Hi ultra ladies! I want to share my experience with you about how I continued to train through my pregnancy. In my opinion, there isn’t enough information on exercising as a pregnant, ultra-endurance athlete. We train and prepare year-round for our events, and we go the extra mile to take care of our bodies. We pour an abundance of care and devotion into our sport, I believe that we shouldn’t have to take a break from exercising or training if our bodies and babies are healthy. I tweaked my training, modified workouts, listened to my body, ate and rested more, and was mindful of what was best for my baby.
My daughter’s name is Ember. She is strong and stubborn, just like her Mama! One of her favorite activities is going on runs in the jogger. Ember also likes to be around our cat. Our cat tolerates her flailing arms and kicking legs when Ember is excited and giggly to see her. Ember has many awesome toys, but the toy that she currently thinks is the most awesome is an orange block. And bubbles and reading, can’t forget those. [Ember is 8 months old as I’m writing this.]
* NOTE: I’m mainly speaking to women who are experienced ultrarunners. I’m not a doctor. Everyone’s body is different and everyone experiences pregnancy (and ultramarathons) differently. This isn’t medical advice, it is my personal experience and opinion. *
I maintained training 5-7 days a week, but I would take off extra time if needed to rest. Being fit was highly helpful when I became pregnant. Prior to pregnancy, I trained intensely and just finished (and by “finished,” I mean DNF-ing at mile 85 because I missed the cutoff) Oil Creek 100, the month before my husband and I were joyed to learn that I was pregnant.
Sticking to a similar routine of exercise was helpful in the mental health department. While hormones had their days of running wild, I was able to find mental stability through routine exercise.
Training was just a continuation through pregnancy.
I exercised to have a healthy, fit pregnancy, not just for an ultramarathon. Having a fit pregnancy was a gift to my baby. I read insightful research and articles online about the benefits that exercise had on babies, like advanced motor skills and strengthening of the heart. Ember surprises everyone with how strong she is! Ember is petite like her Mama, but if people don’t “know” her Mama, of course they would be caught off guard if they are holding Ember when she kicks and wiggles. Making sure that my exercise was for my baby more than it was for myself was of paramount importance.
[While I’m on the topic of the benefits, I just want to mention that I did have a rather fast postpartum recovery. Exercising, although tiring at points, was well worth it.]
Another part of being mindful, I paid closer attention to my body. I was already highly in-tune with my body from being an ultrarunner, but I had a phrase to remind myself not to over-exert. “If I’m comfortable, baby is comfortable.” I was in-tune with my breathing, heart rate, the amount I was sweating, food and water intake, and sleepiness.
I continued my vegan diet. Most days I’d have seconds at dinner, and some nights I’d wake up in the middle of the night for a snack. Banana and peanut butter or Cocoa Bunny cereal were my favorite night time snacks. I ate what I craved, as long as I wasn’t going overboard and developing an unhealthy habit. I did eat a crazy number of Oreos, that was the one exception. Over my entire pregnancy, I maybe ate 4 packages? Definitely not how I normally eat, but I craved them. Intuitive eating was my goal. I also kept in my mind that food is fuel.
“Watching my weight” (because you gain weight during pregnancy and doctors recommend a certain amount gained slowly over time) wasn’t something I wanted to do. I preferred not knowing the number on the scale to protect my mental health. My doctor or midwife would check my weight and sometimes I would look and sometimes I wouldn’t. My weight was never discussed with me because it was healthy and in the right range. At some point I didn’t want to know the number. I acknowledged and reluctantly accepted that I would gain. I did my best to embrace that it was for the best interest of the baby. As an ultra-endurance athlete of several years, I was used to my body appearing and feeling a certain way. I had to remind myself that the changes that I was experiencing were only temporary.
Rest and Recovery
I napped. Getting plenty of rest and eating enough food were the two things that allowed me to train. At night, I slept for 9-10 hours, and during the days that I needed a nap (I’m not a nap person, so this was rare), 1 hour.
Recovery is rebuilding. Exercising with baby weight caused my muscles to become sore and I experienced aches when I normally wouldn’t.
My CrossFit coaches were phenomenal and supportive throughout this journey. They made suggestions for modifications, asked every class how I was feeling, and would cheer me on and provide encouragement.
I dialed back the intensity and amount of weight I lifted. I modified most workouts and took my time on days when I wasn’t feeling it or if I knew that I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing because of “pregnant brain.” Look that term up if you have never heard of it.
