What Training During Pregnancy Was Really Like
When I found out last October that I was unexpectedly expecting I scoured the internet for any and all information I could find about what triathlon training while pregnant might look and feel like. I thought for sure that I would find some wisdom from those who had come before me, but I was sorely disappointed.
I found many blogs that basically said no more than, “Yep, I trained while I was pregnant.” But I wanted to know the nitty-gritty: what did it feel like, how slow was slow enough, how many hours per week were ladies training? I wanted numbers, something more tangible than “It’s healthy to exercise during pregnancy.” While everyone and every pregnancy is different, it would have been nice if I could have found just one person who talked about what it really felt like.
So here is a peek into my journey, so that other women out there sharing might struggle might know they aren’t alone.
The first and almost universal thing I encountered while pregnant was an immense fatigue. I needed to sleep, a lot! I am not a morning person, but have been able to get myself up for morning workouts since I was 13 years old. When I was pregnant…there was no way I was getting up before 7 a.m. I even often told coach Hillary she could tell me to get my lazy butt out of bed earlier, but she never did.
Lesson #1: Listen to what your body needs and be kind to yourself. As athletes we are so used to pushing through anything that is uncomfortable, but with all the other discomforts of pregnancy—nausea, soreness, anxiety—sleeping in was a kindness I gave myself. I thought I would be one of those women that, like, ran marathons through the whole pregnancy. Let me tell you though, I was TIRED, and any workout much more than an hour was a non-starter for me.
I grew up swimming, and that is where I felt the first changes in my body—and it happened quickly. I noticed a tightness in my abdomen almost right away, but aside from that there was not a lot of progression in my discomfort until the third trimester when my belly was just physically in the way.
I’m a 1:10-1:15/100y swimmer usually and I quickly became more of a 1:25-1:30 swimmer. This happened in the first trimester and I didn’t really get any slower until the last four weeks or when I found myself in the 1:40 range. I was also able to keep doing flip turns up until I delivered. I kept asking my doctor if that would hurt the baby, because everyone told me the day would come when I wouldn’t be able to flip turn, but she assured me that if I was comfortable doing something, I could keep doing it. My turns were slow and not nearly as tight, but I kept doing them.
As far as biking went, I transferred to all indoor trainer rides right away, mostly because of the time of year here in Seattle. I didn’t do any rides over about 1:30 to 1:45, and at around week 30 that started decreasing to 1:15 to one-hour workouts.
My power also gradually dropped by about 30%. Prior to pregnancy, most of my rides in zone 2 were 180-190 watts, but I found myself struggling to maintain 140-150 watts during pregnancy. It was about 24 weeks when I could no longer get in my aero bars.
The Running Struggle
Running was my real battle. I just felt AWFUL running. Heavy and tired and I had a lot of round ligament pain from the very beginning. I can’t really speak to speed changes because I don’t train with GPS or heartrate anymore, but I will say I felt like I was running through molasses. I also found hills to be impossible; I would walk most of them by about week 18.
I also ended up with a sacroiliac injury that forced me to stop running at week 28. I pushed too long through this and ended up at a point where I was in so much pain I could barely walk. I tried massage and ice and heat to try to alleviate the symptoms, but nothing improved until I found a chiropractor (recommended by my OB) who worked magic, getting me back to at least walking within a few weeks. At that point, I didn’t return to running because I didn’t want to aggravate the injury again, and I was only getting bigger and heavier by then.
Post-Labor and What Now
My main take away from the experience was the need for a total shift in perspective. I stopped using the word training—what I was doing was really just exercising. It was a difficult mental transition for me, but eventually I found a place where I was OK with it. After the SI injury I learned to just be thankful that I could still be active.
I was exercising about eight hours/week until about week 28, where it started decreasing to more like 5-6 hours/week. One thing I always tried to do at every workout was to just take a second to be thankful that I could still move my body in most of the ways that I wanted to and that I was keeping myself as active as possible.
My little Isla is four weeks old now and we are all learning about each other. I’ve also learned that while she needs a lot from me, it is important that I continue to do me. Showing my daughter that I matter is a very important lesson for her and one that I’m sure she will learn while watching me continue to train and race.
That’s the next challenge: returning to training. I’m hoping to get a few local Olympic distance races in before the end of summer and maybe hit up a few 70.3s at the end of October or November.
Now here are a few pics: me on the trainer the day I went in to labor; I did an easy hour spin and am pretty sure I had a few contractions during it — but I couldn’t fit into any of my Smashfest Queen jerseys at that point and had to borrow one from my husband! The second picture is our new baby girl. Can’t wait for her to start working her own smashfests.
Christine Avelar is a former standout age-group ironman athlete. She was in the midst of her second season racing in the pro ranks while working as a veterinarian by day when she learned she had a surprise baby on board!