how this mama works it out

One of the greatest revelations I have had as the result of being a mother is this:

I am a better mother when I am exercising.

sub 9min 5k

I kind of wish that weren’t true, you know? It’d be nice to plug my ears ::lalalalala:: and deny it – and some weeks I try to – but there is no escaping reality. On days when I haul all three kids to the YMCA childcare by 9am and lift weights or pound out some miles on the treadmill I parent from a better place for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, it is really friggin hard to haul all three children anywhere by 9am and if I get there after 10am then it feels like our whole morning is gone. (Mama takes a shower in the locker room and uses all 120 minutes of her free childcare. Amen.) To be honest I haven’t found a good routine for the when of my exercise, but routine is not really my jam (ENFP says what?) so it looks different for me every week.

Some weeks I hit it early, the 9am thing, and we can be found traipsing through the lobby of the Y on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  One of the things I have had to make peace with is running on the treadmill. See: free childcare. Some weeks we either have more play dates or we need more time to chill at home in the mornings, so the moment DanO walks in from work I mumble some dinner instructions and run out the door to the gym by 4:30pm. With summer sunlight hours I sometimes wait until after the kids are in bed and do a road run around 7 or 8pm.

I have my exercise calendar on the fridge at our house. This started when I was in the height of training for back to back half marathons and needed to get my miles in. I modified Hal Higdon training schedule based on the dates of my races, popped it into an excel spreadsheet and printed it off.

I use it both to tell me what I need to do on a given day and to record how or what I did. Looking back at the calendar I made for January through May, I did about 80% of the workouts I scheduled for myself to do. The schedule had 5 runs or workouts a week and on average I did 4 of the 5. In my world that is doing well. There has to be a balance of grace and challenge. If I were to beat myself up for those missed workouts I would have lost all motivation to continue (the judgmental lady in my head can be a real downer) so instead I effectively give myself one homework pass a week. On the other hand, my tendency is to phone it in when at all possible so I force myself to record those missed workouts. All of them. I put a big ol’ circle (or zero, I suppose) next to the workout on that date. I give myself some flex room, but the moment I start pretending that I’m doing better than I am, all is lost. Does that make sense? I think so much of this is what works for my personality – I crumple under excessive expectations but I will also take a mile of leniency if given an inch – and it has taken me about 3 years of exercising regularly to figure out a balance and system.

On the days when I exercise I record my pace or weights or just simply check off (for a spin class for example) that I completed it. I am highly motivated by seeing what I have accomplished. As the weeks pass and I look at that calendar covered with check marks and paces that I’m proud of and tally marks for how many miles I’ve logged, it makes me want to keep working. At 28 years old I still love myself a gold star.

running calendar

{{my calendar from 6 weeks postpartum to May of this year, very running heavy}}

As I move out of my half marathon season (I ran two 13.1s 3 weeks apart from each other in April and May and it was awesome) I am realizing my body and fitness would benefit greatly from lifting weights. This is something I have always known, but I have also known that I am motivated by races and that ultimately I enjoy running so I went the path of least resistance and mostly ran for the first 6 months coming back to exercising postpartum. I feel like I’m ready for a new challenge so I have made a calendar similar to the one above for the next 4 months that includes a lot more lifting and still keeping my miles up (next race is a 10k in late August, then a 10mi in September and a half marathon in late October). I put my lifting schedule together based on poking around google results for ‘beginner weight lifting’ and ‘weight lifting for runners’ for a while. It wasn’t a science – I just needed a starting point.

Imma be real honest: I am sucking. Like, maybe 2x a week I am putting a nice little check mark next to the workout, the other 3 days it’s a big ‘ol circle. Usually those circles are on lifting days.

After 3 years of running and looking to my pace or my distance for a sense of accomplishment, I am having a really hard time with the paradigm shift to lifting. It feels weird to only be on the gym floor for 20 minutes, and I don’t have much of a history to look back to and see how far I have come (since June?) which was really encouraging to me with running. But that’s just where I am right now.

The benefit of having been in this for a few years is that I am able to take the big picture view, even when I am in a stage of sucking it up. It took me a couple of years to find a good strategy to motivate myself and make running a habit. Early on there were weeks, back to back weeks, where I was less than diligent. But I found my flow and the intrinsic motivation to step it up. I am in that stage again, but I am able to say that this does not make me a failure or even mean that I have somehow lost my status as ‘someone who works out’. Cuz that’s a thing. In my head. Just because I am not where I want to be right now doesn’t not mean I will never get there.

For now I round back on the fact that I am a better mother when I am exercising. Something’s gotta give. Either my kids need to be more ok with me snapping at them (ha!) or I need to get my butt in gear, literally, and do my squats.

Ultimately, I am a mama who works out because I have to be.

