How I Made Exercise a Part of My Life

Running Shoes
I woke up one morning a few months ago in a terrific mood. I got the kids ready for school and walked them over to the schoolyard. As I was headed home I ran into a neighbor. She’s a mom, too, and we sometimes talk on the way to and from school. She’s tall and quite beautiful and always elegantly dressed. And she’s thin. After catching up for a minute she looked at me and asked, “When are you

I cannot explain to you how crushing that question was. I wasn’t pregnant.

I’m 5’2” and 154 pounds and I have a bit of a belly. The self-consciousness and shame that comes with this imperfection is enormous. It’s the background noise of my life. I laughed off my neighbor’s comment. “Oh, no, I’m not pregnant. That’s just my body.” I was nearly in tears.

I’ve struggled with weight issues since I was 12. I’m not fat and I’ve never been fat, but I’m also not thin. I’ve gained and lost 30 pounds over and over again in the last 10 years. Weight Watchers is awesome. I
get it. I know what it takes to be 30 lbs. lighter. But here’s the thing. I love to eat. I love to make food, read about food, shop for food, and eat good food. I can reign in those behaviors to a greater degree than I do now, but I don’t want to.

I’ve gone long periods in my life without exercising. I’m not a natural athlete. I’d rather sew than play tennis. I was the kid sitting in the outfield during gym class who got hit with ball because I was picking clover.

For a long time I would look at the other moms at school drop-off outfitted in their brand-name workout clothes and wonder why they would spend their precious alone hours exercising. I had better things to do.

It’s not that I hate exercise. I like Zumba. I was into step aerobics in college. Swimming is pretty fun. I know it makes me feel good. But I would fall out of practice.

What I’ve come to realize this past year is that exercise turns that background noise of deep self-consciousness about my body way down.  And that was the kernel of motivation I needed to make exercise a part of my life for good.

Last July I started Couch-to-5K, a training plan that slowly eases you from doing no exercise to running 3.1 miles in two months. Each workout takes about 35 minutes. I got the app for my iPhone. I loaded up hours of great podcasts. I completed the training regimen and, on September 15, I ran a 5K. And then I kept going.


Today is my one-year anniversary of becoming a runner.

I like running because I can do it anywhere. I don’t waste any time driving to a gym, or money on a gym membership. I don’t need any special equipment or an instructor or trainer to help me. For me, running is like crafting. It’s humble.

Here are a few things that prevented me from exercising in the past, and how I got past them.

Problem: I like to take a shower first thing in the morning. I don’t want to wait until after I exercise to shower. I don’t want to show up at school unshowered. I’ll feel gross.

Solution: I take two showers: one first thing in the morning and another after I exercise. Sounds simple, but this was a serious stumbling block in the past.

Problem: I don’t like starting my morning wearing an old t-shirt and grubby sweatpants. Workout clothes always feel really tight. My sneakers are from 2004 but I’ve hardly worn them.

Solution: I spent some money on cute workout clothes. I went to a sporting goods store. I bought a size large so I have some room to move. I bought awesome Nikes. I even got some little socks.  I wear this stuff and I look pretty good.

Problem: I have a baby at home. I can’t leave the house. I don’t have any free time. I can hardly get my work done as it is.

Solution: I hired a babysitter. I already had a babysitter because I work in the mornings from 9-12. Now, I go running from 9:00-10:00 and then shower. Turns out I can still get my work done. If you’ve scheduled a meeting with me this year you know I don’t schedule anything until after 10:15. I’m busy until then.

Problem: I look stupid running. I run so slowly that all the other runners pass me.

Solution: So what. I’m over it.

Problem: I live in New England where it’s freezing for long months of the winter. And it snows a lot. I hate being cold.

Solution: I allow myself to experience nature during my run. I go out in every weather. This year I ran during blizzards and rainstorms. I ran when it was brutally hot and when it was 4 degrees. Before I started running I often felt like I didn’t spend enough time outside. Not anymore.

When I look at my body now I acknowledge that it works pretty darn well. I’ll be 38 next month. I’m healthy. I’ve given birth three times. I run 12 miles a week. I feel good. Running allowed me to turn the background noise of self-consciousness about my body down to a much lower volume. It’s not gone, but it doesn’t drown out the good things any more. Running allowed me to embrace the body that I have and to be proud of it.


