Hi Everyone! I'm Kayla

Hello! My name is Kayla, and unlike most of the other blog writers, I actually do not work at Swanson; I’m a proofreader for an investment-management firm. But outside of work, I’m an avid runner and outdoor enthusiast. I’m passionate about fitness and wellness, and I enjoy many types of exercise besides running—biking, Pilates, yoga, Zumba, and hiking, to name a few. Still, running is my favorite. Though I’ve been a runner for over eight years and have done plenty of 5Ks and 10Ks, I just (finally!) completed my first half marathon on May 18 as part of the Fargo Marathon race weekend. I’m hoping to compete in my first triathlon at the end of the summer, as well as run a few more half marathons in late summer and early fall.

I graduated in May 2011 from Concordia College in Moorhead, where I double-majored in English literature and religion. Originally planning to pursue a career in book publishing, I attended the Denver Publishing Institute in the summer of 2011 and then lived in the Boulder, CO, area the following fall while interning with a small publishing company. Living in Colorado gave me a new appreciation for enjoying the outdoors, and I loved taking advantage of the many opportunities to be active in and around the mountains.

Even though I’m now living in Fargo, I still try to connect with other people who have a shared passion for exercise and enjoying the outdoors. I will be a guest writer for the Swanson blog, contributing fitness-related blog posts a couple of times a month. If you have any specific fitness topics you’d like me to cover, please let me know!

Exercise?! But I'm on Vacation!

Friday, July 19, 2013 by Kayla G.

July 2012 Tubing 1.JPGAhhh, summer. Season of beach days, roasting marshmallows, and generally being able to walk around without being so bundled up that you feel like a marshmallow. For many, summer is also a time for vacationing, whether as simple as taking a few days off to spend at the lake or going on a more extended trip somewhere.

 When planning trips, exercise is something that tends to fall by the wayside. Or, perhaps more accurately, is purposely left out of the plans. Except for amateur and professional athletes—both of whom are dedicated to keeping their bodies well conditioned—the general American public considers “exercise” a taboo subject while on vacation.

I know from personal experience how my own family groans when we’re planning family trips and I talk about wanting to fit in morning runs. For them, my running is an inconvenience because we tend to have a slower start to our mornings as a result of waiting until I’ve run and showered before we can leave the campground to go sightseeing. But perhaps there’s also a sense of guilt involved from knowing that I’m out exercising while they’re sleeping in or lounging around the campsite, and it reminds them of the chores that are a part of regular, non-vacation life.

The example of my family is illustrative of what are probably the two main reasons most people avoid even thinking about exercise in conjunction with vacationing: the perceived inconvenience of taking time away from “the fun stuff” on vacation and the desire to avoid anything that resembles everyday chores. But contrary to popular opinion, exercise can be a fun part of any vacation, and it can be easy to incorporate even without having structured exercise time. In making the case for exercising on vacation, I’ll first discuss three categories I’ve come up with for vacation exercises, then present some of the reasons to incorporate one or more of those exercise types into your next vacation. Finally, I’ll close with a few tips for doing so.


Exercise Categories

1. Hobby Exercise

This category encompasses “lifestyle exercises” like running, hiking, biking, and swimming, each of which is enjoyed by many people around the country (and the world) as a lifelong hobby that is part of their general lifestyle (as opposed to specific sports like football, basketball, baseball, etc. that need teams and thus don’t lend themselves as well to individual athletic endeavors). Hobby exercises can be easy to do on vacations, business trips, and other travels because they don’t need a lot of special equipment (with the exception of biking, which of course needs at minimum a bike) and because their individual nature allows a single traveler to engage in this type of exercise without being dependent upon others to make up a team.

2. Structured Exercise

I created this category for exercises that are done less out of any particular enjoyment for the activities but rather out of a desire for the results. For example, exercises done to target specific areas of the body, like strengthening exercises for the abs, legs, and arms. I don’t know too many people who actually enjoy doing squats, push-ups, or multiple reps of arm curls, but they do them to have toned muscles and a strong body. This is a category of exercise that I tend to leave out of my vacation time because I don’t particularly enjoy some of these exercises and many require cumbersome equipment. (Who’s going to want to pack a 15-pound weight in their suitcase? Not me!) But there are still some easy ways to incorporate this type of exercise into your vacations, so those of you who don’t want to backslide on your progress from a week of vacation can still do some light leg and ab workouts to maintain your muscular fitness. More on that in my Tips section (last section of this post).

