Professional triathlete Beth Gerdes caused ripples in the triathlon community last week with just one Tweet:
“HITS Naples tri this morning w/ @lukemckenzie‘s baby on board. (Yes, really!) 5 1/2 months pregnant…”
The accompanying photo, showing a resplendent Gerdes with a race number pinned in front of her baby bump, served as the official “pregnancy announcement” for the couple.
Though Gerdes plans to remain active for as long as she can through the pregnancy (including participating in a half marathon for fun), she acknowledges there are some limitations.
“I’ve modified my training very significantly during pregnancy,” she said. “What was once a 25-30 hour per week training schedule has become 8 to 10 hours per week of ‘whatever I feel like.’ Since finding out I was pregnant, I haven’t set, or been advised by my doctor to set, strict heart rate guidelines, but I don’t exercise with intended intensity. I cut out all intervals — though every hill feels like an interval now — and moved down three lanes to a much slower base interval in the pool.”
Gerdes isn’t the first triathlete to train and race through her pregnancy. She joins the ranks of many professional triathletes who buck the trend of waiting until retirement to start a family. The list includes Ironman champion Samantha Warriner, who found out she was pregnant shortly after joining coach Brett Sutton’s Team TBB. Her training during and after pregnancy allowed for a strong return to racing in 2013, including a dominating win at Ironman Cairns 70.3.
Ironmom Gina Crawford experienced a similar comeback after light training through her first pregnancy in 2011. Just six months after giving birth to son Benji, Crawford took her ninth iron-distance title at Challenge Wanaka. In a 2012 interview with Triathlete, Crawford described her post-pregnancy training as “fast, fit, fresh and full of enthusiasm.”
After giving birth to daughter Amy last January, short-course star Rebeccah Wassner was surprised by the dissonance between belief and reality of her post-pregnancy body.
“When I saw a photo from a race I did eight months post C-section [TriRock Philadelphia], I didn’t think it was actually me because in my head I still considered myself puffed up and large,” Wassner said. “There were definitely times when I was pregnant that I wondered if I was ever going to have muscles again. I think it’s good for women to know that the body will go back to how it was! It may take some time, but it will go back.”
Ironman champion Kate Major enjoyed finding ways to accommodate her growing body while training during her 2013 pregnancy with daughter Charli. “I wore my Saucony AMP Pro compression shirt every time I ran or walked to give me some support, and used my foam fin box on top of my handlebars to protect my belly while on the Computrainer.”
One thing noticeably absent from Major’s gear, however, was a GPS or heart rate monitor. All of her training was by effort, with an emphasis on listening to her body’s needs. “Your body won’t let you do what it doesn’t want to do or can’t do,” she said. “When you are used to racing or training regularly and at a certain level, you must remember to control yourself and not put yourself or your baby at risk. Be smart and listen to the ‘good’ side of your brain, not your ego. Just have fun!”
For pro Gillian Clayton, exercising during her 2013 pregnancy felt like the natural thing to do. “The biggest surprise was how awesome it felt to be running right up to nine months,” she said. “The baby’s tucked right into the pelvis — it’s great. I swam for an hour the day before I went into labor, joking I was going to have a water birth at the pool.”
Clayton, who participated in the Vancouver Triathlon while 34 weeks pregnant, offers sage advice for pregnant triathletes who wish to continue a swim/bike/run regimen: “Talk to your doctor or midwife about why you want to exercise, and as long as you have no complications, trust your body to do what it wants. Ask other mamas questions — it’s really hard to find answers because right now, doing a triathlon at 34 weeks pregnant is not the norm.”
Adds Clayton with a smile: “But it’s doable if you want to do it, and so fun to rock a big belly while passing the boys.”