Monday, August 24, 2015

Lessons From Triathlon for the Fit Pregnancy

I have more than a few pregnant friends right now, which made me flashback to one of my all-time favorite Mama Sweat posts, written during the "thick" of my last pregnancy six years ago. I just gave it a read through and think it still applies. For all you moms-to-be, my words of gestating wisdom (modified so I don't sound like I'm currently pregnant, which I am not nor never will be again, thank you).

Everything I Know About Coping with Pregnancy I Learned from Being a Triathlete

After spending a good chunk of my life as a triathlete, it's no wonder I have applied much of my approach and methods for training to my pregnancies. I didn't do this consciously, but I've come to realize that the triathlon lifestyle and a healthy pregnancy are excellent partners. Let me elaborate...

1. Ice is nice. After finishing my third marathon (Big Sur--a must run) I saw kiddie pools filled with ice water available for the runners. Because marathoners' brains are a bit addled after 26.2 miles, sitting in a pool of ice water seemed heavenly. And it was. Even better was the next morning, when I had enough spring in my step to walk the hilly streets of San Francisco. From then on an ice bath became my ritual after any run longer than 18 miles. Fast forward many years later, about midway through my first pregnancy--heavy with twins--it occurred to me one night that I felt like I had run 18 miles. And then I realized that an ice bath might make my aching legs feel better. Getting in the tub of as-cold-as-I could make-it-water wasn't quite as easy that time, but once there, and especially after, the benefits were worth the initial discomfort. So much so that I took an ice-cold bath almost every night until I had those babies. I've never had swollen cankles or circulation problems in my pregnancies. Am I lucky or is it my affinity for a polar plunge?

2. Don't be a martyr: modify. So often athletes want to power through their workouts, even when injured or fatigued (not the sleepy kind, rather the overtrained kind). To persevere can be a wonderful trait. Or it can be really stupid. Sometimes it's more ego than will. Smart athletes know this kind of attitude most always does more harm than good. I've aspired to be that woman who ran the day she gave birth, and yet, with each pregnancy I've had a wake up call that I'm not meant to be that woman. It's come at different times with each pregnancy. I ran up until 22 weeks during my last pregnancy. Sure, I could have continued to run, but my gait felt strange and my quads felt tight. Pain in this case, is not gain. Walking worked better. That is, until I hit 30 weeks. My low back ached, my tailbone throbbed. So I had to modify my modified workout by walking in the pool. My purpose for working out during pregnancy wasn't to impress my friends and neighbors, it was to maintain some semblance of fitness and have the healthiest pregnancy I could. Do what feels right for you.

3. Be good to your training partner. Most of my big races I've teamed up with friends for the training. These relationships require a hefty dose of respect for each other's time and needs, and lots of cooperation, too. For me the upside of training with a friend for long runs and rides, is worth any potential downside: a slower-than-anticipated workout if your partner is having an off day or, say, stopping for a potty break even when you don't need one. For me, the journey is most important, and I like to share it. Being pregnant means you always have a training partner along for the workout.

4. Follow the sleep rule. Somewhere in my mental training notes I've accumulated in nearly two decades I remember reading that for every hour of hard training effort you should sleep an extra hour. Sleep is, after all, the mode in which our body uses to repair and heal. I think intuitively or by default, I adopted this rule for pregnancy, too. I noticed on days when my effort was more intense I either needed a nap, crashed early, or ignored my internal alarm the next morning. Sleep while you can.

5. Eat with purpose. Using my first pregnancy as an example again (because let's face it, all women are obsessively healthy the first time around and tend to slack with subsequent babies), I can say with confidence I consumed food in the same way I did while training for an Ironman. Coincidentally the calories I needed for IM training were the same for fortifying a twin pregnancy: 4000 daily. This sounds luxurious until the reality of 4000 healthy calories sets in. Consuming 4000 healthy calories is not easy. Squeezing in 8 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables became a daily contest for me, along with the other over-the-top food group requirements, most notably protein. Data on twin studies show that gaining half your pregnancy weight in the first half of your pregnancy increases the chance of having bigger, term babies. This is extremely important when the norm for twins is small, premature babies that spend time in the NICU. So, being goal oriented and knowing what "finish line" I wanted, I followed my nutrition training plan with a passion (and, well, yes, triathletes like to think they can have some control). While training for my two Ironman races and throughout my twin pregnancy everything I ate had a purpose: either to fuel my next workout or to grow healthy babies. In both instances I experienced successful outcomes. Again, luck? I don't think so. This is not to say I didn't indulge, but my indulgences either had some nutritional value or my daily requirements for everything else had already been met. It's a good rule, anyway. Want dessert? Only if you've had all your servings of vegetables, first! 

