I’ve pretty much round-filed the idea of running the Portland marathon in October.

A few weeks ago I was struggling with that decision, trying to determine if setting aside the second-marathon goal for the time being meant I was being self-aware and doing what was best for me at this particular point in my life—or if, you know, I was just being a total pussy.

Training is physically hard, of course, but it’s also mentally draining. It takes so much: so much time, so much preparation, so much discipline, so much headspace. The reason it’s enormously life-changing to cross a marathon finish line, I believe, isn’t really the 26.2 miles you just ran—it’s the weeks and weeks of Herculean effort it took to get there in the first place.

I will absolutely run another marathon someday, but for plenty of reasons, this isn’t my summer to work on that. I’ve got so much going on right now I feel like I haven’t relaxed in weeks, and I guess I know in my gut that adding weekly long runs to the mix would be a poor choice, both for me and my family.

So here’s what I’ve been doing for fitness instead: whatever I want. After months of forcing myself to jump around to DVDs, then more months of having a trainer tell me what to do, then more months of making myself run way past the point when I wanted to stop, exercising simply because I enjoy it is an entirely new concept to me.

Each night after the boys go to bed I get into my workout gear and leave the house. Sometimes I go for easy runs, sometimes I do long hilly walks. Sometimes I walk half a mile, then sprint for five minutes, then hike up a steep set of stairs. Sometimes I ride my bike. I don’t wear my GPS watch, I don’t check my time or distance, I just go.

I’m finding the walks to be particularly therapeutic. I’ve never been able to mentally zen out while running, my head gets devoted to trying to distract my body from the overwhelming feeling of OH HEY THIS SUCKS and all I can really pay attention to is whatever music I’ve got blasting on my iPod. I think there’s value to that sometimes, like when you just want to set your think-meat to OFF, but that’s not really what I want or need right now. Walking is much quieter and calmer and my brain is free to wander around like an off-leash dog. I often leave the house totally worried about some problem, then arrive back home an hour later feeling much more capable of working it out.

I was so proud of myself for getting through the marathon training, but you know, I’m actually equally proud of myself right now. I know, that sounds goofy, but I’m just happy to have what feels like a totally normal, sustainable relationship with exercise. I work out every day because it feels good. I don’t have to talk myself into it and I don’t have to coach myself through it. It just feels good. This is what I’m doing right now and in a few months I’ll probably do something different, but I truly believe, now more than ever, that I’ll always be doing something.

I’ve been thinking how many different paths I’ve been on, fitness-wise, and how every stage was right for me at the time—from the DVDs I could do in my living room while a baby creaked back and forth in a nearby Fisher-Price swing to the expensive trainer who pushed me outside my comfort zone to the kickboxing classes I felt so badass for surviving to those endless lonely Friday afternoon runs that cracked me open and showed me I was made of steel when I wanted to be.

It’s hard not to get swayed by the testimony of others, especially when they’ve found something that works for them. You hear the excitement in someone’s words and you start thinking you need to be on that path too. Eat what they’re eating, work out at the gym they go to. But it’s pretty rare that the footsteps fit your own stride, especially as time goes on. Maybe this, above all else, is the most important thing I’ve learned in fitness and in life: it’s all about what works for you. Whatever that is.


40 Responses to “What works”

  1. Eliza on July 21st, 2010 12:23 pm


  2. Ali on July 21st, 2010 12:25 pm


  3. kathleen on July 21st, 2010 12:28 pm

    this is the most sane thing i’ve ever read about exercise.

    i am so tired of people trying to convince me their way is THE way, and i’m so tired of telling people the same thing. (that said, i’m a personal trainer, so i get paid a lot of money to say THIS IS THE WAY).

    really though? what you just wrote is it. and it’s the only way to have a lifelong relationship with exercise. doing what feels good, both presently and in the long term, is the only thing that works. thanks so much for writing this.

  4. Brenda on July 21st, 2010 12:30 pm

    oh, but if you’d have come to Portland, I could have cheered you on.
    but I totally agree with you exercise method.
    So maybe one year you’ll run the Portland marathon and I can stand on the side line and cheer you on!!

  5. Megan on July 21st, 2010 12:32 pm

    Well said. This honestly stopped me in my tracks–thanks for putting some sanity on the interwebs.

  6. Kirsten on July 21st, 2010 12:32 pm

    Beautifully written. Thank you!

  7. Liz on July 21st, 2010 12:33 pm

    Oh, I love the ups and downs of fitness over time. They’re so reflective (to me, anyway) of where I am and what I want to be doing. Looking back at them is almost as good as looking through pictures of that time.

    This is a nice entry. It’s so nice to read something related to fitness that isn’t filled with angst, y’know?

