Week: 32.5 Fit Pregnancy

People are starting to ask me questions about fitness, training , and pregnancy. I am not a pro athlete nor have I given birth yet but this article from endurance expert Gordo Byrn's Endurance Corner sums up my outlook and goals during pregnancy.  

I differ from the person "Monica" in the article a slight bit because I actually dropped out of yoga upon becoming pregnant, where as she dropped off the bike. Yes....I'm a yoga flunky, not because I have anything against yoga during pregnancy but I figured I should cut back my training hours some and something had to give. Also because swimming, biking, and running felt more important to me and are free. Hot yoga is about $90/month for unlimited and worth the money if you really do go. I can only go 4 days a week due to my work schedule. I knew I would have to modify a lot in yoga due to pregnancy. The thought of paying money to sit on my mat in child's pose while the rest of the class got to do handstands had no appeal to me.  In the beginning I rode my bike as much as possible, thinking my days would be numbered. I stopped riding at 28 weeks. I took a few days off with the cold and returned to swimming and running. I was starting to become slightly uncomfortable, unclipping and putting my foot down upon stopping sort of made my missing abdominal muscles twinge.  I will confess that the thought of falling influenced my aversion to the bike. More so, was not that I thought I would fall, but I confess it bothers me/make me feel guilty that so many others were worried I would fall. If I really wanted to ride I could spin on the trainer or go to spin class but I am having plenty fun swimming and running. Honestly, with a changing body/center of gravity, it's nice to reap the benefits of frequency and efficiency. This is easier to do with two sports vs three or four with yoga.  I love hot yoga but I felt like if I was sweating while out running  followed by sweating in hot yoga that might be too much.  While there is a lot of literature and research supporting exercise during pregnancy there aren't clear guideline on how much is too much. I guess that because it depends on where the individual starts.  

The other main difference between Monica and I except that she is 5'9 and skinny and only gained 26 pounds. I will be gaining more than that. :) is that she focused on "no zeroes". Exercising everyday. I totally think this is the way to go if you work 8 hours days or are  a stay at home mom. . I work from 6:30 am until 7:00 pm (but usually 7:30-8:00 pm) three days a week. I leave for work at 6:00 am get home when the work is done usually around 8:00 p.m., at which point I haven't had dinner yet. While training for Ironman I often ran after work, while pregnant my legs are kind of trashed after standing all day not quite kankles but you get the idea . I felt it more important to get dinner, get organized for the next days activities whether it be work or sport (pack the lunches or the gear) and get to bed. This is a great schedule for having a lot of days off to train I just log "zeroes"on work days and multiple work out on the four days I have off a week. At first I felt guilty about doing more than one workout a day, but I had the energy to do more. It's my life style and the baby was growing fine. I have titrated  my activity up with the tolerance of those two things. They talk about cluster feeding babies in the afternoon and evening so they sleep through the night.  I "cluster train" . Of note, I cut back my running a smidge. I was doing 30miles a week over my 4 days of running but last week and this week I capped my runs around 6.5 miles as I think an hour or so of running at this point is enough. I realize my form is altered and i don't want to end up with a nagging injury post partum when I really could be "running". The reduction in running volume just keeps me honest about getting to the pool all 4 days. ....no " I did a long run" excuse. Other than those differences I feel very much like this Monica person, who I know nothing about. I'm guessing she is a higher level athlete than me, but you get the jest. Thanks to Gordo Byrn's for writing this article and for more good articles click here: http://www.endurancecorner.com

