Wednesday, September 7, 2011

College and Beyond: The Workout Slump

I got a a great question from a reader, Hannah who is in college and trying to maintain fitness. She wanted to know what I did to stay in shape in college.

Umm…let’s see. There was Dominoes pizza and keg beer and donut holes every Tuesday morning at the dining hall. I got a lot of exercise diving off the fireplace mantel at Lamda Chi and running to class because I was late.


I still did have a little gymnast in me, though:


There were the occasional bursts of motivation my freshman year as the pounds crept on. I would go out to move my body in some way, shape or form (aerobics was cool at the time). My 8th floor dorm room overlooked the school track.  At that point in my life track and cross country and anything running were completely foreign to me. I had never run a race or further than two miles. I never once ran on that track (I did however, rappel off of my building. See me go:).


The actual view from my room:


JMU – Go Dukes!

I pretty much did NOTHING until my junior year. My apartment-mate had run marathons and had become a strong cyclist. She introduced me to riding. I bought a bike and we would go on 20 to 30 mile rides through the Mennonite country east of the small town of Harrisonburg, Virginia. I fell in love with cycling, with being out in the open country and away from college life for a few hours. Plus, the calories burned gave me more of an excuse to eat and drink crap. Yet, I still only did this once a week or so.

Cycling became kind of my haven, my escape. It also kept me in semi-shape. At that time I hated my thighs, which I thought were too big (i.e., muscular). My boyfriend at the time encouraged me to stop cycling if I wanted smaller thighs and to lay around more. He was such a  good influence.


Of course I am the one with her dress hiked up the highest

I wish I could say I did more, but really, I was inconsistent at best. I ate terribly. I drank cheap beer.  My favorite food was Velveeta mac and cheese with brussel spouts thrown in (preferably eaten at midnight). I spent a semester in Paris where I sat on my ass and ate almond croissants and drank huge bowls of cafĂ© au lait for breakfast (yes, you know if you’ve spent time in France, they are bowls, not cups or mugs. Best way ever to have coffee, IMHO).

I guess this all goes to show you that it is not the end of the world if you aren’t in tip top shape while in college or at certain points in your life. We all go through ups and downs, times when we’re quite fit and times when our pants are tight and we hibernate.

For me, with all of the social and academic distractions of college, I just didn’t make tons of time for working out. While I gained a few pounds (5-10?) it wasn’t the end of the world. I did what I could to be active, but weight and exercise did not rule my life.

But, it is never too late. My true secret is that I am the poster child for doing very little until I turned 40, then getting in good shape. Sure I cycled some in college and the years following, but once I started grad school and then began popping out kids, I literally did nothing for an entire decade.

While I’m not advocating being a sloth and slug, I am saying that if you have been pretty inactive for years, or gained a bunch of weight while pregnant and then sat around for awhile, it’s okay. Start now.

Pick a goal, big or small and go for it. You don’t have to jump to marathon right off the bat – but pick something you can work towards and be proud of. Take the word CAN’T out of your vocabulary and never let anyone talk you out of doing something you want to do. In fact, never let yourself talk you out of something you want to do.

You’ve heard the saying, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” Think about that. Now, think about it again. This is the one life you get, right here, right now. How do you want to live it? Do you want to turn around in four, five, ten years and realize you are in the same place you were before? Take charge. It is YOU who has the most to lose of you don’t make it happen. Plus, the people around you have a lot to gain from you being the happiest, most fulfilled self you can be.

Have you been in exercise/training slumps? How do you pull yourself out?

What was your college workout routine? Slug or superstar?

Ever been rappelling?



  1. I'm in the process of getting back into shape. In college, I got way too interested in boys, discovered the wonders of alcohol and Little Debbie cakes for hangovers, and gained 30 pounds. Considering I started college at 97 pounds (I'm 5'6"), half of those pounds were a good thing. Now I'm newly married, 30 is approaching quickly, and I'm trying to lose some of the "fluff" around the middle before my metabolism slows down completely. Just getting out and running a few days a week has already boosted my energy levels, I feel better about myself, and I love that happy place I go to during a run.

