Category Archives: Fitness

Fitness routines when there is no routine

Finding an fitness routine that I can stick with is seriously my biggest challenge to working regular exercise into my life.  It is something that is important to me, and I know everyone says “if you REALLY valued exercise you’d find a way to prioritize it.”  Well I agree with that statement.  But just when I feel like I’ve found a good groove, something in my life changes and I’ve got to start all over from scratch.

When I was training for my first and only triathlon, I had a, um, flexible schedule and could easily make time for a trip to the pool or an afternoon run.  Then I started a new job (a week before the race!), moved to a new town and since then have had a much harder time figuring out a routine.

I’ve written about how I’ve tried lunch hour gym time — great when you can work it in, but I found that my days were just too unpredictable to consistently get to the gym during the day.

I’ve also written about run commuting, which I thought would be a good option, but for whatever reason I couldn’t stick with it.  First it was too hot.  Then it was too dark.  I don’t think I live in a dangerous area, but I will say that part of my problem is i don’t feel 100% comfortable running alone after dark around here, and that really limits the number of hours I can carve out for a run!

Then I tried running in the mornings before work.  And it was GREAT.  I thought I’d finally found a routine I could keep up for the long-term.  I’d leave for work a little early, run around the mall, and shower at my work gym.  Throughout August and September, the mornings were the PERFECT temperature for a run.  The scenery was inspiring.  I could never stop myself from pausing to snap photos of the monuments at sunrise.  Such an invigorating start to the workday!




I was making such good progress, getting faster and adding distance.  I was so proud of myself!  I started making tentative goals to sign up for a 10k sometime this year.  But then — the story of my exercise life — circumstances changed on me.  Beautiful August and September turned to October.  It got dark.  And cold.  And I got pregnant.

I bought myself a nice pair of running tights, bundled up, and bravely tried my best to become one of those women who kept on running all 9 months.  But at about 8 weeks, morning sickness and fatigue set in, and apparently my body just really needed to sleep 12-14 hours a day during that time.  One morning, during a brief interlude of feeling normal again, I tried going to the gym, only to discover that gyms and pregnancy do NOT mix.  TOO MANY SMELLS!  Oh my god, all the women with their scented lotions and the man with the horrible BO on the treadmill next to me, I was practically homicidal.  Never.  Again.  Then a few days later my morning sickness came back with a vengeance and I wondered if I had pushed myself too hard.

So I let my gym membership lapse and took it easy until I was sure I was out of the woods, about 14-15 weeks in for me.  I tried to pick up running again, with a really easy 2 mile jog/walk routine, but the next day I was unusually sore and decided not to chance it again.  So I’ve given up running for now, and since I no longer go to the gym I’ve had to get creative about staying active.  Here is my routine now:

Walking.  Lots of walking. 

Between a morning dog walk and the walking I do just getting to and from work/metro, I figure I get in about 40 minutes of walking daily.  I take a route that takes me up some big hills to get my heart rate up, and if for some reason my morning is too frenzied I try to get out for a 20 minute walk during my lunch break.  I know it’s not good for me to be sitting all day anyway.  The biggest challenge has been staying motivated when the weather is ugly, as we seem to have had a number of nasty 35° and rainy days this winter.

Prenatal yoga

I have done yoga extremely sporadically since I took it consistently in college, but I have finally found a prenatal yoga class that I LOVE, that is affordable, and is convenient.  It is seriously my saving grace each week for relieving all the random aches and pains that crop up during pregnancy, and taking the time out to relax and meditate helps with any fears and anxieties that come with the territory.
Prenatal yoga is definitely different than a regular yoga class — much more a focus on stretching, relaxation and opening poses rather than athleticism.  We do a few challenging asanas each week — squatting for two minutes is REALLY HARD, okay! — so there is some emphasis on building strength and stamina, but mostly I leave feeling light, relaxed and limber.
Having an arsenal of yoga asanas has been really helpful as my pregnancy has progressed  and I am starting to get more uncomfortable after long periods of sitting or sleeping.  Stretching and a few poses every night before bed has become a must in order to assure a somewhat sound night of sleep!

