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Child's Play?

An exercise-obsessed mom shifts into baby gear


Published May 8, 2007 at 8:02 p.m.

When I was pregnant with my daughter last year, I nearly burned my parents' house to the ground. I mistakenly lit the gas burner under an electric kettle for a cup of tea, then left the kitchen. I did other mindless things, too. I cut off a significant portion of my hair. I inhaled a Friendly's caramel cone sundae right before dinner. And I foolishly believed that my active life would return to normal once I had the baby.

Oh, I had a vague notion of dirty diapers, sleepless nights and the demands of a nursing baby. But babies sleep a lot, right? So I figured I'd be running on the bike path again in no time. I'd probably even be training for another Boston Marathon during those long naps. Skiing? No problem. I'd just pop the baby in the Bjorn for trips to Sugarbush, Stowe or Catamount.

Mindless? Moronic is more like it.

Like most new moms, I was immediately sucked into the vortex of an alternate reality that flip-flopped the days and nights and smelled like Dreft detergent. I was effectively on house arrest. I did all my Christmas shopping at Shaw's. (My husband was thrilled with his pack of elastic bands.)

Exercise? Oh, please - wrestling on a too-tight sports bra was only part of the problem. Because I was up all night, my early-morning runs of the past were unthinkable. That nixed getting outdoors, alone, before my husband went to work. And a newborn is too small and fragile for a jogging stroller. Somebody suggested bringing her to the gym and leaving her in the car seat next to me on the treadmill. I was hesitant, considering my history with treadmills: A few years ago, I flew off a Life Fitness and got wedged between the wall and the spinning rubber. I still have the scars.

In February, we drove to Jay Peak, hoping to find some scraps of the Valentine's Day powder. Instead, we took turns pacing with the baby in the battle zone of the base lodge; I dodged ski boots and over-hyped Red Bull addicts while my husband waited in line for a single measly run. When I did pop the baby in the Bjorn, I nearly gave her frostbite on a too-long snowshoe trek. And when I ventured over to Lake Placid to try a luge run on another February evening, the outing turned into a meltdown for both daughter and dad after I disappeared to slide down the track.

OK, so maybe the luge run was pushing it. But I'm glad to learn that my other workout woes - suffered in the midst of, yes, unlimited joy with my child - have been shared by other weary parents.

"When my kids were newborns, I was definitely up a lot at night, so [I] didn't get the regular exercise I craved, and it took months to fall back into a regular daily routine," says Elzy Wick, an avid Burlington runner and mom of 3-and-a-half-year-old Alex and 13-month-old Daniel. "It took a painfully long time for either of my kids to start sleeping through the night, so sleep deprivation made it hard to get up each morning."

Rebecca Raskin, another Burlington mom and regular runner, followed her doctor's orders to stay off her feet until her girls (now 3 and 4-and-a-half) were 6 weeks old. Then she almost immediately began walking for at least an hour every morning with a baby sling. At home, Raskin did whatever exercises she could before the babies began wailing.

"I tried to do something, even if I only had the time for two minutes of weights," she says. "I had some baby blues with both kids, and getting exercise was so helpful in getting me through the adjustment to motherhood."

It was only a matter of time before someone found a way to cater to new moms who wanted to get moving. A few years ago, California fitness instructor Lisa Druxman turned new-baby beefs - and a reluctance to drop her son at daycare during her workouts - into a multimillion-dollar business. She launched Stroller Strides, a class that incorporates infants into power-walking and interval sessions. Since then, the program has rolled all over the country, with more than 300 locations and 15,000 participants.

Though there's currently no Stroller Strides program in Chittenden County, the Sports & Fitness Edge in Essex recently began offering Stroller Circuits. It's a twice-weekly cardio and weights class where pushy moms can get buff with their babies. The class lasts 45 minutes, "which for infants is just about the right length," says Kim Graham, group fitness director.

Graham has invented her own ways to stay ripped around rugrats. "When I was at home with the kids, I'd try to do crunches with one of them on my legs - there are things you can do when you're just horsing around," says Graham. "I used to do pull-ups on the monkey bars when I was hanging out at the playground with my kids, and they'd think it was hilarious."

There's no horsing around at this month's Vermont City Marathon. For safety reasons, USA Track and Field, the race's governing body, doesn't allow strollers. But this Sunday, May 13, fleet-footed moms and dads will be wheeling through Rutland's first-ever Mother's Day Stroller Run, a 5K road race in which parents get VIP treatment.

"All the races I was going to, the strollers were getting sent to the back of the pack, if they were even allowed," says race director and longtime runner Ron Boucher. Not this time. And he promises, "We've found probably the flattest three miles in Vermont."

According to New England Runner, the Stroller Run is the only race of its kind among 1700 events the magazine covers. To give bleary-eyed moms a break, the race will begin at 3 p.m.; the official starter is Vermont First Lady Dorothy Douglas.

As anyone who's ever pushed a BabyJogger can attest, the race will hardly be a cakewalk. "Running with a jogging stroller is a whole different exercise," says Wick. "Your upper body is engaged, so, while providing a great cardio workout, it also helps to build the upper and lower body strength."

Though my daughter is still a bit young for the BabyJogger, I've learned a few things about how to stay fit and stave off the mom jeans. Like how to time naps so she sleeps in the gym nursery - and how to run safely on the treadmill. No Boston Marathon this year, but I'm aiming to run half of Vermont City, and to finish just in time for another feeding.

My shopping circle has expanded beyond Shaw's to the online world, where I've found a cushy Kelty backpack for hikes this summer. Now, if I could just figure out how to do a safe luge run with baby on board.

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