When it comes to caring about how one looks, I feel like there’s a fine balance: care too little and it’s hard to find a job and attract a mate (if you want one), care too much and it can lead to a vulnerable sense of self-worth. I strive to land right within that balanced zone. I care about my appearance to the point of it being a part of healthy self-esteem, though as an athlete by nature, I find happiness in focusing more on what my body can do than what it looks like. It just dawned on me, however, that the last decade or so since college, my weight has fluctuated by 20 or more pounds four times. After college, I gained 20 pounds while working at a summer camp and then dealing with a “quarter-life crisis”, then I lost it inadvertently by training hard after a breakup (plus eating healthier due to having a better job and thus more money to buy fresher food). I gained it back again last year with the weight of my first pregnancy, and now, six months post-partum, the bulk of my pregnancy weight has been shed (though with no promise of a six-pack coming fully back).
Throughout this entire time period, I’ve had a large handful of people make comments on my weight. During the year or two after college in which I carried 20 extra pounds, I remember a guy I was dating pinch my right love handle and say, “What’s this?” implying it was unacceptable. (Bye, bye, guy – that’s a part of me, that’s what that is. To love me is to love all of me, love handles and everythingl.) A year or two later, after I’d lost the weight, another guy I was dating looked at my abs and said, “You’re almost too lean.” I certainly didn’t ask him for his opinion about my body and if it was optimally pleasing to his eye, but he felt entitled to give it anyway. (No, thank you. My goal in life was not to change my body according to the specific standards of each guy I was dating.) During this extra lean time period of my life, which came about from a consistent barrage of athletic goals to challenge myself athletically (from a 200 mile bike ride and a couple triathlons to countless road races, track races, and eventually, obstacle course races), and lasted from my mid-twenties until a year ago (my mid-thirties), when I started to gain pregnancy weight, comments about my physique have mainly been about my “six-pack.” They’ve always been positive in nature, though I try not to overly pay attention to them, in order to stay focused on the reasons I train that motivate me most, which is not to get compliments, but to challenge myself, inspire others to be their best, and be a part of a big, amazing community; things I can do whether I happen to have a six-pack, (like I often do by the end of the racing season) or not, (like I rarely do at the end of my off-season/during the holidays).
Why am I bringing all of this up? Because our society puts such a strong emphasis on looks, especially for women, and I just had an epiphany I’d like to share…
Throughout my weight fluctuations, from looking lean with abs to looking soft in the middle, and there and back again, I can honestly say that I haven’t found any correlation between my level of leanness and my level of happiness.
In other words, when I had my six pack, I did not wake up every morning, high-five myself in the mirror, and walk around with my head held high, ready to conquer the world just because I looked lean. I had just as many personal, day-to-day problems as I did before, (though being fit and healthy enough to race well did contribute to some fun race weekends). Having a six pack did not necessarily mean I won every race, however, and it certainly didn’t mean I was generally better or more valuable than anyone else. And now that I don’t have it, with no promise of ever getting it back again, I do not feel less worthy in society. This is not to say that striving to be fit and healthy cannot help with overall health and happiness, as it definitely can, which is why I’ve found a lot of fulfillment working as a personal trainer for a decade. I just mean that striving for a particular lean look can be stressful, especially since some people have body types where they can be incredibly fit and still not have a six-pack because they come from an “apple-shaped” family. I happen to come from a “pear-shaped” family, where I can lose all but a thin layer of weight on my belly (but no matter how lean I get, my thighs won’t ever look as toned as my upper body and core). Though it’s easier said than done, I’ve learned it’s best not to let things I can’t control bother me, however, and distract from potential life joy; life is just too short. As they say, “Comparison is the thief of joy” – it’s so true!
A common theme I found throughout my years as a personal trainer was that people who wanted to lose weight got better results when they had a performance goal to focus on (e.g. finish a half marathon or do a pullup) rather than simply a weight loss goal. Plus, they enjoyed the process more, feeling empowered as their body became stronger and able to accomplish more, no matter what the scale said that week. Even when I was single and dating, wanting to look good in a pair of jeans has never been enough motivation for me to, say, go do a swim workout on a Saturday morning, but signing up for a triathlon and being legitimately worried that I wouldn’t be able to complete the ½ mile open-water swim was.
At the end of the day, people are driven by different motivations to work out, and I’m not here to preach that one way is better than another – that’s for each individual to decide. But I would encourage anyone who finds themself obsessing over how they look and fretting about each pound to consider looking at their body/weight/working out in a different light. Rather than exercise to look a certain way; I’d encourage them to try setting an athletic goal or signing up for a race they’ll have to really train for in order to finish injury-free. There’s a good chance that focusing on something positive (i.e. an accomplishment) will actually help them reach their aesthetic goal sooner than when focusing on trying to lose ornery weight. It’s human nature to want to look attractive, so I’m not trying to imply that it is more noble to work out to accomplish something than to look good; I’m just saying that my research indicates it’s easier to hit an aesthetic goal by focusing on an athletic goal.