3. General Activity

Of the three categories I’ve created for vacation exercises, this category is the easiest one to incorporate into your travels with the least inconvenience and pain possible. That’s because this one doesn’t require setting aside specific “exercise time” or expending a lot of physical effort. Instead, this category covers everyday ways of being active, like walking short distances instead of driving, taking the stairs instead of an elevator, and so forth. In my Tips section, I’ll suggest some of the many ways you can look for opportunities to stay active in general while on vacation.


Reasons to Exercise on Vacation

It goes without saying that exercise is good for you, conferring many health benefits and helping with weight management. But there are other, more vacation-specific reasons to fit in exercise from one or more of the above categories while on vacation. Here are five:

1. Offsetting Food Splurges

Edited copy of Me at the Denver Biscuit Co..jpgIf you’re at all like me, vacation is a time to relax one’s usual discipline when it comes to eating. In my everyday life, I rarely go out to eat or order in lunch with my coworkers during the work week. When I do treat myself somewhere, it’s usually to frozen yogurt. (Confession: I’ve had a major weakness for Tutti Frutti ever since it opened in the spring of my senior year of college. I almost always fill up a medium dish when I go!) In college, I was even more disciplined in my eating habits than I am now. Unlike a typical college student, I almost made it through my four years without ever ordering anything delivered to my dorm or apartment, only finally ordering pizza a few weeks before I graduated, just for the experience of having done so once.

But my usual health-conscious mindset takes a bit of a vacation, too, when I travel. I of course try to make some sensible food choices each day, even at restaurants, but I eat out more often when I’m on vacation, and I let myself have desserts whenever I feel like it. On a week-long vacation I took in May, I ate at a pizza buffet twice during my trip! And I ate out several other times during that week besides those two meals. Needless to say, my food intake is far from ideal on vacations.

So if I were to completely refrain from any type of exercise and avoid being active while vacationing, a week of indulgence would haunt me for weeks after a trip, hampering my post-trip exercise, making my clothes uncomfortably tight, and leaving me feeling generally lethargic and unhappy. Maybe you’re not as lax with food as I am on vacation, but if you do splurge more than usual, then staying active on your trip can help ward off some of the undesirable consequences of vacation indulgence.

2. Opportunity

Another reason to incorporate exercise into vacations is the simple fact of having more free time on your hands than usual. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of daily life—a full workday, plus errands, meal prep, chores, paying bills, etc.—and not easily have the time or energy to add a workout on to an already long to-do list. For me, if I don’t get up early to get in a decent morning workout before work, I struggle to find time later in the day to exercise.

In contrast, vacations are a chance to get out of the rut of your regular routine, and you usually get to plan your day as you’d like during that time. Because of the increased free time and the break from your usual routine, vacation is the perfect opportunity to treat yourself to some exercise time (yes, “treat,” if it’s not part of your regular routine) and find an activity that you enjoy that’ll get you moving. If you usually exercise but are pressed for time on a regular day, then it can be fun to have more time to spend doing something you love. Or if you’re bored with the activities that typically make up your workout routine, then vacation is an opportunity to try out new activities and find something that makes it fun to work out.

Even better, if exercise isn’t usually part of your routine, then vacation is a great time to start a good habit that could carry over into your daily life even after your trip ends. You may be surprised to find that you enjoy an activity you’d never tried before or that you love the way you feel after exercising. And with these incentives, you’ll be more motivated to make time for exercise so it becomes part of your regular routine.

3. A Change of Scenery

Even exercises you enjoy can become boring when you don’t change up your routine or setting. Take running for example. I love to run, but when I’m stuck running the same few routes every time I head out the door, I eventually become bored with my surroundings and less excited to head out on a run in the first place. But when I go on vacation to a new place, I suddenly have many new route optBoulder Biking Self Pic.JPGions to explore and can’t wait to put on my shoes and see where my feet take me. And (with the exception of running at a higher elevation) the excitement of new scenery boosts my energy level and helps me run faster seemingly without as much effort as a slower run at home might take.

4. A New Experience

With exercises like running and biking, or even walking, there’s a bonus benefit to doing them in a new setting—the chance to blend in with the locals and experience in a new way the city or area where you’re vacationing.

Granted, this wouldn’t really work in “tourist trap” locations like resorts or in touristy sections of cities (locals may walk a lot in big cities, but they tend to avoid touristy shopping or amusement areas). You also have to be somewhat adept at making yourself look like you belong there. Walking around snapping pictures or running in a tee shirt with your hometown/home state sports team’s name emblazoned on the front is a dead giveaway. But walking to a deli to pick up lunch or heading out for a run in an Asics tank top and Under Armour shorts will let you fly under the radar, looking like a local. As long as you know (or at least look like you know) where you’re going. Getting lost and having to ask for directions will definitely blow your cover. (For more on planning running routes in unfamiliar locations, see my Tips section.)