23 Responses to “how this mama works it out”

  1. Jen

    I agree 1000%. I am a better mother when I workout. My 3-5 miles always pay off for us all! My sanity needs it. My brood is a little older (8 & 5) and at this point, I have no problem waking them up between 7-7:30 to get to the Fitness Center by 8:00 am. The trade-off [for them]? On those scorching hot days (hello, Chicago, it’s summer, we need a little bit of a warm up), we can be at the pool by 10:30 when passholders can go in before the rest of the crowd at 11.

    We are home by 9:30 and have our ENTIRE day ahead of us. Initially, my two mumbled about getting up early but now they don’t mind. They have the child center to themselves, more or less. There are also a few school friends there that early – I’m not the only mom with the same though pattern. I also like being at the gym before all the college kids get there – they’re most definitely not up early.

    You’ll find your pattern. Then when you do, school will start or summer break will start and there will be a new normal. We mom’s have to compromise, grow, change & evolve BUT so can those little ones!

    Glad you’re finding your groove and know what makes you tick!

    Peace, love and a good long run!

    • AllisonO

      That sounds like an awesome routine – specifically being home by 9:30! Our Y child area doesn’t open until 8:45, but I am planning on going straight there after dropping off my oldest at his enrichment program 3 days a week this fall.

  2. Danae

    I’ve only been working out regularly since 6 months postpartum…so like 3 weeks ago. If I knew at 6 weeks how much better I parent and physically/emotionally feel on workout days, I’d find a way to make it work earlier. (Our gym requires kids to be at least 6 months old for the childcare and it was super tricky working around my husband’s schedule before that, so I was lazy.) For my personality, just having a regular workout routine anchors my day – as well as the parenting you mentioned, I also feel more optimistic, am more productive, make better food/beverage choices during the day, and feel less scattered. I’ve scheduled my week so I go 3 days and plan other morning activities on the days I don’t work out. I still feel more energetic those days because it’s all part of the routine. I haven’t lost a pound yet, but I feel stronger and notice my clothes fitting differently. So far it’s been cardio and core, but I’m eager to start lifting too.

    • AllisonO

      I am jealous. I WISH having a regular workout routine to anchor my day was a possibility with my style. I’m proud of you Danae!

  3. Kelsey

    In regards to lifting-does your gym have any classes that incorporate strength? Such as body pump or cx worx or some sort of interval class? I love them because it feels like you’re getting strength in but in a super fun way!
    I also am a huge supporter of the “training plan on the fridge” system-so motivating bc I want to check it off!!

    • AllisonO

      I have done body pump in the past and I really enjoyed it. But since it is low weight, hight reps, it is more of a cardio than what I am going for to change my muscles right now. The amazing thing about bodypump is that when I went to the weights floor for the first time to hit the free weights, I didn’t feel as clueless as I thought I might because many of the movements were familiar from class. (bench press, weighted squat, tri rows, dead lifts, curls etc.!)

  4. Karey

    I love your attitude – and completely agree! I’m much happier (let’s face it, my whole family is a lot happier) when I’m working out (semi?) consistently. Up until last summer (when I was in the best shape of my life!) I was doing a great combo of circuit training with weights and running (3-5 miles was average runs then). Then my friend talked me into running a half marathon and I got hooked. I loved training with a friend – looking forward to runs with her, tracking our pace with my new running watch, watching the mileage add up over the months, etc. but I was worried about spending all my “running energy” on any added strength training and so I sort of stopped doing the strength training part. We finally finished our half marathon yesterday (YAY!!!) but I look at my body and WOW has it changed. I’ve gained 11 lbs. over the past year since taking up running a ton and stopping the weight training (my eating has not changed drastically at all). My body is a size bigger and a lot, well, floppier. So all that to say: I love running! I totally get your scheduling-challenging-goal-setting ways because guuuuurl, I’m the same way! BUT, I think you’re going to LOVE seeing how your body changes when you add the strength training in – I’m super excited to get back on that wagon now too! Congratulations and keep us updated!!! :)

    • AllisonO

      I’m hoping that’s the same for me, Karey! I’ve got the cardio bod (which I won’t knock it because I’ve lost a ton of weight postpartum just running) but I’m ready for some muscles! :)

  5. AnneG

    Yay for working out! Working out is my only hobby, so I do my best to really protect my time in the gym, as much as that’s possible with a husband who has a demanding job and a little baby who still nurses a lot at night. I lift weights seriously, and that’s my jam – I’m a goal-oriented person, so I like how you get to keep increasing your weight more and more. I also credit lifting heavy things with the endurance that I needed for my 26-hour natural labor and delivery, during which I was running (okay, more like jogging) stairs, doing squats, marching up and down the birth center hallway, and subjecting myself to a WHOLE lot of other “natural” (but not fun) interventions to move labor along.