My top priority at CrossFit was maintaining good form, especially lifting with the barbell to overhead, for example. I had to be careful not to bump the bump as the bar traveled upwards. Eventually, I had to swap out the barbell for dumbbells due to bump size. I had to keep my baby safe and not compromise my form because the barbell needed to travel around the bump, instead of nice and close to my body. Dumbbells could stay close to my body. Also, if I were to continue with barbell to overhead, I might have trained my body to swing the bar around the bump, creating a bad habit that I’d struggle breaking postpartum. Using dumbbells kept the workout just as challenging as using the barbell.
I had a list of exercises that I couldn’t do at all during pregnancy, like climbing rope, basically anything up in the air that had a risk of falling. I also didn’t do any movements where I’d be upside down, like handstands. I couldn’t perform pull-ups or bench presses anymore. There were other exercises I could do up to a certain size of the bump. For box step ups, I eventually had to use the 18″ box, instead of the 20″ because I couldn’t step up that high, the bump was in the way. As baby grew, the bump got in the way more.
Another priority was to watch for “cone-shaping” of my stomach. If an exercise was making my abs stick out oddly and creating a cone, then it was time to stop that specific exercise to reduce the risk of getting Diastis Recti. Research Diastis Recti, it is a good thing to be aware of because you could pretty much permanently alter your abdominal muscles if not cautious during exercise.
Speaking of core, the ability to use it for stability was like a mystical unicorn. It was near impossible to tighten my core if I needed to for any exercise that involved the core directly or overhead movements, forcing me to use lighter weights.
I tend to be a stubborn and competitive person, so my mood and mental health took a little beating as I had to hold back while watching my box mates destroy WODs. There were days where this made me emotional and I missed the feeling of giving it my all. Some days, I held back tears. I coped by reminding myself that this was temporary, I told myself positive things, challenged and re-framed negative thoughts, and rattled off what I was grateful for. I also daydreamed about my little one running around with me and possibly having the same interests. I sought out support from my friends.
Running comes easy for me, but pregnancy made running even just a 5k around the park tough. My runs were usually kept slow and steady, around an 11:00 min/mi, more so as baby grew. I felt like I couldn’t go much faster, anyways. I didn’t always do the best job at having controlled breathing, as some days of running felt harder. I incorporated walking if I really needed to. There were days that just enjoyed a walk.
Run form is always important to me. I fought to maintain proper form as the bump weight pulled my hips forward. This changed my center of gravity, causing me to be a bit “off” my game. I was mindful that my joints and ligaments were also preparing to give birth. – I read that they “loosen up,” but I never noticed.
Trail running is more dangerous than road in my opinion, even though on road you can get hit by a vehicle. I took my time trail running and actually didn’t go a lot. Rocks, roots, and trees were a concern, I didn’t want to bonk my baby on them. But there is nothing more beneficial than getting outside.
For bump support when training, I used a few tricks. KT Tapes and an AZMED Maternity Belt. I liked the KT Tape, I searched for different ways online to support my belly, back, and hips. There were many ways to apply the tape using different patterns, but they all seemed to work equally well for people. I chose two ways that I liked and followed pictures and YouTube videos showing the application steps. It was easy to apply the tape and even easier when my husband helped out. I used the original black KT Tape, which was fun because it had reflective trim. Reflective, for if I needed someone to be able to see the bump coming. HA HA, just kidding! The other KT Tape was the Pro. I bought it because it is waterproof and they had one with skull designs. I had to have the skulls! I like skulls.
The tape stuck well through sweating, movements, and showering. It was stretchy, so it moved as a part of my body. It dried within a few hours of getting wet.
The down sides to the tape was that I was allergic to it and had sensitive skin. Skin is more sensitive during pregnancy. I only wore the product as recommended and looked into it being safe for my baby. It was safe. I tolerated the itching and tried not to scratch because that made the allergic reaction worse. Sometimes, when I needed to remove the tape, it was a bear to get off and kind of hurt. I usually waited for it to begin peeling off itself. I found that the Pro tape was easier to take off than the original.
Besides the allergy issue, I loved the tape and I felt like it was a game changer when providing my body with the support it needed. I noticed the difference in my muscles, mostly lower back and hips when I was wearing the tape verses not. I was thankful for it.
The AZMED Maternity Belt was a good find on Amazon Prime, it is highly rated by over 5,000 customers. The belt is soft and lightweight. I tried running in it once and it wasn’t breathable enough for running. It was hot and became soaked in sweat. I didn’t bother trying to wear it during any other kinds of training and exercise because it limited my mobility, mostly bending. However, the maternity band was nice to wear any other time and provided the support that I needed!
I am BEYOND grateful for my health, ability to run, participate in CrossFit, and to give birth to a healthy, FIERY, little girl. She is my world.