Wait, I Can’t Just Go For a Run?: Staying Fit with a Newborn by Steve Lerer

SAFit

Steve Lerer is the Assistant Director for Student Life at the University of California, Merced. He serves as the advisor to the Associated Students and coordinator for Leadership Programs. Steve is currently training for his first Olympic distance triathlon which will be held this September. He lives in Merced with his wife, Virginia, their three-month-old daughter Samantha Beth, and their dog Bella. Steve can be reached on Twitter at @stevelerer or check out his blog, stevelerer.com

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As a child I grew up a little heavy, or ‘husky,’ according to my caring parents. I didn’t really get fit until high school when I took up wrestling as my primary sport and realized how a fit body aids in maintaining a fit mind and spirit. All three are of great importance and, for me, when health is out of balance, the other two follow soon after. In fact, things got a bit out of alignment while in college and I gained a significant amount of weight, ending at 210 pounds; sixty above my high school weight. As a result, I started to struggle mentally and ended up diagnosed with depression and on medication.

In my last year as an undergraduate, I was determined to manage my own issues so I stopped the medication, started eating healthy, and among other things, began riding a bike all across town. The result? When I started my first year of graduate school, I was fifty pounds lighter, mentally stable, and ready to get to work.

What I’ve realized is that I am healthiest when I stick to an exercise schedule because my mind is most clear when it is just me and the open road. My big unhealthy trigger is that major life change consistently sidelines all fitness goals. This reoccurring theme happened not just in college but also when I moved to UC Riverside, got married, and moved to UC Merced. While none were as bad as the first, nothing compares to the change a newborn brings to bare.

Honestly, I thought I was prepared to be a dad. I had worked in residence life for seven years; I knew what being tired felt like. I was used to being up in the middle of the night for seemly random reasons. A baby would be no problem. Well, my daughter made it abundantly clear right away that I had no idea what I was talking about.

I had spent 20 weeks training for my first Olympic Distance Triathlon, to be held on May 5th of this year. I was pumped up and ready to go – having trained over 200 miles in my final peak week and more than 2,500 miles overall. I was in my best shape since high school and couldn’t have been more ready for the challenge. And then, on Friday, May 3rd, when I was dropping Virginia off at work, she said, “Can you pull into a parking spot? I need to go check something.” Eight hours later, at 4:29 p.m., Samantha Beth Lerer was born and my triathlon plans were no more. (Just to be clear, I could care less that I missed the triathlon. Those come every year; I’ll be fine).

Again, what happened next was not surprising. After four weeks of almost no sleep, fear of every new sound, and a complete halt to exercise, I had packed on ten pounds and my mind felt completely muddled. I was irritable, angry, and it was coming through in my work and in my interactions with Virginia. It all came to a head one night when Virginia was trying to put Sam to sleep and I was watching TV with them in the bedroom. Virginia asked me to turn down the volume and then proceeded to ask me to turn off the TV because Sam was getting startled and unable to fall asleep. For some reason, I couldn’t fathom that the TV at such a low volume would do anything like that and decided that I would argue the point. I claimed that it was, in fact, her talking that was the problem and if I had to turn off the TV well then she should stop talking as well. Then I shut off the TV and went to sleep in a huff.

Disclaimer: I am by no means proud of this interaction and continue to feel like a complete idiot when thinking about that night.

The next morning, after apologizing, I decided that I desperately needed to go for a bike ride. After a hard 15 miles and then another 3.5 to work, it felt like the cobwebs had cleared. I had my most productive day at work in over a month and then was able to come home, clean, cook dinner, and help for real.  I realized then that I need to factor training back into the schedule. It is better for me and for my family to have a dad and husband who is healthy and gone a few hours a day than one who is around but muddled and snappy.

After the past few weeks, I have tried to sort out some good tenants of staying fit with a newborn that I wish to share today. I think many can be applied more broadly and can help others stay fit in other situations.

Be Open and Honest

It is important to be honest with yourself and those around you when you are feeling out of sorts. Having the responsibility of caring for a newborn is intense and scary and is the biggest learn-on-the-job experience you will ever have. If you have had a rough day or just need a little time out, ask for it. This is a better policy than doing nothing and exploding into a ball of emotions at really inappropriate times.

Be Flexible

Before Sam, I had a training schedule and for 20 weeks only missed one, yes one, day of training. Now, I still have a training schedule. It sits on my refrigerator and I look at it every day, but everything is flexible. When Sam has a rough night and regresses to hourly meals, I take her in the morning so Virginia can get more sleep. If a six mile run is not in the cards, maybe lacing up for two or adding miles to my bike ride to work will get more through the day. I can’t just declare, “Well the plan says do this, so it must happen.” Flexibility is the key to sustained success in balancing a newborn and training.

Negotiate

Everyone’s child and situation will be different. My triathlon training plans call for me to do something in the morning and at night on most days but this no longer works for Virginia. She wants me to stay home once I get home from work. So, we negotiated that I get the mornings to train (as long as Sam has a good night). Now I wake up at 4am so that I can run and swim or bike and weight train. It was a tough adjustment, but it works for us. You just need to figure out how to negotiate the best plan for you.

When the Time Comes, Buy a Jogging Stroller

Also, buy that attachment for the back of your bike. And nice ones, as there are some things where quality construction is important. No one wants a jogging stroller with the unruly wheel you often see on shopping carts. Sharing in the experience of exercise will help you bond with your kids. It also gives you more flexibility and gives your partner a much-needed break. You may also start to develop little fitness gurus who will start exercising with you when they are old enough.

Continue to do Something

With children in the picture, you can easily stop taking care of yourself. This is not just bad for you, it sets a poor example for your kids. Does everyone need to run marathons and triathlons? Of course not. But do something, even if that something is thirty minutes of Hip Hop Abs each morning. It doesn’t matter, as long as you get moving.

Ask for Some Flexibility at Work (And Provide it When the Time Comes)

We work in a field where we throw around the words wellness, balance, and support all the time. Let’s give them to each other and expect them for ourselves. If you need to adjust your schedule a little or find time to exercise at work, ask for it. As long as you show results, student affairs supervisors should encourage a balanced lifestyle, whatever that means for you.

It is my hope to use these tools to be a better father, husband, and Student Affairs Professional. With a fit mind, body, and spirit, Sam, Virginia, and I will do just fine.

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