Even if you've never had a baby, you've probably heard of the infamous booked entitled What to Expect When You're Expecting. This guidebook, aimed at gleeful (and obsessively smart) pregnant women, details what every minute of the nine months is supposed to look and feel like. Let's just say that some weeks are prettier than others. You find out things you probably never wanted to know about being pregnant, including reasons for incessant trips to the bathroom: “Is this normal?” Why, yes, it is. You discover that you want to sleep constantly for the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy: “Is this normal?” Of course, my dear. You get nasty hemorrhoids and gas: “Please tell me this isn't normal.” Sorry, hon; you signed up for it.
As an athlete who’s gearing up for a new season, does any or all of this sound familiar? Are you new to a sport and have no idea what to expect? Are you a veteran who puts your body through the rigors year after year? You've all signed up to be athletes, and there are a lot of unknowns that come with the territory (yes, that includes gas and hemorrhoids). I'm not going to spell it out day by day or trimester by trimester but suffice to say your body and mind will go through some ugly phases along the journey of reaching the high expectations you've set for yourself this year.
So, in no particular order, here is my partial list of “What to Expect When You're Expecting (Greatness).”
Accept this now: A bad workout doesn't mean you're slow. It doesn't mean you're not cut out for racing. It doesn't mean that you're not going to finish your race because one trainer session was too tough. It simply means that it was a tough day for you. Pregnant women have a lot of crappy days during their nine months of gestation and it doesn't mean they aren't cut out for motherhood. Thankfully, they can still have a perfect bundle of joy at the end of their labor. Expect a few bad days. But look on the bright side: Unlike pregnant women, you can still enjoy sushi, wine, and cheese.
In many respects, you are eating for two during training season. Take pleasure in feeding the machine. There's the normal you who gets up like every other citizen. Then, there's the super you who demands fuel to perform properly. The normal you can subsist on coffee, very little breakfast, no sleep, and pizza. The super you begs to be fueled properly with balanced, whole nutrition; plenty of water; essential nutrients; and vitamins. Mommy-to-be also has the same demands while incubating her bambino. She eats to provide the healthiest growth atmosphere; she takes pre-natal vitamins; she avoids toxins. Treat your body as if you are, in fact, giving life to another individual. In many ways, you are.
My husband can attest to this one and I've never been pregnant! Popular wisdom says that the average American should get 30 minutes of exercise a minimum of three times a week. Most athletes accomplish that weekly quota by 9:00 a.m. on Monday morning. You will be tired, especially if you are training 8, 10, 12, even 18 hours per week. That doesn't mean you aren't fit. It simply means that you need some down time. Think of the pregnant women who are put on bed rest when they are at risk or overly fatigued. A little bed rest can go a long way to getting a woman to full term. In the same way, a little rest will allow you to get through an entire season without burnout. Know the signs of overreaching or overtraining.
Like our mommy-to-be counterparts, athletes also experience some amazing body transformations along the way, albeit usually in opposing directions. The muffin top may be replaced by some visible obliques. Sagging triceps become firmer. Suddenly, we recognize what a deltoid is supposed to look like. It's our body's way of adapting to the demands we are placing on it. Embrace the changes. Flaunt them, even…Demi Moore-style.
Back pain. Leg cramps. Swollen feet. All are very distinct and uncomfortable symptoms that percolate in the second trimester of pregnancy. Ironically, they are also symptoms that may appear during the build phases of training and racing. What would pregnancy be like without some odd aches, pains, and strange sensations? Most of the time, those signals are good. It means the baby is growing; things are happening. There is movement (even if that movement is a kick to the uterine wall). Know the difference, however, between what is a normal ache and what is not. These signals can be the difference between a healthy season or a sidelined season. Pregnant women are trained to recognize what is a normal sensation and what is not. It requires regular checkups with trusted health care providers. So, too, should your season.
One of the reasons people don't have children is because they are simply afraid. They fear they don't have the resources or income to support a newborn. They fear they don't have the responsibility necessary to raise a child in this incredibly competitive and harsh world. They fear the body and the lifestyle changes. Ironically, these are some of the same reasons that athletes never accomplish their own dreams and goals. They are simply afraid. If women didn't give birth simply because they had doubts and fears, there would be no future Olympians running around. Fear can stifle or it can motivate. Use your fears as motivators to accomplish greatness.
What can be more memorable than looking at your creation for the first time? What could provide more feelings of achievement and success than admiring the results of your physical and emotional labor? What could possibly be a better feeling than, “I did this. I made this. I followed the plan. I listened to my body. I gave this baby what it needed to grow. I followed my Doctor's orders.” Nothing can top that moment of realizing that you achieved your goal by persevering through exhaustion, fear, hunger, pain, and mood swings. You literally and figuratively gave birth to something that you once thought impossible. Your body and mind are capable of achieving miracles.
I hope each of you gets to hold your own bundles of joy this training season.
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