Running back to health

Once upon a time, I was a young, fit and competitive athlete. As a grownup in my early 20s, I continued to exercise, running 5Ks, half-marathons and assisting the high school track team, which kept me healthy and active during the first few years of my marriage and teaching career.

Then, in my mid-20s, my body started running a different kind of a marathon — that of becoming a mother. Between the years of 2005 and 2011, I was pregnant four times. If you break it down, that’s 9 months, times 4 children, equals 36 months. 

I was pregnant for three full years of my life! 

Motherhood’s toll 

Of course, my focus and priorities shifted during that time. 

While my kids were babies and toddlers, I did my best to stay active with low-impact exercise and activity as I adjusted to my new normal with my postpartum body. 

I never really got back into “shape.” 

I’m not expecting to return to the shape or size I was pre-pregnancy, but I do have a yearning to feel better, healthier and stronger.

Pregnancy, childbirth and the other stresses associated with motherhood have taken a toll on my body. Some moms’ bodies bounce right back, but mine has taken a little more time. 

My pregnancies weren’t particularly easy and resulted in some problems, including abdominal separation and varicose veins, which aren’t uncommon for women who have had four children.

Still, symptoms of pain and discomfort limited my activity level.

Now that my kids’ parameters and abilities are expanding, I’m finding that my own personal health and fitness is becoming an increasingly important element of who I want to be and how I want to parent. 

Over the past few years, I’ve worked to make self-care more of a priority. I’ve followed through with the medical interventions I needed to be more active — without being so uncomfortable. 

And I’m budgeting time to exercise more and at a higher intensity. I’ve been running and have recently started doing workouts that include cardio, core-body and strength-building activities. 

Getting back into the habit of exercise after becoming a mom of four children hasn’t been easy, but I’m making it happen. 

If self-care is on your list of resolutions for 2018, here are some strategies that have worked for me:

Set a long-term goal

One of the moments of reckoning that prompted me to take action to change some of my lifestyle habits was when I was having a hard time keeping up with three of my four children during a hike on our family vacation last summer. 

My goal is to be strong, fit and healthy for myself and for my children. I want to maintain a healthy weight and lean into the mental-health benefits of exercise, including stress relief and improved memory, sleep and mood. 

Be a role model 

I’ve been very intentional with my words and expressions in regards to body image, especially around my impressionable nearly-13-year-old daughter. My kids know I’m exercising to feel good and to be strong, not — to quote fitness guru Jillian Michaels, whose 30 Day Shred workout video I’ve been using — so I can go “bikini shopping.” 

Not only do I try to be a role model with my words, but also with my actions. My kids have seen me work through some hard spots, and they’ve seen me grow stronger and meet some short-term goals. My hope is that I’m a model of perseverance, too. 

Set up accountability 

I committed to volunteer with the track and cross-country team two to three days a week, participating with the team. 

This structure worked great for me, as I had experience coaching — and was able to both help and work out at the same time. 

I also created a measure of accountability measure by signing up for a race. This fall I trained for and finished my first half-marathon since I’ve had kids, which was a major accomplishment. 

Granted, it wasn’t the sub-two-hour finish time I was used to in my previous running days, but I did it — and I had fun talking and running (and a little bit of walking) with a friend. And we both finished with smiles on our faces (as you can see from our photo)!

Forgive yourself 

I’m not the same athlete nor do I have the same body I had before I was blessed with my four children. I am, however, happy and proud that I’m developing healthy habits that make me feel good. Each day I’m able to work out, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment. I’m starting to feel stronger and healthier, and that’s helping me be the individual — and mother — I want to be.

PS: I’ve signed up to run Grandma’s Half Marathon in Duluth in June. Reach out if you’re working toward the same goal. I would love to connect with some runner-mama readers.

Megan Devine is an elementary school teacher who lives in Northeastern Minnesota. She blogs at Write her at