Monthly Archives: March 2012

Finding Fitness Goals in the Chaos of Motherhood

A perk of pursuing 5Ks over marathons is that friends and family are more likely to join you on the course. That's me and my husband in orange (yup, wrong holiday) with my sister, brother-in-law and two nephews last weekend.

I’ve mentioned here and there my quest for a 5K personal record. In this surge of marathon pursuits, why would I care about a measly 3.1 miles?

It feels as if every runner I know is taking on a half-marathon or a marathon. This is not just anecdotal, either according to Running in the USA’s 2011 Annual Running Report: In 1993, the year I did my first marathon, there were about 250,000 of us running the 26.2-mile distance. That number doubled in 2010 with more than 500,000 finishers. But the growth in half marathons is even crazier. In 2000 there were some 482,000 people who finished a half-marathon. In 2010 that number exploded to 1,385,000. See what I mean. Everyone’s doing it.

I was tempted to jump deep into the marathon training tide. I haven’t run a marathon since 2006. I felt I was due. Plus I’m stronger now than I was during previous marathon finishes. I felt I owed it to myself to run the distance again. There was this ongoing conversation between my mind and body:

Mind: You used to sign up for an endurance event at least once a year. It’s been a really long time since you pushed yourself.

Body: Aren’t you forgetting those four babies? I seem to recall a lot pushing.

Mind: Yeah, yeah. You’re officially past calling yourself postpartum. Get on with it.

Body: We tried that once, remember? There was marathon training in 2004. The twins weren’t even 1-year-old.

Mind: Doesn’t count. You never did the marathon you signed up for because you got pregnant again. Slut.

Body: Yeah, and then we did it–finished in 2006. And I say “we” because I needed you to drag my sorry legs over the finish line.

Mind: That was pathetic. Don’t you want to redeem yourself?

Body: I do. I definitely do. Later.

This conversation has been going on for some time. Then two “Aha!” moments converged upon each other. If you’ve ever had one, then you know an Aha!-Aha! moment is nothing to dismiss. They’re really jarring.

Aha! moment #1: As I thought about plotting my training for a marathon my husband’s work travel ramped up requiring me to forego a few of my usual early morning runs. Sure, I made alternate arrangements and/or modified my training, but I would have been a lot more stressed about getting in *exactly* what I needed to do had a 26.2-mile race been looming in my not-so-distant future.

I still wanted a goal. But a goal doesn’t have to have larger-than-life qualities to be worthy of goal status. That’s the party line in Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom. Sometimes I read that book and I say to myself: Wow, there’s some really good advice in there. You ought to take it. So, following the advice I give myself I decided: For my current circumstances and schedule, I need a more manageable goal. I need something shorter, that requires less time to train. And, most importantly, I don’t need to apologize for that.

Aha moment #2: After racing a few sprint triathlons last summer, my runs were always strong. I love triathlon but I had to wonder: how would my 5K time look without swimming and biking first?

When I started running 20 years ago, I started by racing 5Ks. Over and over. Every weekend. I loved to race, and with the help of a coach my 5K times went from 23 minutes to my all-time best of 19:58. Soon after that I got the marathon bug and then the triathlon bug and rarely raced short run-only distances again. I look back fondly on those short races (and the less expensive entry fees, too).

Then came the Aha!-Aha! moment. (Brace yourself.)

After birthing four children I darn well feel like I’ve started over again. If the 5K distance is where my running started 20 years ago, then why not start racing there again now that I’ve “rebuilt” this machine of mine? Twenty years later could I run under 20 minutes again? Despite the short distance, my goal is still hard enough to challenge me and motivate me to get out and work hard to achieve it, but not so intense to add stress to my already hectic life.

Aha!-Aha!

This! This is what it means to find fitness in the chaos of motherhood!

I still look forward to signing up for a half marathon or marathon. I do. I definitely do. Later. For now I will continue to chase my 5K goal. I got closer to it last weekend and made the local paper. Sweet!

How about you? Do you modify your goals according to what’s going on in your life? And what’s your goal right now? I’d love to hear about it! –Kara

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Dangling Carrots: Will Fit Parents Influence Kids to Become Fit Adults?

