Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pregnant Performance Ponderings

I'm going to use the term "performance" loosely for the next, oh, 6 months at least. But it is all relative, and I'm trying to keep tabs on what I'm doing and how I'm feeling while pregnant just in case I find myself in this position again.

There are a lot of general guidelines about pregnancy involving exercise, weight gain, nutrition, and whatnot, but I really went into this unsure of what exactly to expect. The general population probably doesn't exercise even as much as my slacker self has the past couple of years, so I feel like I have to come up with my own averages for pregnant athletic types based on articles, books, and blogs. I've had a lot of help from one book in particular, Dr. James Clapp's Exercising Through Your Pregnancy. I can't recommend this book highly enough. More on it later. (I love the 80s clothing.)

The first few weeks of being pregnant, before I knew, I won a small triathlon but felt a bit slow and out of breath. My training was just starting to pick up for the summer since I had an Ironman scheduled for November. I found out I was pregnant just before going to Italy, where morning sickness hit and travel interfered with training; I kept running as best I could those 2 weeks. Until about 16 weeks along, I was sick and losing weight. So it was rough for a while.

But since then, I've felt good and have been keeping track of what's going on in my "athletic" life. I'll be 25 weeks tomorrow, and things are changing quickly. But so far:

Swimming: The first thing I noticed at a few months was the feeling that I had this bobbly floating buoy in my belly. I instantly looked more pregnant standing shoulder deep in the pool, not that anybody could see me. Obviously, I also look more pregnant just wearing a swimsuit. While not looking at my times or doing many intervals, I know I'm slower. It's probably more a lack of swim fitness than anything, but hey, it's a potential excuse. My feet cramp a lot, in the pool as well as at night. Must be my lack of potassium (haha, kidding). So far I have a couple of swimsuits that still fit, but I keep threatening the lifeguard that I'll be breaking out the 2-piece soon. And doing lots of backstroke.

Bike: I was still riding regularly, from an hour all the way up to the mountainous metric century, while the weather was nice, but now it is quite a bit colder, and I realized that two waistbands that both hit at an awkward spot is just not worth it. There are fears in the back of my mind of falling or getting hit by a car and the potential placental abruption following, so combined with discomfort, moving indoors was the logical solution. Teaching a few spin classes when a sub is needed, or just taking the class has kept me feeling somewhat comfortable on the bike. I wear super old, stretchy shorts that I can move up and down, and have only had a few pains in my abs when going hard. Probably not coincidentally, I had this same pain the last few times I was outside on my bike, while climbing a small hill. My doctors and I attribute it to round ligament pain. I tend to get really out of breath early on in spin class, but my HR settles later; I really should start getting to class early to warm up when I'm teaching so my huffs and puffs aren't broadcast through a microphone.

Run:  Most surprisingly to me, running has been pretty enjoyable, with just a few adaptations I've had to make. The first was having to pee every mile or two. Luckily the route I almost always take goes through a pretty undeveloped neighborhood with tall bushes, and as a bonus, they're recently closed one main entrance to all traffic. Aha, privacy to squat. It's amazing the feeling of having to go right now so badly, then finding that it was approximately one tablespoon's worth of urgency.

I've kept up my "long" run, trying to do an 8.25 mile loop every week. Thanksgiving week, I actually hit the 35 mile mark, which is definitely more than the average winter week for me. Back in town and adding spinning and swimming in, I do 5-6 miles every other day or so, hitting 20-25 miles/wk. It's slow, but steady. Going the usual out and back route takes me uphill for over 2.5 miles, which means I'm crawling, especially since it takes 25 minutes for me to feel good lately. But a few times I've negative split a 6 mile run by 3 or 4 minutes. The extra weight + gravity can help sometimes I suppose. I can average a 9:00-9:10 pace for most of my runs. While in flat, closer-to-sea-level Tempe, I ran part of the IM course several times. one day I decided to do a few 1 minute pickups, while wearing my Garmin, and was really surprised to see my fast minutes peak in the low 6 min pace range. I was sure the Garmin was malfunctioning, but it was so consistent. I'll take it.

The last couple of weeks, as my ab muscles continue to s-t-r-e-t-c-h, I've felt more stitch-like pains, especially in the lower abdomen. The baby tends to settle low when I first start running, so I've started faithfully wearing a belly band. It seemed a little early to me to start wearing it, but the difference in comfort is amazing. Plus I look super cute.

Strength Training: It's been on and off, with the main difference being my weakened, separating rectus abdominus. It really limits pushups and pullups, and I try not to stress it or encourage any future herniation.

General: With my last set of labs I found out my hematocrit was low, and immediately felt tired the rest of the day. :) But honestly I haven't been very fatigued, even in the 1st trimester. Some days I sleep a bit more or less (which not having a job helps me accomplish).