For me, doing these types of activities in a new city has more than once been a highlight of my trip. I’ve biked on trails in Boulder, Colorado, where biking is a huge part of the local culture, earning Boulder a rank in a CNN Travel article as one of the 15 most bike-friendly cities in the world. I’ve run among the locals in San Diego, Denver, New York City, and elsewhere. I’ve taken the subway in New York as if I do it every day, and I’ve walked through the business district to grab lunch from a deli, which I ate while sitting on the edge of a fountain, blending in with the crowd of locals who were also on their lunch breaks. I’m not much of an actress, but I do enjoy playing the part of a local when I travel to a new city.

5. Making MemoriesIMG_6806.JPG

There are so many benefits to exercising on vacation that it’s hard for me to pick one reason as “the best” one. That would of course vary from person to person and depend upon priorities. As much as I value the previous four reasons to exercise, though, my favorite reason is probably the memories I make (and, sometimes, the good stories that come out of those experiences). Going running, biking, hiking, or walking on a trip can provide fun, free entertainment that will give you memories to laugh at or smile over for years to come.

I have many fond memories from different hikes I’ve gone on (in Colorado, in the Grand Canyon, and in Glacier National Park, to name a few) and from the day I rented a bike and spent hours biking in and around Boulder on various bike trails. But my best memories (and stories) have come from running in a new place, perhaps because—as the easiest type to do on vacation—it’s the type of exercise I do most often. Not all of my vacation runs have resulted in exciting stories, but there have been a few standouts. I could tell of how I felt connected to athletic history as I ran a lap around the remains of the Circus Maximus track in Rome, or of the snowy Colorado day when I fell on ice (alone, on the farthest point of my run, without a cell phone or ID) and had to get six staples to the back of my head.

But of all my memorableIMG_7362.JPG vacation runs, my favorite is the time I got lost in Central Park. I was in NYC on a business trip and was enjoying taking advantage of the exciting new scenery to run in the morning before heading to the office where I was working that week. Near the end of the week, I decided to head out a little earlier so that I could fit in four miles instead of the short three I’d been doing all the other mornings that week. Well, the extra half mile into the park before turning around brought me into new, unfamiliar territory, and long story short, a construction detour led me to inadvertently take a wrong turn when heading back.

Without giving you the play-by-play of how it happened, what was going through my head as I realized I was lost, or how I navigated back to my hotel, I’ll just say that my intended 4-mile run turned into roughly an 8-mile run. I had the embarrassment of being 15 minutes late to work that morning and of feeling irresponsible for having had a personal activity affect my workday. But aside from being late and experiencing a few moments of fear, the memories from that run have enriched my running experience and will stick with me for the rest of my life.



Now that I’ve outlined a few different types of exercise that can be done on vacation and given you my top five reasons to incorporate one or more of these types into your next vacation, here are some tips to help you do so:

