Laura Donnelly-Smith's morning fitness routine begins the night before. That's when she begins the long exercise of getting herself ready to exercise.
About 7:45 p.m., Donnelly-Smith, a 35-year-old writer and editor at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, gets outfits and lunches ready for herself and her 20-month-old son, and packs her son's day-care bag. She says it's the only way to keep up her morning fitness regimen: running on three weekdays for 30 minutes, longer on the weekends.
After her 6:15 a.m. weekday runs, "I've got exactly 30 minutes to get myself showered, dressed and out the door to walk to the Metro (subway) by 7:30," says Donnelly-Smith, who lives in Silver Spring, Md., and has been a runner since she was 14.
Her husband feeds their son breakfast and drops him off at day care.
How do people with hectic schedules keep themselves in shape -- and even train for endurance and other competitive events? We asked parents for their secrets.
I "spend a lot less time showering, getting dressed and putting on makeup than a lot of people," says Karina Lubell, a 33-year-old lawyer and runner who lives in Washington. Lubell, who works 50 to 60 hours a week and has an 11-month-old son, manages to work out about six hours a week, mostly in the early mornings and on weekends. (She doesn't count her daily 30-minute bicycle commute.)
Lubell and her husband, who works in finance, run with the Capital Area Runners club, sometimes with their son in a jogging stroller.
The jogging stroller, as much as precision scheduling and pre-made meals, appears to be a key tool for many parents with young kids. So are baby sitters (sometimes to allow parents to go on a date run), memberships in gyms with child care, early-morning boot camps, home exercise equipment, Wii Fit, online classes and, perhaps most important, flexibility and an understanding spouse.
Rebecca Scritchfield, a registered dietitian, health fitness specialist and founder of Capitol Nutrition Group, says busy people who want to stay fit might need to expand their definition of exercise. Take the family on a weekend bike ride, she says.
"Brainstorm project ideas with a co-worker while taking a walk," she adds. "Be O.K. with letting your kids watch a little TV while you turn on a workout video."
Being less rigid about kid time is key, says Kristin Kramer, 40, of Silver Spring, Md.
"I don't schedule activities for the kids on Saturday mornings that would require my presence, because that's when I run," she explains. "I think being fit is terribly important for health and happiness, and I think it's good that our kids see us making it a priority," even if that means she has to hire a sitter while she exercises, says Kramer, a scientific review officer at the National Institutes of Health, whose husband is also a runner.
No matter what their schedule, many couples say a supportive partner is helpful -- for couples with children, especially so. In many cases that means one person must be willing to put his or her own fitness regimen on the back burner for a while. One marathoner said she alternated training years with her husband.
Skip Daly, a 42-year-old database administrator who lives in Gaithersburg, Md., concedes his family's fitness routine is "somewhat one-sided." His wife, Emer, 40, a stay-at-home mother of their four children -- ages 9, 4 and 6-year-old twins -- is a runner and a running coach for half marathons. That requires consistent training, which she often does when Daly comes home from work.
"She's forever dealing with school lunches, homework, shuttling kids to/fro, handling chores," Daly says in an email. "So I completely respect her need to get out of Dodge when I get home."
Karen Kincer, president of Montgomery County Road Runner's Club, is also a mother of four. "It helps if both parties don't just look at exercise as a selfish pursuit," says Kincer, 42, of Rockville, Md. She and her husband "both appreciate the benefits that exercising brings to us not just physically but also mentally."
To achieve these goals, she says, "the Google Calendar is a lifesaver, as are running partners who aren't afraid of a 5 a.m. start."
Still, all of this planning can be stressful.
"While the benefits of exercise are undeniable," says Scritchfield, "the anxiety over finding the time to fit it in to our crazy schedules may outweigh the benefits of the exercise itself."
So if you're aiming for a personal record in a triathlon and find yourself on Google Calendar setting up a 4 a.m. double-stroller date run so you can also make a 7 a.m. work meeting, perhaps you should think again. Or just go to sleep; after all, it's well established that rest is a vital part of any fitness program.