  1. says

    Wow. Impressive and you even shared your body weight. I feel like you and where you started from. A few years ago, I was an avid exerciser. But these days? Ha! No. I need to as I am fat. i have never been this heavy. i just keep gaining and gaining.

  2. says

    That’s awesome, good for you! It’s funny, the year I turned 40 I “figured out” how to work running into my life too. I was living in Wisconsin and I LOVED running outside on the trails. I eventually fell off that horse and now, years later, started up with the Couch to 5K app. I highly recommend it but my knees do not. Now I’m trying the 30 Day Shred….so far so good. It’s not as fulfilling as being outside though, I do miss that.

  3. Cathy Medlock says

    Hi I follow you on twitter and was intrigued by your post. I am 57, yes, knocking on a bit. My hubby cycles every day and he had been seriously ill, so I decided to join him once he was back on his bike. Long story, but I was I’ll for quite a while just over 2 years ago and the biking stopped for me. I just couldn’t get back on the damned thing! I walk miles and miles with the dog. We go away for 3 months at the beginning of the year and this year, as last year I put on weight that I didn’t want. So when I got home I installed the map my fitness app onto my phone and logged most of my walks. I kept wanting to ‘beat’ my time or use up more calories. The weight started to come off and I lost what I had gained and more, just by walking. I am now back on my bike and have had one or two rides with my OH. The weight should come off more quickly now. I too love baking and eating, but I have made some minor adjustments. Mainly reducing my bread intake. At my age I can’t afford to gain weight as it is more difficult to lose, so I am determined to lose just a few more pounds. After all it is my daughter’s wedding in August, last of three to be married off:)
    Keep at it, but for yourself, no one else. 😉

  4. says

    Thanks for being so honest and open. It is nice to see that there are other folks who share the same type of struggles as I do. Recently I had a man ask me when I was due which really made me want to crawl under a rock……I told him that it was just me in my clothes; but I didn’t want him to feel embarrassed… so I told him that I was very flattered that he thought I was still young enough to be pregnant!

  5. says

    Great post – and so motivating. Until starting my blog I exercised quite regularly but recently I’ve been so motivated to sew that I convince myself there’s no time. Thanks for sharing and making me realise it’s all possible! X

  6. says

    You are so awesome. Thanks for this post. Who doesn’t feel like their body is imperfect!? I run and I do regular yoga practice and my 37 year old body just stays the same but I love having running and exercise in my life. I love listening to my body and what it has to say.
    I just bought a bikini. This is my piece of body bravery. Not because I think that I have the perfect bikini body, far from it. I have been waiting my whole life to have a ‘bikini body’ and I never thought I had it. Suddenly, I realized I was going to go my whole damn life without ever wearing a bikini because I had spent the whole time wait for perfection. So, I bought one and I wore it to the beach and I let my post-baby belly hang right on over those bikini bottoms and YOU KNOW WHAT…no bikini police came rushing out the bushes to arrest me! in fact, no one seemed to notice at all. It felt fantastic.
    I’ve always been far more interested in the imperfect things in the world than the perfect ones anyway.

  7. says

    When you take on something big, like your wonderful blog, it can suddenly feel like there isnt enough time in the day to even accomplish the most basic things, much less exercise. But there is time. Just like theres time to sew. And finally, Ive come to enjoy that time. I hope you find some for yourself, too, Laura!

  8. says

    You were so nicely protecting his feelings after he had just really hurt yours. Its so hard to know how to respond when someone asks this. Im still working on a good comeback. If you think of one, let me know!

  9. says

    Thank you for sharing your story here, Cathy. It is always inspiring to hear from someone who continues to try to get out there and make healthy choices for herself. And congratulations on your daughters wedding!

  10. says

    Being outside has been an unexpected joy of this whole thing. I actually really like being in the weather, no matter what the weather might be. And I saw two shore birds in the long jump sand pit at the high school track the other day! I would have totally missed that hilarious site if I had been inside sewing.

  11. says

    Great post! I am almost exactly the same height and weight as you, and I have also in the past year gotten back into exercising. Running seems to give me too many hip and I/T band problems, but I’ve been weight lifting and stair climbing (at a local stadium), and I’m still figuring out how to incorporate more cardio into my routine. The thing that keeps bringing me back to exercise is that my allergies are so much better when I work out. And I find that even though I may look the same from one day to the next, I feel so much better about how I look after a hard workout, knowing I’ve done my best for today.
    Thanks for sharing your insights! Good luck to you and keep it up!

