66 days to change: With a little help from my friends

The original title of this blog was ‘How Running Saved Me’ but I thought that was a tad dramatic. I


The original title of this blog was ‘How Running Saved Me’ but I thought that was a tad dramatic. I promise not to talk about the religion of running ‘ because if you know runners, you know that it can be a religion. When you are standing in the rain with 2,000 runners at a race, pushing through torrential downpour because you’ve trained hard, you are one of them. A bit crazy? That’s running.

So, when I decided I would train for my first half-marathon when my son was four months old, I’m certain my family and friends were worried, though they never voiced it. In hindsight, it was one of the sanest things I have done.

I had run for years but never committed to a race. After my son was born, I needed a goal: beyond losing the baby weight ‘ though running helped with that ‘ I needed something for myself, beyond the long days and nights of breastfeeding, diapers, little sleep, and taking care of the kids. After everything we had been through I never wanted to complain – having two healthy children is life’s greatest gift. But, I was exhausted. I knew running would help, so I laced up my shoes.

You might think a half-marathon challenge was the last thing my sleep-deprived self should have done. But, studies show the exact opposite is true: exercise is the best thing you can do to battle fatigue. Sedentary people, who exercised at a low-to-moderate intensity, 3-5 days a week for six consecutive weeks ‘reported feeling less fatigued and more energized. I know I did.

I am certain I would not have done those long runs without the amazing support of my husband, who watched the kids all those hours, or my friend Glennis. The moment I told her I wanted to run the Miami half-marathon, Glennis was in; she came knocking on my door Saturday mornings, dragging me on the open road. We clocked hills and did speed work. On days where the temperature dropped well below zero, where I had been up with the baby several times, days where neither of us felt like running, we went ‘ and we were that much happier after we finished. Running the Beaches boardwalk, or the Toronto Beltline, we shared what was going on in our lives. Those moments not only helped prepare me to race, but they kept my feet on the ground. I vented more than once, and Glennis listened. It probably went the other way, too.

Research from the U.K. shows that I’m a textbook example of how friendship affects fitness and health.  Two-thirds of women reported that they try harder when they exercise with a friend. But there were even more benefits: women who exercise together train longer, burn more calories and go to the gym more often ‘ their friends are a motivating factors for staying in shape. Fitness is better with friends.

The night before my first half-marathon, I stayed in Glennis’ room ‘ I sent my husband and children back to our hotel so I could get a good night’s sleep. We went and ‘carb-loaded’ with our friend Geoff who was also racing the next day. Geoff is not only a great friend, but also gave me my first job in fitness (and is one of my biggest mentors). Geoff and Glennis were both experienced runners and helped pump me up psychologically. In the morning, Glennis pinned my number on my tank top, and at the starting line we hugged; I’m sure I blubbered something about how much being together meant to me.

Since then, Glennis and I have trained for other races, and we have promised we will travel every couple of years to run in a cool destination. We’ve got our sights on California and the Las Vegas Rock ‘n Roll Marathon.

It was fitting that this week, when I told her about my 66-day yoga challenge, Glennis signed up for the same Ashtanga class. If anyone is going to get kicked out for gigging in a pose, it will be us. As we lay in Shivasana, I counted my blessings ‘ my health, family and abundance of friends.

My challenge to you is this: call one of your friends and go to a spin or yoga class, meet for a brisk walk, beat the winter blues and go swimming, or embrace the weather and head out skating.  Make a fitness date ‘ and see if that can become a new habit.

I finished my first half-marathon in under two hours ‘ and Glennis and I threw our arms around each other at the finish line. It was a huge accomplishment. And the best part was, I had done it with my friend.

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Erin Phelan is a fitness trainer and mom of two. She’s a regular contributor to Best Health and will be blogging here every Tuesday and Friday for the next 66 days.