Pregnancy is an endurance event. Much like a marathon or an endurance bike event, there’s the anticipation, excitement and nerves of the start line. It may feel easy to begin, or it may be an off day and the body just doesn’t seem to be cooperating. However it might kick off, an endurance event is rarely without its mental, physical and emotional highs and lows, and pregnancy is no different.
“How are you feeling?” is the most frequent question asked of pregnant women and I’ve long struggled to honestly answer it. Is the person really seeking to understand the complexity of my answer, or merely looking for a way to politely initiate conversation and then move onto a new topic? I generally assume the latter, so my inner voice stifles my deeper honesty knowing that it would likely overwhelm them.
What is my true answer? That response vacillates from day to day and swings wildly–from feeling like a badass superwoman, to the desperate longing for my normal body and to feel like my regular self again with the end so far out of sight. When you’re deep in the throes of an endurance feat, it’s almost impossible to reflect on the future feelings of joy and elation at the finish.
I wouldn’t define myself as simply a fitness enthusiast or endorphin seeker. I identify with both those descriptions and yet my endurance pursuits have brought so much more to my life than just a strong body or a short-lived high. My community, my career, my husband, and daily ways to fulfill my achiever personality were all found through endurance sport, namely, cycling.
For me, pregnancy has brought many challenges in trying to hold on to all the ways in which sport adds to my life. Observers who peer into moments of my journey often ask “Don’t you want to take it easy for a bit?” However, what they don’t understand is that I’m not on a quest to be a pregnant superhero, I’m merely trying to hold on to the bits of me that bring fulfillment and joy in order to temper the hardships and lows that pregnancy can bring along with it.
There are times when those voices suggesting I take it easy get inside my head. I contend that no one cares more about the health of the baby than its mother, so despite wanting to hold on to “me,” it would never be at the risk of my baby’s health.
For this reason, my WHOOP has been an integral tool in my pregnant journey from the beginning. Seeing the trend of my elevated resting heart rate data is what first prompted me to realize I could be pregnant around four weeks.
The ability to monitor my key health indicators each day and see a rating affixed to my effort (strain) has armed me with confidence that I know my body best and have the numbers to back it up.
WHOOP has also motivated me on days where motivation is lacking. Sometimes that looks like getting out for a supplemental walk, snowshoe, or backcountry ski lap with my family to increase my strain when I know my body can handle it.
Other days my recovery score has motivated me to take on a workout when I’m dragging, or boosted me to feeling on top of the world for achieving an elusive 20+ strain, all the while a human is growing inside of me at the same time (cue, badass superwoman feelings).
And most importantly as a type A athlete, WHOOP has granted me permission to take a day off, to prioritize my rest and recovery especially when pregnancy is akin to baseline endurance training, even without additional activity and strain. I see the proof in the numbers–a heightened resting heart rate or a plummeting HRV translates to a low recovery score and gives me assurance of what my body is requesting.
I rode close to 5,000 miles through my first pregnancy and carried and delivered a healthy baby girl to term. This time around I am armed with more confidence from how I make decisions in regards to my physical activity and how I minimize risk in relation to the human body’s astounding efficiencies and adaptations during exercise alongside pregnancy.
Among one of those adaptations is that pregnancy reduces normal body temperature and lowers the temperature at which sweating happens (more sweat equals the ability to more efficiently dissipate body heat). Hormones increase blood vessel dilation which brings more blood flow to the skin and aids in allowing the body to dissipate heat through the skin.
Since thermoregulation is one of the key concerns for intense exercise while pregnant, it’s advantageous that your body is creating more cooling efficiencies. The WHOOP 4.0 monitors my skin temperature throughout the night and I can check my health monitor stats in the morning for a daily assessment.
But, when the annual California Coast Ride planning came around on the calendar—500 miles from San Francisco to LA in the span of 4 days—this was one of the first major endurance challenges I wasn’t sure was physically feasible. I would be riding alongside a 12-person pro level peloton after training mostly indoors through Vermont winter.
My decision to take part in this challenge at 19 weeks pregnant came only with serious self contemplation and a mental self-psychology assessment. I needed to ready my mind and body to accept whatever I was capable of on the day. Maybe it’d mean finishing a portion of the ride and getting in the support car halfway through. That admittedly wouldn’t have been an option for my stubborn non-pregnant self, but this time around I was able to manage my expectations with the outlook that any miles in the sunshine with friends would be soul-filling.
To my amazement and pleasure, Baby King granted me the fulfillment of riding the full 500 miles with the highest strain scores I’ve seen during my pregnancy. Admittedly, it took a monumental ask of my physical and mental resources to pedal every one of those miles (as evidenced by my multiple recovery scores in the red), but what it took out of me it also gave back to me.
The term “strain” likely doesn’t evoke mental images of peace and joy. But for me, my WHOOP strain score is akin to my joy-meter. It’s a reminder that despite all that is changing with my physical body and life, I still am strong and capable. It’s reflective of the moments in which I feel most myself because I’m moving my body, feeling the wind in my face, the lactic acid in my legs, and maybe even the elation of a monster effort where I am reminded I am still me.
Recently I was on a vacation in Tucson, Arizona, and rode my bike at 23 weeks pregnant to 8,000 feet, the summit of the famed ride up Mt Lemmon. Throughout the journey of pregnancy and motherhood, there’s a lot of self reflection and questioning of “Can I do it?” Maybe it’s the labor and delivery, or just knowing how to be a good mom, there are a host of questions and anxieties around this experience.
The daily practice of asking myself this same question in my physical endeavors gives me the confidence that I will put forth my best effort. That and the reward of a cookie as big as my face at the summit.
Riding photo credit to Jim Merithew. Top and bottom images credit to Cody Mann.