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The Pregnant Triathlete: the first trimester. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swim

My husband and I found out we were pregnant on November 20th, just seven weeks after I completed Ironman Kona. We were both shocked and extremely excited! I had a few inclinations that I was pregnant even the week or so prior to us finding out. Within one week of our estimated conception, I had two major workouts that had me questioning what was going on. The first was November 14th. I was planning on doing a four mile tempo run in the afternoon. I headed out around 3pm, completing a two mile warm up, and began my tempo run at ~6:40/ mile pace. I got two miles in, and stopped to walk for a minute, I felt like I was going to throw up! That spicy soup I had for lunch just wasn’t sitting well, I thought. I did another mile at tempo pace, followed by another minute of walking. Just didn’t feel good, I thought I was going to throw up. Being the stubborn athlete I am, I decided to push on through and finish up the last mile. I wasn’t hitting my goal times, I just chalked it up as a bad workout.

The next day, I headed out on a run with my dog. This time, no spicy soup for lunch, and instead of a 3pm run, it was closer to 5pm. We started out at a moderately easy pace (7:50-8:00/ mile), and planned to do an easy 6 miler. I like to start most of these runs at around 7:50’s and usually pick up steam as I get warmed up. This day was no different. After a mile or two easy, we started clipping off 7:30’s and then a 7:25 mile, and again, I felt that nauseous feeling coming on again. This time I couldn’t dismiss it as a bad workout or a bad lunch, too much coincidence. I backed it off and finished up the run, feeling a little suspicious about what changes might be going on within my body.

Probably the most peculiar change I had was anxiety. I am a pretty laid back person, and it usually takes quite a bit to get me fired up. Within the first 10 days, following conception I experienced feelings of anxiety like I’ve never experienced. I was waking up in the night, heart racing, sweating. I would be sitting in my office grading lab reports, and all the sudden feel nervous for no reason. One morning, I was doing an easy swim workout, nothing crazy, and the anxiety set in once again. I tried to control my breathing, but I really thought I was going to have to get out of the pool because I just couldn’t catch my breath! I slowed my already moderate pace down to a very leisurely pace, and finished up my workout, really wondering how much more of this anxiety I was going to have to have. Turns out, not much more. It lasted about 10 days. This is not a common sign of pregnancy, but after doing some research, I did come to the conclusion that it was due to the pregnancy. Once the sperm meets the egg, a woman’s progesterone levels spike immediately. These values continue to rise and rise, and will eventually level off, but in the meantime, as progesterone levels double each and every day, it caused a major hormonal imbalance, which can actually stimulated the anxiety attacks. I know my normal resting estrogen and progesterone levels are pretty low, so when my body experienced this huge surge in progesterone I was maybe more sensitive to these changes than many other women. These attacks soon became less frequent, and eventually just disappeared, thankfully.

Being the researcher I am, I immediately began searching for true scientific evidence related to what I could and could not do in regards to exercise during pregnancy. What I found was a whole lot of nothing. I have heard of triathletes and marathon runners training and racing through their pregnancies, and I hoped my experience would be the same! Unfortunately, at our first doctor’s appointment, we were told I could only participate in moderate intensity exercise, and that I wasn’t supposed to push it. The guidelines given by my doctor’s office said resistance training should only be done with 3-5 pounds, and for toning purposes only. Aerobic exercise should be 15-30 minutes each day. Turns out, a lot of doctors aren’t up on the research, which was extremely disappointing to me.

The current (2015) ACOG recommendations state that you can continue doing vigorous intensity exercise if you’re accustomed to doing it. In fact, vigorous intensity exercise enhances fetal blood flow, and nutrient delivery, and does not have a negative effect on baby development, or birth weight! I haven’t really had any issues with morning sickness, but I have noticed that sometimes if I am pushing myself too much, I do start to feel nauseous. I have been a little disappointed in my ability to continue at a vigorous intensity, but am hopeful that the second trimester will be a bit more successful. The other trick is that my first trimester has fallen in the heart of winter, and snow and ice makes it even more difficult to get out there and really push myself.

The idea of just doing low to moderate intensity exercise, and avoiding anything hard really made me cringe. That is not who I am. I have been a competitive athlete basically all my life, I thrive off the endorphin release experienced with vigorous exercise. This is why I love competing, I love to push myself, and am constantly looking for ways to continue to improve. It’s been extremely difficult for me to take a step back, and only focus on “health.” One outlet I have turned to is resistance training. I have always been pretty consistent resistance trainer- usually doing two 30 minute sessions per week. My pre-pregnancy goals were always injury prevention, and muscle balance. A lot of times, particularly with ironman training, I was just too tired to put a high effort in during lifting sessions, but I’ve switched my focus a bit to weight training since becoming pregnant. I can work at a high intensity in the weight room without feeling nauseous, and even better yet, I can feel sore afterwards, which is awesome. For someone who strives for constant progress, and loves having goals, resistance training has been a great outlet for me during the first trimester. No, it’s sure not the same as getting a good hard running workout, but it’ll do for the time being! Here is a sample week of workouts I completed during my 8th week.


Fat bike 1:20 on the snow


Run 5.5 miles

7:50/ mile


Run 8 miles

7:38/ mile


Lift 1 hour

Bike on indoor trainer 1 hour, easy


Swim 1 hour

3100 yards


Run 7 miles

8:30/ mile


1:40 fat bike ride through the snow

Resistance training- 45 minutes

I’ve been limiting my runs to around 1 hour, same with swims. Lifting sessions range from 30-60 minutes 2-3 times per week, and bike sessions for 1-2 hours. Again, most of my workouts thus far have been moderate intensity, mostly because I feel nauseous if I push it too much.

Nutrition: I haven’t had too many crazy food aversions, or food cravings. I have noticed that I cannot get enough water to drink. This is because plasma volume (and fluid volume in general) increases in a pregnant mother by 40%!!! I have been lucky enough to not have morning sickness, and haven’t had any food aversions. I’ve been able to maintain my regular diet (minus the coffee and wine) throughout the first trimester. I have really had to increase my fiber intake, including more fruits and veggies, as well as basically all whole wheat options, and adding flax seed and chia seed to any baked goods.

Day 1 sample

English muffin- PB&J


1-c chai tea

Salad- black beans, grilled chicken, tomatoes, croutons, ranch dressing

Carrots & hummus

1 carton- raspberries

3 small homemade muffins- whole wheat, zucchini, carrots, and chocolate chips

1-c homemade chili, cheddar cheese

Multigrain tortilla chips

Day 2 sample

1-c Oatmeal, butter & brown sugar

1 carton- blackberries

1 banana

Whole wheat wrap- hummus, grilled chicken, peppers, lettuce

1 homemade brownie- black beans, flax seed

½ c cherry tomatoes

Ground beef, sweet potato, kale, parmesan cheese

1 weight watchers oreo ice cream sandwhich

I have craved spicy foods, and salty foods. I cannot get enough buffalo chicken dip with jalapeños and tortilla chips. Another random craving is raspberries. And apples. The old wives tale says that if you crave salty/ spicy, it is a boy, and if you crave sweet/ citrus, it’s a girl. So, maybe I’m having one of each?! Stay tuned to find out! :)

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