Morning workouts not for everyone

For the Fun of Fit

A friend recently posted an article with the title: “What Happened When I Worked Out Every Morning.”

I clicked on the link, expecting the article to extol the usual early bird virtues of a morning routine, and the article did not disappoint. “One of the most common goals set by those hoping to improve the quality of their lives is to wake up earlier. So many people want their day to start off on a positive note, opening their eyes full of energy and motivation,” the article reported.

However, there were a few key words missing from the article’s title in the preview link that was posted. When I drilled into the site, I was taken aback by the full title: “What Happened When I Worked Out Every Morning at 4:30 a.m.” — 4:30 a.m.!

A highlight reel of what would happen to me if I woke up every morning at 4:30 am began to play in my mind: fatigue, irritability, insanity and chronic sleep deprivation topped the list.

But between work and school-aged kids, a 9:30 wake up time is little more than a pipe dream; something to aspire to, someday.

When left to my own devices, no matter what time I finally fall asleep, my body naturally wakes nine hours later and I feel rested and refreshed.

The other hurdle to my sleep requirement is that I need time to read before I can fall asleep. No exceptions. I could be bone tired or stressing out that it’s already late, with little left time to sleep before the alarm goes off, but if I try to shortcut my routine by not reading, I’m simply setting myself up for hours of tossing and turning or staring at the ceiling with the sandman nowhere in sight.

An article in explained that, “According to a study conducted in 2009 by researchers at the University of Sussex, opening a book before you go to bed can help you cope with insomnia. The study showed that six minutes of reading reduces stress by 68 percent, clearing the mind and preparing the body for sleep.”

If only six minutes of reading was a sufficient amount of time for me; I typically need at least an hour of reading before my mind and body is capable of rest.

That said, in the unlikely event that I were ever to attempt a regular 4:30 a.m. wake up time, lights out would have to be at 7:30 p.m. which would mean being in bed by 6 or 6:30 to give me enough time to read before being able to fall quickly and soundly asleep.

This time frame is absurd and laughable given that — at least at this time of year — the sun is still shining, and I am still routinely carpooling kids and cooking dinner at this hour.

Surely the naysayers out there will be thinking that, after several days of waking up at 4:30, my body would adapt and my sleep cycles would adjust.

To that I say, au contraire.

Many years of work that mandated a more rigid time schedule proved that my internal night owl clock is not so easily reset. Rather than falling asleep earlier at night, my body tends to adapt by learning how to survive and function on fewer hours of sleep.

The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that inadequate sleep is associated with numerous health problems including an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, diabetes, depression, forgetfulness and weight gain.

While I do enjoy checking exercise off my to-do list early in the day — especially as daylight hours and excessive heat rise as we move toward summer — sacrificing sleep to achieve this goal is counter-productive. Not to mention, many studies report that it may be more advantageous to work out in the afternoon or early evening when body temperature is at its highest and muscle strength, energy, endurance and testosterone levels peak.

But, the best time of day to exercise is a personal choice based on setting a realistic, consistent workout schedule that you are most likely to adhere to. recommends treating workouts as unbreakable appointments. “Find a workout buddy and keep a gym bag in the car or office to minimize excuses,” the site adds.

And, to stay motivated, suggests choosing activities you enjoy, taking group fitness classes, exercising outdoors, and exploring a variety of activities to keep from getting bored or burned out.

Relishing the longer days of spring

For the Fun of Fit

I’ve always loved the outdoors. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy to curl up on the couch with a good book and a steaming cuppa but, generally, if I can be outside, that’s where I want to be. I think some people are just born that way, naturally gravitating toward the outdoors.

My firstborn, not so much.

As a preschooler, she would spend hours drawing, reading and solving puzzles with classical Baby Einstein music playing in the background. She was quiet, intelligent, thoughtful and mature beyond her years.

I always have — and still do — consider her a bit of an “old soul.”

When my second daughter came along less than two years later, she was a whirlwind of activity and emotion. Her highs were high and her lows were low, and one feeling could switch to the next in the blink of an eye. She was curious, energetic, and naturally drawn to the outdoors.

One cold spring day just before her first birthday, she stood at the window banging her chubby little palms against the glass. “Outside! Outside!” she demanded.

So I bundled her and her sister in coats and hats and we walked to a nearby tot lot. While I was helping my younger daughter down the slide, I looked up to see her sister walking down the sidewalk.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“I’m going home!” she replied, anxious to get back to her books and puzzles, much to her sister’s dismay.

Fifteen years later, and not much has changed.

As a child of the 70’s, I grew up in an era when kids not only wanted to be outside, but were expected to be. While my friends told tales of their parents demanding that they go outside and stay out until dinner time, my parents were less direct.

However, if my brother or I were found lounging around the house, we were sure to have a dust rag, vacuum cleaner, or dish scrubber thrust into our hands, so outside, naturally, was the place to be.

