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Fit Follow-Up: Beth Gerdes

  • Name: Beth Gerdes
  • Child: Wynne, born May 29, 2014
  • Claim to Fame: Pro triathlete Beth Gerdes specializes in Ironman triathlons: grueling, three-part races composed of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full marathon (26.2 miles). But the new mom discovered that having a baby can push boundaries not even a 140.6-mile race can touch. “As an Ironman, I know how to embrace pain for ten hours,” she says, “but my birth was more than double that!” Four months after that birth, she competed at Ironman Malaysia, which she approached with no major expectations. ("...no one is pegging you for the win or expecting the performance of a lifetime," she wrote on her blog, where she documented her pregnancy training.) Impressively, she placed fifth. Gerdes, who turned professional in 2012, lives in Encinitas, California, and, in the last year alone, has traveled—with her daughter and her partner, fellow triathlete Luke McKenzie, in tow—to 11 countries and five continents to compete. What's next? Ironman Cairns in Australia on June 14 and reaching her goal of finishing in the top ten of the Ironman World Championships, which take place this fall in Hawaii. Read on to find out why the new mom thinks she is the strongest athlete she’s ever been right now.
Toeing the Line

I raced a sprint triathlon for fun when I was five months pregnant. Prior to pregnancy I had been competing in Ironman-distance triathlons, so a short, one-hour sprint-distance event was feasible. My boyfriend, [fellow triathlete] Luke McKenzie, had signed up for the race so I thought, why not? It was incredibly fun to line up with no expectations for the race other than to enjoy it. I started in the back of the swim so that there was little risk of physical contact with others and rode very cautiously on the bike. The race felt great and I actually won my age group, though I asked to be removed from the race results since I race professionally when not pregnant. The reaction from others was supportive. I didn’t receive any negative feedback.

On the Move

I decided to continue training throughout pregnancy, as long as it felt right and comfortable. Except for the running with a baby sitting on my bladder—that was not comfortable! I continued to swim, bike, run and strength train one to two hours per day. This was a significant decrease from my typical training regime of 25 to 30 hours per week, but still more than enough to stay fit! I removed all intervals and intensity from my workouts and made sure to take it easy and listen to my body. I also discovered some fun workouts I didn’t have time for outside of pregnancy, such as spin class and Pilates. I stayed fit and had a lot of fun. My pregnancy was easy and I was never at high risk, so I was able to continue training until the day I gave birth. The week I gave birth I went to spin class, swam for an hour each day and did a five-mile run.

Run for Fun?

Overall I am happy with how I trained during my pregnancy. I really was kind to my body and just did what I felt like each day. I truly enjoyed fitness for fitness sake, rather than focusing on hitting certain paces and goals each workout. The one thing I may change in the future is that I was a bit stubborn about running. Even as my form changed to a waddle and it became uncomfortable, I continued to run until the end: 41 weeks pregnant. I think maybe next time, if there is one, I may run a bit less and continue more of the exercises that are lower impact and friendly to my body.

Recovery and Reentry

My recovery was challenging, but my comeback has been better that I had imagined! My first training session back was a swim, after a few weeks off. But I did a lot of active recovery postpartum, including some walking and hiking for the first couple of weeks. Initially every training session was really difficult. I was overweight and out of shape. I would get out of breath doing simple things that wouldn’t have even raised my heart rate in the past. I wasn’t able to hit anything close to my prior fitness benchmarks, so I turned off all the data, such as pace, and instead just went out daily and got the work done, even if it was not pretty or fast. Over time I gradually got back in shape and by six months postpartum I was fitter than I’d ever been in my life!

Surprises

After I reached the six month mark, my fitness skyrocketed and I’ve been able to achieve things I never thought possible. At six months postpartum, I competed in Ironman Western Australia and ended up setting the run course record for the marathon (2:58). Overall, I am a stronger triathlete than I was before. I think some of this is because I really value every training session, as it is time away from Wynne. I need to make it all count and as a result I’m much more focused when I do get out the door each day. Prior to pregnancy I would say I was a second-tier professional triathlete. Now I have been competing with some of the best women in the world.

Words of Wisdom

At first, the most important thing is to be kind to yourself and listen to your body. If you are not a professional athlete take the time to ease back in and really enjoy the first few months with the baby. Just know that if you do resume a workout plan and stick with it as a new mom, you will absolutely see results. I was shocked at how easily the weight came off and how I was able to see results in my fitness improvement nearly every day and with every workout. It was an amazing transformation and something I’m glad that I got to experience firsthand.

Photo (bike at Ironman Melbourne): Adam Weathered
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This was a good read!! I’m 7 months and still run, but it’s SLOWWWW! Your advice postpartum will help me when I start back!! Thanks!!

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