24 October 2008

Fit Pregnancy & Childbirth

Fit pregnancy and childbirth are the topics for this week.  The letter is likely to end up fairly long but it should make an interesting change from politics and the economy!


Couple of announcements before we kick off.

Tucson -- we have ten slots left for our Spring Camp in Tucson.  Dates are March 29th to April 5th.  Six days of training, $2,350 includes everything but your airfares.  The camp is appropriate for sub-13 hour IMers (and sub-6 hours Half IMers).  For more info drop me a line.

Over on Endurance Corner Radio you will find three new podcasts -- Greg Bennett; Going Fast in Kona; and Chris Baldwin.  If you want then you can subscribe to the podcasts through iTunes -- we are listed under Endurance Corner Radio.  Jonas Colting will be live on Monday!


Fit Pregnancy

On October 14th, Monica gave birth to our daughter Alexandra (she's the one in the photo above).  Seeing as I'm the writer in the family, I will share some observations across the last ten months.

We have all heard stories about massive weight gain during pregnancy.  I've heard stories of women gaining up to 80 pounds across their pregnancies.  Listening to these tales, many women must wonder if large amounts of baby weight are the norm.  Do I have to become huge, to have a healthy baby?  Monica's experience might be relevant to you.

Before we start with the pregnancy, I want to mention a little bit about the year before the pregnancy.  When you look at the athletes racing in Kona, or ITU Worlds, you will see that most participants are optimized for performance, rather than personal health.  In fact, I'd guess that many very fast elite athletes (male and female) would have trouble conceiving when they are peak athletic condition.  

So my first recommendation for athletes seeking to conceive is to get a medical check-up and shift the basis of your athletics from performance, to health.  That is something that Monica and I did across last winter.  Although I continued to ride my bike, my overall training stress was low enough that I had sufficient energy to devote to fatherly duties...

Monica didn't ride and focused her training on swimming, running and yoga.  She was in excellent health and physical condition.  While we were trying to conceive, she kept both the volume, and intensity, of her program.  She didn't do much fast running but she would swim fast three times per week.

Monica's main worries prior to getting pregnant: 
  • I will lose my body
  • I will lose fitness
  • I won't be able to do anything
  • I will get slow and never recover
I can relate to those concerns -- I share many of them every October and November!

The good news is you can maintain your body, your health and, most surprisingly, your fitness.  Here's how she did it.

No Zeros -- Monica did some form of physical activity every single day, for her entire pregnancy - even the day her water broke.  This performance was a lot better than Dad's record!

While our medical advice was not to commence a fitness program when you get pregnant, all our doctors said that it was OK to maintain a fitness program through pregnancy.  Monica's doc also noted that there isn't much practical knowledge about pregnancy and the endurance athlete.  

The warnings boiled down to:
  • Don't let your body overheat;
  • Stay well hydrated;
  • Don't get out of breath (steady effort, or lower); and
  • Listen to your body.
Monica read the blogs of athletic moms like Bree Wee and Paula Radcliffe -- seeking to learn from their experience.  She also consulted with coaches of elite female triathletes to learn from their experience.  Something that came out of that research is the risk of stress fractures that result when moms come back too quickly.  We received a lot of warnings about late term and postpartum running.

While most people talk about trimesters, looking from the outside, I noticed shifts closer to ten week blocks within M's 40-week pregnancy.

First ten weeks -- hormonal changes, mainly impacted mood and appetite.  Monica was lucky in that her cravings were fresh fruit (rather than sugar/starch) related.

Second ten weeks -- feeling much better, moderated volume and intensity with attitude of baby-comes-first.

Third ten weeks -- pregnancy starts to show, pubic bone discomfort at 26 weeks, stopped running at 30 weeks, shifted to the elliptical trainer 2x per week.

Final ten weeks -- months of high frequency swimming left her very economical in the water, some high volume swim weeks, hiking started around 34 weeks, elliptical reduced to 1x per week.

Here's a great stat... total swim distance across the pregnancy... 908,600 meters.   Average weekly volume was 14 hours and 45 minutes (includes yoga & cross training but not mellow walks with me).  That average volume was down from 19-23 hours per week before conception.

The most surprising thing for me was that across her third trimester, Monica had returned to a level of aerobic swim economy that was on-par with where she was preconception.

To sum up Monica's focus:
  • Pre-pregnancy -- health, not race fitness
  • During pregnancy -- baby comes first, no zeros
The biggest mental challenges Monica faced were:
  • not stopping; 
  • coping with weight gain; 
  • coping with her body changing; and
  • coping with peer group response.
There will be days where you feel like everyone wants you to get huge, slow down and be uncomfortable.  Those feelings are normal and it helps to know that all pregnant ladies are dealing with them.