The kids in my neighborhood played tag, roller skated, skateboarded, climbed trees, explored the streams and woods, tied blades of grass into knots, rode our bikes all over the neighborhood, and caught frogs and fireflies until the streetlights came on.

Back then, being outside was synonymous with being a child.

Luckily, my parents preferred the outdoors as well. We spent many family weekends boating on the Chesapeake Bay, or camping at Lake Anna or Deep Creek Lake. We ate dinner on at our picnic table on the back deck, and my mother resisted a clothes dryer for as long as she could, preferring to hang our shirts and socks on the clothesline — not only for the crisp, fresh air smell of the clothes, but because she simply enjoyed being outside.

I took my childhood love for the outdoors with me to college. At Ohio University, I relished the warm spring days when professors opted to conduct classes outside on the college green. I routinely took my books and notes to the tiered lawn of the journalism school or the banks of the Hocking River to study, forgoing the stifling library setting at every opportunity.

As a group fitness instructor at the local gym, I convinced the owner to let me teach classes outside on the back parking lot, and I spent weekends exploring Stroud’s Run and rollerblading along the campus catwalks. Part of the allure of being an aviation major was that my classroom was often an airplane, the endless, open sky my teacher.

Even now, you won’t catch me running inside on a treadmill, no matter the weather. Rain or shine, hot or cold, wind or snow, I will be outside, breathing the fresh air, enjoying the elements, and simply feeling alive.

During the short, dark days of winter, I have reflective gear, knuckle lights and a headlamp to allow for running at night.

Thankfully, now that spring is almost here and the clocks have moved forward, daylight will become more plentiful.

Days will be longer, temperatures will grow warmer and, like a flower, I will blossom in these conditions, my happiness levels directly proportionate to the season’s extended daylight and warmth.


Tri gear to streamline transition times

For the Fun of Fit

If you are contemplating your first triathlon and are unsure what to wear, you are not alone.

In fact, a friend of mine told me that a customer recently came into her athletic wear store wondering what to wear under her wetsuit for a triathlon she is doing in June. It is a valid question, the answer to which is not always simple.

When I began competing in triathlons more than a decade ago, I had the same question. Trial and error was my teacher and I eventually found a solution that worked for me, but the journey was as long and windy as many of the roads I cycled and ran upon.

During my first few years as a triathlete, I wore a two-piece Speedo swimsuit under my wetsuit. After emerging from the water and stripping off the wetsuit, I struggled to tug a sports bra on over my wet skin and bathing suit.

Eventually, I progressed enough as a triathlete to become competitive. The turning point in my tri attire came the day I lost a podium spot because my transition times were too slow. If I couldn’t swim, bike or run fast enough to stand on the podium, I could possibly accept that.

But to lose out because it took too long to change my clothes? Unacceptable.

Like the customer who visited my friend’s store, I also went looking for answers. It was then that I learned about singlets and tri-suits.

A singlet is a triathlon-specific top thought to be comfortable for activities such as cycling or running.

A tri-suit, according to, “is a one-piece garment specifically engineered for triathlon, usually including quick-drying features, padding at the rear and zippers to provide you with a do-it-all suit that you won’t have to change out of while swimming, cycling and running.”

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The male sales clerk at the store I’d ventured into held up these two items and I laughed out loud. What might have been the perfect solution for a man or a prepubescent girl was no way, no how going to work for me. Most triathlons, after all, were family-friendly events, and no full-grown, fully developed woman — in my opinion — was going to do any running in those paper-thin getups without additional support, so I was on my own to figure it out.

Athletic apparel, in all its newfangled quick-dry, wicking microfiber fabrics, has come a long way since its humble all-cotton beginnings.

I decided that what I needed to wear under my wetsuit was the apparel I needed for cycling and running. In other words: cycling shorts and a sports bra, with a singlet on top. So that’s what I did.

With these items on under my wetsuit — and having upgraded to a tri bike with proper pedals — all I had to do was peel off my neoprene outer layer, whip on a helmet, slip my feet into cycling shoes and go.

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When I returned to the transition area for the second time, I simply swapped my cycling shoes for running shoes outfitted with elastic no tie laces and ditched the helmet. Streamlining my tri apparel shaved key minutes and seconds off my transition times, helping me to reach my goal of standing on the podium.

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I was happy that sloppy, inefficient apparel was no longer holding me back.

But what works for one person may not work for every person, so I recommend trying different things to discover the solution that is best for you. Here are some additional tips and tricks that may prove helpful:

Anti-chafing balms such as Body Glide, Rocket Pure, and Chamois Butt’r are your friends. Use them copiously and often to reduce friction and prevent blisters. Applied to the wrists and ankles of your wetsuit, and to your feet and shoes, these balms also make wetsuit removal and putting on shoes much easier.

