Pregnancy: The Ride of a Lifetime

Team INFINIT Triathlete, Kayla Bowker, shares her personal experience being a pregnant athlete in today's age of "female empowerment"

Kayla in sitting down and looking off in her bike kit, helmet, and sunglasses


The role of women in today’s society has certainly evolved over the last 100 years. There are more female CEOs than ever; more women are choosing careers in business, science and law. There has also been a notable rise in women in sports.


In 1972, Title IX was signed to provide everyone equal access to programs and activities (i.e. sports), that receives federal financial assistance. Since then there has been a 545% increase in the percentage of women playing college sports and a 990% increase in the percentage of women playing high school sports.


Being a woman, and athlete myself, it’s amazing to see the progression over time and how far we’ve come.


Then there is the topic of pregnancy.


The rise of some high profile professional female athletes, alongside the women’s empowerment movement, has given way to the conversation of how pregnant women and mothers should be viewed in society, in the workplace, and most recently in the sporting world.


Although we have come a long way in the evolution of a woman's “place” in society and through research, there is still something very glaring disparities, particularly when a woman becomes pregnant.


For some reason the second a woman becomes pregnant the ideal is that we become fragile flowers that need to be handled with kid gloves, and then the second we become mothers the only thing we are allowed to talk about is how wonderful it is raising our child.


Kayla running while racing the 2018 IM World Championships in Kona


Once you become a mother, many people start looking at you like you’re selfish for wanting it all. It’s like there’s an asterisk next to female empowerment — we SHOULD and CAN dream big and follow our passions* — except when pregnant or raising a family.


Why is it that the second we announce we’re pregnant we go from being empowered to somehow losing the physical, mental, and emotional strength we were previously thought to have?


When in fact, as I am realizing more and more every day, being pregnant makes us more tough. It makes us even more in tuned with our bodies (than we already are). It immediately makes us stronger.

"Within minutes of finding out I was pregnant, I made a choice to continue to chase my dreams no matter what. I wanted to continue to dream big, dream crazy, and let that 'crazy' guide me throughout my journey." 


Who else can continue to live their lives, work, train, keep a house, maybe watch over other children, and just live life while watching their bodies change right beneath their eyes. Not to mention vomiting, nausea, extreme headaches, exhaustion, and being poked and prodded on a routine basis by doctors!


A study on the physical demands of pregnancy was recently published, and it immediately made headlines. The findings published in Science Advances, actually compared the “race” of pregnancy to the most demanding races in the world (ironmans, triathlons, ultramarathons).


Kayla at the INFINIT Post-Kona Swim Event


The BMR (basal metabolic rate), representing how many calories one burns “at rest”, was compared between pregnant women and endurance athletes. According to the study, the most anyone can sustain is burning calories 2.5 times one’s BMR, which is about 4,000 calories a day for the average adult. Results showed that pregnant women burn 2.2 times their BMR, every day, for ~270 days (9 months). In contrast, high endurance events/races can raise your BMR higher than 2.5 times, but it can’t say that high for long before the body needs to rest.


The kicker is that, pregnant moms never get to “rest” and are constantly performing at an elevated BMR until postpartum.


Why not celebrate the strength we have as women to go through this journey? Why not celebrate the physical, emotional, and mental strength it takes to undergo the changes we experience from all angles of the journey, rather than bottle it up and ignore it?

Within minutes of finding out I was pregnant, I made a choice to continue to chase my dreams no matter what. I wanted to continue to dream big, dream crazy, and let that “crazy” guide me throughout my journey. I WAS going to have it all and there was no question about it.


Kayla on the bike course at 2018 IRONMAN World Championships in Kona


This was a decision that received a lot of pause from others. Why? Truthfully, I have not figured it out yet.

There was no way I was going to let my strength, any form of it, be put in a bottle and stuck on the shelf to be ignored for the next 8-9 months. I was going to do everything I could to let it shine.

"Racing while pregnant has forced me to come back to the basics. To train for the love of the sport. To race as I used to — with grit, gumption, and a whole lot of heart."

