My Exercise Story

By Katie, 7:49 am

In the comments regarding my first half-marathon, many of you expressed surprise at the fact that I have not been a lifelong runner. It made me realize that I’ve only ever shared random bits and pieces of my exercise story here on the blog, never the whole narrative. Well, that’s about to change. ;-)

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start… (Name that musical! )

The Beginning

When I was young I participated in a variety of activities – dance classes (tap, ballet, jazz – I loved it all!), gymnastics, horseback riding, etc. I was literally a ball of energy; my mom couldn’t keep me from moving if she tried! I knew that people exercised formally in order to be healthy – I have very vivid memories of my mom moving the couch out of the way so she could bounce around to Richard Simmons’ Sweatin’ to the Oldies. (Say what you want about Richard, but his routine to “It’s My Party, and I’ll Cry if I Want To” was FUN! :lol: ) But at this point, formal exercise wasn’t a part of my life; I just loved moving!


The End of Innocence

In 7th grade I began playing field hockey, so exercise – in the form of team sports – became a more structured part of my life. But it was still about having fun.

Until a very memorable doctor’s appointment at the end of the middle school, when my well-meaning pediatrician came out and told me I could stand to lose a couple of pounds. (You can read more about that experience here.) The idea of exercising in order to lose weight honestly had not occurred to me before. But I latched onto it immediately. :-?

With the exception of field hockey practices and some well-intentioned running I did with my friend Beth, exercise alternated between my friend and my foe. At any given time I was either exercising to the point of exhaustion or not moving my body whatsoever. At my worst I was literally counting calories in versus calories burned, always ensuring that the latter exceeded the former. Not healthy at all. :-(

Fortunately I couldn’t keep up that kind of torture for too long; after a month or so I would be so burnt out that all the time I had been spending at the gym was spent sitting on the couch, eating back all of the food I had denied myself over the past few weeks. Any weight I had lost in my short starvation/overexercising cycle was quickly re-gained, plus a few pounds.

“Moderate exercise” was a foreign concept to me. 8-O

This cycle continued all through my years in college. There were some high points – attending Body Pump classes with my roommate being one of them. But exercise was still too mixed up with my food/weight/body image issues.

Throughout all of this I was certainly familiar with running. I had done plenty of it to get in shape for playing field hockey. Former boyfriends had been runners, so I knew a lot about it. I participated in a small handful of 5K races. But I never went for a run because I wanted to or because I enjoyed it; I always did it for the calorie burn, end of story. :-? I don’t think I ever ran over 4 miles.

Related post: Why it is important to take training from Best Ottawa First Aid?

Exercise Abstinence

When I decided to get serious about tackling my food and weight issues, shortly after my wedding in the summer of 2008, I stopped exercising completely. Yep, that’s right, I did ZERO formal exercise for almost 9 months. GASP! 8-O

At first I was certain I was going to blow up like a balloon and immediately develop heart disease. But at the same time I knew that I needed to do something different; I was so sick of the up and down cycles. I had to step away from exercise completely because at the time I didn’t know how to do it in a healthy manner; obsession was all I knew.

With exercise at a safe distance, I began the very difficult work of dealing with all the other messy stuff – the “why” and the “how” of how I had become so obsessed in the first place. Because – and let me be clear about this – disordered eating is not about vanity or shallowness. Wanting to be thin is merely the surface; there is always a canyon of nitty-gritty under there. (What that nitty-gritty consists of is different for everyone; for me it was perfectionism, poor self-esteem, anxiety, and denied emotions.)

Much to my surprise, during those 9 months of exercise abstinence I didn’t suddenly gain a ton of weight. In fact, I actually lost a couple of pounds. Because I was finally making peace with food and my body.

A New Strategy

In May of 2009 I began walking consistently. Not for exercise, but because I found that a daily 30-45 minute walk helped me to clear my mind, deal with my stress, and talk to God. But I quickly noticed the physical benefits as well; it just felt good.

I kept up my walking routine from May to September-ish, when I decided to incorporate some light jogging. I used the walk-run method, beginning with 1 minute of jogging for every 4 minutes of walking and building up from there. I remember the day I hit 5 minutes of straight jogging – I was on cloud nine!

As I began to jog more and more, I made myself one promise that I faithfully kept: no pain. I only went as long and as fast as felt comfortable to my body; the second I got a side stitch or felt worn out, I slowed it down or went back to walking. I truly believe this was the key to my success: it prevented the usual burnout and allowed me to find true enjoyment in what I was doing. :-)

On Thanksgiving of 2009, I ran in a local Turkey Trot 5K and had an absolute blast. My only goal was to jog the entire thing, which I did!