    May I make a few book suggestions as you get more into lifting? YouTube is great for form, but it would also be worth checking out “Starting Strength” by Rippetoe – considered by many the Bible for Olympic weightlifting. I’ve done the training plans from “New Rules of Lifting for Women” and also “New Rules of Lifting.” I HATE the bro tone of the second book, but prefer their training plans. It might be worth buying both in order to read (and actually enjoy) the first, and switch over to use the training plans for the second. All of these are available via Kindle. Rippetoe is long, but don’t be intimidated. It’s worth it. I also don’t love the nutrition information in either, but that’s mostly because I didn’t find it worked for my body – I respond much better to a Paleo model than the one they suggest.

    Keep it up, and hope you like the books if you choose to read them!

  6. Caroline

    Thanks for sharing this Allison. I agree that excercise pretty much helps with every other area in life when you can swing the time to do it. We don’t have childcare attached to gyms in the UK so going during the day is just not possible for me. My husband works long hours during the week and I consciously choose to spend the 2 hours we have together before going to sleep together as being with him takes priority at the moment. But I really miss the ‘me’ time and the challenge and the better mental space that goes along with excercising regularly. I probably need to look into making working out at home more viable – with a 2 and 5 year old in tow:)
    Thanks for the food for thought and motivation and please continue to share your journey.

  7. Melody

    So true! I am a better everything when I exercise and take the time to look after myself!! Keep it up lady!! :)

  8. Annie

    Love the details you have shared here! I was all gung ho and was incredibly motivated last fall and winter. Then somehow lost something this summer related to motivation. Hopefully your thoughts and experiences and successes here will help get me back on track.
    This is so true for me too!: “…the moment I start pretending that I’m doing better than I am, all is lost”

  9. Grandmama

    (Hello Allie! As usual, love your posts. Also glad to have been part of your May half marathon. So wishing you lived closer — miss those grandbabies!)

    SUGGESTION ONE to all of you young mothers: If possible FIND A FRIEND who lives nearby and shares your workout philosophy.

    Right after the college years my friend ‘S’ and I supplemented our individual workouts by running together two times a week. That was thirty years ago. Through the years we’ve had a set night each week to run together, scheduled around multiple pregnancies, injuries, kid sport activities as they grew up. Together we’ve done a marathon, multiple half marathons, over a dozen Hood To Coast events, and checked off many, many other shorter running events. Now our daughters have joined us and have taken the baton.

    Having a workout partner helps keep you accountable. There have been so many times it’s too cold, too rainy, I’m too tired or too busy — but there is NO WAY I’m going to be the one backing out of ‘S’ and my weekly workout together. Once we’re out there hitting the pavement the reasons for possibly canceling are usually out of mind — and we both thank each other for being there.

    SUGGESTION TWO: Make medium-term GOALS. Target some scheduled competition event.

    Working out for sake of sanity and good health should be good enough reason to get moving each day, but through the years I’ve found it’s too easy to justify skipping a workout — there is always tomorrow. Signing up for that next public competition event a few months out seems to provide the extra push to keep up the regiment. For us 99% who don’t plan on bringing home the winning trophy, find an event where just finishing is celebration enough. And again, sharing these moments with that exercise buddy helps build memories and friendships as well as muscle.

    As parents, we are constantly role modeling to those lovely youngsters of ours. Focusing on keeping fit is no different.

    The best to you all!

  10. Grandmama

    I should add: I also was a much ‘better mother’ because I exercised. No doubt. No shame either.

    Didn’t get to parent Ms. AllisonO during those younger years, but am so grateful to be in her life now. :-)
    Love you!

  11. Jenna

    I appreciate your post. I’m so struggling to get my butt in gear and get a good exercise habit/routine going. I love your words, “There has to be a balance between grace and challenge.” I so need that! And your words, “Just because I’m not where I want to be right now doesn’t mean I will never get there.” Thank you for sharing your struggles and how you’ve come to find what works for you. It is very encouraging.

  12. Erica

    Oh, how I admire you! I am still trying to find the gumption to work out 6 months postpartum. I cannot seem to convince myself that my Jelly Bean can go to the gym daycare. Separation anxiety much?

  13. megan

    Enjoyed this post! I feel the same way. I just had my little girl 5 weeks ago and am itching to get back to excecising. Was it easy for you to start running again postpartum? Any tips you can give a new mom on postpartum exercise?

  14. Megan Swanek (@MrsSwanek)

    LOVE this revelation and posting. I am currently 8 weeks pregnant through IVF and as a marathon runner (15, plus one ultra) it KILLS me to not be able to run! I cannot wait to get back to it once I have this baby. Glad I found your blog.

  15. Alison Conor

    Having an exercise calendar is really ideal as it keeps us aware from time to time what good we have been doing with our bodies. And yeah, I believe too that exercising keeps us and makes us better moms. From losing those baby weights we gained to relieving the daily stress, it’s totally a must-do! :) Cheers for being super moms! ;)


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