  8. Eric's Mommy on July 21st, 2010 12:38 pm

    It’s all about what works.

  9. Jessica on July 21st, 2010 12:43 pm

    I really love this entry. Watching the evolution of your thoughts on fitness has been interesting and inspiring.

  10. Stephanie on July 21st, 2010 12:48 pm

    So true; so well said, especially that last sentence. This is largely what I believe about marriage, raising kids, work/life balance – everything! – you have to do what works for you.

    That said, your particular fitness journey did inspire me to New Year’s Resolve to do a triathlon this year, so thanks (I think) for that. It’s in September, and so far I believe I’m hating the swimming training just about the same amount that you did.

  11. Wendy on July 21st, 2010 1:08 pm

    Yes, yes, yes.

  12. AndreAnna on July 21st, 2010 1:09 pm

    I think fitness (and maybe the way someone eats) is what THAT person is doing at THAT point in time that helps THEM. And maybe – just maybe – it IS the answer for someone else.

    Maybe it isn’t.

    I really believe it doesn’t matter what path you’re on as long as you’re not wandering the woods with a Butterfinger.

  13. Christina on July 21st, 2010 1:29 pm

    Well said. I am glad you have found a middle ground. It is all very exciting when you first start exercising/start a new way of eating/lifestyle change, maybe it is the endorphins or something. It is good to take a break from all the BIG goals and drift a bit.

    For me, running has always been the middle ground. I leave the house stressed and I run and I can slowly feel the problem/stress working its way out. I never push too hard and just let myself go and if I feel good I go far or I go hard.

    I am glad you feel great about what you are doing right now!

  14. jenna mccarthy on July 21st, 2010 1:31 pm

    If Linda can not-run a marathon, well then damn it I can not-run one, too. Thanks for that blessed relief!

  15. tanya on July 21st, 2010 1:31 pm

    funny how sometimes going way over to one side of something makes coming to the comfortable midline a joyful and pleasurable thing to do…

  16. H on July 21st, 2010 1:41 pm

    Exactly. Right now, we have committed to love and care for a new family member – our one year old energetic medium sized dog. He gets me out the door at least twice a day for a walk, a run or a bike ride – or sometimes a breathless game of tag. Sure, sometimes I just wish I could pull out a dvd instead but, unfortunately, those workouts are kind of hard to teach him!

  17. crisi-tunity on July 21st, 2010 1:41 pm

    I have a hard time finding the happy medium between feeling like I’m lazy and actually pushing myself too hard. How do I know what’s too hard and what’s just hard enough? So I feel ya.

  18. Hilary on July 21st, 2010 1:45 pm

    You mean it’s not all about pushing and punishing and straining and agonizing? This post made me step back and think about my often guilt-motivated workouts. Instead of trying to go faster and harder maybe every now and then I should slow down and enjoy myself. Thanks, for this.

  19. anon on July 21st, 2010 1:55 pm

    This is exactly why I quit the gym, quit running (which I hate with a passion, but took up because it was free and burns calories fast), and quit feeling guilty.

    Now I ride my bike instead of taking the car when I run errands or have to drag my kids around town to their various activities. I like riding my bike – it’s fun! I like the bursts of energy that break up my day. And it gets the kids on their bikes, too. Win win.

    I weigh five pounds more than my “ideal” – so what? I’ve got bigger boobs now. And I don’t feel guilty about “I should exercise more…” which is worth a million dollars right there.

  20. Tracy on July 21st, 2010 2:20 pm

    This sounds like an amazing place to be (mentally). I’m struggling with finding some kind of exercise that I like to do rather than something I’m forcing myself to do.

  21. Shanna on July 21st, 2010 3:12 pm

    This is right where I’m at mentally too…good to love where you are ;)

  22. mrschaos on July 21st, 2010 3:38 pm

    Not to sound hokey (but here goes): things like spirituality and exercise are very personal. You can see other people as great examples and pattern habits around that, but it has to work for you.

    I like how you wrote this…made me stop and think about how I’ve been quite hard on myself for how I’m not doing things like other people.

  23. MRW on July 21st, 2010 4:28 pm

    Yeah I find I have to mix things up when exercising to keep motivated. This includes periods of time when I take it easy and just do some kind of relaxed exercise – yoga, walking, biking, instead of getting intense. If I didn’t give myself these types of breaks, I’d never exercise consistently because it would be too draining, time-consuming, distracting.

  24. Jae on July 21st, 2010 4:32 pm

    That last paragraph? Me. All the way. And I’ve hated myself for it. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to hear someone else say it.

  25. Andrea on July 21st, 2010 4:45 pm

    I’d love to know what’s on your i-pod! I am so sick of my music and need some new tunes for shlogging. Great post.

