Olympic marathoner and SA’s long distance champion Irvette van Zyl is four months pregnant with her second child. And though is was an initial surprise for Van Zyl and her Olympian hurdler husband LJ, the sporting couple could not be happier to add to their growing family.
Nedbank Running Club athlete Van Zyl gave birth to her first son Louis in September 2015. The couple will welcome their second son – a baby brother to Louis - into the world in June.
While Van Zyl jokes about exchanging her sleek racing kit for ‘more appropriate’ running attire, we can still expect to see her at some of the country’s leading road races. She will be competing at Sunday’s Dis-Chem Half Marathon in Bedfordview, Gauteng, where she is hoping to place in the top three. From previous experience she knows though that when pregnant anything can happen on race day. “Your body is not your own and I have learnt to run as I feel,” says Van Zyl.
Late last year she became the first South African woman since 2009 to win the Soweto Marathon. “I did not feel 100% at the time, but thought I was just getting sick. We only found out after the marathon that I was already pregnant then.” Looking back now Van Zyl and her husband realise that she was already pregnant when she won the SPAR 10km race in Johannesburg and shortly after a half marathon in Bloemfontein.
Van Zyl says she has become used to criticism about her running while pregnant. “It’s always a difficult one running while pregnant, the crowd isn’t really behind you. Many people feel that it harms the baby when one runs. “I listen to my doctor and won’t do anything silly. Athletes often know their bodies much better than people who don’t exercise. I know the warning signs. I have reduced the intensity of my training, though I realise for some it might still look like I am running fast and doing a lot. Being active while pregnant is one of the best things one could do.”
She has adapted her training schedule as she has learnt from her previous pregnancy what works for her. Whereas in the past she would fit in a second training session in the afternoon, she now sticks to morning routines only. She also avoids training in the heat and has adapted her gym routine. “I only do what makes me feel good. Sometimes I start a session with a specific goal in mind, but often I change it to a recovery run if I don’t feel strong on the day.”
Van Zyl is no newbie when it comes to running pregnant. She ran right through her pregnancy with baby Louis, clocking a 10km race a week before she gave birth. She still managed to run a sub-35minute 10km whilst seven months pregnant.
She would still like to tackle a few races while pregnant, though she realises that she won’t be able to be as competitive as she was. “I take each day as it comes and everyday that I can run is a blessing.”