What can make a fit mom, trying to raise fit kids, more proud than seeing her child grasping a donut hole in one hand and a baby carrot in the other?

O.K., a few things. But this ranks, I tell you.

After church on Sunday the kids ran into the foyer, where the post-service donuts and coffee are served. One of the reasons they like this church (for now, actually, the only reason) is because they offer donuts. When I found them the first thing that caught my eye was the bright orange nub of a carrot poking out of my daughter’s fist. She was simultaneously taking bites of donut and carrot.

Here’s why this matters to me:

#1–I did not say, “In order to eat a donut hole you must also eat a carrot.” But I have said that, or versions of that, quite a bit in my years as a mother.

#2–I did not expect anyone to eat their vegetables that morning. I didn’t know there would be vegetables served with donuts. (Who does that? Are you pointing at me? I didn’t do that, I promise!) The choice was all there’s. I know she likes carrots, but…

Before you a table; a spread of donuts holes and a little bowl of carrots. What would Jesus do?

OK forgive my irreverence. But seriously, the child who chooses a carrot? Let me be a little bit proud, here.

Seeing that carrot in her hand, it was like getting an A on my Motherhood Report Card (they don’t hand these out very often). I felt like perhaps I was doing something right. That my message about how our body needs healthy food for fuel was resonating.

More likely, of course, is that she just likes carrots. I’m puuuuurdy sure had broccoli florets been offered they would have gone untouched.

But let’s linger here for a little longer. Let’s dwell in the victory, such that it is.

A huge part of our message in Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom is that an important reason to exercise and eat nutritiously–aside from the bazillion health benefits–is to role model a fit lifestyle for our children. There is research that supports this. But you know what? There is also research that says, “Meh… what parents do doesn’t really matter.” Like most research out there you can find a study that supports any view you want to take.

What I can’t find in the research, but that I swear I’ve read somewhere because I repeat it often, is this: Parents who are active raise kids to become active adults.

Subtle. Did you catch it?

Most of the research focuses on what makes kids active. But we know very little about what will influence them to become active adults. In the long-term plan, this really is the ultimate goal. What will they choose for themselves when they leave the nest?
I have plenty of anecdotal research, of course. My favorite comes from Liz Johnson, a triathlete I knew in Dallas, whose story I included in my book, “Becoming an Ironman: First Encounters with the Ultimate Endurance Event.” Liz was a single mom of six kids. She lived in a small town in Kansas, coached a swim team and taught aerobics when aerobics was the hot new way to exercise. She trained for the Hawaii Ironman in 1989 and her kids helped her every step of the way:

My support crew and my training partners were my children. The kids all swam, so we were in the pool together a lot. Three of the kids did track and cross country, and my third son Jere–number four child–used to get up and run with me in the mornings. People talk about how training is time away from their family, but not for us.

She goes on to explain how she tackled her long bike rides:

We would take the car and two bikes and the kids would take turns riding with me. They would ride about ten miles apiece and then switch out. Of course, we had to work it so we had somebody old enough to drive the car.

But here’s what Liz says at the end of her story, that perhaps is all the research I need, maybe it’s the research I’ve been referring to all along:

Aside from being an ironman finisher one of my greatest athletic accomplishments is raising children who have grown up to appreciate fitness and include it in their life somehow.”

Maybe that’s why the carrot was somehow symbolic that my choices are influencing my children’s choices; a sign that my kids will grow up to make healthy choices, too.

If there’s one thing I’ve realized as a parent–and I realized this fairly early on–it’s that I don’t have a whole heck of a lot of control. My job as a parent is to help them become who they are meant to be. I live the way I do because I want to for my own reasons; in doing so I hope I’m leading by example, that there are some merits worth emulating. And, as a friend of mine said recently, one of my goals as a parent is to end up on my children’s advisory board. Good enough.

I will bring the donut holes and the carrots to the meetings.

Do you think a parents lifestyle influences their children’s choices? Do you have research to back that up? Either way, I want to hear about it!

–Kara

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