If she had to give you one piece of advice with your pregnancy then she would encourage you to remain active, moderately, every day.  Also remember that if you plan on breast feeding you'll burn off your baby weight safely and gradually.


The birth experience was intense and nothing like either of us expected.  We went to "baby school" this summer but nothing can prepare you for the real thing.  

All you experienced moms out there... you certainly downplayed the extreme nature of childbirth!

6:45pm Sunday (Zero Hour) -- water breaks, contractions start shortly thereafter

+6 hrs -- at the hospital, told cervix is 1-2 cm dilated

+15 hrs -- Monica's OB/Gyn gives an exam and notes that cervix is 1 cm dilated -- previous exam was incorrect; drug inserted to help cervix along

+18 hrs -- full blown labour gets going, strong contractions happening up to 2:30 min apart

+23 hrs -- another exam; disappointing news; uterus is ahead of cervix; only 2cm dilated; facing another 12 hrs of labour M opts for epidural

+24 hrs -- epidural kicks in with three hours of pain relief and relative comfort

+29 hrs -- pain relief gone; M feeling pretty strung out and ragged; doctor recommends sleeping pill to enable M to sleep; doesn't force it but strongly recommends

+30 hrs -- M waives off sleeping pill; gets anaesthetist to refresh the epidural;

+31 hrs -- another three hours of pain relief; a couple of short naps; makes a huge difference

+34 hrs -- pain relief wanes; good news that M is 8.5 cm dilated (one needs to get to 10 cm) 

+35 hrs -- pretty extreme pain through transition; M starts pushing; has to pause because she nearly pushes the baby out before the doctor can get to the room

+35:30 hrs -- childbirth!

Things that surprised us:

The extreme amounts of pain -- likely magnified by duration of labour and lack of sleep.   Picture the most despair your have ever seen in an athlete... this didn't even come close!  I'm guessing that you'd only see close having to watch young people die or see people broken via torture.  It's a good thing that babies are so cute!

The main thing that surprised me (M didn't see) was the large amount of blood that came out after the birth -- between the placenta and the blood, there was a bucket full of post-baby-bits. Didn't freak me out but it certainly got my attention.

Tips for the guys:

Being in the room, and supportive, provides a HUGE opportunity to strengthen your marriage. In life, we only get a few opportunities to demonstrate character. Child-birth is a total-body experience for your wife, being able to share that can create a deep bond. She will always remember if you were there for her.

Besides, after you watch, you'll spend the rest of your life grateful that your wife is handling the birthing part of the relationship. Blew my mind!

Back next week,

Labels: ,


At 5:39 AM, Blogger Bruce said...

Congratulations on the successful birth of your baby! Now the real fathering for you begins! It seems that Monica swam as much as I do each month and people say I swim more than many pro triathletes. Maybe I will have to crank up my training! We had an elderly Canadian doctor deliver our second child (in Taipei) by C-section and I was present there in the operating theater. I remember after our second son was delivered, the nurse found out there was none of the nylon thread the doctor wanted to stitch my wife up. So we had to wait about 20 minutes while someone went to find something that could act as a substitute. Never a dull moment, I guess!

At 5:51 AM, Blogger Jessica said...

Congrats on the baby! I was one of those people that gained 80+ pounds when I was pregnant (this was before I was a triathlete). It ruined my body in a lot of ways, but at least I got the weight off. I wish I had been a more active person and had managed my health better, but that wasn't who I was back then.
When I did my first Ironman it reminded me very much of childbirth - get ready for 9 months, suffer for 12 hours, celebrate!
I still think childbirth is more difficult, mostly because you can't quit when it gets rough, but doing IMs for me gives me that same overwhelming physical challenge (and pride of completion) that childbirth did.
Monica has set a very good example for female athletes. It is so important that women know they can not only maintain but GAIN fitness while pregnant and not "lose" anything to the 9 months they spent creating a person!

At 6:45 AM, Blogger Christiaan said...

Congratulations Gordo and Monica. Great news - do you have a name yet.

The article is very interesting and I'm with you on being grateful we do not have the chld bearing responsibility in our relationships. We have 2 young children and it blew my mind that my wife was willing to go through it a second time. It goes to show that the natural human urge to breed can overcome even the thought of going through that again :)

At 7:29 AM, Blogger Jenny Davidson said...

Congratulations to both you and Monica! I have been reading here for a long time, always enjoy your thoughts, but figured this was a good time to leave a message of actual felicitations!

At 9:20 AM, Blogger Gordo Byrn said...

Thanks All.

C -- Baby Alexandra.


At 11:31 AM, Blogger Douglas K said...

congratulations on your beautiful new daughter !
My niece is also Alexandra, Allie to her familiars.

