I was convinced that I would be incapacitated for the whole nine months of pregnancy. I had heard so many stories of sickness, tiredness, soreness, and weight gain that I figured that it would be nearly a whole year before I would get to race again.
I have since learnt that many of these stories, though true, are often slightly exaggerated. Sure, there were days when I felt sick and tired. There were times when the bump seemed so big. But there were days and months when everything was fine and life continued as normal.
I first thought I might be pregnant whilst in the middle of a 24 hour adventure race. It was the middle of the night, in the middle of Northern Ireland’s Sperrin Mountains, when my body starting initial signs of potential pregnancy. That didn’t mean though I couldn’t keep on running, kayaking, and biking up to the next day’s finish line.
Once I had fully confirmed that the baby was in the oven, I travelled to Ethiopia for four weeks for work. I was starving and a little queasy from a mixture of anti-malarials, overdoses on injera and roast goat, combined with first trimester signs. I was feeling more than a little sorry for myself one morning on a field trip to a drought-hit area in the northern part of the country. Then I saw a pregnant Ethiopian lady with a two year old clutching her hand queuing for flour and oil rations. The both of them looked starving. It dawned on me then that I had little to complain about.
Once back home, the doctor persuaded me not to travel any further to malaria affected countries. So, shelving trips to Haiti and Zambia, I took time out from work and indulged in other pastimes.
The bump started to show itself in mid-February during a hill-walking trip to the Lake District. We still hiked for 4-6 hours a day, the only difference being the added progesterone making me a little breathless on the climbs.
I was never too sure what I’d be able to do from one week to the next. But as I approached the five month marker, I was still feeling totally grand. In mid-March, I entered and won the Shore to Summit Challenge, an individual race across Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula on bike and foot. By that time however, getting in and out of the sofa was becoming more of an issue. Due to my reduced mobility I got permission to skip the kayak section of the race and got a 20 minute penalty instead.
By week 24, I was definitely getting slower each week every time I went out for a run. So I turned to my road bike and joined the local cycling club. Every Saturday I went out for 80km spins, with a dispensation that I didn’t have to lead the peloton due to my pregnant state. The bigger bump meant I had to sit up straighter and my lungs were getting more and more squashed with every week. I knew though that cycling in a group posed some risks, with the potential for crashes abound. But they were risks I was willing to take so to be with other sports enthusiasts, which did wonders for my mental state.
I abandoned running from week 30 on due to stitches that would not go away. But I found that I could still go orienteering until I was nearly 8 months gone. The map and terrain were great antidotes, distracting me from any aches or pains. And reading the map slowed me down enough to prevent any stitches from coming on. I competed in the Northern Ireland Night Orienteering and Score championships, and blamed my slow performance down to my pregnancy rather than my woeful orienteering skills.
Eventually, by week 35, I was reduced to the recommended exercise regime for pregnant women of leisurely swims and walks. Every morning I would bring the dog on a 30 minute stroll on the beach. And in the afternoon, I would swim for an hour in the local pool, doing laps five times a week. I swam up to the day before my due date, and was planning to go for a swim the day my waters broke.
Sure there were days when I could barely get off the couch from tiredness. But there were also days when I was full of energy and enjoyed the exercise. The moral is to take each day of pregnancy as it comes, and if all is good, go for it.