On October 14th, Monica gave birth to our daughter Alexandra (she's the one in the photo above).  Seeing as I'm the writer in the family, I will share some observations across the last ten months.
We have all heard stories about massive weight gain during pregnancy.  I've heard stories of women gaining up to 80 pounds across their pregnancies.  Listening to these tales, many women must wonder if large amounts of baby weight are the norm.  Do I have to become huge, to have a healthy baby?  Monica's experience might be relevant to you.
Before we start with the pregnancy, I want to mention a little bit about the year before the pregnancy.  When you look at the athletes racing in Kona, or ITU Worlds, you will see that most participants are optimized for performance, rather than personal health.  In fact, I'd guess that many very fast elite athletes (male and female) would have trouble conceiving when they are peak athletic condition.  
Monica didn't ride and focused her training on swimming, running and yoga.  She was in excellent health and physical condition.  While we were trying to conceive, she kept both the volume, and intensity, of her program.  She didn't do much fast running but she would swim fast three times per week.
Monica's main worries prior to getting pregnant: 
  • I will lose my body
  • I will lose fitness
  • I won't be able to do anything
  • I will get slow and never recover
I can relate to those concerns -- I share many of them every October and November!
The good news is you can maintain your body, your health and, most surprisingly, your fitness.  Here's how she did it.
No Zeros -- Monica did some form of physical activity every single day, for her entire pregnancy - even the day her water broke.  This performance was a lot better than Dad's record!
While our medical advice was not to commence a fitness program when you get pregnant, all our doctors said that it was OK to maintain a fitness program through pregnancy.  Monica's doc also noted that there isn't much practical knowledge about pregnancy and the endurance athlete.  
The warnings boiled down to:
  • Don't let your body overheat;
  • Stay well hydrated;
  • Don't get out of breath (steady effort, or lower); and
  • Listen to your body.
Monica read the blogs of athletic moms like Bree Wee and Paula Radcliffe -- seeking to learn from their experience.  She also consulted with coaches of elite female triathletes to learn from their experience.  Something that came out of that research is the risk of stress fractures that result when moms come back too quickly.  We received a lot of warnings about late term and postpartum running.
While most people talk about trimesters, looking from the outside, I noticed shifts closer to ten week blocks within M's 40-week pregnancy.
First ten weeks -- hormonal changes, mainly impacted mood and appetite.  Monica was lucky in that her cravings were fresh fruit (rather than sugar/starch) related.
Second ten weeks -- feeling much better, moderated volume and intensity with attitude of baby-comes-first.
Third ten weeks -- pregnancy starts to show, pubic bone discomfort at 26 weeks, stopped running at 30 weeks, shifted to the elliptical trainer 2x per week.
Final ten weeks -- months of high frequency swimming left her very economical in the water, some high volume swim weeks, hiking started around 34 weeks, elliptical reduced to 1x per week.
Here's a great stat... total swim distance across the pregnancy... 908,600 meters.   Average weekly volume was 14 hours and 45 minutes (includes yoga & cross training but not mellow walks with me).  That average volume was down from 19-23 hours per week before conception.
The most surprising thing for me was that across her third trimester, Monica had returned to a level of aerobic swim economy that was on-par with where she was preconception.
To sum up Monica's focus:
  • Pre-pregnancy -- health, not race fitness
  • During pregnancy -- baby comes first, no zeros
The biggest mental challenges Monica faced were:
  • not stopping; 
  • coping with weight gain; 
  • coping with her body changing; and
  • coping with peer group response.
There will be days where you feel like everyone wants you to get huge, slow down and be uncomfortable.  Those feelings are normal and it helps to know that all pregnant ladies are dealing with them.
If she had to give you one piece of advice with your pregnancy then she would encourage you to remain active, moderately, every day.  Also remember that if you plan on breast feeding you'll burn off your baby weight safely and gradually.
+++The birth experience was intense and nothing like either of us expected.  We went to "baby school" this summer but nothing can prepare you for the real thing.  
All you experienced moms out there... you certainly downplayed the extreme nature of childbirth!6:45pm Sunday (Zero Hour) -- water breaks, contractions start shortly thereafter
+6 hrs -- at the hospital, told cervix is 1-2 cm dilated
+15 hrs -- Monica's OB/Gyn gives an exam and notes that cervix is 1 cm dilated -- previous exam was incorrect; drug inserted to help cervix along
+18 hrs -- full blown labour gets going, strong contractions happening up to 2:30 min apart
+23 hrs -- another exam; disappointing news; uterus is ahead of cervix; only 2cm dilated; facing another 12 hrs of labour M opts for epidural
+24 hrs -- epidural kicks in with three hours of pain relief and relative comfort
+29 hrs -- pain relief gone; M feeling pretty strung out and ragged; doctor recommends sleeping pill to enable M to sleep; doesn't force it but strongly recommends
+30 hrs -- M waives off sleeping pill; gets anaesthetist to refresh the epidural;
+31 hrs -- another three hours of pain relief; a couple of short naps; makes a huge difference
+34 hrs -- pain relief wanes; good news that M is 8.5 cm dilated (one needs to get to 10 cm) 
+35 hrs -- pretty extreme pain through transition; M starts pushing; has to pause because she nearly pushes the baby out before the doctor can get to the room
+35:30 hrs -- childbirth!Things that surprised us:
The extreme amounts of pain -- likely magnified by duration of labour and lack of sleep.   Picture the most despair your have ever seen in an athlete... this didn't even come close!  I'm guessing that you'd only see close having to watch young people die or see people broken via torture.  It's a good thing that babies are so cute!
The main thing that surprised me (M didn't see) was the large amount of blood that came out after the birth -- between the placenta and the blood, there was a bucket full of post-baby-bits. Didn't freak me out but it certainly got my attention.
Tips for the guys:
Being in the room, and supportive, provides a HUGE opportunity to strengthen your marriage. In life, we only get a few opportunities to demonstrate character. Child-birth is a total-body experience for your wife, being able to share that can create a deep bond. She will always remember if you were there for her.
Besides, after you watch, you'll spend the rest of your life grateful that your wife is handling the birthing part of the relationship. Blew my mind!
Back next week,


Cindy said...

Monica's husband is right about child birth. It is an athletic event in a class all its own.

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