Slow and steady wins the race

Early this morning, I stood on a hill on the outskirts of the Castro, pressing two 10-pound weights over my head. With Sutro Tower to my right, glimpses of the bay to my left and tiers of houses spread out on the hills in front of me, it was one of those common yet iconic views that make you feel lucky to live in San Francisco.

Three mornings a week, I pull myself out of bed in the darkness to run up hills, do squats and lunges, pull on resistance bands and hoist medicine balls with other sleepy people from my neighborhood. It’s part of a boot camp run by a local trainer, though the term “boot camp” is probably misleading. The exercise is intense, but the mood is friendly and low-key. Some people are impressive athletes, and others (me) are happy to jog at the back of the pack.

Though I’m slower than ever now, I feel like more of a rock star every time I work out. That’s because at 29 weeks pregnant, I struggle just to pull myself out of bed in the morning. When I wake up thirsty in the middle of the night, I lie on my back and let the minutes pass while I think about sitting up to drink some water. Then I decide against it and go back to sleep. Given that this is my baseline, I figure that if I’ve ascended a high peak and done a half-dozen planks before breakfast, I’m winning.

Even though this is my second pregnancy, I’ve actually been surprised by how much I’ve slowed down recently. Up through my fifth month, this pregnancy was a breeze. I had no nausea and was full of energy. I barely felt different at all. When I asked my nurse practitioner about my exercise routine, she said, “Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers.” Meaning, our species wouldn’t have survived if a little strenuous activity was dangerous. Go forth and do burpees.

But as November turned to December, my body seemed to begin a downward slide. My health is fine, but I’ve got strange creaks and aches and pains that I don’t remember from the last time I did this three years ago. I feel huge, and having outgrown most of my clothes, getting dressed in the morning feels like a desperate act to find something, anything, that will fit. Bending over gives me instant heartburn; by the end of the day, my ankles are swollen.

In some ways going to boot camp accentuates all the ways my body has changed, but I still love it because it makes me feel strong. I’ve had to shift my mental approach to the workout; where I used to push myself to run farther or higher up a hill, now my main accomplishment is showing up. I do a modified workout and opt out of exercises that seem crazy to me, like running backwards down a hill or doing stand-up sit-ups while holding a weight in one hand. I still jog for a few minutes at the beginning of our runs, but I quickly switch to walking, and I don’t even try to go fast. Shamelessly, I’ve started to invent my own shortcuts.

Whenever I get down about being pregnant, I remind myself that I only have two months left, and they will likely be the last two months of pregnancy for the rest of my life. Of course, we never know where life will take us, but my husband and I are pretty sure that we’re done. I used to think I’d be sad about closing this chapter of my life, but I find that I’m not. I was happy to get my body back as my son grew older and the demands of breastfeeding were reduced, and I know it will be a while before things get back to normal after this baby is born. I’m ready to slowly transition from growing babies to raising children.

One morning last week when my alarm went off, it was dark outside and the rain was coming down. I considered staying in bed, but I decided to tough it out. Boot camp, I had always been told by Greg, the trainer, was held rain or shine. But when I got to the meeting spot at Dolores Park, wet and lit by streetlamps, Greg stood alone. At nearly seven months pregnant, I was the only person in the group who had showed up. I was shocked, then elated. It didn’t matter that we made the mutual decision to skip the workout and go home. I felt tough.

Drew Himmelstein is a writer at J. Reach her at

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a J. parenting columnist and former staff writer.