I always thought that at some point I would have children, but I was concerned at the thought of having to give up riding and racing for a period of time. I am someone who rides five to seven days per week. In addition, I teach anywhere from ten to twelve indoor cycling classes every week and so it’s safe to say that cycling is a huge part of my daily life. If I were to have a child, I was always unsure how much training I could do while I was pregnant, if any. So, when I found out I was pregnant, I was filled with joy but also a lot of questions and concerns about what I could continue to do fitness-wise. I wanted to stay as active as I could, but at the same time I didn’t want to jeopardize my pregnancy.
If you are a female athlete who wants to have children, the thought of your athletic goals taking a backseat for a year or so to have a child may be a difficult thing to deal with mentally. I knew that when a woman’s body was hard at work building and protecting another human being it would become harder and harder to train at the same level and intensity. Bodily functions that used to be solely devoted to building muscles and helping you recover would now be partially diverted elsewhere to assist in the growth of the tiny human inside of you. Here are some of my experiences, feelings, thoughts and revelations as a pregnant athlete in the first trimester.
Week 1, Technically Week 4
As an athlete and fitness professional I have gotten to know my body pretty well and so I tend to notice when things don’t feel quite right. I all of a sudden started feeling more fatigued than usual. I was having trouble pushing hard in my training and recovering afterwards and I began to wonder if I could be pregnant. I wasn’t quite ready to deal with that reality yet and so decided to put that thought out of my head and just continue on with my normal daily training routine, however I couldn’t quite get that nagging feeling to go away. A few days later I finally decided to take a pregnancy test and it came back positive. This was fantastic news and something that I had wanted to happen, but what did this pregnancy mean for me in regard to my riding and training? I had no idea and so as usual, I decided to go for a bike ride to clear my head.
Week 5 – Concern and Confusion
I was still feeling relatively normal and so I could still do all of my usual riding, right? On Saturday morning, I participated in my bike shop ride which was short but relatively hard as far as pace goes. Afterward I did not feel very well for the rest of the day. My head became filled with more questions. Did I push too hard? Did I do any harm to the baby? How hard was I allowed to push while pregnant? I started to google this topic only to find a myriad of different answers, ranging from; “why would you ever ride a bike at all while pregnant, it’s DANGEROUS!” to “keep your heartrate below 140bpm, no wait 160bpm,” to “there is no conclusive evidence to show that putting in hard efforts while pregnant does any harm to the baby.” So, what was the correct answer? Retire from cycling, 140bpm, 160bpm, or I can do whatever the heck I want? I was starting to feel a bit dismayed that I couldn’t just go ride my bike as hard as I wanted for as long as I wanted without worrying that I was doing damage to the tiny human growing inside my body. I had made a doctor’s appointment, but it wasn’t for another couple of weeks and so I knew I wouldn’t get more concrete answers to my questions until then. After some contemplation, I decided to be a little bit more cautious and back off my efforts somewhat, but not to put my bikes in storage and become a complete couch potato just yet.
Week 6 – Feeling Fatigued
I was still out riding, but definitely noticed that I was having a little bit of trouble pushing as hard, especially on the hills. I also noticed that my muscles were feeling sore after riding which normally doesn’t happen to me just from riding my bike. I felt like my body was rebelling against me and I in turn was trying not to listen to it. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to do anything that could be harmful to the baby, but at this point since I was not yet shaped like a beach ball, I wanted to keep up as much activity as I could to the highest level that I could. I made the decision to do one shorter race and then call my racing season quits for 2017. I wanted to finish out the season of summer racing, but decided that I would just focus on riding for fitness and staying active.
Weeks 7 & 8 – Sick and Tired
I finally saw the doctor in the middle of week seven and she assured me that exercise was fine, especially since I had been so active before becoming pregnant. She even told me that there was no heart rate restriction, but to keep any anaerobic efforts to shorter than twenty minutes. This made me feel better mentally, however stronger feelings of fatigue and nausea were starting to hit me physically. I was still trying to keep up my normal level of activity, but not listening to my body was just making things worse. Finally, early in week eight I hit a day where I felt pretty terrible right from the time I woke up. In addition to being an outdoor cyclist I am also a fitness instructor and of course this terrible feeling came on a day when I had four classes to teach. I toughed out my 6am class but by the time my lunchtime class rolled around I was feeling a little bit worse. I pushed on and made it through that class. I had just two evening classes to teach, I could do this! However, I also decided that some fresh air might make me feel better and so I went for an easy twenty-mile bike ride in the afternoon. I think that was the tipping point. After my ride I felt totally exhausted, cold, feverish and just plain awful. I tried to relax for a few hours, but when I headed off to teach my next class I knew it just wasn’t going to happen. I had to cancel my two evening classes. I got back home at 6:30pm and I slept from then until 7am the next morning. In retrospect, I probably should have listened to my body and taken a day off, but I am used to pushing through sickness and fatigue. I wasn’t factoring in that being pregnant was different than just being a bit tired or having a cold. I didn’t feel much better the next day and I wondered if this was what it was going to be like from now on. “Would I make it another 32 weeks at this rate?” I realized that I was really going to have to start listening to my body more closely from now on.
Weeks 9 and 10 – Another Turning Point
I woke up on Monday morning at the start of week nine and all of a sudden, I felt dramatically better. I actually felt totally normal, which made me believe that there must be something terribly wrong. How could I go from feeling so badly to feeling so completely fine overnight? I tried not to worry too much and be thankful that I wasn’t feeling terrible. I enjoyed the fact that I was feeling better and was able to get back outside again. On the first day of week ten I went for another ultrasound and everything checked out fine. The baby was alive, growing and kicking its miniscule little legs, undoubtedly attempting to get in shape for his or her future cycling career. Continuing to listen to my body and taking advantage of the good days was a lesson I learned in week ten. Get out there, and enjoy the ride on the days you feel good because on the days you feel badly you just won’t be able to push through it or at least you shouldn’t.
Weeks 11 and 12 – Wrapping up the first trimester
The pregnancy was finally starting to feel more real. My jerseys and shorts were starting to feel a little bit tight and my power and speed on the hills was dropping, even a bit more. It still felt great to ride outside and I was determined to get as many outdoor miles in as I could before my body really started to go through some more dramatic physical changes. I was beginning to exercise more caution on the bike than usual and my riding was becoming much more defensive, especially when it came to trusting cars on the roads. I was getting to the end of the first trimester and feeling better. I didn’t want to jeopardize my pregnancy now by having faith in a driver who might not see me cruising along down the road. If you are going to ride outdoors while pregnant definitely be way more cautious and don’t take anything for granted. Riding is an integral part of my daily and weekly life and something I thoroughly enjoy. Some people may be critical of the fact that I was riding on the roads at all, but for someone who rides their bike five or six days a week, just giving it up cold turkey would have been tough for me.
In the first trimester, I realized that I didn’t have to give up on all of my athletic endeavors right away. I did have to put some things on hold that I had planned to do in 2017, like racing cyclocross and doing more mountain biking, both of which involve much greater risks of falling. I had to learn to exercise more caution, listen to my body more closely and start riding and training more for fitness and fun rather than racing or trying to push hard intervals. I had to enjoy the ride on the days where I was feeling good, which honestly was becoming a refreshing change from the hard riding and training I was so accustomed to.