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How to stay motivated with your fitness routine
Kim Cowart and friends meet in the pre-dawn hours to finish a long run. - photo by Kim Cowart
When the alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m., contrary to popular belief, I do not jump out of bed shouting, Hooray! Its time to run! Wahoo! There is no pep in my step. I'm neither bright-eyed nor bushy-tailed. My husband knows better than to talk to me for at least a good 30 minutes after Im up. Ive mastered the art of dressing with my eyes closed, as if this counts as extra sleep.

I teach strength training, boot camp and cycle at the gym in addition to squeezing in my own running and cycling training. It can be tiring, not just physically but mentally, especially when Im training for an endurance event like a marathon or a century bike ride. As much as I hate setting my alarm clock every night, Im still at it. What gives? What keeps me from hitting snooze or turning off the alarm all together and just rolling over for more shut-eye?

Here are a few things that help me ignore my inner slug and motivate myself out the door.

1. Podcasts I am a podcast junkie and there are a couple shows I love as much as anything on Netflix. These podcasts are reserved for long runs only. Occasionally I find myself so engrossed in an episode that I actually run an extra mile just to hear the finish. Some people use audio books for the same reason or DVR their favorite show or movie to watch while on the treadmill or at the gym. Its one of the rare treats you can give yourself during a run or workout, not just after.

2. Focus on the finish This can be more difficult for those just starting out on a fitness journey because they arent familiar with that happy exhausted feeling that comes at the end of a hard workout. But stick with a fitness regimen long enough and youll experience the exhilaration that comes from pushing your own limits. When Im teaching and were doing bicep curls (possibly my least favorite exercise next to burpees) I imagine how strong I feel after a good, hard set. That feeling only comes if I dont quit. Showers and food are always better after a good sweat session.

3. Exercise with friends Waking up in the middle of the night to do a long run on the weekend is always easier when you know youre not alone. Misery loves company, right? Except it stops being miserable if youre with the right workout buddy. I have a couple BRFs (best running friends) who have gotten me out the door on more than one occasion. Not only do we work our hearts and lungs, but we work out our problems and celebrate our successes as we catch up during those long miles. Group fitness classes are great for the same reason. Ive seen so many gym members forge friendships after seeing each other day after day in the same classes. These friends can hold you accountable. They notice when youre gone and can pull you back in.

4. Find the good Its easy to focus on what I dont like about a workout. Im tired. Im hot. I want a donut. It takes a little more work to find the positive, but its worth it. I mentioned how much I dislike bicep curls. But do you know what I do like? I like my kids asking me to open a jar because they know how strong I am. I like being able to help my husband do heavy lifting in the yard or help with household projects. I like being able to build a picnic table by myself. I like being able to run behind my daughters when they want to ride bikes up to the local bakery. I like when my doctor compliments me on my fitness at my yearly physical. Looking for the positive is like noticing all the red cars on the road. Once you start looking for them, you see them everywhere.

5. Switch things up Mental burnout has been a big struggle for me this year. Five of the classes I teach are the same class. It can get old if I let it. Luckily Im in charge. Switching up a routine isnt just good for muscular fitness, its good for my mental state, too. There are seasons when I focus more on outdoor cycling. There are seasons when marathon training is my main course. During the holidays I try new classes and new instructors, which both keeps me healthy and helps me be a better instructor.

Sometimes exercise can feel like a punishment even for someone like me who makes a living through exercise, but it shouldnt be. I doubt Ill ever leap out of bed like a 5-year-old on her birthday when its time to head out for a 10-miler, but I find a reason to get up and get moving just the same. Even during the worst workouts, I love how I feel after its finished more than I hate how it feels during. That feeling is my little slice of birthday cake.
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