A World Champ’s Advice For Training During Pregnancy

World champ Rachel Joyce on working out and maintaining sanity while pregnant with her son, Archie.

Photo: John David Becker

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World champ Rachel Joyce on working out and maintaining sanity while pregnant with her son, Archie.

Rachel Joyce has an impressive multisport resume: an ITU world championship title, three podium finishes at the Ironman World Championships, and an 8:49:14 course record at Ironman Texas. But ask her about her proudest accomplishment, and she’ll proudly direct your attention to her new son, Archie, born September 2016.

Though Joyce, 38, took time off during her pregnancy and postnatal recovery, racing was never far from her mind. The British powerhouse recently began structured training once more, with an eye on returning to racing in 2017.

Triathlete.com: As an athlete, you’re used to putting in long hours of training. Did you set out to maintain that at the start of your pregnancy?

Joyce: I never stopped loving triathlon, but I think after 4-5 years of basing my year around Kona I was ready for a break. What my 9 months of pregnancy showed me was I love the sport and I did want to get back to racing. I am hoping the new perspective I found during pregnancy and of becoming a mum is something I will carry into my racing.

Triathlete.com: How did you train while you were pregnant?
Joyce: In terms of what I did, I pretty much went by feel. Some days, especially in the first trimester, I felt awful so there were days when all I could do was drag myself for a walk around the block. Or I’d go to the pool and get out after 300 meters.  Other days, I felt good and could swim 4-5km in Julie’s swim group and then do a short ride or run. There was no typical day.  I will confess that I did set myself mini goals: to start out I aimed for three swims, three bikes and three runs per week. That didn’t always happen. At 30 weeks I stopped running as it felt too uncomfortable. I did jump into a couple of 10km run “races” before then and an open water swim mainly because I missed that big event atmosphere.
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Triathlete.com: What training modifications did you have to make?
Joyce: Knowing what to do—how much, what intensity was something I found hard to figure out as there’s not really much information out there. I am lucky that my doctor has seen a fair few athletes through pregnancy so she was reassuring about what I could and shouldn’t do. Swimming I carried on as normal, but skipped out of any threshold and VO2 stuff. Biking I switched to a road and MTB. I did ride outside for quite a while. When I got bigger I switched to riding on the quiet dirt roads around Boulder where there wasn’t much traffic. Again, I didn’t ride much over 2 hours and towards the end 50 minutes on the trainer was plenty. I did strength intervals: sets like 20×1 minutes over-gearing, where I could give my legs a good work out without getting my HR too high. It was still nice to feel like I’d had a “workout.”

A big modification was not “pushing on” as I am used to doing in training. I learned that if I did a long swim session one day, I generally would feel more tired the next day and so I would take things easier. I found this hard sometimes. As an athlete I am used to being in control of my body.

Triathlete.com: What was the biggest surprise about training while pregnant?
Joyce: How different I could feel one day to the next. Some days I would have energy and pull off some fairly good swims without too much effort and other days I felt like I could barely move forward.

Triathlete.com: What advice do you have for moms-to-be who want to continue training during pregnancy?
Joyce: Listen to your body. Do what’s right for you in your pregnancy. Don’t compare yourself to others. Be kind to yourself. I had to keep reminding myself of these four things throughout my pregnancy and I didn’t always succeed but I found that I embraced and enjoyed pregnancy when I followed my own advice.

Triathlete.com: Will we see you back on the race course again in 2017?
Joyce: Yes, you will. After Archie’s birth I did little more than walking for 6 weeks. That’s the longest time I have been so inactive. However, I have been making progress and I feel good in training so I do believe I can get back to racing at a high level.

Most evenings when Brett [Hedges, Joyce’s partner] gets back from work we chat quickly whilst I get ready for a workout and Brett has some Archie time whilst I get on with some training. Pre-pregnancy, I would very rarely start a key session in the evening, but now I just get on and do it and appreciate this time for me. I have to laugh when I have jumped off the trainer and gone straight to nursing Archie whilst I chomp on a recovery bar or something less healthy.
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