Run like a girl

Want to whip your body into shape? Get moving!

The house is quiet as I slip out the door. I sit on the front step while I lace up my runners and fiddle with my iPod to find my favourite playlist. For the next 30 minutes, it’s just me, Fergie and The Killers — my a.m. A-team.

I’m a runner. It took giving birth to three kids to get me here, but I finally found an exercise that transforms my body and my mind. I’m not alone in my passion: Moms across the country run to stay fit and chill out.

“Running is my escape from the demands and stresses of every day,” explains Alexandra O’Brien from Victoria. “It can be many things. An easy run along the waterfront is a great time to think and reflect, while a hard track workout or hill repetitions keep me focused only on the workout.”

O’Brien ran a bit before having her son Nicholas, now eight, but she didn’t really get into it until he was six months old. Her first race was 10 kilometres when Nicholas was one, and she’s been in many other races since then, including four 42.2 kilometre marathons.

But you don’t have to be a marathon mama to reap the rewards of a runner’s lifestyle. Not only is running a low-cost form of exercise, it can be done just about anywhere, anytime, and can be worked into even the most packed schedule. Read on for how you can become a runner too.

Get motivated I love the solo time on my runs, but for some people, bonding over a jog is much more motivating and fun. Don’t have a like-minded pal? Consider joining a running club, which can also help you learn proper technique. Some clubs cater to moms with tots in strollers; others stick to grown-up groups.

Start slowly “Running gives you an amazing feeling, but it can be tough when you first begin,” explains Sebastien Rahman, a certified personal trainer in Toronto. The key to staying the course, he says, is starting slow. “Your tendons, ligaments, knees and lower back need to adjust to the impact on the ground, and your heart and lungs need to adapt to higher intensities.” (See Getting started for interval suggestions.)

Go the distance Once you can run for a half-hour, build up by adding about 10 percent of your time or distance each week or two, so your body can adjust, says Lea Amaral, owner of Energia Athletics in Toronto.

Interval training (short bursts of speed mixed with your normal pace) will help you burn fat and run faster. Rahman suggests adding 10 seconds of quick running, followed by one to two minutes of walking or jogging, to your normal run. Add 10 more seconds each week, until you can give it all you’ve got for one to two minutes.

Run safely Prevent injury by stretching after a run while your muscles are still warm. Mix up your exercise routine occasionally for overall body conditioning. Hop on the elliptical machine for no-impact exercise, and add some yoga or Pilates to lengthen your muscles. And since running relies on a strong core to support proper form, it’s a good idea to work in a few exercises that focus on your stomach and back.

Shelf life Whether you’re 32A or 44E, when you run, boobs bounce. This not only hurts, but too much vertical movement can stretch, or even tear, the ligaments surrounding breasts, leading to sagging. A good sports bra features several seams for extra support and compresses the breasts to the body. Other styles encompass each breast for all-around hold, says Jennifer Klein, owner of Secrets from Your Sister bra boutiques in Toronto. Adjustable straps and breathable fabric are also critical, explains Silvia Ruegger, a former Olympic marathoner and national sales representative for Moving Comfort. Breasts should comfortably fill out the cups without spilling over, and movement should be minimal to nil when jumping and running.

Try:
Big bust: Tata Tamer, $58, lululemon.com
Nursing: Moving Comfort, Fiona Bra, $55, movingcomfort.com
Small to medium bust: Shock Absorber, Level 4 Max No Wire Sports Bra, $55, importationsburton.com

Why it works Running, says Victoria exercise physiologist and mom of two Lori Zehr, offers multiple health benefits:

Calorie kicker: The moderate- to high-intensity activity uses many upper and lower body muscle groups, burning on average up to 300 calories in a 30-minute run.

Bone builder: Since running is a weight-bearing exercise, it helps prevent bone loss in the lower limbs.

Heart helper: When you raise your heart rate and keep it at a challenging level, you are strengthening your cardiovascular system.

Stress buster: Running releases exercise-induced endorphins for a “runner’s high.”

Balance booster: Tackling uneven surfaces on trails or cross-country runs builds agility.