I need to preface this post with a disclaimer. Prior to becoming pregnant, if you remember, I was racing as an Elite level mountain biker. I had been riding daily, and was comfortable with almost anything you could throw underneath my tires. I have a very good understanding of the terrain I can handle with little risk, and a very good handle on my body and how it is behaving. So, with that being said, yes, my doctor did tell me I shouldn’t continue with mountain biking after week 12, and yes, I took this advice seriously. However, after weighing the different factors involved in the decision to ride or not, talking to other mountain bike moms, and consulting another doctor who happened to also be a cyclist, I decided that a common sense approach to riding throughout my pregnancy was the way I wanted to go. Rather than completely forgoing the activity I love the most for 6 months or more, I decided I would continue on with my passion.
So, I guess my disclaimer is this. If you’re not a confident rider, or if you have trouble reading your body or the trails you’re riding and assessing risk, I don’t necessarily recommend riding as much or as far into pregnancy as me. However, I do believe that common sense is worth a lot. If you want to ride (or do whatever it is you do!), and you feel like you can, confidently, comfortably, and safely, there are a ton of benefits to staying active and continuing on with an activity you love during pregnancy. I said straight from the beginning that as soon as I felt uncomfortable or off balance or just not well, I would stop. Funny thing was, I think riding throughout my entire pregnancy has actually helped me feel more comfortable, balanced, and well, both physically and mentally.
The plan? Keep my heart rate somewhat low, and stick to trails that I knew I could ride safely. Conversational paced rides, and mostly fire roads or smooth trails I’d ridden hundreds of times.
Early in month 4 I was still feeling kind of tired, and it was nice to go on some easy rides. I enjoyed stopping and resting at benches along the way and noticing the flowers and the small beauties of the trail that I’m normally not paying attention to. I started to mix things up with some hiking. We got some yak traks and I did some hiking in the snow in the mountains, which was a great way to keep things fresh when I got tired of the same trails. I genuinely enjoyed the hiking and the chance to get up in the trees.
However, by the end of that month, the tiredness from my first trimester had somewhat subsided, and I wasn’t feeling as many changes in my body as I was expecting. I got out of breath a bit more easily, and I had to wear my shorts with the buttons undone, but otherwise I just felt like my same old (slightly fatter) self. So my body was constantly querying my brain: “why shouldn’t I ride all the fun stuff and shred like normal?” It took some effort to remember that even though it didn’t feel like it, there was another human growing inside me that I was now responsible for, and there was a new risk/reward ratio. From a mental and physical standpoint, it was hard to slow down, and I was starting to miss rides with Russell and my other riding friends.
I think I found it doubly tough because my default way of dealing with stress and sadness and anger, is to go hammer out a really long or hard ride. So I’d find myself sad or mad that I was missing out on a ride, or stressed about work or some other thing, and then not knowing how to deal with that. I had to learn how to handle these situations in different ways when I came across them. I learned a lot about myself in month 4 and 5.
Thankfully, Russell and my other riding friends were all super supportive, and by the end of month 5, I was in a great place mentally. Russell would do rides with me at least once every week at my slow pace, and others would join from time to time, or wait without complaining as I chugged along in the back of a ride, splitting off to take the easy way down and meeting them at the bottom. I also got the chance to ride with some folks that I didn’t normally ride with as much, which was really nice. I definitely got some “you’re crazy” looks and comments when people found out I was still riding, but it was nice that the core group of people I rode with understood that I was doing what was right for me, and that I was being smart about it.
In addition to awesome friends, I think it started to get easier because I was noticing the benefits that continued exercise was having on my pregnancy. For one, I was gaining weight at the appropriate pace without having to worry too much about calories consumed. The baby was growing appropriately too, and I was pretty much able to eat as I normally did before getting pregnant – which was already a bit more than the typical person probably. Turns out eating like an athlete is pretty similar to eating like a pregnant person. I also continued to feel physically well. I wasn’t experiencing any of the negative symptoms I’d read about online, and my mood in general was still really good. I had a few grumpy moments as I watched the boys pedal away from me down a fun trail and I’d take the flat road home, but even then, once they were out of sight, I found myself enjoying going my own pace and feeling proud of myself for still being on the bike. As in the first trimester, the weeks where I rode less, I was moodier, the weeks I rode more, I would feel better.
By month 6, I had gotten used to the change in pace. I was also feeling significantly more pregnant. I felt genuinely different. I had a belly, and I could feel the shift in weight distribution in my body, the pressure on my lungs, and the extra weight I had to push up the hills. This made it easier for my brain to tell my body to chill out when I needed to. I didn’t have to try to remember I was pregnant anymore, it was obvious. I started to really appreciate every minute I had on the bike, even if it was on what I would normally consider a boring old fire road. Rides became a bit less frequent, as I was running out of places I could go without getting my heart rate high, but I was still out 3 times a week or so, depending on what was happening at work and with life in general. Sometimes I’d go into a ride thinking it wasn’t going to be fun anymore, or that maybe this would be the last one, but then I’d always end up smiling and feeling good at the end. So I rode on.