  • Do what you love. Because it is vacation, you shouldn’t force yourself to do types of exercise that you hate. If you love to run, then let yourself run as much as you want on vacation. If you love hiking, take advantage of your vacation destination’s hiking options. On the flip side, if you’re usually diligent in cross training and are feeling burnt out by doubling up on combinations of cardio and strength training, ease off on your vacation time and do only the ones you most enjoy. If you really dislike structured exercise and don’t have any hobby exercises that you enjoy, then try to work in more general forms of being active, like walking, taking the stairs, and such.
  • Try new things. Maybe you’re so busy during a normal work week that you can make time only for a few forms of exercise that you know are effective for you, but you wish you could try out some other types of exercise you’re interested in. Vacation is a great time to do so! Some high-end hotels and resorts offer fitness classes, so that can be a way to try out something new. Or maybe you only ever run and do Pilates but have toyed with the idea of adding some lap swimming to your routine. If you’re staying at a hotel with a pool, find out when the least busy times tend to be and then go work a little on basic swimming strokes or swim a few laps, as you’re able. Whatever you do, see it as a fun opportunity to do something you don’t usually get to do.
  • Plan for it. Decide before you travel what types of exercise you’ll want to do on your trip, and plan to pack accordingly and make time for it in your vacation schedule. Bring attire appropriate for thOct 2011 Boulder Hike.JPGe activity/activities you plan to do. Look at city maps or use the MapMyRun site to plan suitable running routes so that you can run without getting lost. If you would like to include “structured” exercises (as described earlier) into your vacation, squats are a travel-friendly strengthening exercise for the lower body, and Pilates can be done for certain target areas (the abs, thighs, or butt) or for total-body strengthening. Squats don’t require much space or any special equipment, and Pilates moves can easily be done on your hotel bed or, if space allows, you can lay down a towel and do them on the floor of your hotel room. You can print out the directions for this series of squats or this short Pilates “Series of Five” core routine and carry the printouts with you as a guide. Or for a longer, total-body Pilates routine, refer to this list. If you aren’t already familiar with the Pilates moves on this second list, you can refer to this page and either learn them ahead of time or else print out the instructions for each and take them with you.
  • Walk whenever you can. In big cities like New York, people don’t think twice about doing a lot of walking to get where they need to go. For distances too far to walk, consider trying out such forms of public transportation as the subway system. In a smaller city like Fargo, we’re used to driving everywhere because the city is a lot more spread out and public transportation isn’t as effective here. But if your vacation takes you to a big city, take advantage of the opportunity to be more active by walking anywhere within a reasonable distance from your starting point (as long as the neighborhood is safe and you’re not alone at night). If you plan to visit a few points of interest that are located within a mile or so of each other, then walk from one to the other (if the layout of the streets allows) instead of driving or taking a bus.
  • Tailor it to the location. If you’re visiting a city like Boulder where biking and hiking are popular, plan to look into your options ahead of time and take advantage of as much as you have time for. Rent a bike from a local bike shop, or choose a park with hiking trails and plan a hike.
  • Choose the active over the sedentary. In addition to choosing walking over driving if possible, there are other easy ways to make your vacation more active without doing formal exercise. As mentioned in the “General Activity” exercise description, you can do simple things like taking the stairs instead of using the elevator (such as in hotels, airports, and shopping centers), or choosing the stairs over an escalator (often in shopping centers and airports). When using airports while traveling, walk briskly when heading between gates for connecting flights and either avoid the “people movers” or get in the walking lane on them and continue walking instead of standing still as it moves you. Take advantage of layovers by walking around as much as possible after finding your gate, rather than parking yourself at a coffee shop or restaurant next to your gate and sitting there for your entire layover. When sightseeing, include activities that will keep you moving, such as walking around a zoo or around downtown as you check out shops or historic sites.


Now that I’ve made the case for exercising on vacation—outlining different types of exercise, covering my top five reasons to incorporate it, and giving you some tips for doing so—I hope you’ll consider making exercise a part of your next vacation!


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Top 10 Things that Keep Me Running (What Are Yours?)

Friday, June 28, 2013 by Kayla G.

Without a doubt, I made one of the best decisions of my life when I was 16 and decided to take up running. I was looking for a way to get in better shape following a particularly sedentary academic year my sophomore year of high school, so over the summer I began running and completed my first 5k race that July. In the fall, I worked up the nerve to join the cross country team. Even though I was the slowest girl on the team and often came in last or nearly last in meets, it was a great experience. I loved the camaraderie of being part of a team and supporting my teammates, and the practices and races kept me accountable to exercise and continue becoming a better runner.

Now, eight years after I first began running, I can’t imagine life without it. Running is my lifeblood. Not only is it my favorite form of exercise, but it also connects me with others and is a key part of my identity. Many of the things I love about it are the same things that get other runners out on the road day after day, logging miles and competing in races. People run for many different reasons, but there are some benefits that are shared by all runners. Though it was difficult to narrow down the numerous perks of being a runner, here are 10 of my favorites that keep me running...


1. Bragging Rights

Whether it’s an early wake-up time or running in weather extremes, runners have plenty of opportunities to gain bragging rights. As hard as it may be to get out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to get in a six-miler before work, it can be fun to tease friends when they complain about waking up “early,” which usually translates to any time before seven on a weekday morning. And even for runners who prefer to avoid early mornings, they can still earn bragging rights by not letting inclement weather stop them from running outside. Runners in the upper Midwest can score some serious bragging rights even among other runners just by having enough grit to run eight miles in wind chills of negative 20 degrees. Others will think you’re crazy, and they may give you funny looks, but that’s half the fun.


2. Stress Management

Exercise is a proven stress reliever, and running is no exception. It boosts endorphins, contributing to a more positive outlook and attitude, and it’s a great way to unwind after a stressful day. Running is an opportunity to step away from stressors and instead focus solely on body movement and breathing. Even after the run is over, the resulting rejuvenation and positive feelings can help runners return to the challenges of daily life with a calmer, clearer perspective.


