I devoted much of the past year to training for a half Ironman (70.3 miles of swimming, biking, and running). My first attempt at this distance race (that I wrote about here) wasn’t quite the experience I had planned. I ended that race in the emergency room, rather than at the finishing line. As if that wasn’t enough of a bump in the road, life decided to offer me another twist of fate with my second attempt at the race.
Just six weeks before my race, I found out that I was pregnant. This is my fourth pregnancy. All of my other children were planned with such precision that their birthdays fall exactly as I wanted. This time around, I was so taken unawares that I swore to my husband repeatedly that I had an awful stomach bug while he encouraged me to consider other potential reasons for my nausea.
Meanwhile, my race goal remained intact. In fact, my desire to accomplish the feat only grew as I realized that my next opportunity for racing that distance would be months, if not years, away. Rather than deterring me, my pregnancy news encouraged me to continue my training and reach the goal if at all possible. With the approval of my healthcare provider, I did just that. While I thought I knew most everything there was to know about being pregnant, my experience taught me so much about the strength and resilience of my body.
Conventional wisdom says that whatever level of physical activity maintained before pregnancy may be continued during pregnancy. Anyone who has ever been pregnant knows that this conventional wisdom is optimistic at best and downright unrealistic at worst. Continuing to exercise may not adversely affect the pregnancy, but it’s all a moot point when you’re too nauseated and exhausted to drag your body out of bed to lace up your shoes.
My physical symptoms lured me to give up, yet I found the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sure my workouts changed. I would have to stop swimming in the middle of a lap in order to allow a wave of nausea to pass. My runs were tricky, as I had to find foods that would give me the energy to train without making me sick. My tiredness was so overwhelming that naps became a non-negotiable part of my day, but I persisted. To be honest, the strength I experienced was more mental than physical. My goal was so important to me that my mind didn’t allow my physical discomfort to derail my plans. Along the way, I learned some valuable lessons.
Race days always present little wrenches in the plan.
Experts advise endurance athletes to plan for the unexpected so that minor setbacks don’t produce major disappointment. True to experience, there were a few wrenches in my day. My family wasn’t able to attend, and I was mentally shaken by the worry of what would happen if I had an accident again and no one was there to drive me to the hospital. During the swim portion of the race, I found myself surrounded by people flailing in the water. Unable to move around them, my swim time was much slower than I anticipated. This is Florida, so race day was hot, but I prepared for the worst so that I wouldn’t be overcome by less-than-ideal factors.
Never underestimate the power of community!
My biggest discovery of the day was the sense of community around me. The bike portion of the race has always been the most nerve-racking, and my recent crash only served to intensify my fear of cycling. In an abundance of caution, I ironed a “Baby on Board” sign to my racing jersey in hopes that my fellow competitors would be kind and not ride aggressively. What I received instead was an outpouring of support from complete strangers. Some of my favorite comments from passersby: You are my hero! You are amazing! You are going to rock labor and delivery! You
are an Iron Mom! You are going to have an Iron Baby!
The encouragement and support were overwhelming to me. One man ran with me a while to tell me the story of his wife completing the same event while pregnant. A police officer cheered for me over his car’s loudspeaker. At aid stations, volunteers helped me to locate food and drink that my stomach could tolerate and that would keep me fueled for the distance. I am sure my hormones are partly to blame, but this sense of community caused me to shed tears of joy. I could not believe that people I had never met could be so uplifting.
Redemption is sweet!
My overall finishing time was quite a bit slower than I wanted. I was sore in ways I never imagined for the week following my race. Once I accomplished my goal, my desire to train that hard virtually disappeared. Yet my take away from the experience is that redemption is a sweet victory. I may never win a race or even come close, but my body is strong and capable and can carry me to any distance I desire. Now it’s time to focus on my next endurance event—growing my son. Given the nature of his start in life, we’ve decided that the only name that suits him is Miles.