  12. says

    Lovely post, so many things you mention sound familiar to me! I started running last year just before my 41st birthday. On my first ‘run’ I literally couldn’t run for 2 minutes, had to stop and walk for at least two minutes before continuing. Now I’m running about half an hour without stopping. :) I never really look forward to my run but always feel great afterwards. And like you: buying a cute outfit helped me. And I don’t worry too much about looking stupid. I think the people I pass in the street who smoke cigarettes while I’m running, look stupid. 😀

  13. says

    Thankyou for that wonderful inspiring post. It makes me just want to get up and go exercise straight away. We all need to make time to fit in some kind of exercise and I think it’s fantastic that you have done this. Well done!

  14. cate says

    Thank you for sharing this post. It is really inspirational. I find I need to exercise to keep my head clear, and stay positive. I’ve been a bit slack since winter hit, but this has motivated me to push through the cold weather!

  15. says

    I can’t say I was all that excited to get out there on those days when my face was freezing! But I always felt good about it afterwards!

  16. says

    Abby, I love that you have shared your journey and the timing (as seems to often be the case) is perfect. I need to re-engage my exercise routine and this was a great reminder.
    And just to reinforce, I feel the same way about the numbers. They are a method of measuring, not inherently good or bad. So thanks for sharing it all!

  17. Kristen R. says

    This is one of the first times I’ve read something on your blog…I’ve been too busy studying your patterns. :)
    I am also a runner. I love it and it made me happy to see you like it as well. Keep it up! I’m glad you found the motivation you needed.
    Kristen (Ridge)

  18. ellen says

    So inspiring Abby- I thought about you the whole entire time on my run (aka very slow jog) today. Thanks so much for the inspiration. Like you, I would rather sew, knit, crochet, read…you get it…do anything other than run or exercise. lol

  19. Marie says

    Abby I came here looking for some craft pattern. So excited about your story I’ve forgotten what that pattern was! Anyway, I’m so proud of you. I turned 64 last Monday – and feel better than I have in probably 25-30 years having lost nearly 35 pounds in the last 6 months through WALKING, recently adding RUNNING, ENERGETIC DANCE and JUMP ROPE and really changing my eating habits. I have cut out 90% of any flour, sugar and dairy products from my diet. I eat only REAL food, freshly cooked at home 90% of the time but this behavior leaves room for the ocassional dinner out or holiday celebration, though I am still very careful about eating healthy.
    I’ve always been a bit of an early riser, but since early Feb. I LOVE getting up early in the morning to make that time available for my workout that ofen includes all the above. I workout every morning, changing the program so targeted muscles are rested every other day. I feel undone if I have to miss a workout so I make sure nothing is scheduled during my workout time. It is the MOST IMPORTANT thing of my day (my kids are grown and ok, I AM retired.)
    Hey girl, I actually LIKE what I see in the mirror for the first time in those 25-30 years! I actually LIKE clothes shopping! At age 64 OMGosh! I feel sexy! HaHaHa! I just feel HEALTHY and HAPPY about who I am.
    I hope more people will finally, like I did, come to the realization that there will be NO BODY TRANSPLANT OPTIONS for several centuries yet! Take care of yourself girl – you’ve earned that right! Thank you for sharing your story. We must continue to motivate each other, thereby teaching kids and others that it’s ok to be healthy and active!

  20. Saskia says

    Someone (my sisters father inlaw) once asked my Dad at afamily celebration when my baby was due when I wasn’t expecting. Well you should have heard what my dad said to me- it was like I brought shame to the entire family. I was totally mortified and I wasn’t even particulalry overweight. I’ ve been wanting to take up running for a while now, I even downloaded the app, I have similar excuses as the ones you posted and your post made me realise its possible to overcome the hurdles we put in front of ourselves. My biggest hurdle is that I live in a pretty dodged part of town and running through the streets round here just doesn’t feel safe, there’s a lovely lake trail about 10 minutes away but this means driving there and back adding close to half an hour to the whole thing. I know I just have to get on with it and quit withthe excises and make the time. I also feel incredibly self concious for some reason.

