#MyTri: I’m an Ironman Finisher. So is My Baby.

Dr. Sydney Haggins shares her experience of training for and racing an Ironman while pregnant.

Photo: Sydney Haggins

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In #MyTri, we let triathletes share their own stories of inspiration, motivation, fantastic flubs, and everything in between. Submit your story and photo for consideration by emailing us at letters@triathlete.com with “My Tri” in the subject line. If we choose your story for publication, we’ll be in touch.

Six years ago, I finished my family medicine residency and started a family practice. I also started a family. Today, I’ve got three wonderful children and a fantastic husband in addition to a job as a physician that I truly love. Yet as I built my identity as a mom and a doctor, certain things fell to the wayside. The first to go was my identity as an athlete.

I was never a super athletic person, but I did love jogging. When I was nine years old, I discovered I could put one foot in front of the other and just keep going. Whenever a bad mood struck, a good run could fix it. Running kept me balanced through my childhood and adolescence. In college and medical school, it provided a healthy outlet for my stress. I was never fast, and I definitely wasn’t consistent, but I always loved it. During my residency, I added swimming and cycling, and completed a few triathlon races.

Then I got pregnant. After my first baby, I had a touch of postpartum depression. I felt better when I went out walking, but didn’t prioritize this—I was a new mom, after all. I got a little cranky and a lot overweight. This was the first time I truly experienced firsthand how important exercise was to me—not only for physical health, but mental health as well. Two years later, baby two came, and my husband and I made sure that I took time to take care of myself. I got out walking a bit more, and even managed to go for an occasional jog. When I became pregnant with baby three, my family and I had a full game plan for mommy’s health and happiness. I signed up with the local running club and registered for a few races.

This plan worked really well. Four months after having my third child, I had a great half-marathon. Then COVID came and canceled the rest of the races I had registered for. It also zapped my motivation to stay active, as it did for so many.

Last winter, my husband and I decided to try for another baby, our fourth. This time around, we couldn’t get pregnant as easily as we had the first three times. I was nearly 40 years old, and the doctor in me knew that the healthier I could be, the better our chances were of getting pregnant. Suddenly, my motivation to train came roaring back.

I surrounded myself with like-minded friends, signed up for a big gaggle of races, and took off with training. I was dedicated, and by late spring, I was in great shape. I still wasn’t pregnant, but I had been the most consistent I had ever been with training. I decided to capitalize on this fitness by registering for an Ironman 70.3 in Lubbock 70.3, then go all the way by signing up for Ironman Waco.

Lubbock was a perfect day. I beat my previous personal best for a 70.3 by almost 20 minutes, which also allowed me to qualify for 70.3 Worlds in St. George. I hired a coach and started a training plan to prepare for St. George and Waco.

Three weeks later, I found out I was pregnant.

This wasn’t a surprise, of course. My husband and I were actively trying to get pregnant. I had prepared for and expected this possibility all year. I knew that so long as I felt good and there were no complications, I could proceed as planned. My husband, my coach, my obstetrician, and my friends/training partners were all on board. Most importantly, my three kids encouraged the journey. We all decided we would take things day by day.

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Through August, September, and early October, I kept my consistency with training, but allowed for flexibility when needed. I released a little of the speed work and drills, and put in a little more easy efforts. I monitored my heart rate like a hawk, and adjusted when it crept up. I hydrated as though the world’s water was going to disappear tomorrow, and ate however I pleased. My coach didn’t make any major adjustments, but we worked through some days where I just needed more recovery, and he gave a lot of reinforcement when I felt like it was getting tough. My two oldest kids, ages 5 and 3, also did triathlons this summer, and my husband trained alongside me as he prepared for his own 70.3 races.

I was eight weeks pregnant at St. George. I rode my bike with a “Baby on Board” sign, and took a four minute siesta partway up Snow Canyon, the race’s infamous climb. I finished in 7:07 and felt great. When I crossed the finish line, there was no question for me that participating in Ironman Waco a month later was still a go.

I like to say I “bellied up” to the start line at Ironman Waco. I was 13 weeks pregnant, so my only goal was to see what happened during the day. The priority was to manage hydration and heart rate, stay comfortable throughout the day, and get baby and me to the finish feeling good. And thats exactly what happened. The swim was peaceful (that bump had me floating!), I stuck to my hydration and heart rate plan on the bike, and the run—my first marathon—was surprisingly fun.

With a finishing time of 14:15:14, I became an Ironman. So did my baby.

(Photo: Sydney Haggins)

Even at 40, an uncomplicated pregnancy does not have to mean halting or significantly altering your activity level, but it does require listening to your body. I released any expectations of finishing times, absolved myself of any resolutions to compete or complete, and proceeded with what felt good.

Not many people have questioned my decision to do this race, perhaps because I am an MD. But I know the myths and misconceptions are out there. The truth is, I’m healthier here in this pregnancy than I was even a year ago, and am also healthier than I was as an athlete in my teens and 20s. An Ironman is certainly not recommended for the armchair athlete, or for someone starting a fitness journey while pregnant. But exercise is important before, during, and after pregnancy—for both mom and baby.

I took up running and triathlon to better my health and find myself again. Through small steps and consistency, I did just that, and then some. Like so many in this sport, small decisions led to goals and achievements that have left me in awe of what the human body can do. I’m not the first person to do an Ironman pregnant, and I’m certain I won’t be the last. This is a story I never thought I’d tell, but it’s now my story, and my child’s too.

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