++1 on the delivery thing, it was terrifying. We had a doula for #2, after her help/recommendations baby C nearly arrived in the parking lot of the hospital. 3 hours labor at home, and discomfort rather than agony.

At 11:50 AM, Blogger Chris said...


Congrats to you and Mon on the arrival of your new baby daughter. I imagine that these past few weeks have been some of the most incredible weeks of your life.

As a recent father (my daughter is 10 months old now) of someone that chose to concentrate on family over Ironman ambitions for the past couple years, I hope you enjoy your early stages of fatherhood as much as I have. And I hope that Alexandra turns out to be a good sleeper to let you guys get some well needed rest.


At 12:27 PM, Blogger Will said...

Congratulations to you, Monica, and Alexandra! That is wonderful news. Best wishes to the three of you as you start a new chapter of life together.

At 12:37 PM, Blogger Eric Jelinek said...

Congrats on the baby.
My wife and I have three boys. I was there for all of the births and each time was just as amazing as the first. Truly a magical event.
I have been reading your blog for a few years now, and I race Ironman distance. I will be interested to read your future blogs on training for and racing Ironman distance events while having a child. There aren't really any good blogs dealing with this challenge.

I wish 1000 calm, peaceful nights be in your near future.

Oh, and enjoy every second as they truly do grow up very fast.

At 12:40 PM, Blogger Sami said...

congrats Gordo.

having my first child, Dana, just few months ago is wonderful.

Hope you will be able to get some sleep. it will get better after 3 months :)

At 2:10 PM, Blogger Morten Liebach said...

Congratulations with Baby Alexandra! She looks beautiful.

I'm extremely impressed with the training Monica did during pregnancy, averaging more hours than I've peaked at for the last many years… that's a world class pregnancy.

I like your observation about the 10 week blocks instead of trimesters, it matches pretty well with how my wifes pregnancy is going right now, she's in the second 10 week block now with our second child.

And the birth experience really does blow your mind.

I'm really glad that our son only took about 5 hours from when we arrived at the hospital (18 hours or so, after the first contractions), but the midwife told us that my wife was extremely good at giving birth, almost like it wasn't her first time. It hurt terribly, but it must have been nothing like what you went through in all those hours. I can't imagine how tired you must have been, I was completely wiped out after 24 hours, and you had 12 hours more to go!

One thing I can recommend to all fathers is to arrange that at the final push when the baby comes out; be the one who catch the baby. It's the most wonderful thing, to hold your child in your arms as the first person. That's the greatest moment in my life, by far, so far.

Enjoy your wonderful baby, remember to enjoy each other, and enjoy your new family, it's the greatest thing.

At 5:05 PM, Blogger Alicia Parr said...

With a 6 1/2 week old birthed after 32 hours of intense non-medicated labor, this post is filled with meaning and relevance for me. Thank you for sharing. I hope Monica's take away from the experience is a validation of her toughness, rather than trauma. Going into labor with so much fitness had to make a tremendous difference. I agree with your sentiment of it's intensity. I've seen nothing in endurance sport that can compare, and I've paced and spectated a 100 mile run, which is pretty serious stuff, way harder than a piddly Ironman. My husband was present throughout my labor as well and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Congrats to you both on this new chapeter. You're going to love the experience.

At 6:18 PM, Blogger Mama Simmons said...

Congrats on the arrival of your new little one! And thanks for this post! I'm about 10 days away from my due date... been an endurance athlete for 13 years and have completed 8 Ironmans so far, including Kona last year. I conceived at a time of pretty high volume/intensity training but when I found out I was pregnant, I backed it off quite a bit... although I did maintain some level of activity throughout. My experience so far sounds similar to Monica's in that my swimming has really started to come back in the last several weeks. I've been getting in 3,000+ long course meters just about every day and although I am off my old times by about 8-10 sec/100m, my endurance is totally there and I feel like a machine in the water. It's kind of nice, even if the lifeguards are worried that my baby will pop out at any given moment while I'm swimming. :) I'm hoping for a labor that was a little easier than your wife's, but who knows? Thanks for the story!

At 6:21 PM, Blogger Pedergraham said...

Congratulations on sweet, little Alexandra. I am very impressed the level of exercise Monica did while she was pregnant. I imagine that she and Alexandra will be out strollering and baby joggering together very soon.

At 3:10 AM, Blogger Train-This said...

Really well said Gordo. Thanks for this!!! We moms appreciate the kudos!

At 12:35 AM, Blogger stuart said...

welcome to the human race! - a different challenge.
Congratulations to the whole family

At 3:52 PM, Blogger Julia said...

Tell Monica that baby #2 will be easier when it comes to the birthing part :-)

Congratulations to all three of you!

At 4:43 AM, Blogger Luke said...