Plastic bags — while not good for the environment — assist with wetsuit application when the foot is placed inside the bag before being shoved through the wetsuit leg. Remove the bag once you have successfully squeezed into your wetsuit and use the bag to tote wet items post-race. Re-use the bag, if possible, or properly dispose of it.

Race belts are the best way to display your bib without having to pin it to your clothes, especially if the garment you pin it to might not be worn for the entire race.

For women with long hair, wearing hair in a low ponytail will allow you to easily transition from swim cap to helmet to visor.

Don’t waste time drinking water in transition; have liquids stored on your bike for hydrating while you ride.

Use no tie shoelaces and forgo the socks. No tie laces are the quickest way into your running shoes and you’ll never have to wonder if they are laced properly or worry that they will come untied. Socks are simply time-consuming and unnecessary on race day. Let your anti chafe cream do the work.

Most importantly, add transition practice to your training plan and time yourself. Always look for ways to shave seconds by streamlining the transition process. The time you save may be your ticket to the podium

Family fun while the nest is full

For the Fun of Fit

When our kids were little, my husband and I often sought opportunities for weekend getaways and mini-vacations for “just us.”

This quality couple time was essential to the well-being of our relationship as we fought to balance the demands of work and family life after having three daughters in the space of four years.

Fast forward a decade and our oldest was suddenly 15 and a sophomore in high school. That year, when my husband and I talked about planning a vacation for “just us,” the phrase struck me very differently — in three short years, our oldest would leave the nest and, before long, it would be “just us.”

All the time.

But before our daughters were born, my husband and I sought to get away and explore the world as often as we could, visiting far-flung places such as New Zealand, Thailand, and Japan.

With the realization that “just us” would soon become a permanent status and not just a desired respite, we made the decision to share our passion for travel with our daughters as often as we could, and to make as many memories as possible before the nest begins to empty.

To that end, in addition to our annual beach trip, we have upped the travel ante and — over the past three years — have taken our girls to Spain; Steamboat Springs, Colorado; Punta Cana; and, most recently, Mexico. And while we realize how extremely fortunate we are to be able to do this, we have also worked very hard to earn it: saving, spending wisely, and passing on material indulgences such as luxury vehicles, shopping sprees, and the latest and greatest in cable and cell phone technology.

This year, we’d offered the girls the choice of a skiing in the Rockies, hiking the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park, returning to Punta Cana, or exploring Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

For our younger two, it was a toss-up between skiing and beach bumming, but our oldest was definitely in the “let’s-get-out-of-frozen-dodge-and-go-somewhere-warm” camp. As she is the oldest, a high school senior, and this could possibly be our last mid-year family vacation with her, we all rallied behind her choice and opted for Mexico.

We spent the first five days of February in Playa del Carmen, gazing at the turquoise waters and lounging under warm, sunny skies. Green Globe certified, our hotel grounds had been converted into a natural habitat for countless species of monkeys, birds, fish and turtles. On our daily walk to the beach, it was not unusual to spy preening peacocks and sunning iguanas. At night, we were routinely serenaded by the deep, territorial roars of male howler monkeys and, in the mornings, we awakened to the sight of their younger, more playful counterparts leaping across the thick, green treetops as they munched canopy leaves and buds.

Breakfast at the resort was a leisurely, ocean-view feast of made-to-order omelets; fresh, exotic fruits; pastries; breads and cheese; mimosas; and lattes from the coffee bar. And, unlike last year’s chilly winds and rain in Punta Cana, the weather in Playa del Carmen was picture-perfect. Every day we walked along the edge of the Caribbean sea — our toes sinking into the soft, white sand — and spent hours bobbing on the clear turquoise sea in one of the resort’s many Hobie Cats or kayaks.

Lunch was a casual affair at the oceanfront grill or salad bar — though our favorite midday meal was the seaside paella and sangria — and we enjoyed reading in the shade of thatch of umbrellas, playing volleyball, and daily beach Zumba at 4 o’clock.

Relaxing afternoons melted into festive happy hours poolside or on the cooling sand of the beach, before retiring to our room to shower and dress for dinner. Though the resort only guaranteed one à la carte dining experience for stays of four nights or less, we were able to book a specialty restaurant each night: Asian, Mediterranean, Tex-Mex and Italian.

Dinner was followed by a show in the main theater — typically musicals, dancing, or games — and though the entertainment was slightly lacking in comparison to what we’d experienced in Punta Cana, we still enjoyed the nightly antics.

Mostly, it was the family time we treasured. Though we realize it’s possible for these experiences to continue as our children grow older, there is no guarantee. Once our daughters have embarked on their college careers — and their adult lives — their mid-year, spring break, and summer vacations may not align with ours, and travel abroad, internships and employment opportunities may also hinder our ability to be together, all five of us, in the coming years.

Sooner than my husband and I would like, we’re going to blink and — once again — it will be “just us.”

But, for now, we are cherishing every moment we have as a Party of Five and hope to make as many memories as possible while the nest is still exhaustingly, wonderfully full.