This journey so far has been a learning experience, with the biggest lesson being a reminder to be forgiving and show myself grace.

Going from being a lean mean fighting machine ready to take on the world, to barely being able to stay awake until 8 pm, forcing food down, peeing myself while running, and my clothes barely fitting is a hard pill to swallow. Not only does the journey wreak havoc on your body but the mental struggles sometimes seem more daunting than watching your body change.


Kayla giving out INFINIT Bottles at the Post-Kona Swim Event


It amazes me that the second a woman becomes pregnant the only things we seem to be allowed to talk about is the magic we are feeling at creating life, the joy we have at bringing life into the world, and how it is a gift to be able to do so. And don’t get me wrong — It’s all those things! But, all women are different.

While some of us have always been totally geared towards being a mother, there are plenty of us that it is a completely foreign entity. For some of us, the journey is not one of magic, but one full of everyday mental and emotional struggles.

The only thing that has remained at a constant is that I am continuing to follow my heart and listen to my body.

Letting my heart guide me through this journey has been one thing that has kept me centered. I am so far outside of my comfort zone that I really have no clue what it is that I am doing!

As endurance athletes, it is easy to get so caught up in the journey that we forget not only why we started it, but that we are all out there for the same reason — to push ourselves outside our comfort zone in order to learn more about ourselves.


Kayla getting ready for some run training on a cold dreary morning


Racing while pregnant has forced me to come back to the basics. To train for the love of the sport. To race as I used to — with grit, gumption, and a whole lot of heart.

There is no manual for racing and training while pregnant. Honestly, I am totally winging it. In fact, I expect that there is really no manual at all for being a mother. I am guessing that this feeling of doubt won’t really change when my husband and I officially become parents.

Each day will bring us something new, and with each day a learning experience that we probably could never anticipate.

This roller coaster of highs and lows throughout a journey is one of the reasons I fell in love with the sport of triathlon, and I can only anticipate that the ones that will occur being a parent will be just as fulfilling (even when they are equally frustrating).

"The only thing that has remained at a constant is that I am continuing to follow my heart and listen to my body."

I know it will be challenging to try and find balance as an athlete and mother. But I also know that as long as I strive to always be grounded and at peace with the choices and actions that I am making, I will be able to provide a life full of love, laughter, and adventure for my family.

Maybe my child will question their mom’s love of triathlon, maybe my child will find passion and meaning in a sport of their own, and maybe just maybe my child will love themselves to the fullest and spend their lives chasing their dreams and passions just as mom and dad have done.

We really do not know, and we cannot predict what our actions will carry in the future, we just have to believe that we are doing the best that we know how in that moment.

As I prepare to bring my child into the world, I feel so much support from everyone in this evolving time. My family is very supportive, and I know that my child, boy or girl will be given all the best. I feel at peace with how far today’s society has come in the role of supporting strong women and I know that as a world we will continue to grow.


Kayla crossing the finish like at 2018 IRONMAN World Championships in Kona


Kayla's Custom Blends

My RUN Blend is my go-to-blend for all my run training and racing, as well as shorter bike rides (around 90 minutes) or long swims.


This formula has 41 grams of easy to digest carbohydrates, just shy of 500 mg sodium plus other cramp fighting electrolytes potassium, calcium, and magnesium, as well as caffeine to keep you alert and focused. You'll notice that there is no protein in this blend in order to minimize the risk of any GI issues during running. You'll notice that there is no protein in this blend in order to minimize the risk of any GI issues during running. It has a lower flavor profile so that you can either concentrate it into a smaller handheld bottle or make sure that you don't get an overwhelming sense of flavor.


I built this formula to pair with my Road To Kona BIKE Blend that is used during my long bike rides. It has a similar flavor and electrolytes profile just don't include the protein so that I wouldn't risk any GI issues with the breakdown of protein during running. As a fairly heavy sweater I needed something that had a fairly high electrolyte profile but that I could use over a longer period of time. A fairly concentrated bottle of this blend takes me for around 80-90 minutes of running.


This blend can be used for any training and racing from Olympic distance all the way to a full Ironman marathon.



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