Four months pregnant Hong Kong mum exercises more than most of us

Dandan Zhu's packed weekly schedule includes running, hiking with Annabelle in a backpack, stand-up paddle boarding and yoga. She misses cycling and open-water swimming, though

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 August, 2015, 10:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 03 August, 2015, 10:01pm

This month we meet three motivational mothers running their way to better health and greater confidence and, in turn, boosting the quality of the lives of their children.

Dandan Zhu might be four months pregnant and a mother to 13-month-old Annabelle, but she doesn't believe that it should slow her down. Zhu's packed weekly schedule includes running, hiking with Annabelle in a backpack, stand-up paddle boarding and yoga.

"Yes, I may not be able to go road cycling right now, or take Belle open-water swimming, but there are so many things I can do, and there are so many things we can all do together," says the 35-year-old.

Zhu has always enjoyed a sporty lifestyle. Growing up, she shunned studies for the volleyball court; at university she found respite from the books in long runs; while pursuing a career in finance, she found the time to train for triathlons.

"Sport has always been part of my life and also a way to make friends," says the Beijing native.

But of all her activities, dawn runs with husband Adam remain a highlight. Twice a week the pair wake at 5.30am to squeeze in a 45-minute run around their Sai Kung neighbourhood.

"Later on my belly might get a bit bouncy," she giggles, "but for now it's fine. When you go for a run and get in your rhythm, nothing seems to matter. Stress goes away and all those endorphins just make you happy. I'm going to continue running for as long as I can."

She says she feels "a lot more comfortable" with her second pregnancy.

"During my first pregnancy with Annabelle, I was so nervous. My doctor was very conservative and I wasn't allowed to run." She did weight training instead.

"Pregnancy, when you're fit, is just so much easier. I have so much more energy and I'm in a better mood after starting my day outdoors."

Women need more sporty pregnant role models. It wasn't until later in my first pregnancy I found a TRX instructor at Pure who was also pregnant and still teaching. It really inspired me to work out, and I felt comfortable with all of her adjustments. Before, everyone from my mum to my doctor was telling me to be careful. And without any experience - and not knowing my body - I didn't know any better. If I could go back and talk to myself during my first pregnancy, I'd say go for a run.

I still love running but my approach has changed. Before I was focused on the details, like what's my pace? What's my heart rate? Now I enjoy the process when I run a lot more. We stop for breaks; I turn around if I get tired. I literally chase butterflies. It's the best way to start your day.

Before, as a triathlete, my life was all about training. With children, your expectations have to change, but you don't have to stop. I think instead about all the things we can do as a family, and that she can take part in - and be even better than us.

I don't think motherhood has limited me: I feel it has expanded my choice of activities. Before, I was so involved in the triathlon community, which I enjoyed, but it ended up being all triathlon and not much of anything else. Now we take Annabelle out on our stand-up paddle boards, we hike together, we run and do yoga, and I've started doing H-Kore (a type of Pilates). We're thinking of returning to dragon boating.

Pregnancy has been a process of learning to be less competitive. I used to go out running without a water bottle as it would slow me down; now I make sure I'm well hydrated and go for shorter runs. I love competing in races - I took part in a 10-kilometre trail race just a week ago near my house - but I've decided it's no longer such a good idea. I find when I'm in a race, I go into "race mode" - it's just not worth it. But it's a shame, I was hoping to take part in an Outward Bound adventure race later this year with my husband, but they don't let pregnant women take part.

Spending so much time being active in the outdoors is having a very positive effect on [Annabelle]. She's happy all the time. I hope she grows up to be sporty and learns that exercise is a great outlet; if she's stressed about her studies or a relationship, I hope her response will be to go for a run.