If any of this resonates with you, I say get out there and sign up for something out of your comfort zone and immerse yourself in the training of it so deeply that you don’t have time to analyze every inch of your body. Train so hard you’re too tired to step on the scale, and maybe one day, on your way out for a summer run, you’ll catch a glimpse of your midsection in the mirror, see some ridges, and say to yourself, “hot damn, you look good,” with a satisfying smile.
They were wrong.
It’s not so much that I want to tell them for personal gratification. I’ve come to a beautiful, freeing place in my life, now that I’m a parent, where I simply don’t have the time or energy to care anymore about what people think. My main motivation for writing this post is to let other pregnant women know that what I was doing was fine and healthy for my baby, in case they needed reassurance, as they search for the right balance for them. That’s right – everyone is different, so because I did x or y exercise doesn’t mean someone should follow me exactly, but hopefully sharing my experience training while pregnant will encourage others to do the research needed to figure out what they can do to exercise and stay healthy and fit while pregnant, too – not just for themselves, but for their baby, too, (rather than stay away from all exercise for fear of overdoing it). How does one go about this? Well, it’s not easy. As a professional athlete with many good years of competition left, I wanted to find the balance of staying as fit as I could while erring on the side of safety. I looked for books on high-performance pregnancy, but found practically nothing. A few pro runners have blogs about their experience but I couldn’t find a ton of detail there, so I stared interviewing all of my athletic mama friends. I chatted with everyone from my friends who like to jog for recreation to Olympian Carrie Tollefson, and everyone in between.
What I ended up finding out was right for me was getting rid of my tempo runs, fartlek workouts, and interval workouts, but maintaining my speed drills (e.g. high knees, butt kicks, skips), along with solid-effort sprints that lasted under a minute or so. I continued to strength train, even lifting a significant amount of weight, just not as much as before and I did it all very slowly and carefully, with full and proper form and engagement. That’s what felt right for me. I know some women with healthy babies who still did tempo runs. I have a friend who went skiing well into her second trimester (something I wouldn’t have done) because she is an excellent skier, (far better than I am). The universal truth, besides being careful not to get overheated, is to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Now, people throw that term out all the time. And I thought I listened to my body pretty well as an athlete. I had two stress fractures in my first decade of running – just enough to now know and respect the signs of onset before they lead to another such injury.
If you feel judged as a pregnant person or as a parent, you may not know exactly what you’re doing (nobody does!), but just remember, you care more about your baby than anyone else does, especially some random stranger on social media. Whether others are well-meaning or just feeling judge-y, please try to brush off what they say, (at least that’s what I tell myself to do). The next time someone criticizes what I’m doing with my baby, I’m going to ask them for their phone number to come babysit if they think they can do it better. And if they really care that much, they can spend the night and take some night feeding shifts, too.
Listen to me, getting all sassy as a mama.
At the end of the day, with a few rare exceptions, we parents are all trying to do the best we can with the knowledge and experience we may or may not have, feeling scared shitless half the time but going for it anyway.
After doing a ten mile training run at 9 min/mile pace, I remember thinking I could possibly run under 2 hours, but decided instead to put my ego aside and take this opportunity, after 20 years of racing, to focus on truly enjoying this experience, with no goal time in mind, especially since this race was on cement rather than trail, with each footstrike taxing my lower back, hips, and knees far more than trail running, pregnant or not. I decided to stay very chill, really listen to my body (in case my growing baby, who loves it when I run, decides she doesn’t want to go that far or fast that day far any reason and sends even the slightest signal since she’s in charge), run when I felt like it, walk when I felt like it, stop at all water stations and port-a-potties, thank all volunteers, and cheer on fellow racers. Success! According to my watch, my finishing time was 2:32, though I stopped it while waiting in line for my bathroom stops, so my official time would be a few minutes more. I started out at 7:30 pace for the first two (downhill) miles, and even though I felt good, made myself slow down to 8:30/9 min mile for the next few miles, hit the halfway point at around 1 hour, walked a couple miles when indigestion settled in nowhere near a bathroom, and then did a jog/walk combo for the last half as the indigestion went away but my lower back and hips inevitably started to get sore under the added weight. Although indigestion is common during pregnancy, in retrospect, I probably got it simply from not sticking with my usual strict pre-race meal. I figured I wasn’t running hard, so It wouldn’t matter, but it turns out it did. It’s okay, though, because I wasn’t worried about time, and walking allowed me to engage in conversation with the people around me, soak in some waterfront views, and enjoy a sense of accomplishment not only in finishing, but in feeling pretty good the rest of the day, injury-free and not too terribly sore, either.
