It is time for another installment of “One Fit Mommy”! Each week I scour the blogosphere to find other fit moms who inspire me to fitness.
This week our fit mommy is Kara Thom. She is an Ironman triathlete, author, and mom to 3 young girls. She blogs over at Mama Sweat, where she is “finding fitness in the chaos of motherhood”.
I’d say she is getting the job done, especially when she can be found using her bike trainer in the driveway as her kids bike around her. Fitness is a family event in her household, which is why Kara is definitely “One Fit Mommy”!
In addition to staying fit, Kara has published two books, Becoming an Ironman: First Encounters with the Ultimate Endurance Event and a children’s book See Mom Run.
She also just finished co-writing “Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom” and will hopefully have a publisher soon. Meanwhile, she is in the process of adding anecdotes and quotes from fit moms. If anyone would like to contribute to the book, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for a questionnaire.
Read on for more about Kara and why she compares herself to a pouncing lion when it comes to finding time for exercise.
Q: How many kids do you have and how old are they?
I have three daughters–twins who will be 5 at the end of August and a 3-year-old.
Q: Have you always been fit? What inspired you to live a fit lifestyle?
I have always been active. As a kid I took dance class, tennis lessons, etc. I was herded more toward dance, which I loved, but I didn’t think of it then as something I did for “fitness.” I just wanted to be a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader like every other girl growing up in Texas in the 70s (too bad I don’t have a photo of me in a miniskirt, white knee-high boots and newspaper-made pom pons). Fortunately, that career path didn’t work out for me. Still, as far as fitness is concerned, I had good family role models. My parents played tennis and took us skiing; my mom introduced me to the first exercise videos ever created by Jane Fonda–remember those? And she would take me to the gym to lift weights with her. My mom has great guns. Another role model was my Uncle Bob. He took all the family kids on bike rides, hikes, he even taught us how to rock climb and repel. Going backward over a cliff, just holding onto a rope, is one of my most memorable moments in life. Uncle Bob was a baseball coach and I would have never been introduced to any “ball sports” without his influence. I’m still not any good at the ball sports, but I got a little taste of “competition” from his efforts. So when I ran my first-ever 5K when I was 23 and got a trophy for 3rd place… I came to the “other side” and let the athlete in me come out. I have loved and nurtured that part of my life ever since.
Q: What is your favorite exercise and why?
This is tough, because the more exercise I’m exposed to, the more I want to include it in my life. Maybe a hard comparison for some, but it’s like asking what is my favorite dessert! Can you pick just one? If pressed though, I’d have to go with running. Running introduced me to competition, the notion of “personal records,” endorphins, and too many good friends to list.
Q: What advice do you have for those who claim they don’t have time for exercise?
Well, there is no getting around it; time is finite. But we all have the time. We all have 24 hours in a day, it’s just a question of what we will do with those 24 hours. If fitness is a priority, you will find the time. So the excuse doesn’t lie with time, so much as it does with our priorities. That said, as a mom of three girls under five, who works a little on the side, finding the time can be tricky. The easiest way to get my workout in is to cut sleep short and get up early to workout. I can’t do this every day, though, because my husband and I split the weekday mornings for this purpose. So, on other days, I have to find time to go to the gym (and convince my girls that the childcare center will be REALLY fun) or I figure out a way to exercise with them (setting up a cycling trainer in the driveway or backyard is an excellent way to multitask exercise and kid watching). Sometimes the way to get in your workout isn’t obvious, you have to get creative. My most creative workout with kids was hauling all three of them in a sled tethered to my waist. We went all over the neighborhood on a snowy day. It was quite a workout and left me feeling pretty empowered as a fit mom.
Q: As an accomplished triathlete, how has your fitness plan changed now that you have three young children?
