5 lessons homeschooling has taught me about exercise

A couple of weeks ago, I started exercising again. I hate even typing that sentence because it means that, even after getting into relatively good shape and running a 10k for the first time, it should be clear that I must have quit exercising if I had to “start up” again. And while I didn’t really “quit”—-I had a lingering, mystery virus that derailed me—-it sure felt like I was starting from the bottom when I finally laced up my running shoes again and hit the road.


Another time I had “started running” (again).


I’ve lived this pattern most of my adult life: 1. Get motivated. 2. Exercise like crazy (and tell everyone I know all about it until they are ready to scream or unfriend me). 3. Get hurt/sick/busy enough to get derailed for  a week/month/year. 4. Feel bad about myself until I circle around to #1 again.

But one thing that hit me as I was again circling around to  #1 in my “Stages of Fitness”, was how much my experience homeschooling has helped me deal with these relatively small setbacks. Yes, this teacher has been schooled.  Keep reading if you want to know what lessons I’ve learned to take to heart.

1. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

This is an often-shared piece of advice in homeschooling circles. It helps those of us who start panicking over the progress (or lack thereof) our kids are making in any given subject by reminding us to step back and look at the big picture. I daresay that most homeschooling parents would say that they are more interested in raising curious, intelligent, and literate children, and not just trying to have kids who are on lesson 45 of their grammar book by February 1st.

I love how this advice applies to fitness and exercise. My ultimate goal is to live a long, healthy, active life, not just fit into my “skinny jeans” or even finish another 10k, right? In the grand scheme of things, getting derailed from any exercise program for a bit of time isn’t the end of the world–just pick up and keep on going. This long-term goal keeps me from acting like a missed workout is the end of the world.


Another goal? Being fit enough to swim away from sand sharks.

2. Get the hard stuff done early.

I’ve learned that if we don’t do our hardest subject (math) first thing in the morning, it looms over our heads like a gloomy (math) cloud. And then, by the time we get to tackling it (math), we’re all tired, cranky, and that one subject (math) take about five times longer than it should.

For me, at least, the same can be said for running. It is much, MUCH better for me to get up and run out the front door before I do anything else (OK, sometimes I do need a sip of coffee first).


Getting out early also means running by this before the tourists are out.

The same goes for my 30-Day Shred days: I’d pop on that Jillian Michaels’ video before the kids were even out of bed, get it done in under a half hour, and then collapse in front of my laptop feeling a wee bit smug that I was “done” for the day.

3. Pick a curriculum that works (for you).

I will never reveal how much curriculum I’ve purchased because someone else raved about it, only to then resell the barely touched books because it just isn’t right for us. It’s just too embarrassing and makes me look a bit gullible and indecisive. But, when a friend tells me about a great curriculum they are using for spelling (a subject we’ve been pathetic at covering), it’s easy for me to overlook the fussy manipulatives, the multi-step daily instructions, and the steep learning curve in an effort to just “get something that works”. But it doesn’t work if it just sits on the bookshelf, does it?

I was reminded that I need to be wary of “hot trends” in exercise too, especially when all the warning bells should be ringing: This Isn’t Right For Me (e.g.,  Zumba). I just stopped myself from purchasing P90X (but look how pretty their bodies look!) when I realized that I’d never, ever push myself that hard for a six-pack. Never.

4. Grades are just one measure of success.

We don’t “do” formal grading, though I obviously check the kids work and, when pressed by them, will give them a letter grade. But, even if they were in school, I’m sure I’d be telling them that it isn’t only about the grade. It’s about effort, and enthusiasm, and retention.

I don’t get graded for running (thank goodness!) or situps (ditto!), though I’d say that any time I step on that cursed scale, I feel like I’m giving myself a grade. I lost 3 pounds? A+!!! Gained 5? FAIL!

I’d never let my kids feel like their intelligence is all about a letter grade. And I’m not going to let my fitness progress be defined by a number on a scale, or the size jeans I’m wearing, or even how many sit ups I can do.