I’d be lying if I said a part of me isn’t itchin’ to race hard again, blasting off the starting line with a rush of adrenaline, pushing myself to the max throughout a race, chasing after competitors, and sprinting home all-out, but for now, I’m embracing this phase of my life, a passage of time where my top priority is to be a healthy, fit mama for a healthy pregnancy and baby. Besides, deep down, I’ll know I’ll back out there before long, more excited to run fast and race hard than ever!
Let’s move past what people currently think a “runner’s body” should look like, shall we? Let’s define a “runner’s body” by a body’s ability to run rather than a body’s appearance. Have you ever watched a local 5k road race or even a marathon? All kinds of body shapes come cruising across that finish line – it’s inspiring!
As Sally Bergesen, founder of Oiselle (a popular women’s running gear company) said in a recent tweet, “Can’t tell you how many times women tell me, ‘I don’t have a runner’s body.’ STOP. If you have a body, you can have a runner’s body.” In other words, if you have a body (outside of certain physical/medical exceptions, of course, though I know a crutching athlete and an athlete who “runs” with his arms), you have the tools needed to run/move athletically, no matter your weight or size. By defining a “runner’s body” as lean, small, thin, toned, etc., we send a message to people without a naturally slight build or lean, toned body that they are “not meant to be runners.” How terrible it is that we inadvertently then close doors on people who could otherwise be encouraged to join in this fantastic, healthy, simple activity countless humans love to participate in on a regular basis. Running endorphins boost mood, improve energy, and improve sleep. When done on a regular basis, running can prevent certain diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. With the high rates of obesity in the US, let’s use language to encourage everyone to lace up and head outside for a run, no matter how fast or slow, or large or small they are.
These pictures represent different time periods in my life. In each one of these periods, I ran 7 days a week, outside of an occassional day off for recovery. My size/shape/weight has changed quite a bit in my adult life, but through it all, I’ve never thought of myself as not having a “runner’s body.” Why? Because a body that runs is a runner’s body, and when this body, in all of its phases, runs quickly on tracks or leisurely on trails, it feels happy and free. So please, if you feel a desire to run, take that amazing body of yours out for a spin, and don’t let preconceptions about shape or size ever stop you.
As Bruce Springsteen sings, “Baby, we were born to run.”
Right then and there I knew I wanted to be a mom; convent life was NOT for me – haha. Plus, I love kids! For starters, I can relate to them. (Haha, what can I say? I like to play)! Also, while there are many ways for women and men to contribute to leaving a legacy and “making the world a better place,” I’ve always liked the old adage, “Have a kid, plant a tree, write a book.” (I’m pretty sure I planted a tree in 3rd grade, and I’m writing a blog that at least one person, you, is reading – thank you, so having a kid is next up.) For anyone curious about my pregnancy journey, especially as it pertains to fitness, here ya go… #nofilter>
I’ll be 35 by the time this baby pops out, and Tim, my partner/hubby, will be 50.
Though we’ve been married for over four years and have always intended to have children, things kept coming up: athletic opportunities for me and a bout of cancer for him. (He’s a year cancer-free now, so phew, but it took him awhile to recover. He’s still working to build up his in-person and online personal training/wellness coaching business after a long recovery following his intense 12-hour surgery, but like they say, “No time is perfect to have a baby – you have to just go for it.”) So we did. And it worked! And we’re very grateful for that, especially at our ages. I mean, years ago, just two days after I got married, at age 30, my mom (a 1950s mother of nine kids) kindly reminded me that my “uterus is not young”. (Thanks, Mom.)
Now that I know I’ve been pregnant for a few months, I can look back and play the fun game of, “Oh! I’m not going crazy – it’s just pregnancy!”
Sometime mid-October, my body unknowingly flooded me with prego hormones, and though I remember feeling a bit different, with so much going on, it never dawned on me that I could be pregnant. The two weeks prior, I’d just competed in the long, grueling Spartan World Championship in Tahoe on my way home moving road trip-style from Colorado to Seattle before whisking off to my in-laws in Nebraska to celebrate Tim’s 50th birthday. Between two road-trips, a fantastic wedding in CA, the sad death of two people I knew, two fun 50th birthday parties for my hubby, the election, another 13-mile Spartan Beast, one big move from Colorado to Seattle, and two micro-moves while apartment searching, mid-October to mid-November was quite the fast-paced rollercoaster, so yeah, I was a bit distracted, (not to mention extra emotional, dealing with pregnancy hormones I didn’t know I had in me). Yet somehow somewhere near the beginning of this chaotic period, we got pregnant (woohoo!) and unknowingly brought our little peanut along for the ride.