A few weeks later I ran in another 5K (the Fells Point Figgy Pudding Race! :lol: ). Then I set my eyes on a 5-miler, which I wrote about in one of my first blog posts. I worked hard to be able to tackle that distance, but unfortunately the race was canceled due to the crazy blizzard. I was extremely disappointed, but not deterred. I immediately signed up for another race – the Wild Woman 8K – which I ran in April.

Next up – the Broad Street 10-Miler. I followed a 10-week training plan that I found online, which worked out great. I am a HUGE fan of using formal training plans; following one definitely helped me structure my workouts so that I was building up my endurance properly while also getting enough rest. The day I ran 10 miles for the first time I was positively glowing!

And then Broad Street arrived. It was by far the most difficult run of my life thus far, primarily because of the insane heat, which I was not prepared for at all. But I toughed it out and had a great time!

A few weeks into my 10-miler training, I decided to sign up for the Maryland Half Marathon that was only 3 weeks after Broad Street. Honestly, my thinking went like this: if I can run 10 miles, I can run 13.1, so I might as well go for it! And go for it I did! I ran my first half-marathon last weekend. :-D

What’s Next

A lot of people have asked me what’s next. A full marathon? Nothing at all? To which I respond, How about somewhere in the middle? :-)

The truth is, the timing for my half-marathon was perfect. I was finishing up graduate school and beginning to job hunt; my schedule was extremely flexible and I had the time I needed to put into training. But now that I’ve graduated and secured a full-time position, I have some adjusting to do. Right now my only priority is settling into a routine that allows me to continue a program of moderate exercise while having plenty of time and energy to focus on my new job.

This week I’m laying low on the exercise front, giving my body a chance to rest. It’s my way of saying thank you for all the effort it’s been putting in lately. ;-) Next week I will get back into the full swing of things. Right now I’m thinking of running 3 days per week, strength training 2-3 days per week, and cross-training (elliptical, incline walking, fitness DVDs, etc.) 2 days per week. I would like to continue doing one longer run per week – probably between 7 and 9 miles – to maintain my endurance. I’ve also got a few races scheduled throughout the summer to keep me motivated. :-D

Sorry that this got a little lengthy, but I hope it gives you some more insight into where I’ve been and where I am now in terms of exercise and running. If you have any questions about running or anything else, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email!

Are you a runner? Have you been one in the past? Would you like to be one in the future?

39 Responses to “My Exercise Story”

  1. Simply Life says:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing your story! I’ve run since high school although I appreciate it so much more now! :)

  2. I used to be a runner and have just started getting back into it(I actually just got off the treadmill :D ). Like you, I used exercise as weapon against food (and my body) for so long that it has taken a while to enjoy exercise as a joyful experience. So, I am really going easy on myself to try to break down those walls. What I have found is that when I want to exercise, I enjoy it and when I enjoy it, I want to do it more.

  3. Jessica says:

    I like how you haven’t been a lifelong runner. I haven’t got to the marathon stage yet, but have only been running a short while.

  4. Wow, great post! The evolution of running. That’s very cool and impressive!!


  5. Elina says:

    It’s amazing that you’re so new to running long distance. I truly believe that with training, anyone can do a half marathon. It’s a really difficult race but if you put in the time, it’s definitely doable (maybe not as speedy as you, but doable ;) ).
    Good luck adjusting to the new schedule!!

  6. I feel as though we channeled each other in our most recent posts. I talked more about food, but the same calories in vs calories out plagued me for years too, girl. I completely understand everything you just said and thank you for sharing. I find it so comforting to know someone else has felt the way I did. This morning, I woke up for my run and literally had a pit in my stomach thinking about it. The old me would have forced myself to go, but instead, I went back to bed and woke up feeling like a million bucks. I don’t HAVE to force myself to exercise everyday. That’s not what it’s about.

    • Katie says:

      Amen!!! Isn’t it an amazing feeling to give ourselves – and our bodies – a break and then NOT feel guilty about it?!? Sounds like we’ve both struggled to get to a point where that’s possible, but it’s so worth it!

  7. Thanks for sharing your story Katie. I loved reading it! :) And I find it admirable that you were able to recognize the unhealthy relationship you had with exercise and break away from it. That’s definitely not easy…and not something everyone can do. As much as I love running (and being active in general), I actually still finding myself getting stuck in that trap sometimes.

