Wow! It's been a little over one week since I "raced" while 8 months pregnant at USA Track and Field National Championships. And what an exhilarating week it has been! I've received so much positive feedback, so many touching stories, and such an out-pouring of loving messages from people all over the world! I can not express my gratitude to have been contacted and supported by so many awesome people!
Like so many things in life, there are going to be some naysayers. While it is disappointing to know that there are still misinformed people who think that exercising while pregnant is harmful to the baby, my experience has been extremely positive. I did my homework. I consulted with my doctors, sought advice from many exercise professionals, and spoke to tons of women who have exercised during their pregnancies. The overall consensus from my medical/professional team was, "GO BABY GO!" Or should I say, "GO MAMA GO," since this Mama is carrying the weight for the both of us!"
But my goal here isn't to focus on the very few negative comments out there, especially since they have been heavily outweighed by the positive. My goal is to share some of my personal experience, with the hopes that it might teach some about the benefits of exercising during pregnancy.
So here it goes;
A QUICK OVERVIEW OF MY FITNESS JOURNEY:
Before my pregnancy, I generally exercised at a very intense level. I am an Olympic athlete who consistently ranks amongst the top 800 meter runners in the world.
I was always training my body to push the limits, and then surpass them. This was done all in the hopes of getting fractions of a second better to compete in a race where the slimmest of margins mean victory or defeat. I trained to reach superior fitness levels for my event. It is a life I am used to, and a life I've learned to love! Contrast that with my life during pregnancy. I simply could not train at a very intense level. That didn't mean that I couldn't amp up the difficulty, I just couldn't be as aggressive as I was used to. In my world when I say "very intense," I mean all out 11's on a scale of 1-10! Throughout my pregnancy, I was still challenging myself physically, but my intensity was modified and taken down a few notches. The first thing you learn when you are pregnant and pursuing fitness is that no matter how hard you try, you literally WILL NOT BE ABLE TO TRAIN AT THE SAME INTENSITY. It's like your body has an automatic "no go zone", not to mention all those loose and stretched ligaments prohibit your body from any snap that might have been there beforehand. I must exclaim that the body is truly remarkable! It is made to adapt to its conditions.
On average, I ran about 5 days a week during my pregnancy until I reached about 24 weeks. Around this time I began to "pop out" and could feel a little bit of discomfort with the changes to my body. However, almost as quickly as my body changed, this amazing biological machine adapted to the excess weight and I was able to maintain a fitness routine. It was a modified routine, but a routine nonetheless. I was able to balance my fitness and body adjustments by cutting a day of training out, and ensuring I gave myself at least one day of NO RUNNING in between my run days.
Many weeks, my pregnancy fitness regimen looked like this:
SUNDAY: Run then Sunday Funday
MONDAY: Easy weight routine
FRIDAY: Easy weight routine
When I was planning to get pregnant, I had set a goal of trying to run until my 30th week of pregnancy, body and health permitting. By week 28, I was still feeling relatively good. I only say relatively because how good does any pregnant woman feel with third trimester fatigue, hormones pumping through the body and carrying a baby who uses their bladder as their personal squeeze toy!? Seriously, my baby would sometimes use my pelvis as a custom hammock, and this isn't to mention constantly satisfying the ravenous hunger beast with random food cravings! Even so, so many new changes were happening while entering the third trimester that I decided to take a rest week to relax, adapt, and then see if I could keep going. Instead of running, I went for hikes and ran only twice that week. Whelp, that rest week really worked and I felt rejuvenated enough to continue my runs for the following 2 weeks!
By week 30, I felt GREAT!!! Again, as great as any pregnant woman who has put on 22 plus pounds and counting! I thought about how good I was feeling emotionally and physically and about how well my pregnancy was progressing. I thought about how grateful I was that I realized early on my secret to dealing with the uncomfortable parts of being pregnant, and how to feel revitalized when I felt low on energy. The secret was simple: the days that I was able RUN or EXERCISE AT ALL, I FELT AN AMAZING BOOST OF ENERGY IN MY MIND BODY AND SPIRIT. It has been incredible to see how different I felt on days when I had been exercising compared to days when I had not. While rest is really important, the blood flow and keeping my heart rate up has made my pregnancy nearly (I said nearly) a breeze!