We aren’t the only ones unsure about exactly when we got pregnant…
The first doctor pinned October 13th (Tim’s 50th birthday!) and another doctor thinks it was a week and a half before, (which is possible but not as likely), which means I would’ve raced the Spartan World Championship pregnant by a few days! I doubt I did, though, because I felt great during that race, yet in the Seattle Spartan Beast I raced three weeks after, I felt tired. In fact, I felt so “off” that week that I almost didn’t race the Beast, but I didn’t seem to be sick, so I decided to just go for it to get some practice for long races in. I didn’t fail any obstacles, thank goodness (baby bump or not, pregnant burpees do not sound fun), though my running sections felt uncharacteristically slow, and when it was time for an exciting battle sprint in to the finish line for first place, a strong competitor right with me, (my favorite scenario, especially as an 800 meter runner!), I just didn’t have any juice left in the tank, but in an odd way I’d never in 20 years of competing felt before. (I’d felt way better just three weeks prior finishing a Beast up a mountain, at altitude!) Rats – another intense photo-finish opportunity missed! Clueless, I still didn’t suspect pregnancy, however; I just hoped it was end-of-season burnout rather than my two decades of speed training out the window from training for long races all summer. I’m not sure why pregnancy didn’t dawn on me as a possibility then, but all I can say is that weeks later, when I found out the exciting pregnancy news, my doctor confirmed that energy-wise, pregnancy is like operating with “one less battery,” so that made it all make more sense – phew!
How did I finally figure it out? The boobs.
Even though I always gain some weight during my off-season and the holidays (and have fun doing it!), my boobs started to feel big, and full, and sore. I’ve been running with these sistahs for nearly two decades, and even during a brief time of significant weight gain after college, during my “quarter life crisis,” they’d always come willingly along for the ride, no prob. But suddenly, they stopped cooperating so nicely and started bouncing up and down while I ran, like a toddler stomping their feet. How odd. Not knowing it was a sign of pregnancy, I figured I was just PMSing more than usual, and when I got some spotting the following day, I wrote it off as my period. The sore boobie syndrome continued to persist, however, though I had too much going on to think much of it, until a few weeks later, when I noticed just how different they felt. Then I realized I was a little late for my period (which isn’t unusual for me, but still), and thought, “What if?!” Hmm… I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I thought I’d just search the web for “signs of pregnancy,” just in case, and sure enough, there it was, the #1 sign: sore boobs! I quickly scrolled through the article, and as soon as I saw the part about how easy it is to mistake a little implantation bleeding for one’s period, I realized that’s very possibly what I’d done. I had figured it could take us awhile to get pregnant, since I had just finished an intense season, and even though, to keep my period regular, I’d purposefully kept a couple pounds on all season (which was easy to do, thanks to my CO housemates’ amazing banana bread), I still figured these things take awhile. I mean, some of the healthiest, most amazing and loving couples I know have taken years to conceive, so I know it’s not something to take for granted.
“Let’s go buy some groceries for dinner,” I suggested to Tim. While at the store, I went ninja and sneakily purchased a pregnancy test without Tim noticing (and by ninja, I mean, after years in high school and college as a grocery checker, I still got stuck at the self-checkout, needing help from the overseeing checker while Tim waited just far enough away to not spot the test, among my other purchases – phew!) Test hidden in my jacket, we made a pit stop at the drug store, only to have the security alarm go off right as I entered! Oh no, did my hidden test set it off? If it did, nobody seemed to care, as the person walking out at the same time I walked in, who could’ve been the culprit, kept on walking with nobody stopping them. I exited without sounding the alarm, relieved I didn’t have to spill the beans to Tim while being frisked by a security guard, and wrongfully accused of stealing a pregnancy test.
Once home, I did the dirty work and within seconds, BOOM! A plus for prego! Could it be? Was I really pregnant? I mean, I knew it was possible, but it didn’t really hit me that 1 + 1 could equal 3, in the right circumstances, (or more than 3)! I looked in the mirror, stick in hand, walked up to Tim, and blurted out through a stream of tears, “We’re pregnant!” It wasn’t exactly romantic, but it got the message across, and we hugged and kissed, and sat in shock, and giggled, and freaked out, and wondered what our life would look like next. With my twisted sense of humor, at one point, I looked Tim in the eye with a straight face and said, “It’s definitely yours,” to which he classically shook his head and rolled his eyes, tying not to smile too much and thus encourage my off-color humor.
Here we are, 3 months later, halfway through the 40-week pregnancy time frame, and especially now that we’ve heard a heatbeat and we know the sex (a girl!), it’s really starting to sink in; we’re going to have a wittle baby!! We feel thrilled, a bit terrified, supremely grateful, and though, like most first-time parents, we’re not really sure what we’re doing, we do know this baby of ours will be loved to pieces!