Concerns for Ironman Training while Pregnant

My Primary Care Provider’s Concerns

My PCP is the perfect trifecta for a pregnant woman: she’s a family practice doctor, an obstetrician, and a lactation consultant. I’ve always valued finding healthcare providers I like and trust; I feel incredibly lucky to have found our family’s physician and trust her implicitly.

At the beginning of the year, I was contemplating the next year’s goals and debating whether I would rather have a baby or train for Ironman again. I shot a message to my physician and asked if she thought I could do both and complete Ironman while pregnant. Her response was encouraging. She shared that other women in her practice have completed ironman pregnant and that she specifically recommended I time it for my 2nd trimester (when you’re past the first trimester fatigue/nausea and not quite big enough to cause discomfort).

In summary: my PCP shared no concerns with training for or completing an ironman triathlon while pregnant. In fact, she encouraged me.

My Midwife’s Concerns

After becoming pregnant, we selected a midwife to provide prenatal, delivery, and postnatal care for me and baby. I asked our midwife for her advice on training and racing. She gave me the following advice:

  • Don’t push through pain or lightheadedness/dizziness
  • If you listen to it, your body will guide you
  • Take activities slowly so you can assess whether you’re feeling pain or not
  • Only you can be the judge of where to draw your lines for you and baby

My Coach’s Concerns

When sharing with my coach that I wanted to train for Ironman Wisconsin and see how it goes, she had no concerns about my ability to physically train and gain enough fitness to complete the race. Instead she had concerns about the race-day environment and it’s potential for harm. She was concerned I could get kicked in the stomach on the swim or crash on the bike – both of which could cause direct impact and harm to the baby.

My coach is a phenomenal athlete and would commonly win triathlons she competed in before retiring and growing a family. My coach’s race day experience is likely much different from what I’m used to – and much more competitive. For last year’s Ironman Wisconsin open water swim, I certainly made contact with other swimmers but I didn’t have a violent or scary experience. I think the environment toward the back of the pack is much calmer than the front lines.

This is, of course, always a risk – pregnant or not. As your belly grows throughout pregnancy, your balance can certainly be thrown off; I’m optimistic that consistently staying on a bike throughout pregnancy combined with only being 21 weeks (and hopefully not toppling-over yet) makes me only slightly more likely to crash my bicycle than non-pregnant athletes. Crashing on the bike is generally a risk I’m willing to take. I’m also still driving my car and statistically that’s more dangerous.

My Husband’s Concerns

My husband has some apprehensions with me doing Ironman. He is also generally overly concerned about me being pregnant and any little thing that could impact the baby on board. Most importantly, though, he knows that most of his concerns and doubts stem from inappropriate cultural expectations of women and pregnancy. He is also a guy who values facts – and the facts are it’s generally OK for women to exercise, even rigorously, while pregnant. I’m currently gathering all the research I can find and am working on a future blog post that focuses on medical research and cold, hard facts around pregnancy and exercise.

As for my husband’s concerns, they are all trumped by his complete trust in me and my dedication to listening to my body and never putting a workout or race above our baby.

My Concerns

I don’t have concerns around possible harm to the baby; my concerns are more generic “what if” fears:

  • What if running starts to hurt? I’ll be so sad having to give it up.
  • What if I am miserable for every long training bike ride? How can I get mentally out of that rut?
  • What if I’m too big on race day to wear my normal bike shorts? Do they sell maternity bike shorts?

In summary, I’ve recruited advice from those that I trust and respect (see above). I’ve weighed my options and considered carefully what is best for me and baby. For now, we’ll continue on with Ironman training. I’ll be listening carefully for signs that I should change my regiment – but I’m working hard to push out fear and ignore everyone else’s unsolicited, not-fact-based advice.

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