Fitness DVDs and TV

I’ve always been one that has needed to get out of my house to really motivate myself, but as mentioned above, the lack of gym membership and daylight to run outside has limited my options!  On top of that, I know that once the baby is here I’ll have precious little time to exercise, and seeing as there are no gyms nearby with childcare, better that I start figuring out a contingency plan now.
Working out at home in short bursts has turned out to be a good solution.  I just needed to find the right programs.
First I tried some of the workouts I could find on Hulu since I was already paying for a subscription.  But it was a pain sitting through the commercials so that never really stuck.

I bought this prenatal yoga DVD in my first trimester before I started classes.  It is okay.  It wastes a little too much time with intros and segues and I get kind of bored by it.  But if I can’t make it to a yoga class, this DVD is a decent substitute.

Then I somehow stumbled across this bar method pregnancy workout DVD.  This one has been my favorite.  It cuts right to the chase.  It is broken into about 15-20 minute segments for each body part (arms, thighs, butt, and abs) that are easily selected if you don’t have the full 45 minutes to devote to a workout that day.  It moves at a quick pace and is broken up with recovery and stretching in between each set, so the 45 minutes go by surprisingly quickly!    I will have to check out a studio or their other “regular” DVDs in the future.

So those are the things that have worked for me thus far.  But with all the constant changes I’m going through lately, perhaps I’ll have to adjust my routine again.  What I’m learning is that flexibility is key, so doing away with the gym is probably a good plan for the long term.  I may not make that 10K goal any time soon, but I know that just being active for about 30 minutes a day is the most important thing, so I’ll live with my modified workouts for now.

How do you keep up a consistent fitness routine?  What types of workouts have been most effective for you?  Have you found any DVDs or at-home routines that you love?



Run commuting?


I live an annoying 2 miles from the closest metro stop.  And about 5 miles from my office.  A little too far to walk, but close enough to make the 30-50 minute trek via bus and rail seem agonizing.  I mean, many people run that distance regularly!

So the thought occurred to me recently — why not run it?  But how could that be possible — how could you lug your lunch, clothes and all the other crap I accumulate during the day on a jog home?  Has anyone actually ever tried this?

Well, of COURSE someone has, in this day and age when everyone likens themselves as some sort of Lance Armstrong.  In fact, a little googling revealed a whole community of run commuters with lots of advice on planning routes, carrying your things and tidying up at the office.  This was seeming more and more possible.  Instead of delaying my already long-ish commute home by some time at the gym, why wouldn’t I just kill two birds with one stone, and possibly beat the bus home at the same time?

So one Monday morning I decided to give it a try.  I packed my things in my little backpack that has a waist strap and is lightweight.  I brought a sandwich for lunch instead of something that would require a heavy glass container.  I wasn’t ready to run the whole distance, so I took the metro to my nearest stop and planned to run the two miles home from there.

Well had I paid closer attention to the weather, I would have known that a heat wave decided to spike into the upper 90s that day.  And that the route I had planned out was almost 100% in the bright sun.  Having spent most of year so far on the treadmill, I was not acclimated to running in that kind of heat. With a backpack.  Needless to say, I spent a lot of that 2 miles walking!  And it was a while before I wanted to try it again.

This past Monday I noticed that the high was to be a balmy 89 degrees (94 heat index) and decided to give it a go again.  This time, I mapped out a shadier route and kept it up for about one mile, until I hit a busy intersection and had to stop.  And that stop about did me in.  You know that feeling when you stop running in the summer, and you can just feel the heat radiating off your skin now that there is no longer air moving past you?  Ugh.  I ran for probably most of that remaining mile, but had to start mixing more walking in.  Especially up hills!

