“How has your pregnancy been?”
She was a prenatal massage therapist with a soft voice and gentle hands. No part of what she was about to do to me involved digging fingers into sore muscles, pulling fascia and painfully working out knots, everything I know from years of cycling-specific massage. She was used to coddling soft, gentle, glowing expecting mothers who lovingly cradle their bellies.
“Well,” I began, “It’s been hard. I was…uh, am…a professional cyclist and I’ve tried to keep up with training. I had a bleed at 12 weeks and broke my arm in a crash at 20 weeks. Now I ride indoors 10-12 hours a week and walk a lot of miles when I travel, and so everything always hurts and feels tired. But I keep going anyway.”
I sounded insane. This was not lost on either of us. She asked if I’d tried prenatal yoga and I said it might be hard with the broken arm to do planks and stuff and she laughed and replied that prenatal yoga was more about mediation and gentle stretching. I smiled and told her I was a little too high-strung for meditation.
Case in point.
That is the story of my pregnancy thus far. A friend, fellow racer, and mother of twins told me at the beginning of this journey that she wished she hadn’t spent so much of her pregnancy ruing the things she couldn’t do. That she wished she’d enjoyed it more and not been in such a hurry to get back to riding and training. I thought that was such good wisdom and then I went on to spend the last seven months making the same mistake. Each day feels less like a reflection on the joys of new life and change and more like I’m kicking my own ass harder and harder trying to hold onto my old body while counting down the seconds until I give birth and resume autonomy.
Make no mistake: this baby is wanted and loved. I can’t wait to meet her. When she kicks, I am thrilled to be reminded that she’s thriving. When she doesn’t move, I poke and prod my belly and make Josh talk to my stomach to cajole her into wiggling around. If that doesn’t work, I pull out the at-home fetal Doppler to hear her heartbeat and calm my nerves.
But that doesn’t stop me from struggling so hard at these body changes. I had a contentious relationship with my body before baby – compulsive workouts, anxiety, eating disorders. I was rarely at peace even when training and racing were going perfectly and I felt great in my skin. Suddenly gaining heaps of weight and watching my whole front extend outward everyday has been so challenging. Giving up workouts, adapting to new, restricted ways of moving, and accepting all sorts of new limits has been the hardest test. I don’t feel like myself anymore. I feel large and occupied. Nothing about this body feels fit or slender or sexy.
So I work everyday to counteract that. I ride the trainer hour after hour even when each second feels like dragging misery. When I travel without a bike, I walk for miles to get exercise. If I don’t finish with a limp, I’m not done. “Do you think maybe you’re making pregnancy a bit harder and more uncomfortable?” my mother asked carefully the other day. YES. YES. There is no doubt about that. I triple the normal pregnancy discomfort by pushing so hard and yet I can’t stop. I don’t want to stop, just in case the soft, doughy, lazy parts of pregnancy creep in and I lose myself more.
People say nice things to reassure me that I look great, I’m all baby, I look so fit other than the belly and boobs. (Somebody told me it looks like I swallowed a beach ball…thank you?) And it’s good to hear and I’m grateful, except then I’m driven to keep going at exactly the same pace to make sure nothing changes. If people tell me what I’m doing now is working, how can I stop?
In the airport bathroom recently, a lady behind me saw my compression socks and asked if I’m a professional soccer player. As I turned around, she exclaimed, “Oh! You aren’t playing anything now!”
“Actually, I’m a professional cyclist,” I replied tartly, “and yes, I’m still riding.”
It felt good to say. I’m still riding. Don’t doubt that for a second. It’s indoors and tedious and a lot milder training than I’d like, but it’s hours on the bike. Pregnancy isn’t going to stop me, even when DEAR GOD sometimes I wish it would. While I physically can’t do intensity and high cadence work is a struggle, I can at least log hours. The minutes crawl by, but I try to be glad for each day I still ride. That’s one more day that I’m not off the bike overall.
What I don’t know is if this will matter in the end. There’s no doubt I’ll resume riding after birth; cycling is a part of who I am and something I love to do. But maybe my daughter will change how I feel about racing. Maybe the first weeks and months will be so hard that the bike will be the furthest thing from my mind and I’ll end up at square one anyway. Maybe everything will go perfectly and all of this work now will pay off with a smooth transition back to fitness. It’s probably safe to say today’s ride doesn’t matter in the long run, but skip enough todays and eventually tomorrow will be screwed.
A few weeks back I upgraded my trusty CycleOps trainer to a Hammer Direct Drive Smart Trainer. It was a long overdue transition; with as much time as I spend riding indoors even in a normal season, it makes sense to use a smart trainer that lets my coach load workout files. Even at low intensity, following a detailed workout plan is better than just riding aimlessly for hours. It’ll get me through the next 7 weeks until the baby comes and gives me extra motivation to keep going. Once I’m able to train again, it’ll mean I can crush hard rides while the baby (hopefully) naps next to me. I’ve spent the last few winters in Virginia doing indoor riding classes and they’ve made me mentally and physically tougher. Why not replicate that here at home?
The trainer has been better since making the switch. The rides go faster and I’m riding 30-50 watts harder without even trying. Let’s be frank: it’s still boring, I still feel physically terrible from trying to ride while sharing my body with a large occupant, and I still want to slap people who get to ride outside. Anybody would feel this way after 13 weeks of nonstop indoor riding. But I’d ride rather indoors than not at all and believe it’s worth the uphill battle to keep going each day. In the words of CycleOps, #sacrificenothing.