With all of the benefits I was feeling by continuing to keep this body moving, it made sense for me to keep going as long as I was able to run, and my health care providers continued to give me the thumbs up! I'd reached my goal of running until week 30, which as a side note is why I feel like it is important to set goals. I felt so happy to know that I had made it to my 30th week! Around this time I assessed how I felt about running at the USA Track and Field National Championships that were just 4 weeks away. My husband Louis and I had discussed this idea of running in the meet a while back, but didn't want to force it. Honestly, we weren't even sure if it were going to be a real possibility. We really felt it was important to listen to my body, and let it be the defining factor on whether this would be feasible. By the time the deadline to enter came around, I was in really good physical and mental condition, and that fiery desire to compete was getting HOT! Additionally, I had the qualifying time and I was the defending champion 5 times over.
Lastly, I was fed up. I had it with the people that really did not understand exercising while pregnant. I felt like this would be a really good way to show people what it looked like. Not only that, I wanted people to see that professional women often continue their careers even while pregnant, and I could do so also even in my line of work. There were so many reasons TO RUN! I thought to myself, I've been running this entire time and the pace I would run would be less rigorous than my training, and much shorter. I literally just needed to assess if I could easily run faster than 2 minutes for 1 lap to ensure I wouldn't get lapped in a two-lap race. I could do that easily... SO, I entered. I started tapering as my race approached.
Here is what my pregnancy taper looks like:
WEDNESDAY:(the week prior): OFF traveled back from Eugene, OR
THURSDAY: 5x5sets of a 30 second run w/ 30- 60 seconds rest on WOODWAY treadmill @9.0-9.5 w/3.0 incline with 2 minutes rest in between sets.
FRIDAY: Easy 30 minute swim.
SATURDAY: 4 mile run
SUNDAY: Easy 2mile walk and WORLD CUP!!!
MONDAY: 35 minute stationary ElliptiGO
WEDNESDAY: travel and PRE- RACE 2 mile walk!
THURSDAY: RACE DAY
The morning of the race I got up for my usual breakfast . All the inspiration I needed to go forth and prosper came by watching the USA Men's Soccer team make it out of the GROUP OF DEATH!!!
I went for a walk to get my blood flowing, especially since those guys had me and my baby super hyper! Following that, I went back to the hotel to get rest and some chow. Gotta fuel myself and this baby, so I'll take a hot sandwich (not a deli sandwich) EXTRA PROTEIN PLEASE! (Looks down at the belly and rubs it as ordering).
I killed my lunch in a matter of seconds and then patiently waited in the hotel room before heading to the stadium to compete. When I arrived at the stadium, I ran into some familiar faces. People who noticed me started to ask, "are you really going to run?" I simply smiled and replied back "how are you?" (nice change of subject, right?)
Generally I warm up about one hour before my race. This time, I knew I wasn't going to do the whole kit and caboodle because frankly, for the pace I was running, it wasn't necessary. The main things I needed to focus on before completing the two-lapper were warming my loosey goosey relaxin' hormone havin' muscles, and making sure I stretched those bad boys well. No one has ever looked good getting a cramp, especially not an eight-month pregnant lady! I'm sure I looked ridiculous doing a light jog to the staging area where athletes get their hip/lane numbers. After checking in, I jogged back to the warm up area, ran a few 100 meter strides. I then sat and stretched while watching the other runners complete various exercises my pre-pregnant body would have loved to participate in. I couldn't help but smile though. I was so happy to just BE THERE and to share this love and this passion for this sport with my baby. I am pretty sure my baby felt all of the good vibes because as I sat there before the final call for my race, I felt my sweet little one bumping and kicking. I imagined my baby was warming up with me, and it felt so amazing to be there in that moment and have my baby responding to all of my belly rubs.
In the final staging area, as the race officials were taking the athletes to the track, runners popped fuel chomps and various different gels, GU's and energy products. I am sure I was the only one who was eating a full on sandwich just before heading out and an oat bar immediately following. (Eating for two). I continued to hydrate as I waited to be called out, but since my baby loves to push on my bladder, I wondered silently, "am I going to be the pregnant lady that has to pull over to the side of the track to pee?" Luckily I was able to do a final bathroom run before I took my lane... The rest is HISTORY, literally.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
AND FOR YOUR VIEWING PLEASURE HERE IS A POST RACE INTERVIEW:
Alysia Montaño AKA The Flying Flower AKA The Pregnant Runner