    Also…it’s amazing how far you’ve come in your running in such a short time. You’re really fast — and inspirational! You’ve shown just how much you can accomplish if you really set your mind to it. :)

  8. Tamara says:

    I ran in high school, but like your former self, only for the calorie burn. I liked the temporary high of knowing I was doing something “healthy,” but because I was running 5+ miles and only fueling it with 500- calories a day I was tired and sore and miserable all the time. So I stopped during college, and only recently got back on the treadmill. It’s just walking this time, while watching my favorite shows so it’s an enjoyable experience instead of a torturous chore.

    • Katie says:

      I’m so glad that you’ve broken away from that torture! It’s definitely not worth it!

  9. i was in the past, but since i’ve been injured with my knee it’s been a slow-going thing to find a good exercise regimen that i can and WANT to keep with!

  10. i was a past runner.. and more currently got back into it.. but more recreational.. except for the half marathon im training for.. thats just cuz ive always wanted to do one.

    i cant believe how fabulously fit you are. i think thats the first time ive seen a whole pic of you. You will inspire so many people- simply amazing! such a skinni mini hehe <3

  11. Tina says:

    I LOVED reading this! It’s so inspiring to see how far you’ve come. I know you’ve mentioned having to work hard to get in a better place with food and your body, but it was neat to read it all in one place. You have come such a long way. And I love how your current goal now is just for balance while adjusting to some new things in life.

  12. Holly says:

    I loved reading your story! I think it’s interesting how all runners come from different walks (uh, no pun intended) of life.

    I think I loved the most how you listened to your body when you run and would let yourself walk if you felt pain. I’m not sure, but I think most runners can be stubborn (okay, I am) and try to run through pain. As I am sure you can guess, this almost always comes back to get me – I mean, them! :-)

    I can’t wait to see what’s next for you with your running!

    • Katie says:

      I’m definitely stubborn too, so I’ve had to FORCE myself to stop or slow down when necessary. But it’s definitely been worth it in the long run!

  13. I am new to your blog but loved reading your story! I also have gone through phases of exercise addiction until I burned myself out. I am better now and plan on running my first 5K in a few weeks!

  14. What a great story! I love hearing other people’s stories with regard to fitness and weight loss. Everyone comes from somewhere different and I find everyone’s stories to be so inspiring! :)

  15. I loved reading this! Thank you so much for sharing. It gives me hope that this running-hater could maybe become a runner someday. :)

  16. Robyn says:

    Great post! It’s very similar to mine actually. I was always an athlete never a runner and never thought I was built to be a runner. Well I certainly proved myself wrong. Running my first half was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but the pure accomplishment I feel from training and running it outweighs any of the pain along the way.

  17. Hayley says:

    I found your blog through Tina’s (Faith, Food & Fitness) and I really lucked out because your first post sincerely hit home with me! I’ve been working out consistently since I was 14 years old (I’m 29 now) but I’ve struggled with both anorexia, binge eating and over-exercising. I find it REALLY hard taking days off and I think it is so brave of you to take that much time off from working out. Good for you, plus it proved that you weren’t going to blow up (or out?)!

    As far as eating goes, do you follow an intuitive approach to eating or do you count calories or measure portions or anything?

    I look forward to reading more!

  18. Hayley says:

    found your blog through Tina’s (Faith, Food & Fitness) and I really lucked out because your first post sincerely hit home with me! I’ve been working out consistently since I was 14 years old (I’m 29 now) but I’ve struggled with both anorexia, binge eating and over-exercising. I find it REALLY hard taking days off and I think it is so brave of you to take that much time off from working out. Good for you, plus it proved that you weren’t going to blow up (or out?)!

    As far as eating goes, do you follow an intuitive approach to eating or do you count calories or measure portions or anything?

    I look forward to reading more!

    • Katie says:

      Thanks for stopping by my blog! I just checked out yours and I LOVE it – can’t wait to read more!

      Like you, I’ve struggled with restricting, over-exercising, and an overwhelming amount of binge eating. While I know that for some people counting calories and measuring portions works really well, for me it only leads to obsession, so I don’t do any of that. I started practicing intuitive eating during those 9 months without exercise, and while I still struggle with it, it is definitely what I strive for. My only other focus is on eating primarily whole, unprocessed, fresh foods…with the occasional Dairy Queen blizzard thrown in there as well. ;)

  19. Shawnee says:

    Great job with the exercise and running. YOu and I have about the same goals for work outs. Run 3 days, strength 2-3 and then I do yoga and Zumba on occasion. Keep up the good work.

