Last month, pro triathlete Michelle Vesterby experienced a big surprise in her preparation for the Ironman World Championship. After arriving in Kona, the 35-year-old Dane discovered she was pregnant. Having already put in the work for the big dance, Vesterby decided to race anyway. Saying she “felt great,” Vesterby was in a solid position among the pro pack until she struggled with a mechanical on the bike course. Still, she finished in 9:27:56.
Now 15 weeks along, Vesterby is hoping for some race redemption at Ironman Cozumel on Sunday. And despite already being in the second trimester of her pregnancy, her goals have not diminished. We caught up with Vesterby from her hotel room in Cozumel to chat about her decision to race and her post-baby plans.
Triathlete.com: First things first. How are you feeling?
Vesterby: I feel really good. So far, I’ve been having a pretty easy pregnancy, I haven’t felt nauseous or sleepy. My training has been about the same as always with four hour rides on the trainer and two hour runs. The only real symptom of my pregnancy has been a little bit of a weird stomach. It just feels a little off. Oh, I’ve gained a few extra kilos which is pretty obvious. I do eat a lot more now.
Triathlete.com: You found out you were pregnant right before the Ironman World Championship. What went through your head at the time?
Vesterby: It was a surprise, for sure. It wasn’t planned. But I’ve always wanted to be a mom, so my husband [Klaus] and I were very happy. Before we found out, I thought I missed my period because I’d been training so much and my body was responding to that. I took a pregnancy test just in case. Actually, I peed on a bunch of sticks! And they were all positive. I couldn’t believe it.
Triathlete.com: Did you freak out?
Vesterby: Well, I was nervous because I didn’t want to hurt the baby [by racing]. I talked to a doctor in Hawaii and he said that if I feel good, I could go ahead and race. I just needed to be sure to hydrate a lot more. And I did feel great in the race. When I got the mechanical on the bike, I saw that as a sign to back off a bit. I didn’t want to risk anything happening to the baby. [Editor’s note: Vesterby finished in 27th place among the women pros, splitting 3:31:57 in the marathon.]
Triathlete.com: So what made you decide to race in Cozumel?
Vesterby: After Kona, my plan was to go home to Denmark and enjoy my pregnancy. But I couldn’t shake the urge to race again. I felt like I had more in me. So I talked to my doctors in Denmark and they said, ‘If you feel good, then the baby will feel good.’ It was never on my agenda to come to Cozumel, but I know the course, I’ve won here before. And I love this race.
Triathlete.com: At 15 weeks pregnant, what kind of precautions will you take in the race?
Vesterby: My plan is to listen to my body. If there are any signals that something is off, I will not push out of my comfort zone. I will stay in control and will pull out if I feel really bad. I will also take in more nutrition. I’ll probably take in 10 more grams [of fuel] per hour, and I will get at least one more [fluid] bottle per hour. Actually, I typically lack in managing my nutrition. So being pregnant may actually benefit me since I know I will not mess around or skip fueling.
Triathlete.com: What about keeping track of your heart rate to be sure it doesn’t spike too high?
Vesterby: I have been doing that more in training, but on race day, I’ll probably turn off most of my monitors and just go by feel.
Triathlete.com: What do you want to say to those people who have questioned you racing two Ironmans while pregnant?
Vesterby: I understand the concern. But I am a professional athlete who has been doing this since 2008. I have won Ironmans. And I know my body. Right now, my body is asking me to continue training and racing. This is what I love to do. I’m not stupid. I have consulted with professionals and have the go-ahead to race, so that’s what I am doing.
Triathlete.com: Any goals for Sunday?
Vesterby: Of course. I would love to win the race, punch my ticket to Kona, and then race there five months after I give birth. I know that’s optimistic to many, but that’s my plan A. It could happen! A lot of my competitors may say, ‘Oh it’ll be easy to beat her,’ but I honestly feel so good. Also, I’m just so happy and excited that I’m going to be a mom, so I am mentally strong right now.
Triathlete.com: So do you hope to keep training through the rest of your pregnancy?
Vesterby: Yes, I will stay in shape and stay fit. I do hope to race in Kona next year. But if that’s not in the cards, I’ll live with it. You never know what is going to happen or what kind of kid I’ll get! But I have a lot of great role models in this sport. There are women like Meredith Kessler who have returned to a high level of racing soon after giving birth. So I hope to follow their lead.