Triathlon training before kids consisted of 10 to 15 hours a week of training, depending on what kind of races were on the calendar. This was mostly divided by swimming, biking and running (duh!) but also yoga and, in the winter, my best attempts at strength training (sometimes, though, I’d refer to the winter as “get fat season,” because the body was crying for a much needed break!) I had workouts scheduled most mornings before work (I was an editor for a medical journal at the time) and often after work, too. I remember my husband (he’s also a triathlete) and I would usually sit down to dinner about 9 pm and wonder what other people did with their time. We had our little triathlon blinders on… what else would one do after work except go for a ride or a run or a swim? And then we had kids. Not “a” kid, but kids. Three in less than two years. First, I had to come to the important realization that walking my kids to the park was indeed a workout. The 20 minutes I got on the bike trainer before a napping baby woke up was a work out. I had it stuck in my head that if I didn’t do a long, hard workout it didn’t “count.” Now I know better. I’ve had to adjust my expectations to reality. I don’t have 10-15 hours a week to work out. Honestly, wouldn’t want to, either. I can still be fit–still be a triathlete–on half the training. I don’t train for endurance races anymore, I only sign up for sprint races (which take about 1 1/2 hours to finish versus 6 hours, even 12 hours:-) The thing is, I am still satisfied with my finish and the effort because I know it’s within the context of this bigger picture of raising a family. I wonder if I’ll ever do an Ironman triathlon again. I’d like to. I know plenty of moms who have done it. But I know what I’d have to sacrifice and I’m just not willing to go there. Yet. Besides, I’ve had fun experimenting with other modes of fitness. I’m now hooked on a strength class at the gym and discovered kick boxing. All this talk about kettlebells has piqued my interest. I would have never considered myself a “group fitness” person before, but I’m having a lot of fun with it, staying fit (which is really the purpose right now), and not feeling too stressed about being too much mother or too much athlete. I’m at a happy place with both.
Q: Do you have any mental tricks that you use when you just don’t feel like working out?
The first trick is don’t take a shower if you know you want to work out that day. Just slip on your workout clothes and, like a lion in waiting, pounce on the opportunity when it appears. That may not be so easy if you work in an office, but keep your mind set to it (and your gym bag at the ready) so you can make it happen. I think having a training buddy is another great way to keep you on task. Having a fitness journal helps too. When you’re successful filling up a week with workouts, it can motivate you to keep the momentum going.
Q: Which do you think is easier–running a marathon or childbirth?
Well, neither is easy, but both are pleasurable. Yes, for some pleasurable running and pleasurable childbirth sound like an oxymoron, but for me they are both connected to discovering the greatness of my body, the beyond-my-expectations abilities, experiencing the physical, mental and spiritual connection. I wrote about the different ways they are hard in this essay, but I wish (oh, here comes the soapbox, but I can’t help getting on it…) that women would treat childbirth more like the physical event that it is. I’m assuming that anyone reading this blog values their fitness, and as such, willingly puts themselves through the rigors of exercise, maybe even “pain,” for the benefit of cardiovascular fitness and a toned butt. So why do we avoid the challenge of natural childbirth? How is it that we avoid over-the-counter-meds, alcohol, caffeine, and second-hand smoke for nine months and then walk into a hospital asking for a spinal injection of narcotics? I’m all for interventions–when they are needed–but more than half of all birth are induced, which leads us down a slippery slope of unnecessary interventions. All the arguments about better outcomes for moms and babies aside, let’s just focus on birthing as fit moms, as athletes, if you will. If your girlfriend is training for a marathon, would you ever tell her, “You’re never going to make it. You’re probably going to need help along the way. Your body isn’t capable of running 26.2 miles.” And yet, when you were pregnant, how often did you hear: “You should just get the epidural.” I know I heard it (which is just one of many reasons I didn’t have one, because it pissed me off–“oh yeah, watch me do this without it!”) Women have been brainwashed into thinking they’re not strong enough, not physically capable of bearing children, and then we perpetuate that myth amongst ourselves. We we are capable, we are strong enough, but we need support. We need to be told birth is nothing to fear. We need to be reminded of our strength, of our power, of our confidence in our body. I needed all those reassurances when I was training for endurance races and I made sure before having my babies I surrounded myself with that same support before and during the birth. I think some people assume that because I’ve finished Ironman triathlons and marathons that I can therefore endure natural childbirth (read: she must be a masochist!) But, as I pointed out in the essay, the experiences are very different. What makes them the same, though, is the support and confidence you need to get through them, and, of course, the empowerment you gain after. So next time you talk to a pregnant woman, just tell her: You GO Girl! I better step down off my soap box now…
Q: Random question: If you could go anywhere in the world, where you go and would you bring your kids with you?
Too hard! Can’t decide! I’ve been to so many places I’d love to return to (New Zealand is top of mind) and yet there are so many places I haven’t been: Europe, India, Africa, not to mention many places in the United States. I wouldn’t mind traveling with my girls at all…. in time. We are just now getting beyond temper tantrums in airplanes so the thought of flying to say, New Zealand, in the near future doesn’t exactly blow my skirt up. So, if I could go anywhere in the world right now… at this moment, if you make me choose… deep breath… what is it? what is it? I’d go back to Santa Fe with my husband, where we spent our honeymoon almost 10 years ago. Phew. That was tough. But I should start planning that trip…
Thank you Kara, you have inspired me to drag my bike out to the driveway and seize any workout opportunity I can get!