6. Massages are not frivolous. This one doesn't take much explaining. Massages are always an integral part of serious training. How else could you recover in between hard workouts? Pregnancy is hard work. Certain muscles become taxed with little effort, pregnancy posture strains muscles you didn't know you had, circulation is challenged. Massage works.

7. Don't get dehydrated. Another easy parallel between the athlete and pregnant woman. Both have greater hydration needs and suffer the consequences when not properly hydrated. Part of my "triathlon lifestyle" is to carry a water bottle at all times pregnant or not.

8. Listen to your body. Pretty much every point I've made has had some component of "listen to your body," within it. But, just to be clear: Listen to your body. Generally, I believe athletes are very good at this. The mind-body connection allows an athlete to excel when capable and pull back when physical harm lurks. This connection is central to our health, our fitness potential, and naturally, to pregnancy. This is important when you go into labor, too. My second pregnancy I wasn't listening so well when labor began and my daughter was damn near close to being born in the car.

9. Be prepared. Until I became a triathlete I was always a "shoot from the hip," kind of gal. Figure it out as you go person. Everything will work out fine. This isn't necessarily a bad way to live, but it doesn't apply to certain situations, for instance racing a triathlon, say, or childbirth. Triathlons require you to know what you're getting into, have a plan for training and racing, perhaps even a coach, know the route, use visualization techniques to anticipate the race and your desired outcome and even the plan B, C or D that might evolve. To be prepared for a baby, is not to decorate the nursery. Put down "What to Expect While You're Expecting," and pick up "The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth." If you do nothing else, hire a doula. In the November 2008 American Journal of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an article titled "Evidence-based labor and delivery management," gave doulas the highest level of recognition and support among all other interventions. I don't think I could finish a triathlon without support, same is true for childbirth: I need to hear "You can do this! You're so strong! You're almost there!" (And, as was the case in my second pregnancy, had we not had a doula encouraging me to get to the hospital our baby would have been born on a highway.) Bottom line is: Think about what you want out of your birth. Is your doctor or midwife going to "deliver" that for you? How about your hospital? And remember, every birth might be different. For my twin delivery I wanted to have the babies at a hospital with a level II NICU with my above-and-beyond competent OB present. For my third, low-risk pregnancy I switched to a midwifery practice at a hospital that provides more support for labor: tubs, massage, volunteer doula support, among other things. My needs were different. (On a side note, as I make all these comparisons between triathlon and childbirth I'm here to say that giving birth is not like finishing a triathlon, which I explain in this essay of the same name.)

10. Don't fear change. I am not the same person I was after finishing my first triathlon. No doubt, I like this person better. I think women come to that same conclusion after pregnancy, too, albeit some more reluctantly and in due time. The fear of change starts with the changing body. For those of you who don't know this already: it doesn't matter how little weight you gain, your body will change. And if you can let go of that fear, you'll be able to revel in the amazing process. The science and miracle of how the human body adapts to the needs of creating a life and giving birth to a life is mind-blowing phenomenal. The next fear we may harbor is how our life is going to change post baby. Some people may feel adamant that their life absolutely will not be altered once baby arrives: work as usual; training as usual; or whatever else consumed life before parenthood. But then, what's the purpose of having a baby? Isn't the point of having children to change your life? We're pretty adaptable creatures, we humans are. I've had to make concessions in just about every aspect of my life since having kids, but I like the process of growing, expanding, adapting, changing (which is not to say I haven't struggled with it at times). But the thing with parenting is that you never figure it out. Because kids are growing and changing every day, parents have to as well. And the goal, of course, is to wake up each day feeling like you finished a triathlon (and some days you will literally), that is with a sense of accomplishment you can feel proud of as much as those little darlings you call your children.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Buttering Me Up

A friend shared this video with me on Facebook and I immediately shared on the Hot (Sweaty) Mamas Facebook Page because it embodies Secret #5 in Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom, "Act Like Others Are Watching Because They Are."

Kudos to Coffee Blocks, for recognizing all the fit moms out there. Yes, sometimes it's hard to take time out of your day for "you," but knowing you're being a role model for your kids gives you one more good reason to work up a sweat.

I've never considered butter coffee (not that there's anything wrong with butter, I do love it), but Coffee Blocks has made an impression on me and buttered me up to their product. Brilliant ad campaign!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Mother Daughter Yoga

I've been attempting yoga in various forms with my kids since we attended our first family yoga class in 2008. Back then only one child could make it through a kid-centric class without running in circles or being sent to the childcare center.

