One of my first thoughts I had upon finding out I was pregnant was “is my mountain biking life now over?” Welcome to my journey through pregnancy while riding. I hope my pregnancy story will help all you preggo ladies as much as other first-hand accounts helped me.
2014 had been a great summer of riding and I had big plans for the fall including a downhill endurance race and a 100 mile XC race – perhaps not the safest activities for a pregnant woman. Things quickly came into question about where the line needs to be drawn. I knew of women who biked throughout pregnancy, but I hadn’t paid much attention to what their rides were like. Do I need to restrict my riding to pavement? What about the risk of being hit by a car? Can a ride be too long or too intense without me realizing it? It’s a good thing pregnancy takes 40 weeks because you have time to learn to accept the huge lifestyle changes that are too overwhelming in the beginning.
I was surprised to discover I was pregnant a few days before a couple of races for which I had already registered and trained. This put me in the awkward situation of having to lie to friends and riding buddies about why I was skipping two well-anticipated events. In the first trimester, the chances of miscarriage are much higher (especially at my age, 37), so discretion is usually advised. The baby is so tiny that riding or crashing wouldn’t hurt it, but I was warned that if I hurt myself that x-rays and surgery would be bad for the baby. I was also warned that I would be exhausted and endurance riding would not be an option. Ha! That wouldn’t happen to me. I was too fit! I was too active! I was unstoppable! But then reality hit…I was exhausted. For example, in one three-day weekend I rode two short rides followed by volunteering at an aid station at the very same 100-mile race I was supposed to be riding. This exhausted me to the point of being unable to leave the couch for the entire following day. And to think that just few weeks prior I was downhilling at Whistler and doing 5-7 hour mountain bike rides on a regular basis. Consider me humbled.
Riding pregnant definitely took some adjustments. In the first trimester I quickly had to take it down several notches. If I wanted to do a bigger ride on a Sunday, I dialed back my activities the day before. At that time, tidying up the house for an hour would knock me out, so I definitely couldn’t ride two days in a row. Apparently, it’s hard work making another person and the accompanying infrastructure. I had all-day nausea for about a month in the first trimester, but being on the bike made me feel good as long as I ate tons of snacks. I was also drinking more since pregnancy requires more fluids. Aside from enjoying it, my riding was a reprieve from feeling not so great otherwise and it was keeping me somewhat active.
Learning to check my ego, however, was a process. To protect this tiny human life, I had to be OK with just skipping that drop or feature, and I had to learn to apply the brakes on those downhills even though my skillset still wanted to just let it fly. I also walked the bike down sections of trail that were slippery or had any crash potential. It was really tough avoiding features that were everyday hits or at one time were “no big deal” just because of the fear of crashing. I became afraid that I would get so used to going slow and skipping techy features that I would never get my mojo back. I tried to stay positive and assumed that once the baby is born I would bounce back mentally.
Let’s talk about judgment. Most people who don’t mountain bike (or exercise in general) told me I shouldn’t ride at all. Some mountain bikers were very supportive, but others told me I shouldn’t ride. I am a good rider and a responsible person. I also had an Obstetrician who was a mountain biker and was aware of what I was doing. She was supportive of my riding since remaining active while pregnant yields many benefits. She cautioned me to go easy and not crash, and since she knew my skill level and had ridden with me her expertise and my own self-awareness trumped all other opinions. If you are considering getting pregnant or already are, you should consider asking your OB his or her opinions about exercise, particularly mountain biking, while pregnant. You should understand their position and whether they will support your decision to ride.
Logistically, I had to adapt to pregnant riding once my belly popped out. Around week 19 I was miserable bending over on the bike with my shorts cutting into my waist. Bike clothiers don’t make a maternity line but someone gave me the idea to wear a pair of my husband’s bibs. Wow, what a difference! Around week 30 I had a stem-extender installed on my bike. This put me in more of an upright position, which was much more comfortable.
Aside from clothing logistics, I rode with a partner and went much slower. My lungs felt squished, so climbing was harder and I also had to take a lot of bathroom breaks. Around week 30 I quit riding trails and stuck to pavement or gravel. I even rode the day before I went into labor!
Riding while pregnant was an adventure that helped keep me fit and happy. I got back to riding about nine days postpartum and I can’t wait to introduce our baby boy to the joys of riding in the mountains!