5.  If everyone is crying, I’m doing something wrong.

I admit to posting Facebook updates that read something like, “If one more kid cries over their math workbook, I’m going to call the public school in the morning!” Teaching my own kids subjects like history, science, and math can be, simply, Not Fun At All.

BUT, I don’t homeschool to have sullen, miserable kids around me all day long. I want to have fun with them.  I want to see them light up when they learn something new, or we do a fun experiment or project. I want to give them breaks to play, pet the dog, or just run around the house.

That’s why I run/walk. For me, running nonstop is torture on my asthmatic lungs and my knobby knees. But running with walk breaks is just more fun for me. It gives me time to catch my breath and look around outside. It allows me to run longer and farther which feels like a victory to me. It keeps me from crying, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively.


See? Smiling, because I know I’ll be walking in 3 minutes.


And it also gets me to a certain level of fitness that allows me to then go for a long bike ride with the family in Acadia National Park, or scooter down the street with my son, or even kick my girls’ butts in a Just Dance dance-off in our family room.

No pain, no gain? Yeah, I’m with this to some degree. But if that also means “no fun”, I won’t be sticking with it for long.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to start homeschooling this morning. Maybe that’s another lesson I’ve learned that I can apply to exercise: Step away from the computer if you really want to get stuff done.

ScreenShot2012-09-27at74056AM I’ve partnered with Harvard Pilgrim on this sponsored post (and others to come!), though the thoughts, opinions, and advice expressed are my very own. Want to find even more ways to be well? Check out HarvardPilgrim.org/CountUsIn. 

You never forget your first 10K

Photobucket I took my place at the 10-minute-mile marker in the queue of 7,000+ runners, the last section before “walkers” at the Harvard Pilgrim Finish at the 50 race at Gillette Stadium. I had a lucky bib number: 1999 is the year I was married and also one of my favorite kick-ass Prince songs. Both good omens.

Surprisingly, I found a friend in that massive crowd, and we talked for the 15 minutes or so before the race. She shared a piece of gum which helped me take my mind off the summer heat that was still strong at 6pm.

The starting gun went off–I think. Being so far back, we only assume it went off. But nothing happened as far as I could see ahead of me. After a few minutes, I could see the tiny heads way up there starting to bob with movement. It took me a full eight minutes of walking in a tight crowd to even cross the starting line. Thankfully the chip on our bib numbers started our time only when we crossed the start.

I had my running partner, Jeff Galloway, in my ears as I started that first mile. I passed my kids and husband and tried to look relaxed and not as nervous as I felt.


See? Not nervous!

After three minutes of running, Jeff’s voice said, “It’s time to walk!” and I faltered. I felt great. Did I really need to walk? Oy, people are going to think I’m the lamest thing ever. But, all around me were people like me—running at a modest pace, or walking, or pushing strollers. And I reminded myself that my entire training had been based on this notion of early walk breaks. And, so I walked those 6o seconds.

The first mile came quickly. The 5K runners veered to the right, and I went to the left with my fellow 10K runners, never for a moment forgetting that I was actually doing this! My first 10K!

Every three minutes, Jeff’s voice prompted me to walk, and around 2 1/2 miles, I was so happy to hear it. It was still so hot, and I began to get scared that I wouldn’t be able to do this. I kept getting passed by people pushing strollers. A guy ahead of me stopped frequently to take photos of the flowers on the roadside. A few people near me looked like they might not make it.

But then I passed the three mile marker and the line in the road that someone had painted “3.1 miles!!!” That’s all it took. One 5K done. Just one more to go.

The route through neighborhoods in Foxboro, MA was so pretty and peaceful. Families stood on their lawns and waved. Kids lined up to high-five us as we passed. A few industrious families promoted their businesses. I remember running past a HUGE inflatable water slide with the words, “RENT ME” on a sign in front and thought, “Oh, I’d really like to go down that slide right now.”

Four miles came and I clapped with a few people around me. This was now my longest race.

When five miles came, I felt great. Only one mile to go, which sounds crazy to me even now, since I clearly remember when “one mile” was so, so long. I could tell the road looked to be sloping a bit down, so I decided to just run that last mile and ignore Jeff.  I think he’d be okay with this.