But even with the walking, I got home earlier than I would have on the bus.  And that is assuming the bus was on time with no delays.  As it cools off, I am sure it would be a faster commute, but then I’ll also have to consider the waning light in the evenings.

Do you have any creative ideas for commuting? Do you bike, walk or run as part of your commute?  How do you tackle problems such as transporting your gear, cleaning up, and extreme weather or darkness?


Mastering the art of the mid-day workout

I don’t mean to imply by that title that I have come anywhere close to “mastering” this art.  And it is an art.  I’ve always squeezed in workouts on my way home from work, but for a variety of reasons lately that has been a challenge.  But I’ve always been in the camp that if you prioritize your health and your body, you’ll find a way rather than make excuses.  So I’m trying to find a way.  With varying degrees of success on any given week.

I’m lucky to have a gym with showers right in my building, and to work in a rather picturesque part of DC.  So in theory, a lunch hour jog should be perfectly feasible!  But we all know how easy it is to remain at our desks and get lured into more and more work.

But I read again recently how dangerous sitting is for long periods of time.  And when I do manage to get a run in, I am so much more productive the rest of the afternoon.  So it really is worth it to take the time for yourself — as hard as it can be to take those steps out the door, I’ve never regretted a workout.

So I try. And here is what I’ve learned along the way:

Pack ahead.  Because let’s be honest:  there is no way in hell I am going to spend my precious few minutes as I’m rushing out the door in the morning to gather my gym clothes.  And if I did, I’d surely forget a crucial element.  You certainly do not want to return from your run, all sweaty and gross, and realize you forgot your shower flip flops.  Ugh.
Pack your bag the night before and leave it by the door.

Arrive prepared.  Heading to the gym locker room when you’ve got a single hour for your workout is like the transitions in a triathlon:  you try and shave off as many seconds as you can.  Outfit permitting, I will put my socks/sports bra/etc on in the morning and carry my normal workday ones to change into in my gym bag.  I mean, it can take a long time to have to change your socks twice!
It’s also honestly a little weird to be changing in a locker room when at any moment you could run into one of your colleagues.  So I try to minimize my time there…

Have a plan.  I know how far I can run down the mall before I have to turn around.  I’ve timed it perfectly so that at the end of my 5 minute cool-down, I am walking through the door of the gym.

Transition #2.  One of my longtime hesitations about working out before or during work was:  how do I do my hair and makeup?  Do I really have to lug the entire contents of my bathroom drawers with me to work?  The thought of blowdrying my hair in the gym locker room was kind of a deal breaker for me.
So guess what?  I don’t.  I jump in the shower, rinse off quickly, but avoid my hair.  And it’s fine.  Nothing that a little dry shampoo can’t handle.  If you have long hair, you can pull it back too and no one will know the difference.
Sweat, unlike makeup, is water soluble so all it takes is a quick rinse in the shower with water to clean up — just make sure you have removed your makeup beforehand.   I don’t wear much makeup on days I head to the gym — just foundation and eyeliner, really, and quickly wipe it off as soon I get there.  When I finish my workout, all it takes is just another quick re-dusting of foundation and I’m good to go.

Now, if someone has any advice for how to still make it to the gym when your boss unexpectedly drops a pile of work on your desk just as you were heading out and the rest of your afternoon is filled with meetings?  I’m all ears…



Well I haven’t written much about running here lately, and while I’m loath to discuss any injuries lest I come across as dispensing medical advice, truth is I’ve been nursing a bad case of quadriceps tendinitis.  I’ve been feeling much better, but I am on a break from running until the weather gets a little more tolerable.

But, that’s okay, because it’s forced me to reconnect with my first true love:  swimming!

Growing up around the water, my parents forced me in the pool at a very young age, and it is one of the things in life I am eternally grateful for.  I’ve never been an especially talented swimmer, but I’ve always been completely comfortable in the water, and I know that even when I’m out of shape or injured I can always turn to swimming  :).

