Running without reservation: How a frazzled, tired mother of three finally got her groove back

Contrary to the lie that I tell my children, John Mayer was not really inspired to write the lyrics, "Your body is a wonderland..." by me. Now, my children have never believed my feeble attempts to convince them, as they still do not understand the concept of knock-on-a-closed-bedroom-door-before-you-open-it and they have seen me in nothing more than a shocked, exasperated grimace. But, that doesn't mean that I will stop trying to convince them and their friends that his song was indeed written for me. And this is why:

On July 4, 2008 after laying on the bed to button another pair of shorts, standing up and realizing that my muffin top had indeed blown-up to a true baker's dozen, it hit me that maybe my scale wasn't really broken (surely, I could not be 40 pounds overweight!) and perhaps my clothes dryer didn't shrink everything that went into it. I was finally ready to face the truth and decided to claim July 4 as my personal independence day. No longer would I use the excuse that I couldn't find the time to exercise. No longer would I practice comfort eating. How was I still carrying around 40 pounds of "baby weight" when my baby was months away from turning 5? I discovered the Lance Armstrong website, Livestrong.com, and its free food diary, The Daily Plate. I ate whatever I wanted, but I just ate less and tracked every single bite. And I educated myself and slowly, sometimes painfully, I changed my eating habits. I, also, dusted off the elliptical in the basement and bought an ipod. Gradually, I lost weight.

Fast forward to September 2009, I had lost 30 pounds. As I was not willing to actually sacrifice any one food or food group, it was a much slower process than others, but I'm a sugar addict, and I refused to give up junk food. I felt great. I fell in love with my elliptical. My progress halted. It was time for the next step - running. Over the summer, I had watched in amazement as an out-of-shape, beer-guzzling-chip-eating chubby friend transformed into a lean running athlete. His progress intrigued me. Was it possible for me to start running, too? My asthma, though improved, wasn't really under control. Could I really teach myself how to run?

Before I started running, I scoffed that people had to teach their bodies to run. I mean, how complicated could running really be? Any parent knows that soon after a baby's first step, they are running from you and hiding in clothing racks at the mall!

(Tip of the day: Always dress your child in a bright, solid color when you are going to public places. If they ever get lost, immediately start yelling, "Toddler, girl, red coat. Toddler, girl, red coat." If your child thinks they are playing a game, they will not come out of hiding when you call their name. You screaming, "Sophie! Sophie!" will not be helpful to those other adults trying to help find your child; however, the description of your child and the color they are wearing will give others the necessary information as they help you search. And, yes, this happened to me with one of my toddlers, who thought it was hysterical to hide from Mama at the store.)

If babies can instinctively run, wasn't this idea of training and learning to run all a way to get gullible folks like me to spend their money? I put on some old running shoes and started out the door.

I ran to the end of my short suburban neighborhood block and almost collapsed in exhaustion. I wheezed and limped back to my house. Inhaler in hand, I called my friend, the runner. He explained to me the couch potato to 5k running plan, which worked in intervals of 5 minutes, beginning with 1 minute of running and 4 minutes of walking. You continue adding minutes of running to the 5 minute blocks, until you reach 5 minutes of running continuously. (If you are interested, there are many free, similar coach potato to runner plans available online.) The plan worked! Granted instead of running the plan and progressing each week, it took me a couple of months to run for 5 minutes. I had time; afterall, hadn't I just learned that it would take me almost 17months to lose 30 pounds? (I will clearly never be Biggest Loser material.)

And, then, the weather turned cold.

I moved the training indoors to the Fox Valley District's Eola Fitness Center in Aurora on Eola Road. For only $2 for residents and $3 for non-residents, I could run indoors on a soft, almost squishy track. Sure, I suddenly felt like a hamster stuck running on a little wheel in a cage as 8 laps equal a mile on the indoor track. However, it was worth it -- in mid-December, I ran my first mile ever! Yes, I ran my first mile EVER! I went to Catholic schools. They didn't require us to run. Sure, they tried. But walking was always an acceptable alternative, especially with my asthma diagnosis. My school was not going to risk a lawsuit. So, I actually did it! At 32, I finally ran my first mile! And it was awesome!

It was official - I was addicted! Were there some days that I didn't want to run? Absolutely! Were there days that I actually hated running? Yes, there were many mornings that I had to force myself to run. But, I went anyway. In fact, I had to start putting out my running clothes at night, so I saw them first thing in the morning. (On days when I knew it would be an especially difficult struggle, I even slept in my running clothes.) My new running pal, inspired me to sign up for my first race, the 8k Shamrock Shuffle in Chicago last March. This was the motivation that I needed to keep going. Not only did I have to pay the registration fee months ahead of time, but I had a carpool running friend, and he was counting on me. I stuck with it and pushed through. And before I knew it, I also signed up for my kids' elementary school's 5k run, the Monster Dash half-marathon and the 5k Naperville Turkey Trot. And I finally lost the last ten pounds!

Now, I would be a fraud if I told you that my body was anything but an older, saggier copy of my former pre-childbearing body. No, it is nothing like the body of my youth. My breasts, which were always so small and perky, now look like small, sad, deflated party balloons. Breastfeeding forever ruined my boobs. And after expanding, losing weight but never contracting, my body is an old map of stretchmarks leading to places no one really wants to visit.
 
And even though, John Mayer will never pen a ballad about my body - my body is truly a wonderland: I've spawned three children, breastfed them past their first birthdays and literally worked most of my ass off. And I've learned as I approach my 34th birthday, that my body is amazing. Through running, I have been able to control my life-long struggle with asthma and finally push myself to do something athletic. I'll never be the fastest runner out there, nor will I win any awards for most graceful runner nor best dressed runner nor tightest ass, but, for the first time in my life, I am an athlete. And I love it!

I challenge you in this new year to finally do it. Whatever it is that you have been mulling over for years. Don't let your body type nor age stop you. Don't let another day pass you by. You can do it: Your body is a wonderland.

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  • I am so happy to hear you say "my body is amazing!" I, too, love my body after kids and feel I am sexier than ever!

  • I'm putting down the chips and picking up the running shoes! Thanks for the inspiration!

  • In reply to AmandaJ:

    Yeah! I wish I could put down the chips, too. They are my weakness and the reason that I absolutely have to run or exercise every day. (It's all about balance, right?) I recently discovered all natural pop chips. You can buy them in 100 calorie bags on amazon.com. They are qualify for the free shipping option, and I ordered mine on Monday with a coupon code that I discovered online, which brought the cost to only $.88 a bag! I highly recommend the original flavor and the salt and vinegar.
    Enjoy!

  • Did you train with anyone or run with any friends in the Shamrock Shuffle or the Turkey Trot? How would I find a group to run with?

  • In reply to erago:

    I try to bring up running whenever I am with a group of people. When I finally meet a fellow runner, I ask about races that they have done and suggest doing it together. I always offer to drive because I have found that it is so much easier to sleep in on race day if I don't have someone relying on me to drive.
    Also, I recommend checking the CARA (Chicago Area Runners Association)website, cararuns.org. It is an excellent resource for all sorts of running and training information!

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