  21. says

    I actually laughed at the shower part that is so me. I love your tips, the things women say to rationalize not working out its all simple but true. Thanks for sharing and congrats on working out!! I think you might have spoke directly to my inner voice.

  22. says

    Sometimes just typing out what is getting in our way can help us to see it more plainly and make a plan to overcome it. Ive found that running four days a week builds in flexibility for me. If I have to miss a day because a child is sick or something, I can still get four days in somehow. Flexibility is really important for a sustainable practice. And I also want to say that nobody should ever ask anyone when they are due unless they are actively giving birth at that moment! Come on, people. Seriously.

  23. tracy_a says

    Inspirational! Because yes – I can certainly talk myself out of running sooo easily. You have all the logical answers to my most common whines :)

  24. says

    Good for you, Abby. (And I feel like I should go a do a set of push-ups right now.) I do find it a struggle to make the time to exercise, since I have such a limited amount of time already, but since turning 40, I’ve been finding that my body just doesn’t take the abuse anymore without a little love in return. I definitely feel better since I’ve been exercising a little more.
    And I’ve got one to add to your list of problems:
    problem: The only TV in the house is in the front room, and I don’t want anyone to see my exercise videos.
    solution: I only exercised behind the sofa and crouched down low until I finally bought some curtains. We’ll see how long it takes me to install them!

  25. says

    you are so brave abby! i’m always terrified to share anything personal on my blog, but you are just putting it all out there. so wonderful! i just turned 38 a few days ago, and for whatever reason, this birthday hit me pretty hard. i’ve felt a bit down-in-the-dumps about it, which is very silly…it is just a number! i know that more exercise in my life would lift my spirits right now. just as soon as i sew this one last thing?
    you continue to be an amazing source of inspiration. thank you.

  26. says

    Hi Gwen,
    That means so much to me. Thank you.
    What are we trying to hide by not being frank about who we are? I’m afraid I’m a “let it all hang out” kind of girl! At least now some of it is toned!

  27. says

    We’re the same age! I totally hear you about sewing that one last thing. This morning I didn’t get out the door to run until 11! I usually hit the road right at 9. But I did it, and that’s what counts!

  28. says

    Congratulations on figuring out how to make exercising work for you! I love the way you listed problems and your solutions, and that the solutions were generally deal-with-it-and-move-on. I feel like I ought to do that now, too — I’m a couch potato!

  29. Martha says

    I am so happy for you that you have discovered an exercise that works for you. Runners rock! I love running and have been doing it for 27 years with only a break or two because of injury or travel (and usually not for more than a few weeks). I love it for many of the reasons you do. It doesn’t surprise me at all that you were able to integrate it into your life. Obviously as a mom and self-employed artist, you have discipline and perseverance–that’s really all you need for running, besides a body that can do it (and most bodies can). I’ve started to compete in trail races the last few years, at age 49. I did a 50k last year and was second woman all around (my younger friend crossed less than 10 seconds in front!) and first in my age group (I’m 52). You can do it too. BTW you are an extraordinary artist–I so admire your work and made a peacock from the bird book. Birds are so cool.

  30. says

    Thats so awesome, Martha, on so many levels. Im totally inspired by you! And Im also thrilled that you made the peacock from my book. Yay! Thank you!

  31. Kata says

    I can’t even begin to give you enough praise for having such an awesome attitude about it. It’s a number. That’s all. The fact that I found that so refreshing to see says enough about how the matter is usually treated. Way to be awesome, Abby!

  32. says

    Way to go Abby. I loved this post. I took a 20 minute walk this morning – been feeling the same way lately. I don’t like the way I look in pictures.
    Think you might like a runner’s short snow skirt next winter? Let me know. I need an advocate in New England!! Lots of gals who run year round here in AK use them and like the extra warmth!

  33. Charlotte says

    I just searched your blog with ‘couch’ because I’ve been listening to your podcast for months and hearing you mention the couch to 5k app. Yesterday I finally got motivated and went looking for the app. Well, there are about a dozen – which one to choose?! So I thought I’d actually go look and see if you mentioned it anywhere. So glad I did, because now I’ve read this post, and now I’m doubly motivated. Your problems/excuses and solutions really resonated with me. Mthanks!

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