The Pregnant Athlete (by Eimear Mullan)
I’ve always wanted children, and I’ll be honest, one of my biggest fears in life was not being able to have them. We had been talking about having children for a while, though when we found out I was pregnant, it was a bit of a surprise but a very welcome one.
To be honest, when I raced in Asia in November and December last year, I was neither fit nor injury free, and going in to those races I felt like I could barely run but my head was able to push a sore and underprepared body around to some great results including my 8th 70.3 win. Although it was early days, after this I thankfully felt that was on the way to fitness and recovery and those races were the mental boost I needed to show myself that I could still come back and be competitive after a long injury break. Without having done those races, I’m not sure I would even be thinking of competing again post pregnancy.
Towards the end of December training, particularly running wasn’t progressing as well as I would have liked and I was questioning if I’d ever be able to get back to being fully fit. When training at home during the Christmas holidays, I was struggling to run pain free and I started to think more about having children and wondered when would be the right time for us, little did I know I was already pregnant!
When January came, things clicked, I started running well and felt great! I felt like my old normal run legs were coming back and it felt amazing. This continued for some weeks and I started to think about why my body was suddenly feeling so good and how the leftover niggles and stiffness from my injury could just disappear so quickly. One morning I was on a lovely flowing fast run and, for some reason, I questioned if pregnancy could be the reason for the sudden boost to my body. I had no other signs, symptoms or indication of pregnancy, so feeling slightly silly, I took a test and there it was, in words ‘pregnant’. We were pretty surprised to begin with but another couple of tests confirmed it. As it turns out, now is the good time for us to start a family!
My first trimester flew by and not knowing I was pregnant made some of the tiredness easier to deal with. I actually put it down to recovering from a bad cold I got in January. Actually, my training was really picking up and I really felt the best I had felt for years. As soon as I found out, things definitely slowed down a bit training wise, but I was keen to keep some structure going and to keep my body moving. I looked into exercising in pregnancy and the information wasn’t very clear but, at my first midwife visit, I was given the all clear to keep exercising and doing what feels good and what my body is used to, which was great to hear. I told my coach, Rob, and we decided to keep to a loose training plan for a while to keep me moving and motivated. Having a little plan really helped me in many ways, even if I didn’t strictly stick to it. We kept this going well in to the second trimester. I listened to my body, backed way off on intensity and took it easy when I needed to, though I did find that on tired days some short easy training sessions helped to keep my energy levels up. I definitely was one of the lucky ones with no morning sickness and only some slight nausea once or twice which was easily relieved by eating something, needless to say I was never without a snack nearby.
In the second trimester I felt pretty good but running started to become a problem quite early on. At around 13 weeks, I could already feel that my pubic bone was very tender and sometimes sore after running but it eased quite quickly. I managed to run relatively well up to 16 weeks when, suddenly, during a run, something went in my SI joint and I hobbled home. It got worse and worse to the point where I couldn’t walk and was on crutches for a couple of weeks. At this point, I was limited to easy swims (pull only and with no push off the wall). As it began to ease, many weeks later, I slowly introduced some short walks and easy indoor bike rides. It’s amazing how much you can sometimes appreciate just a 15 minute slow walk. Eventually, the pain really eased off and I was able to (slowly) run, bike and swim again and could follow a light, easy training plan whilst making sure I was listening to my body and adapting when I needed to. If I didn’t feel right I would stop; it’s something I’ve been bad at in the past, so hopefully I will remember this lesson in the future.
As the weeks progressed, I felt better and better, probably somewhat due to the fact that I could exercise pain free again. Some friends introduced me to the FitSplint, which holds your expanding belly when walking or running and this definitely helped me to keep running (very slowly) for a good few weeks longer than I ever thought I could.
So far, I feel like I have been very lucky to have kept healthy and well and I hope that my final weeks will go smoothly. I’ve kept busy and kept up some light training with a view of coming back to the sport next year. I know it’s not going to be straightforward or easy either physically, mentally or practically, and it’s going to take a long time to figure out how to make it work. But, right now, I feel it’s a challenge I’d like to take on and I’ve been preparing the grandparents for some extreme babysitting!
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