  20. Lindsay says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I have the most difficult time managing to eat right and establishing a consistant exercise routine. The eating right for me is not so much a problem as the exercise part. I always find and exuse to! I shoot for 3 days/week and usually end up doing 1 or 2. Your story is very motivating and appreciate the fact that you worked up to your accomplishments and it was all worth it. Great job!

    • Katie says:

      Thanks for your sweet comment! I really appreciate it. :)

      My only suggestion for you might be to consider what type of exercise you’re doing. Are you doing something that you genuinely enjoy? For example, I HATE biking, so if I tried to do that 3 days a week it would NEVER happen.

  21. Bree says:

    I was in sports as a kid and joined cross county and track in 7th grade. I have been running pretty consistently ever since, save for a few stretches in college when school and work didn’t allow much time. I have had periods in my life when I was running too much, and then not enough!

    Your plan for the summer sounds exactly like mine. Running 2-3x with one longer run, probably around 7-9 miles, lifting 2x a week and some biking/yoga for x-training!

  22. Great post! I Love reading more about you. Good for you for taking 9 months off from exercise and actually dealing with things. That’s awesome.

    I did run in the past, but ever since I sprained my ankle over Christmas from falling, I have not ran. I’ll get back into it one day when my body is ready :)

  23. I loved reading your story :)
    I like your philosophy about “no pain” – it is always best to listen to your body, and if it’s saying this hurts, it’s probably best to slow it down and let your body catch up!

  24. [...] Health for the Whole Self » My Exercise Story [...]

  25. Solveig says:

    So true story: I read your post and felt so motivated and inspired by it that I immediately put on my running gear and went out and had a great run and even managed to tack on an extra mile; I was feeling that good! And now I know I can do it! YAY! Thank you! :D

  26. Nicole, RD says:

    Ohhh Richard! Hahaha!!!

    I loved reading how you evolved into a runner. I was the exact opposite — my first goal was a 1/2 marathon and I got hooked. My love has simmered a bit as my schedule just doesn’t allow for it right now. But I’ve been a runner of some sort for the past 11 years. :)

  27. Your story is SO similar to mine. I remember loving moving as a child–whether it be splashing around in the pool, playing tag with friends, kicking the soccer ball with my grandpa etc. I was very active, but never thought much of it, other than that I had lots of energy and wanted to play!

    Then, in 7th grade, everything came crashing down. I suddenly became aware of my weight, and playing soccer was no longer about the fun, but about the calorie burn. This philosophy lasted until, well, just a few months ago. In 2009 I started training for a half-marathon, and ended up fracturing my pelvis before the race. I was running 10 miles/day and never giving my body a rest. NOT SMART. But it was ALL about expending a certain number of calories EVERY day.

    My thinking about about exercise has evolved so much in the past few months–It’s been such a liberating transformation! I now don’t work out when my body is telling me it’s fatigued. And I spend no more than an hour at the gym when I do go…Knowing I’m not a slave to fitness makes me enjoy it SO much more!

    Thanks for sharing your story! It’s an inspiration to readers that are/have been in the same place. :)

    • Katie says:

      What you said about being able to enjoy exercise now that you’re not a slave to it – that is worded so perfectly! Hits the nail on the head!

  28. Arielle says:

    I SORT of classify myself as a “runner”. I started doing intervlas (not hiit or really organized) a few months ago… warm up by walking 5 minutes, then run for as long as I could comfortably, then go back to walking, and back and forth. I stopped for a month because a trainer @ my gym said I could be going above my safe target rate and burning muscle. That scared me ’cause I’ve worked hard for my muscle! Once I realized a lot of people were saying that’s a myth, I started again. I did some interval running last night and some this morning. I only ran twice last night in a span of 20ish minutes and once in 15 minutes (including warm up and cool down) this morning but it feels good to run again!! I want to run a 5k this year so I need to get more serious about my training.

    • Katie says:

      That’s a great goal! I definitely think the interval approach is the best one – you’ll eventually find that you can run longer and longer without needing to walk, and the next thing you know you’ll be doing your 5K! :)

  29. [...] found solace in Katie’s story. Strenght and admiration. I will do [...]

  30. [...] see, as I explained in my exercise story, my journey to a balanced, healthy lifestyle began with simply putting one foot in front of the [...]

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