It isn't an accident or by sheer luck that I am still running fifty mile weeks in the mountains, alpine climbing, training brutally in the gym, and backcountry skiing at my limit at six and a half months pregnant.
Contrary to popular belief, a set of beliefs that teaches women to fear their own bodies, an athlete during pregnancy will reliably get out of her body what she puts in. Want to feel comfortable running while pregnant? Run a shitton before you get pregnant and listen to the body's subtle cues. Want to avoid bloating, excessive weight gain, and general pregnancy discomfort? Continue with your self care, good nourishment, and movement practices. Preparing to have a pregnancy in which the athlete continues to thrive is simple cause and effect logic; the body is a reliable machine uniquely built to attend to the load of athleticism and growing a new human.
Smoothly transitioning into life as a pregnant athlete takes years of preparation: building positive habits, spending time getting to know oneself, and attending closely to physical health. In order to get the most out of your glorious ten months of natural blood doping, I compiled this list of rather personal lessons.
Stop believing in competition: Pregnancy, just as any other important life event, does not function on a competitive continuum. Before I got pregnant I recognized and disarmed the destructive, distracting power of competition and chose another way to gauge my athletic progress. One cannot safely and optimally push her limits (pregnant or not) judging oneself in a competitive paradigm - nuance and uniqueness of practice will be lost irretrievably - and intimacy with self dampened.
Ego familiarity: Years ago when I began running I heard the confident voice of my ego sharp against my accomplishments or goading me to do something I didn't really want or need to do. Every twenty (or thirty-six or sixty) mile bonk window, every final week in a training cycle, every late-run hill that came to me slowly provided an opening for my ego to rail against me. Every success, every send, every time I felt falsely superior (comparison is the theft of joy!), gave the ego an opportunity to strengthen its false identity. Though I can never abolish my ego I have learned to recognize its voice - and take its words with a huge grain of salt.
Conservative decision-making: This is a biggie. I am a timid athlete; not particularly bold or risk-acceptant. Every dynamic move on unfamiliar vertical terrain or push deep into the night alone is a decision I calculate consciously using my wells of experience to make a decision. I often chicken out, decide not to turn onto an avalanche slope everyone else is riding, or walk away from rotten ice (even if I desperately need to climb). If I had the habit of taking every risk offered me by the media with which I practice it would not be smart for me to continue on my athletic path while pregnant. Thus, boldness would cost me my greatest physiologic window for increased fitness: pregnancy.
Deep self knowledge: By knowing my abilities, trusting myself implicitly, and being entirely intrinsically motivated on my athletic path (read: no sponsor nor race is pulling my strings) I know it is appropriate for me to keep pushing my physical and psychological limits while growing a new human. Since I do not rely on the support of others to motivate me on my path and am not daunted by unkind words or actions of others my practice is still available to me through the intense and silly phenomenon of mom shame.
Regular self care practices: As I've written about before in this space, my athletic progression is, in part, dependent on regular massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic care. These modalities have allowed me to learn about my bodily systems and how my psychology and physiology are intertwined. The energetic and psychophysical balance these (and other) self care practices afford me have allowed my body to store up the valuable reserves it needs to have a pregnancy free from discomfort and full of physical power.
Learn how to rest: Listen to yourself no matter what you have to say. Listen when your body and spirit together say 'faster' just as you listen when the body is ready for rest. Learn how to harness windows of power and respect your need for yin athletic development. By learning my body's clues when running I've been able to thrive while pregnant and running very long mileage and climbing hard grades.
Eat a lot of whole foods: In my dirtbaggier days I liked to tell friends "I spend more money on groceries than on rent." And for years and years that was true. What you put in your body is what you get out of your body, just as what you do not put in your body is not what you get out of it. Since I became very serious about my athletic practice seven years ago I've not been drunk, have not eaten the foods that I am allergic to (gluten! whey!), and have spent hours every day preparing nourishing meals. Committing to this expensive, time-consuming aspect of health is surely one of the reasons I feel so damn good right now as I grow a new human.
Ruthless prioritization: Between 2010 and 2014 I woke before five AM five days a week to run or climb before work. I turned down dates with friends and prospective partners as a matter of course. I relentlessly lopped off aspects of my life that did not serve a direct purpose: FaceBook, social activity, even holidays with family. This comfort with putting my needs first will allow me to love and parent from an emotional well brimming to the top. Big thanks to all my loved ones who understand my need to run like a racehorse and sleep ten hours a night!
Personal alchemy: Upon first beginning this practice as a mountain athlete a decade ago I had total clarity on my vision. Since then my lifelong athletic goals have become very specific - and consequently daunting. These big goals impress upon me the necessity to maintain my grueling training and allow me to tangibly plan for it. As I prepare to co-parent I know exactly how much childcare I'll need to continue on my path as a spirit-athlete, I know exactly how to optimally use the physiologic state of pregnancy to most effectively continue (not just to maintain) my progression, and I know that once this baby comes I'll be able to most efficiently allocate my training hours to the most useful activity.
Look forward to part 2 in this series illustrating some concrete exercises and practices to build in to your pre-pregnancy preparations of mind, body, and spirit.