  2. I used to run run run everywhere as a child and as soon as puberty hit I did nothing for 20 years! Then I did the occasional fitness cd that was the craze but those only would last a couple weeks. But 40 is the MAGIC number in life when your body begins to erode faster than a bike left outside in the rain! I started with a bang at 43 with a sprint triathlon and the 3 miles at then end turned me onto the possibility I could RUN! Now at 45 I am training for my first half marathon and I AM LOVING THE POWER I FEEL WHEN I RUN! So yes! IT's NEVER TOO LATE - start when you finally realize only YOU have the power to get fit and make the last half your best half!

  3. College had a bit of running here and there and because I went to UC Davis, bike capital of the world, I rode my 1990 Specialized Hard Rock all over town (it was teal green/blue with purple "lightning"-type writing on it). But it wasn't until I finished my MA two years ago that I approached any workouts consistently. In the meantime I ate crap and drank a lot of cheap beer, wine coolers and bacardi 151.

  4. PS...Better late than never.. that's my motto.

  5. Yup, was my heaviest in college, over 255lbs AND on the XC team (yeah... I am THAT good at being fat haha).

    Pulled myself out with disgust. I hated what I saw in the mirror, I hated being out of breath climbing stairs.

    Yes, a couple times.

  6. When we were first married and living in MD, I used to stop my gym workouts when I started to sweat. This drove my husband INSANE because we usually rode over together after work. Now if I run, bike or take a bootcamp class and am NOT pouring sweat when I'm done, I think of the class or run as a failure. Still not right, but getting there!

  7. i wish i could help...went to college originally to play soccer. didnt make the cut, so instead i drank and ate my face off. graduated at 180 pounds - a whopping 40 pounds heavier than i am right now. yeah gross.

  8. Yep. When I was in college, I ate bagel, doritos and chocolate chip cookies for breakfast lunch & dinner. Then, I finally saw myself in the mirror and hated what I saw. For some reason, running sounded fun. None of my friends did it, but I made it my own.

  9. Great topic!

    I was overweight, unhealthy and out of shape most of my life until I took up running in my mid-20s. Thank goodness I didn't wait any longer...

  10. I dabbled in aerobics and stair-mastering during college, but still weighed a solid 40 lbs. more than I do now. It's funny...I always had it in my head that I just *couldn't* run...even as a kid, I wouldn't even try to run the 1 mile physical fitness test in gym class for fear of utter humiliation. Once I had kids and realized what my body was truly capable of (who knew one's belly could ever stretch that far!), something in me clicked, and I just decided to try for a run one day. And no, I didn't fall in love with it immediately, but somewhere along the way I went from dreading my evening runs to viewing them as practically sacred, and ever since then, staying physically fit has been pretty easy for me (getting rid of the peanut M&M dispenser that I had in my college dorm room helped, too!).

  11. I gained a TON of weight during college and at my study abroad time. One day I just woke up and decided to get my shit in gear!

  12. Thanks for writing this!
    I am currently in college and will be for the next two years. I think I view running and lifting as a way to lose weight but I don't want that to be my outlook. I want to do it because it's fun and makes me happy and gives me a connection with my best friends. It's hard to get rid that negative mindset though.

  13. I love this because I can relate, especially to the not doing much until later in life thing.

    I never ran, I had an occasional spurt of exercise and dieting thru out my life and then at nearly 200 pounds and at 38 years old began running.

    For only a minute at first. Now a year and a half later, and 60 less pounds (total of 96) I'll be running my 4th half next month and completed my first full this past June.

    You are right. It is never too late to start doing stuff.

  14. I love this too! I get mad at myself sometimes when I'm going through my "lazy" periods, but I need to sit back and remember that life is comprised of so many parts. Things can always change :) Thanks for the reminder!

  15. I like the message of this post so much :)

    I was always pretty active (though not at all athletic) from age 12 through my 30's. Then I got hurt. I think it was childbirth that did my body in.

    I rowed in college and so was pretty disciplined. I think having a 'governingPR body' dictating my workouts and a team to do them with helped tremendously.

    Rappelling!!! I have only done it at a climbing gym…so FUN!!!