We must be getting close. Or so I hoped. The air had cooled and I had no idea what time it was. I knew they closed the route at 8pm, but it couldn’t be that late yet, could it? Then, up ahead, I saw race officials directing people to go down a “restricted road”.

I turned down the road and Gillette Stadium appeared up ahead. It literally took my breath away. I fought back tears and swallowed down a lump in my throat. A few people near me cheered. I would have cheered with them but was afraid I would just start bawling my eyes out.

The race finishes at the 50-yard line in Gillette Stadium. We ran through a short dark tunnel, under a giant inflatable football helmet to the finish. For Patriots football fans, this must be holy ground on which to tred. For me, it felt like salvation of a different kind.



My final time was 1:07 for 6.2 miles. Two days later, I feel great—just a tiny bit sore. But, if I could bottle up that feeling when I crossed the finish line and give everyone a sip, I think I’d have a lot of friends with me at the starting line next year.


Though I run alone, I couldn’t do it without the support of my family or my friends who have been so, so, so supportive and kind. As I told a couple of them, “(you) seem to believe in me more than I believe in myself sometimes.”

Jeff Galloway is an effing genius

For most of my adult life, I have wanted to be a runner. Even when I wasn’t actually logging any miles, I’d see people running down the street and wish that were me: Sleek, fast, with a look of determination and not defeat. . .It  spoke to me in a way that team sports never did.

But, my reality has always been so far from my daydreams. I have never been all that speedy even 15 years ago when I had much more time to train.  Whenever I start  adding multiple miles, my knees start hurting. That first mile Always Sucks, and my runs never squeaked much past a few miles, even at my most fit. Throw asthma and some horror called “cystocele” into the mix and you start to understand how an 80-year-old toothless man finished ahead of me a couple of years ago in a 5k. Hey, what can I say, he was a speedy senior.

But, nevertheless, I get bit by the running bug a few times a year and usually find myself plodding down my street to achieve that wonderful “runner’s high”.

This time, though, I’ve been bringing Jeff Galloway along with me. I had heard his name before but never knew that he has championed the “run/walk” method as a way to build miles without injury or insane training schedules. And once I started reading about his method– and found his Easy 5K app for the iPhone–I had to try it to see if it would work for me.

It’s been a few weeks, and I just got back from a 5 1/2 mile run. Five-and-a-half miles (5.8 if you count the warm up/cool down walks). I have never gone so far. I could cry from happiness. Nothing hurts. And, other than my post-exercise asthmatic cough, I feel great.

What I love about Galloway’s plan is that he  incorporates short walk breaks even from the start of your run, before you get tired, as a way of avoiding early exhaustion. With his voice in my ear and my music playing, I’ve been dutifully going out three times a week at a pace of two-and-a-half minutes of running, broken up with one minute of walking. Somehow, telling myself, “just two-and-a-half-minutes” over and over chops up the running portion into little chunks that I can handle mentally. And the app uses Lolo to speed up/slow down my music to my pace (9 minute/mile while running) so that I can just find the beat and keep to it.

But, this isn’t just about running longer and farther. Galloway also says that walk breaks can improve your performance so that you actually finish a race in less time then if you just ran the entire time. But how is that possible?

Last weekend,  I decided to test his theory by running in the same 5K I did last year (remember this photo?). Like last year, it was a hot day, with the sun beating down at 11am when the race began. I did not have a great race. I was just coming off a respiratory virus, felt dehydrated, and just got too hot, too fast. But, I followed the Galloway method throughout.

And? I finished one minute faster this year than last. (last year’s finish time:  33:36 ; this year’s finish time: 32:48.)

Suddenly a 10K doesn’t seem like some crazy pipe dream for this almost 45 year old asthmatic with bad knees. And I’m feeling more like  a runner than ever before.


Jeff Galloway did not pay me to write this (c’mon, does he sound like he’d say “effing”?) nor did I get the Easy 5K app for free to test. I love the app though it does sometimes “lose” my play list which means I have to re-import the music from my iphone which takes all of 20 seconds.