It is a challenging, full-body workout that is also almost zero-impact, so it’s gentle on your joints.  It seems to me like runners are always complaining about their injuries, or worrying about how to prevent them.  In my 13 years of competitive swimming, I can count on one hand the number of people who were injured as a result of swimming.  It’s reassuring to know that I’ll always be a swimmer, no matter what.

Swimming:  the basics

At a minimum you need a bathing suit, obviously.  If you don’t care about the design, you can get a “grab bag” swimsuit, chosen at random among last year’s styles, for a reasonable price at

I also consider a cap and goggles essential.  I am kind of partial to TYR goggles myself, but you may need to experiment with a few different brands and styles before you find one that fits and does not leak.  If your hair is cropped extremely short, you may be able to get away without a cap, but it will still create significant drag and slow you down considerably, making things much more difficult.  Use a silicone cap and stay away from the latex!  Oucchhhh.

My pool has kickboards and pull buoys available for use, but you don’t necessarily need one.  You can always just hold your arms out in a streamline position in front of you — and also, just not use your legs! Fins are also helpful in improving your kick, but they’re not necessary.

Additionally, don’t forget to stay hydrated.  Many people assume that because you’re in the water, you don’t need to be drinking it as much — not true!  Bring a water bottle to practice just as you would with any other sport.

Swimming can be a challenge to the uninitiated.  Water has 12x the resistance of air, and learning to work with it, and not against it, is key to moving efficiently and not exhausting yourself after just a few laps.  If you are completely new to swimming, I recommend signing up for a few sessions with a coach or trainer.  Learning proper technique is extremely important and will make a huge difference in your workouts.

There are also videos online that show proper technique, so do google some of those if you’re curious.

One problem I encounter, and judging by the number of people taking up precious lanes by floating lazily on their backs, it is a common problem — the pool has a tendency to bring out a more relaxed attitude.  I do this too.  You go to get a good workout in, but you don’t push yourself enough, because it’s the pool, and it’s fun!  Which is fine, sometimes, but if your goal is really to get a good cardio workout, improve your speed, and burn some calories, I recommend having a plan.

I have recently discovered, and it has really improved my workouts.  Registration is free for basic access to the site; you simply enter in a few of your stats and preferences, and it comes up with a new customized workout every day.  Here are a few recent examples I’ve used:


Having a plan also helps break up the monotony of a workout and makes the time fly by.  One thing I hate about running is that it is just so BORING!  I never get bored when I’m swimming though, as long as I’m breaking things into smaller chunks.  Most pools also have big analog or digital timers so that you can time your intervals, but bringing your own stopwatch might be helpful if you have one.

Swimming is truly a lifetime sport, so don’t be intimidated!  Hop in the pool and go!



Winter running

After a nearly 3 week hiatus, I finally resumed my running routine yesterday.  Last time I went for a jog, I was wearing shorts — but the weather has changed drastically in that short amount of time!  As you can see above, my backyard pond has already frozen over.  Highs are in the mid-thirties this week, with windchill down to the teens!  But I was determined to not let that stop me.

I kept reminding myself that I ran all summer in 100-degree heat, and that running in the cold is probably equally uncomfortable — just different — right?  As with any physical activity in any kind of extreme, it takes a little more preparation.  Here is one article with some basic winter running tips.

I wore:
Target running tights — for $25, these were great and kept me just warm enough.  I wish they were lined, flat-seamed and had pockets — but I’m not sure whether a nicer brand is worth the extra price for now.
Patagonia Capilene 3 top — I love these for layering in the winter and they work great for jogging, biking, hiking and other activities in chilly weather.  They keep you very warm without overheating.  Expensive if you pay full price, but I always buy last season’s on sale. I can usually find them for 50%-60% off (if you don’t care which color you get).
-A fleece vest I purchased for $5 at Old Navy.  Can’t really go wrong with that price.
-And of course, gloves and a hat.