  16. I get in slumps but I also have surrounded myself with active people that will hound me until I join them for a run or ride if I haven't been out in awhile.Otherwise, I pick a race and start a training plan to get moving again.
    In college, a definite slug!

  17. Is that the JMU Lakers? If so, then we have more in common than farting and laughing at farting as my school was the Lakers too!!!! I tell ya!

    I lifted weights my freshman year to stay in tip top shape and to pick up the babes. I then ran with my fraternity in the middle of the night in the woods while pledging and also being a Pledge Master (overachiever I know!)

    I also played flag football but none of this mattered as I ate BUCKETS and BUCKETS of chicken wings while washing those down with Southern Comfort or some other cheap swill.

  18. I was my largest in college (that's INCLUDING my pregnancies) at about 190 (I never actually got on the scale until I had been trying to lose weight for a couple of months). I lost all of the excess (over 60lbs) shortly after graduating by increasing my exercise (from zero to some) and changing how much I ate (I didn't eliminate anything, just ate much less).

    I just started running in January - 3 months before I turned 39 - and have run two 5K's, dropping my time by almost 3 minutes. I have goals now that have nothing to do with how I look in my skinny jeans (although that IS a nice bonus). And that's always my motto: Do what you can, when you can.

    My grandmother (who will be 91 in Nov) lives her life by this philosophy: Why sit when you can stand; why stand when you can walk; why walk when you can RUN? Seriously. Why?

    Thanks for being a constant inspiration!

  19. Mid-80s college workout regime: Jane Fonda on cassette tape in the dorm lounge every now and then + Domino's pizza in the dorm lounge every night. Well, not every night....

  20. My son just went rappelling down my chimmeny the other day - he thinks it's cool when I scream my lungs out at him while he's in a harness! I'm not showing him this pic of you, he may get kicked out of school for this! :)

  21. I'm laughing so hard at your college routine & pictures! Sounds very similar to mine (even Lambda Chi!). Other than running from the cops, I never ran in college either (went to college in a "dry" town, the cops loved to bust keg parties in the woods...anyway!). Started by signing up for The Race for the Cure 5K after college and got hooked. Several 5Ks, 10K's and a half marathon later...still running! Took a few years off when I had kids, but always come back to running. It gives you a high nothing else (legal) can!

  22. This was the best "quit giving me excuses get your butt off the couch and just do it" post thanks....makes me glad I just did a little 30 minute shred with Jillian since I didn't have time for any thing else today!!

    And I know all about cheap beer and pizza in college but I also know about the "freshmen 15" ;-)

  23. i too basically drank beer and ate french fries through out college. i was lucky b/c i was a toothpick and could eat crap all day and never gained a pound so there was NO incentive for me to work out. i think i went for a run once and fell - had my knee in a leg cast and figured i was better off staying in and drinking as i never got hurt from that. i too did not start my working out and stuff till late in life and i am soooo pissed i did not start earlier as i believe the weight would have never stuck after babies had i been in shape.

  24. I love this post!

    I did yoga 2x a week and that was it besides an occasional game of tennis. I didn't start running until 3 mo after graduating. I am more active now, but also weigh more than I did in college. I'm going to call it "muscle"...

  25. This was so fun to read about you in college. You make me want to go to paris and drink caffeine! :) In college I did workout a lot because I was on a track and cross country scholarship but I ate like crap! a box of mac n' cheese with peas, a block of cheese, or whatever my roommates brought home and didn't finish (they both worked at pizza places) was my diet. I was a good 10 lbs more than I am now. It wasn't really until after kids that I got in really great total body shape and started running better than I had before. Yes, never too late to start!!
    rappelling...yes! So fun and scary at the same time.

  26. I was a slug in college. However my tolerance was fantastic. I mean, I could drink 12 beers and only be a little tipsy. Now? Like, 4 gets me a little drunk! Pathetic!

  27. I loved this post because it came right after my weekend with my best friend from college where we reminisced about our very own college days. We met in an exercise class on campus - which explains it all. I lost the freshman 15 instead of gaining it. I learned how to eat better and became very active. I also drank my weight in keystone light on a weekly basis but that's besdie the point.

