When women do become pregnant, one of the biggest questions they have is how to adjust their workouts.
While many women swim up until the day they give birth, biking and running are different matters.
Tara Clark, a triathlete near the extreme end of the training-during-pregnancy scale, slowly rode 25 miles the day before she went into labor and was putting on her running shoes when her water broke.
Julie Nievergelt swam throughout her whole pregnancy, biked for seven months and ran for the first 17 weeks.
Many women eliminate running altogether once they find out theyre pregnant. Studies have shown that running is safe, but special guidelines should be followed, especially since pregnancy itself is a cardiovascular stress.
Top age-grouper Liz LaPlante continued to run after she found out she was pregnant, but immediately eliminated speed-work, long runs and racing.
I do the same thing, just not as intensely, LaPlante says. During my first two months of pregnancy, the only times I felt good was when I was working out.
Thats not uncommon. Other hurdles women face are fatigue, tender, swollen breasts and increased urinary frequency.
In her book Fit & Pregnant: The Pregnant Womans Guide to Exercise, Joan Marie Butler tells women to stop running and walk if theyre feeling Braxton Hicks contractions (rhythmic tightening of the lower abdomen) or ligament pain.
Most women I interviewed cut back their mileage 30 to 40 percent by the second trimester and up to 70 percent in the last weeks, Butler writes. At midpoint (four to seven months) you may feel your best, but youll also be aware of the added weight and minor aches and pains.
Generally, women who have worked out through their pregnancies can also return to exercise more quickly. While doctors still stress taking it easy and waiting until the first exam before doing anything extreme, they are also telling women to listen to their bodies and use common sense.
A woman who has had an easy vaginal delivery can begin working out much more quickly than one who had complications or a C-section.
Bleeding should have stopped and a six-week recovery time is still fairly standard before returning to exercise, but that can seem like ages for someone accustomed to high-frequency training.
Clark had a relatively easy delivery and her doctor allowed her to do the same things shed done before she was pregnant, except for horseback riding. She made a point to drink even more fluids than usual and watch her body temperature.
Your body will tell you what to do, Clark explains. I tried running four days after (delivery) and it was very uncomfortable so I stopped. I didnt need a doctor to tell me to slow down.
But while Clark was back within weeks, amateur athlete Heather Gollnick, 29, of Sussex, Wis., who gave birth to premature twins in 1996, didnt return to training for four months.
She was bedridden for three weeks leading up to their birth, and afterward she had to relearn basics, like walking and running.
Today Gollnick, who this year won the amateur race at Powerman Alabama, was second overall at the Gulf Coast Triathlon and won her age group at Memphis in May 1999, is strong enough to compete as a pro. But she stays amateur because she feels a professional career would take too much time away from her family.
One of her children has cerebral palsy and has special needs. Gollnick still trains but she has other time commitments (this past summer was spent building a handicapped home with husband Todd).
Physically, Gollnick, who is expecting her third child in February, says it was harder to bend into the aero position and get off the bike to run after she gave birth.
My stomach would cramp up because of the trauma to the area, and I noticed it when I would try to go hard, she says. Other than that I felt stronger.
Smyers discovered power walking and started doing laps around the hospital hallways. About two weeks later she started biking easily on an indoor trainer and also tried running, but found it to be too difficult.
After three weeks she starting swimming and after a month she tried running again, limiting herself to 15 minutes.
Eventually I began to feel stronger but it was more because I hadnt raced and had the desire to go hard, Smyers says. Sometimes if youre over-raced, you lose the ability to push through pain. Because I was fresh mentally and physically, I was very willing to go to the limit during races.
But while mothers may feel physiologically stronger, finding adequate time to train raises a host of other issues including the guilt associated with being away from your child.
Simply knowing another human being is dependent on you changes everything.
Not wanting to leave them, even for an hour, is probably one of the biggest obstacles to trying to ease back into exercise, says Peg Moline, editor of Fit Pregnancy magazine.
There is always this fear theyll be starving, crying and missing you. If you are able to bring them with you and exercise with them alongside, thats great.
This is where stay-at-home mothers have a decided edge. Gollnick spends all day with her children, which makes it easier for her to leave for a few hours for a long run. If her kids are willing, shell take them along.
I dont know how working mothers do it, she says. I know people who work all day and try to train and you do miss that time with the children.
She also has the luxury of having relatives available for childcare, a common denominator for triathletes at a competitive level.
The hardest thing about being a triathlete and a mom is the inconsistency, Gollnick says. You have to learn to go with the flow. If you get it in, great. If not, you do a hard workout the next day. To be a good triathlete you need structure, but to be a mom and a triathlete you have to be flexible.