On Inspiration & Mountain Biking While Pregnant
Over the years, I've seen and heard many different examples of how hard or easy women exercised during pregnancy. There's my friend who skied the same day she went into labor, or the friend from college who was doing uber-tough obstacle races in the second trimester, or the woman who rode her bike 40 miles to her C-section appointment. I mean, that's amazing. Honey, don't forget the car seat for when we leave the hospital with our newborn--oh, and also don't forget the bike rack!
At the other end of the spectrum are friends, normally hard charging professional athletes, who have said that they preferred not to ski after four months, or just decided to take it easy their whole pregnancy because they had trained hard their whole lives and thought it would be a good time to take a break. Some hard core runners I know just felt weird running pregnant so they hiked instead, whereas others felt great running the whole time.
What I synthesized from all of this is that there will always be someone out there who has taken it easier or harder than I will during pregnancy. There will always be those outliers at either end of the range with utter confidence in their conviction to either do nothing or go HAM at everything and be totally ok with it. But, upon finding out last summer that we were expecting a baby, I imagined that I, like most people, fit somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, and I wanted to know what would be right for me, especially when it came to mountain biking.
I've been mountain biking for over ten years, but I'll admit that it took me several years to crave mountain biking the same way I do skiing, or running, but now I love the unique combination of frustration, exertion, and exhilaration. I figured I could keep running and hiking quite a ways into my pregnancy, but that might get boring. Plus, it's hard to explain but biking is good for my soul. Here it was the beginning of summer, the whole bike season stretched out ahead of me, and I wanted to know if and how I could make this happen.
My curiosity was rooted between two main questions:
a) how hard I was allowed to go physically with regards to heart rate, temperature, etc., and
b) acceptable risk level.
I rode through the summer, tentatively and slowly, one eye on the heart rate monitor on my wrist. I asked everyone I knew, and read all the stories I could. I researched studies involving pregnant Olympic athletes. And then I begin to pay attention to my breathing and muscles, and I realized I had about one turtle-like pace that I always seemed to settle into. It kept me under the recommended max heart rate for pregnant women, so I stopped looking at the monitor and started enjoying the trail. Meanwhile, I approached every group ride with preemptive excuses of tiredness, holding back, confidence wavering. I tried not to compare myself to all of the stories I'd heard of pregnant Crossfitters and Ironwomen.
With regards to acceptable risk tolerance while mountain biking, I just took it one day at a time. I scaled back--my approach was to walk any section that previously had any doubt in my mind of making it, and definitely not to try anything I hadn't before. I kept it really mellow.
Then, just as the second trimester began, we went to the Olympic Peninsula with a group of people to stay at some friends' family cabin on the Puget Sound. One of the group, a very active climber, splitboarder, and mountain biker, was 7 months pregnant with her second child. Our little oven-bun was still a secret, so I tried to ask her as many questions as I could without seeming obsessed and therefore letting the kitten out of the bag. She replied that she still did most of the things she enjoyed and knew she was good at, while listening closely to her body and what felt right. This sounded so easy and reasonable. How could I improve?
The next day, we went to a nearby trail for a mountain bike ride. I took comfort in the fact that I would be the least pregnant rider by four months. We'll take it easy, I thought. As we started climbing after an initial downhill, I soon realized the folly of my assumptions. The seven-month-pregnant mom rode powerfully, her bike adjusted so she could sit up straighter to keep the belly out of the way, and she was motoring. I may have allowed the impression that I was being chivalrous by going last, but the truth was I could barely keep up! The ride was fairly mellow with some rootsy sections, and was mostly uphill with some very steep little grinds. Following her, my jaw dropped with admiration and oxygen intake. As we rode back downhill, the mom riding smoothly and carefully, greater understanding as well as great relief washed over me. Ironically, seeing someone else riding, very in touch with themselves, helped me look inwards and allow me to give myself permission to listen fully to my own self.
Now, I'm by no means suggesting everyone go out and take up mountain biking while pregnant. Nor do I mean to suggest that this is one of life's great problems; I know it's small potatoes. I'm purely discussing the choice to continue (and at what level) doing the activities we love and are very experienced at. Each of us alone knows our own level of comfort and risk tolerance. And each of us alone knows our relative level of importance of maintaining "normal life" during a time of change.
I can only speak for myself to say that I had an excellent two months of fall mountain biking after that, choosing the easy flow trails with few obstacles, going my own pace (felt normal, was hilariously and comfortably slow), and walking the bike whenever I felt like it, and when I felt certain I could ride a cobble section or nail a corner, I went for it and had full confidence in my ability. It was empowering and freeing. I felt happy if others rode ahead. It was a great pace for riding with the dog. I could say "no, thank you" or "yes, please," and not think twice about it either way. Those several months biking pregnant--the little one inside already helping me to pay more attention--better taught me to quiet the noise and hear the real voice inside. Oh, and it helped make for a very joyful and enjoyable pregnancy.