I am absolutely no expert—believe me, I’ll be the first to shout this obvious fact from the closest mountaintop. But I’ve had enough friends ask about my running and/or exercise routine – most recently, Susan from college!—that I thought I would share with you all (aren’t you lucky) what I have been doing these last ten or more years to stay in shape (sort of) and to stay motivated.
My general routine
First, I am now and always have been a morning person, so I exercise almost exclusively first thing in the morning. Before kids, this just meant whenever I happen to roll out of bed. Once Frances (and eventually George) came along, I realized that if I was going to exercise I needed to get it done before anyone else stirred. I do this in part to ensure it gets done (once the kids see I’m awake, any hope of ‘me time’ is over) and in part because I am a very typical wife/mother/woman who feels guilty if my routine gets in the way of other’s daily schedules. I know, I know, I need to get over this and take the kids with me in the jogging stroller, get a babysitter, use the Kid Zone at the gym, etc., etc. I’ve tried all of these and none of them work for me; I still feel guilty and useless afterwards (like I now need to somehow make it up to the kids for sticking them in a stroller for 75 minutes by taking them to Disneyworld). Believe me, if it were easier to sleep past 4am on a weekday and 5am on the weekends I would do it; but right now, that is what works for me and I love it.
I also exercise every single day, with little exception (those being if I have an injury where I have been instructed do nothing except breathe in and out or I am deathly ill). But I only run every other day. And while I’ve had a few injuries here and there these last years, I really think this routine has saved my major extremities from more severe beatings (knock on wood).
On my ‘off’ days from running, I typically go to the gym and ride the elliptical trainer for 45 minutes followed by 25-ish minutes of light weights, stretching and core work. I shied away from weights for a number of years after college swimming, but I’m back now and I like the way they make me feel (strong!). If the gym isn’t opened or I’m stuck at the house for another reason, I have several Tae-Bo videos that I will use (hellooooo Billy Blanks!). As a former dancer, I can assure you these videos are hard and exhilarating. My favorites are his earlier ones (late 1990s, early 2000s), but they are all good and can grow with your ability. And no, Billy is not paying me to say any of this (but he should, don’t you think? Or at least offer me a free personal training session, right?).
I know a lot of people (i.e., my rail-thin husband) have complete rest days during their weeks, working out three days a week or every day except Sunday, for example. And in fact, this schedule may be best for some people; but through trial and error I have found that I need exercise every single day. I am a huge grouch when I don’t sweat for at least 60 minutes a day; I have no idea why and I often wish it weren’t true, but I have come to embrace and accept it (and thankfully, so has my family).
How I stay motivated
So, aside from my greyhound-like need to run until I drop, I have also learned some motivation secrets that I use when I’m feeling blah, slow, tired, or just generally uninterested in running.
Pick up a copy of Runner’s World (or your exercise magazine of choice). This sounds silly and perhaps a little too simple, but it really, really works. If you are a runner, nearly every issue of Runner’s World has a motivational article (or 6) about how to start over, how to pull out of a slump, how to train through the post-race blues, etc., etc. It is rare that I don’t read an entire magazine and not find a gem of information to carry me through to the next month or more.
Momentum can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Good momentum is often the only way I can get myself out of the door during those dark, winter months because I don’t give myself a day off. I have made running/exercise part of my morning routine and my body and brain are on autopilot. Sometimes the only reason I find myself dressed head to toe in wool and running in the sleet is because I’ve exercised every day before that. I never ask myself, “should I go?” I just go.
But I have also been on the flipside of momentum—the kind that spirals you back into your warm bed, forces you back on the couch to continue watching the Millionaire Matchmaker marathon, or whispers to your brain, ‘it’s okay. You’ll run tomorrow.’ And I know it is really hard to get past the bad momentum. But my experience is that the only way to swing the pendulum the other direction is to forcibly do it myself. I just have to start somewhere; anywhere is better than where I have been. If you find yourself on the wrong side of momentum, push back and get out of the door. Eventually, that same momentum will be pushing you along, I promise.
Finally, I (try to) never forget why I run. I run because it makes my body feel great. Period. I exercise because it makes me feel great. Double period. Call it selfish; call it my drug of choice. But that is it, plain and simple. A lot of people use a certain goal weight, an upcoming reunion or a future 10k as motivation to keep running or exercising and that’s great. The problem I have always had with similar goals is that at some point they will all end. The race will happen (and you’ll be awesome). The reunion will come and go (and you’ll look fabulous). Your weight will finally hit that magic number (and it will feel fantastic). But then what?
If you run or exercise because it feels great every time you do it, I promise you will never want to slack off again.
And there ends my completely useless post on how my inner brain operates. Please take everything I say with a very large grain of salt. I realize there are many, many trained professionals out there (some of whom read this blog) that have actual PhDs in what I have just written and could easily put my theories to shame. Also know that I am 35-years-old and in ten years my routine will very likely evolve into something better suited to my aging body.
If nothing else, when I am 70-years-old and hobbling around on my runner’s knees I may give myself a good giggle reading back through this post on all of those things I thought I knew. But one thing I know will remain true—I always feel better when I exercise than when I don’t. Triple period.
Happy Wednesday, everyone!