  26. Liz on July 21st, 2010 10:50 pm

    there is a huge neuropsychological basis for the very phenomenon you described (that of going out for a walk feeling wound like a spring and coming back calm, rational and relaxed)–in short, an alternating bilateral activity like walking forces the two halves of your brain to talk to each other, which oils the works and makes your thinking more efficient…or something to that effect. i’ve forgotten the mumbo-jumbo of it, but it was a lightbulb-over-the-head moment when i learned that. i’m not sure why running doesn’t work precisely the same way, at least not all of the time; something about the pain of the activity, perhaps?

  27. Faith on July 22nd, 2010 7:33 am

    this is going to sound even cheesier than it does in my head, but here goes: You’re already running a marathon right now. You’ve got so much going on in your life that isn’t easy to handle, and you’re having to make some potentially life-changing decisions without necessarily knowing the end result. It sounds like you’ve found a way to keep your body active and your mind sane while dealing with all of this, and I’m glad.

  28. Stephanie on July 22nd, 2010 7:57 am

    Oh man. Nail on the head Linda! Thank you.

  29. adequatemom on July 22nd, 2010 9:07 am

    Gah, you’re so freakin’ wise. How do you DO that?

    I’ve done a marathon & a half-marathon (both walking – running is NOT for me) and I completely concur with your statement that the training beforehand is much more challenging than the actual race.

    I’m so proud of you for finding what works – and the “healthy, sustainable relationship with exercise” is INCREDIBLY enviable. Well done!

  30. Katelar on July 22nd, 2010 10:12 am


    I have found that finding my own pace (for life, as well as exercise) has made all the difference in my own health (and weight too, though that’s different, I know). Two years ago, when I was in an incredibly stressful work environment, I got up at 5 each morning to run 4 miles. I got so little sleep that I ended up gaining a bunch of weight (was also stress-eating) and then hurting my knees because of the new weight. I have since knocked that off, am getting enough sleep, far less stressed out, and am going for nightly walks/jogs when I have time. My knees are fine again and I’m down 2 and a half sizes. I feel so much better!

    It took realizing that I didn’t have to conform to someone’s idea of what “working hard enough” looked like (my workout partner…ahem) to be comfortable in finding my own patterns and healthy style!

  31. Jane on July 22nd, 2010 10:16 am

    Amen to what works for you. Great post thank you .. you always seem to post exactly what I need to hear!!

  32. Shawna on July 22nd, 2010 12:15 pm

    Fantastic post. And so true.

    I’m curious about one thing: do you take Dog with you when you’re walking? I mean, you don’t have to, and she’s probably getting less inclined to do a lot of strenuous stuff, but you and her going out rambling together does form a nice happy mental picture.

  33. Cara on July 22nd, 2010 12:47 pm

    I’d love to get to this point with exercise and diet. To feel like I’m doing enough. To feel good about how hard I’m working. Currently, I’m in that ‘pushing myself to go on scheduled runs’ phase. It alternates between awesome and dreadful. Maybe I should just run that marathon and get it out of my system…

  34. Megan (Best of Fates) on July 22nd, 2010 1:11 pm

    I think having a normal, long-term relationship with exercise is far, far harder than running a single marathon – so well done!

  35. Amy on July 22nd, 2010 1:46 pm

    Bingo! I have always struggled with my weight, but refuse to get into the yo-yo diet fads my co-workers do on a regular basis. I am finding my own way that will work for me for the long haul….not because I want to get into some outfit for some event some coming weekend. I walk around the park near work in the mornings, have started climbing the stairs in the building (18 flights) every afternoon and then get in what I can with the boys. I even joined a softball team this summer which at first scared the hell out of me, but now I’m sad that next week is our last game! It’s not nearly what you have accomplished, but it’s what works for me at this point in my life. Thanks for reminding me that it’s ok to do what works for me!

  36. Rebecca on July 22nd, 2010 4:16 pm

    GREAT post!

  37. Jennifer on July 23rd, 2010 10:01 am

    excellent post…..I’m training for NYC on Nov 7th…..so I found this quite inspiring.

  38. Melissa on July 23rd, 2010 7:23 pm

    I think you’re making the smart choice putting off the marathon given the other pretty major goals you have right now. There shouldn’t be that almost GUILTY feeling I know all too well about postponing a goal, fitness or otherwise. There’ll always be another marathon, and you already know you can do it. You will do it, just not right now.

    What you said about not checking time or distance really struck me. It’s just… not something I’d ever considered, but that I’m now determined to try.

    Really great post.

  39. Amy on July 26th, 2010 11:05 am

    You had me at “think-meat”

  40. daddy d on July 29th, 2010 5:32 pm

    Good job. Just do it. That means first find out what IT is at the time and the work on IT.

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