    Seize the day! :)

  28. Slump means drink more wine, then get more sleep. Try for sex.
    No college workouts.
    No rappelling.

    The "start now" applies no matter when now is. I was in my late 40's when I started back in the pool, and very very late 40's when I started the run and bike thing.

  29. I was a gymnast in high school so when I went to college everyone was fascinated with my flexibility. I used to do the splits and flips in the dorms and we called it 'gym-nasty' cause all the dudes thought it was super hot.

    Then one night after drinking too much Mike's Hard Lemonade at another dorm I did some gymnasty in the common area and ended up with really bad rug burn. No more drunk gymnasty for this girl :)

  30. All through university I weighed 49kg (108lb). But slowly, over the years, the weight crept on. I would go through stages of gym (pre-wedding) attendence, but at age 41 I was 77kg (170lb), had high blood pressure,underactive thyroid and migraines. So this year I started C25K (again) and kept going. I'm not super fast and the weight is very slowly coming off. But I'm still running! I intend to keep this up for as long as I breathe.

  31. This is a pretty awesome post. I agree with the "start now" philosophy for sure!
    In undergrad I ran two miles a day, every day, around campus. The route was a loop that began and ended at the gym, and after 2 miles I'd do 1/2 hour of weights. It took less than an hour, shower included, so it was a great college work out. Then I went to pharmacy school and did zilch while I worked two jobs and ran everything on campus. Then I graduated and ran a bunch of marathons. The end.

  32. Great written post, BUT I'm not commenting on your words of wisdom but on the priceless pictures! The clothes, the haircut, everything! AWESOMENESS.

  33. I got into the calzones and sorority parties. But was on the equestrian team for two years. Not a whole lot of exercise there. It wasn't until I was 38 when I started running and then it took me 5 years before running my first 5K.

  34. I was actually the opposite of you in college, but still unhealthy. I ran xc in college=tons of miles!! But I ate very little and go sick(stupid ed came telling me littlier means running faster). So...i never ate crap. I literally ran my butt (which was small to begin with). Now, 6yrs later, I still rin lots, but I eat and I'm happy. :) I'm just not as fast. I'm just thankful I can run. It's a blessing for sure.

  35. In college, I was the equivalent of the energizer bunny if the energizer bunny wasn't pink, was 6'4'' and played any sport available instead of a drum. (For the first 3 yrs at least) then came my decade of inactivity. My future wife challenge me to run a 5k 2 yrs ago... now the decade of inactivity has nearly been erased and I have wonderful race experiences that I can share with someone.

  36. Well, it's kind of late to be commenting on this post but I just started reading your blog yesterday so I was going through the archives because I was quite entertained...anyway, this post really hit home for me as a college senior. I walked onto the swim team my freshman year at my university. It's a D1 school with a pretty strong team, so I knew I'd be in over my head but I like a challenge. So, I trained hard all freshman year, ate whatever I wanted but was in great shape and performed at a lifetime best level. A few months into my sophomore year I was cut from the team (because there were a few too many girls and my coach is a jerk but that's another story). Unfortunately, my way of thinking, contrary to what you've explained in your post, was that if I didn't continue to train at that elite level, I'd forever be an out-of-shape slob and would never have that level of fitness again. So I trained with the club team and still with the varsity team a few times a week, took up running, and restricted calories for good measure. Needless to say I lost about 15 lbs from an already thin frame, my athletic performance was crap, and I was miserable. Junior year I made varsity again, but by late fall I was fed up and decided I wanted to study abroad. Determined not to waste my four months living in the Caribbean (yes I studied abroad in the Caribbean and it was AWESOME!!) I exercised like a person with higher-than-average but still sane levels of discipline and motivation. Yes, I gained some weight (probably a good thing, really) but I learned that taking some time off from being a superintense athlete doesn't mean that I'll be a bum forever. I didn't go back to swimming, now I'm training for a marathon and I may not be as ripped as I once was but I'm running faster than ever and I have confidence in my ability to get in great shape whenever I need to, even if I don't stay that way 100% of the time : )

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