Wow! Great stuff.

You're right that for most mums and dads, the first birth is a very intense experience - It does get easier (our third popped-out within 20mins of arriving at the maternity hospital).

10 months ago you started a journey. One which will be with you for the rest of your days - enjoy.

Oh, and by the way, just wanted to say thanks for the recent Endurance Corner Radio podcasts - all very interesting.

At 1:21 PM, Blogger Multisport Woman said...

Congrats to all 3 of you. I was familiar with much of what Monica went through - I got pregnant just after I did Kona in 05 and what I experienced was similar to Monica (although less volume I think). I would encourage women to not necessarily give up biking - it's a great way to keep up fitness without having to bear all the weight of that belly. I stuck to spin bikes/stationary trainers, but also rode my (more stable) mountain bike, even riding part of the IM Lake Placid course while 6 months pregnant!
The other note is that every female athlete will be different in what she can do, how much she can handle etc. The key thing is to do what you enjoy, and not to push through extreme fatigue.
With respect to literature on pregnancy and endurance athletes, I recommend Dr. James F. Clapp's book "Exercising Through Your Pregnancy". His studies showed that conditioned female athletes can actually manage intensity in training (for short periods) without any harm to the fetus.
The tougher part of the journey is the training WITH a baby in your life (especially if both of you are doing it)!

At 2:28 PM, Blogger james said...

gordo - do you have a few amazon links for recommended pregnancy and baby reading?

It became my favourite topic almost 8 months ago! I've read all the usual suspects, though most have been disappointing / fluffy.

word to the nerd.

At 6:59 PM, Blogger Gordo Byrn said...


Two that stood out... Happiest Baby on the Block and Be Prepared, a practical handbook for new dads.


At 10:01 PM, Blogger Amber Dawn said...

congratulations to you both!
There is a serious lack of literature out there related to athletes and pregnancy. From body image issues to training to nutrition, there are many things that athletes experience differently from the masses. You 2 should write a book. soon. like before 2010 when we are planning to start a family :-)

now for the sleep deprived postings...

At 8:27 PM, Blogger j-mo said...

Congrats on the new addition!
I am in a similar position to you - my wife and I had our first baby (a daughter too) 5 weeks ago.
You should think about a follow up piece in the next few weeks about a DAD's training schedule (or lack thereof) in the first month (or 2). I've found it important to have a flexible training plan for a while!

At 7:30 AM, Blogger Mark said...

Congrats Gordo and Monica!

"In her mother's arms it was all the beauty I could take. Like the missing words to some prayer that I could never make. In a world so hard and dirty, so fouled and confused, searching for a little bit of God's mercy I found living proof." - B. Springsteen

I look forward to reading about your adventures as Alexandra's Dad!

At 8:23 AM, Blogger cherelli said...

Hi Gordo,

Congratulations on the new family member! Really look forward to reading your blog each week; I like your philosophy/outlook. Just wondering as the weeks go by how Monica is coping with being a new mum in terms of finding time to train/stay fit (though that won't be the top priority but I'm sure is important to her sense of health)? We are looking to have kids around 2010 and whilst not anywhere as fit as Monica, I do go stir-crazy without at least a walk each day...Best wishes to you both!

At 8:56 AM, Blogger Gordo Byrn said...


M is doing fine. The first week after Lex arrived she didn't get much exercise at all -- but the birth is pretty tiring so she didn't mind much.

After that, she started with jogging -- really slow. Even the slow jogging was too much and she ended up with bruised ankles, a bit of a flexibility induced injury. We had been warned!

Now we are six weeks post birth and Monica can swim again (think she was 25K last week) as well as very light running and some yoga. So she's back moving again. Like me, shooting for 1 hour per day.


At 8:35 AM, Blogger cherelli said...

That's awesome to hear (that Monica is already back into getting exercise, not the bruised ankles bit :) ), it must be great for you to have some downtime from the intense training and enjoy your other interests and Baby Alex - thanks for the quick reply!


At 7:08 PM, Blogger Kara said...

Gordo, It's been a while since I've checked in on your site, so I see congrats are in order!! As the mother of three, with one more on the way, i have to agree with multisport woman. Whether you workout during pregnancy or not (and, of course, I firmly believe it's better for you and babe if you do) is small potatoes compared to fitting in workouts after the baby/ies arrive. You can't believe the antics you'll face... I'll just let you face them:-) That, is exactly what I blog about so I look forward to reading more from you on the daddy perspective. Also wanted to share with you an essay I wrote for Women's Adventure a couple years ago--you'll find it relevant--called "Why Giving Birth is Not Like Running a Marathon..." (http://www.karathom.com/July_It_s_Personal.pdf) Alexandra is beautiful.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home