Monday, March 19, 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.

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!


Butterball said...

I'm happily 31 weeks pregnant... But in a sad state of physical conditioning. My daily goal at this point of my largeness is just to walk, maybe lift a couple of times/week.

Kara said...

Not a sad state at all Butterball (OK, I'm totally uncomfortable calling you that when you're 31 weeks pregnant:-) Really, isn't it all about honoring the state you're in? We women often fail to do that. We gotta stop comparing ourselves to each other and even to ourselves prepregnancy or (in my case) 20 years ago. Saying that makes me realize I shouldn't want to run as well as I did 20 years ago, just the best that I can right now. Strive for the best you right now!

Ann said...

I'd love to do another half-marathon -- my first was just before I conceived my second child -- but I know that's just not in the cards at the moment. For now, my goal is to run my fastest 5K ever before I get pregnant with my third -- it's enough of a challenge, but totally doable with my current schedule. Being in the best shape possible before my next pregnancy is good motivation also.

Kara said...

Ann--definitely good motivation and doable... so long as that pregnancy doesn't (surprise!) happen sooner than you intend. True story: I was at a track workout when I realized I might be pregnant the second time around. My heart rate was completely whacked. Six weeks before my marathon...

Carlie n Jace said...

Kara, I really enjoyed this post. Love your readjustment of the goal, just shifted to suit your needs right now. I have missed reading your blog whilst I've had a dead laptop, but its back in the land of the living and I'm looking forward to reading more ;-)

kaney said...

When I look at the physical fitness industry today it is painfully obvious that the industry is more concerned with maximizing specific skills than building better humans. Basically, the fitness industry has been divided into two fields... muscle growth and aerobic ability.

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