will be more about staying involved, maintaining my fitness, and socially connecting with others.
Has your body changed at all in the first trimester?
Now that I am only days away from the second trimester, I am finally noticing a defined baby bump. I typically have a very flat stomach and was told that because of this, I might show a lot quicker. Right now at 12.5 weeks I am in kind of in an awkward stage where you can’t tell that I am pregnant. Rather, it looks like I am experiencing super-bloat or a little beer belly.
In December I weighed roughly 135 pounds around the time I got pregnant. When I had my first doctor appointment at week 8 I had gained 5 pounds, weighing in at 140. During my second doctor appointment at week 11, I had actually lost a pound, which is not uncommon. I am guessing that I currently weigh around 141 now that things are starting to show. Right on track for a healthy amount of weigh gain during my pregnancy. I’ll save my feelings about body image and weight gain for another post.
So for the time being, I have traded in triathlons for trimesters. My competitive days are on sabbatical, and have been replaced with some valuable lessons about patience, gratitude, listening to your body, and remembering why I love running and cycling in the first place. I’m still on my journey, and am looking forward to sharing it will all of you. It’s just a journey that has taken a little detour, thanks to a baby on board.
Moms out there – what was your experience with exercise during the first trimester? What do I have to look forward to in the second?
Have you ever been challenged or put in a situation where you had to change your thoughts about physical activity and exercise?