Weight gain is an interesting topic for me. Having never faced an inevitable,  somewhat uncontrollable, imminent gain in my future, it was a scary thought at first. I've never been overly concerned about my weight, since Ironman training has always kept it pretty regulated for me. I was at a normal summer weight when morning sickness first hit me upside the head. From there I lost somewhere around 4 pounds. After about 16 weeks I leveled off and started the uphill gain. From that low sickly point, I am currently up about 10 pounds--mostly in the belly and butt, of course. Normally in the winter off season I tend to put on a few pounds, so this weight is only about a pound more than where I often am. I know the next 15 weeks could add up to another 15 pounds+, but I feel more prepared now, especially knowing that I won't just wake up one morning 8 pounds heavier (well, fingers crossed). I am running out of running and gym shirts that cover the entire expanse of my stomach. Luckily the shorts and tights are just fine. Now if my feet will stay the same length and still fit into my 8.5s.

Back to my Clapp book. The first time through, I skimmed it. I'm not sure what I was looking for exactly, but I didn't find it very specific, much like many reviewers. No, it doesn't say "do this, not that." So I started at the beginning and read every word. Really it takes some common sense and putting together concepts.

A lot of the research is pretty exciting (wish I could've been in on something like this in grad school). Exercise and pregnancy adaptations do compliment each other. Increased blood volume, improved oxygen transfer, better thermoregulation, and an increase in maximal oxygen uptake by a small amount are some of the additive and overlapping effects of exercise in pregnancy. There are definitely some risk factors, especially for abnormal pregnancy, but in general Dr. Clapp is very liberal in his approach to exercise. I am careful to check that the baby is moving within a half hour of my exercise, and I try to keep fueled at appropriate times. While I don't believe it would have been ok for me to do Ironman Arizona, (sorry "coach" dude who told me it was too bad I withdrew since I have so many performance enhancing adaptations-- yeah that may be part of the story, but I also have extra weight, two people to supply oxygen to, stretched muscles, the works, not to mention the potential negative effects on the baby from raising his HR for 11 or 12 hours), I do feel good about the exercise I am doing, and I hope that like Clapp says, I'm helping make him a stronger baby.

So where my exercise goes from here is just a guess, but for now I'm sticking to my loose schedule as best baby lets me.

Friday, December 2, 2011

IMAZ: the spectator's report

I have been so slow in getting around to reporting MY experience, you know, the important one, in Tempe. Jeremy stole the show, as well as all my fabulous pictures (just kidding, I really fell down on the job).

I'm just so excited for him. He did (most of) the training, he stuck to his plan (except for some of the nutrition part), and had an overall great first Ironman. But since you can read the firsthand report from him, I'll just go over my day.

In the days leading up to the race, there was no worry of resting, eating the wrong foods, stressing about gear or how much it was going to hurt. I was totally relaxed; I knew he'd be fine and have fun. We ate sushi (cooked for me) and a few In and Out Burgers. All the fit athletes walking around outdoing each other in their compression socks and tri suits made me feel more happy that I was not competing. Or racing. :)

My friend Rob, a longtime coach and amazing athlete, who has done over 250 triathlons, was there to spectate as well, and I was lucky enough to get some swimming form tips from him on Saturday. We met up at the Arizona State pool, a huge, outdoor, Olympic-sized, clean, clear paradise. I'd swim every day if I had something like that (and the weather to match). I took my mountain bike along to get around easier and realized that I was crazy for not  having attended ASU at some point in my life. I left the pool and rode along a palm-lined pedestrian path right through campus to get to our favorite pizza place.

Race morning was the usual crowded, crazy, cold madness, still with a certain calmness and seriousness among the racers. After watching him do his last preparations, I bid Jeremy farewell for the day, took the bike pump back to the car that was parked ridiculously close to the finish line, and headed up to the bridge over the lake to squeeze in front of 3 rows of people, next to Rob and his friend Tom, who had been up there 45 minutes. I've never seen an Ironman start from such a vantage point, and it was impressive.

We made it to the swim-T1 chute, and I was ecstatic to see Jeremy out running the chute, already stripped, in just over 1:08 (officially in the 1:07s).  The next stop was the bike out/turnaround, and we spent several hours there with me picking Rob's and Tom's brains about coaching theory (Tom is a good friend of the Friels), trying to sweep some glass out of the road (big football games the night before do not help the cleaning crews), and tracking  racers from our phones as best we could. There was a coffee break in there at some point, some attempted pictures, and some worry over Jeremy looking what we thought to be distressed (turns out he was pissed).

We headed back down to the lake to watch the runners come out after our friends had all  headed out on loop 3 of the bike, and we ended up spending hours there. After losing Tom for a bit, we respotted him, wearing a volunteer t-shirt, directing traffic around the run out/start of loop 2. He was much needed! I snapped a few pics of Jeremy, we got some fast food, and I ran back to the car to paint my belly with a Go Daddy for Jeremy's last loop.

Rob kept me entertained throughout the race. He's had so much experience and was around way back when this whole sport started, so he has a great point of view on what's necessary, what's ridiculous, and when you're just being really stupid. I laughed for hours.

Jeremy wasn't doing so well in the middle of the marathon due to stomach issues, and I just really hoped he wouldn't be too disappointed. But when I saw him come around that last turn to the finish line, he was all smiles and running on air. It was either my happiness for him or pregnancy hormones that almost had me crying.

"Dr. Jeremy Harwood, you are an Ironman!"