Fast forward seven years and the daughter with the longer attention span asked if she could come with me to my favorite yoga class. I was thrilled, of course, but this was not a kid class. I expected she would practice along with the rest of the middle-aged women there. She has the maturity to do that, but that's not at all what our yoga teacher had in mind.

She started by saying: "We have a young person in this class, we have to make it exciting!"

I won't go into elaborate detail of all we did that morning, but I worked my body in new ways since becoming a regular there two years ago. It was fast paced. We jumped. We did backbends the same way people do push ups.

I had all the middle-aged women in the class glaring at me with looks that said, "WTF have you done?" (To be fair, she gave "young" options and "old" options. But which group would you choose to be in?)

Before the class I wasn't sure if yoga would still be fun for my gymnastics loving daughter, especially my yoga, Iyengar yoga, with it's focus on alignment and the slow progression of poses. Iyengar yoga can be intense and restorative; no matter what we do in class I always feel like I get what I need.

This proved true again. My yoga instructor saw to it my daughter and I got what we needed. We left (after a child-friendly, shortened shivasana) sweaty, exhilarated and smiling.

I love and appreciate how my yoga instructor can modify her classes for the needs of her students.
(Attention fitness instructors: if you teach so you can get paid to workout you shouldn't be teaching.) She saw the opportunity to show a side of yoga that would leave my 11-year-old daughter with a good impression and believing that yoga was for her.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Be the Snail

Last week while on a run with my daughter (happy dance!) I caught sight of this little guy as we were cooling down. I was taken with him and his "snail's pace." I admired how he slugged along slowly without a care for us hovering over him with our expectations. I loved him and I wanted to be him.

I considered writing a poem about the snail. A rhyming poem so I set off to think of words that rhyme with snail:


Well, a poem felt too ambitious for someone who wanted to be more snail-like, so I scrapped that.

In my head I'm loving summer. My body not so much. I've been sick three times since the beginning of June. Then there's this rash on my face that I can't shake. I don't want to believe I feel stressed. That's not the story I want to tell. Partly, because when I look at the summer on paper, or perhaps more appropriately, from my children's perspective, the summer has been ideal. Summer has been FUN!

My attempts to "take care of myself" have inadvertently added to my stress: such as when a week goes by without yoga or I can't go to my tennis class again. Knowing I was struggling to get to a place to workout I decided to have a home-based back-up plan and commit to one restorative exercise class a day for the month of July, which means only 22 classes of 25-30 minutes within a 31 day time frame. Then last week I realized I had more classes than I had days left in the month. I felt like I was failing at restorative exercise. I was managing to stress myself out over my attempts to be less stressed.

There are five weeks left of summer. I will be the snail. What else can I do? Being more snail like means I will tend to my garden more, I will make homemade pasta again, I will lose myself in a good book. I'm also yearning for a tv series to binge watch.

Fortunately, getting my snail on got off to a good start with a surprise visit from Workout Partner Pam. We had a lovely and leisurely walk around the lake this morning. I'm loving the pace already.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

What Rhymes With Snail?

This and more, coming Monday (because I can't seem to pull it together this week).

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Few Book Reviewers Needed for Mama Sweat

Last night as I pulled back into my driveway so I could retrieve my tennis racquet for my tennis lesson (essential equipment) I considered bagging it. I was running late anyway. I felt I had no business leaving the house when the house was so clearly in need of my attention (Laundry! Dirty bathrooms! Trash day tomorrow!) To say nothing of the list of Things I Must Do. But I persevered. Got back in my car--with my racquet--and got to the courts. Plus, if I did go back inside, I knew I would only pour myself a glass of wine, not clean a toilet, fold laundry or collect the trash.

I do not regret that decision. Mama sweat accomplished. Sanity maintained.

In order for me to find fitness in the chaos of motherhood I have to give a few things up. I have to leave things undone. I do what I can with the energy I have each day. Delegating is another good option, and the kids are all pitching in around the house (mostly under duress).

I could use a hand around the blog, too. There are a few books I'd love to review but haven't found the time to read them. One is a running memoir, another is a children's nutrition book, and the last is a book on the history of a woman's sport popular in the 1800s. All worthy of reading and if you think you're up for the task, please send me an email!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Save on Soccer Dolls and Book!

I was just in Atlanta for a book signing with Diverse Marketing for the Go! Go! Sports Girls--an exciting and fun trip, but leaving me little time for blogging. So, let me take this virtual space to share the special Go! Go! Sports Girls is having on Soccer this week in honor of Team USA's World Cup Soccer Championship. Score 20% off Soccer Girl dolls Cassie and Anna, and Soccer Girl Cassie's book, 'Teamwork Is the Goal'! Use promo code: TeamUSA at Sale ends on Friday!