So I set out and was immediately taken aback by how quiet everything was.  No lawnmowers, no kids playing in the street, no dogs barking — everything was just so peaceful.  My run went great — the best run I’ve had in a long time.  I think my body really needed that break.  As for the cold, the tights were great at cutting the windchill and I felt sufficiently warm with my outfit.

So now I’m not so intimidated by winter running — but ask me again when snow and ice are covering the ground :).


Swim Bike Run

Well I have finally decided on my next major fitness goal to work toward:  I just signed up for the Iron Girl triathlon in August 2011.  This is an all-women sprint triathlon that is held in several locations around the country; I am registered for the event in Maryland.

I know never say never, but I really have no interest in training for a marathon or other long distance races.  I scarcely have the patience to do any one thing for 4+ hours, so why would I want to put myself through the torture of RUNNING for that long? 🙂  But breaking a long race into three separate sections is something my short attention span can handle.  I think.

I still have numerous questions bouncing around in my head.  For one, I am most comfortable with the swim portion (though am inexperienced with open water swimming).  So that begs the question, do I concentrate on the swim in order to get a better time, since it is my strongest suit, or do I spend less time on it since I will need more training in the other events?  My cheapness about paying the pool admission fee also comes into play here…

The bike portion is what worries me the most.  It is a hilly course and my bike is this big, honking hybrid that is NOT good on hills!  I purchased it only a few years ago for commuting on poorly maintained trails.  It made sense for me then.  But now I wish I’d had the foresight to choose a bike more appropriate for racing.  But again, I am cheap, and I hate to splurge on a fancy new road bike when I can’t be sure this is a hobby I’ll continue for years to come.  How much of a difference does the type of bike really make?  I hear mixed opinions on this.  For now I think I will stick with my hybrid, be sure to include a lot of hills in my training, and see how things go.

In general I tend to be a minimalist when it comes to accumulating fitness gear — or at least I try to be — my growing collection of activewear would speak otherwise!  I do use my phone to track my mileage through the GPS, and I also think it is crucial to have a properly fitting pair of shoes.  So far, however, I’ve avoided the temptation of expensive GPS trackers, heart rate monitors, $100 compression tights, etc.  But it seems that signing up for this triathlon might test that.  There is an absolutely overwhelming array of clothing, equipment and accessories specific to triathlons and it’s hard to know what is essential and what I can do without.

Oh my.  Good thing I have nine months to get ready for this.  Unless I decide to add additional races into my schedule — there are just so many out there around here and they all sound so fun!  If there are any seasoned triathletes out there reading this, I’d love to hear your advice!


First 5K!

This past Saturday I ran in my first 5k race!  An exciting culmination to my summer-long journey toward becoming a runner.

Even when I was swimming competitively 4-5 days per week back in high school, running was a struggle for me.  But in May I decided it was time for a new challenge, and I started the Couch to 5K program.  It started out with easy run-walk intervals, gradually increasing the running portions until you are able to run for 30 minutes straight.

I chose the 5k associated with the Baltimore Running Festival as my first race, admittedly mostly because of the Under Armour premium, but also because it seemed like just a fun celebration.   The route began and ended near Camden Yards, with an inspiring finish through the stadium down Eutaw street.  It was very crowded — almost 3,000 runners — but the energy was high and I had an awesome time!

I am still very much a beginner — I hesitate to even call myself a runner.
My goals for my first race were to run the entire thing and finish in under 40 minutes.  I met each goal, with 6 minutes to spare!

Now I just need to decide what is next — I have my sights on a triathlon some day, since I’m more comfortable swimming and biking anyway — but now that the weather is getting colder and the days are getting shorter, I need to figure out a plan to keep me motivated to run.  Have any of you had any success with a particular 10k (or more) training program for beginners?  All suggestions are welcome!