3. Navigational Skills

For my first two years of college, I didn’t have a car on campus. I would occasionally get around town with my friends who had cars, but the way I actually learned street names and developed a sense of direction prior to having a car was from running. It’s a lot easier to look at street signs when you’re running by them at six or seven miles an hour rather than driving by at 30 mph. And when running around a city, it’s important to be aware of all the different street names and where they intersect so you can find your way back to your starting point. All of this makes it easier to know where to go when you’re behind the wheel and don’t want to incur the wrath of other drivers by not knowing where to turn. Thus, running is a great way to learn how to get around a new area, and it can be really fun to explore new routes as you expand your territory.


4. The Camaraderie

Unlike team sports, running can be done completely on one’s own. But to do so is to miss out on the fun that comes from connecting with other runners. When you’re out of school and no longer able to be part of a team, finding a local running club is a great way to meet other runners and have companionship as you run. Many running stores host weekly runs so that runners can connect with each other and hear about local races, training groups, and other running events. I got connected with just such a group through a local running store about six months ago, and it rejuvenated my running life. It renewed my love of running, got me back into the racing scene, and gave me some new friends to run and race with. Having a running buddy comes with benefits that go beyond just friendship—they can be great accountability partners, and running with another person can better both runners as they push one another to run faster or farther or both. Running partners also have the unique advantage of understanding the joys and struggles of being a runner, so they can be a listening ear for venting or have helpful advice for dealing with various running problems.


5. Races

Some people may think that races are worth doing only if you have a shot at winning. But in truth, races are a fun way for runners to challenge themselves to set a goal (whether to finish under a certain race time or to complete a certain distance) and be motivated to get in the training necessary to achieve it. There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing a race and knowing you did the best job you could. Competing with yourself is what matters. I have never placed in any of the many races I’ve run, but that doesn’t detract from the fun of it all. Races are a big part of the running culture, so if runners join a running group, doing races can be helpful for fitting in and getting to know other runners better. Some races have a fundraising component as well, so not only can runners have the fun of a road race, but they can also help others by raising money for a good cause. Plus, many races give out free participation items that are included in the registration fee, such as tee shirts or high-quality running socks. Though racers are indirectly paying for the items with their entry fee, it’s fun to collect racing shirts and wear them during workouts.


6. Life Lessons

As many runners will attest, running is more than just a form of exercise—it’s a way of life. And part of the reason that running carries over into everyday life is that it develops transferrable skills and teaches lessons about tackling life’s problems. Preparing for races gives runners practice in setting and achieving goals. And whether preparing for a race or just sticking with a weekly running schedule, runners exercise more than just their bodies; they put into practice discipline, determination, and perseverance in the face of odds, such as adverse weather, difficult terrain, fatigue, or injuries. When you get used to staring down obstacles and not letting them set you back, you’re more likely to bring that work ethic to other challenges in life.


7. Having a Go-To Hobby

Part of the fun of running is having a relatively inexpensive hobby you can get into. The main expense is investing in a pair of quality running shoes, which can range from around $100 to $150. Of course, it has the potential to get more expensive the more you get into gear, especially if you run in challenging conditions (like those –20˚ temps mentioned earlier!) that require some technical gear. But for mild weather or indoor running, all you need to get started is a pair of running shoes and some comfy clothes. And that makes running a lot less expensive than sports that require a lot of equipment. If you choose to participate in races, there will be the cost of registration fees. However, local 5k races can be pretty inexpensive, maybe equaling a movie ticket and snacks but yielding the greater rewards of fitness, confidence, and a sense of accomplishment. Running also provides a source of free entertainment when traveling on business trips or vacations. As long as the area is safe and runners are confident in their ability to navigate, running outside in new locales is a lot of fun and provides an excellent opportunity to experience the city in a unique way. Running in a new environment not only has the added interest of new scenery, but it lets you blend in with the locals and feel less like a tourist and more like you belong there. Some of my most memorable runs have come while vacationing, and they didn’t cost me anything but the time and energy it took to head out the door.


8. Food

The tee shirts and other memorabilia are out there: “I run to eat!” For many runners, the food benefits rank high on their list of reasons to keep running. It’s important that runners avoid the danger of overcompensating for calories burned while running so as to not lose the rewards of their hard work. But in general, runners tend to be mindful of the importance of nutrition and runner-friendly foods while at the same time having some elbow room to treat themselves to some of their favorite foods because they’ve earned them.



9. Fitness

Since running is a popular form of exercise, fitness is an obvious motivating factor for many runners. Running ranks among the most efficient calorie-burning exercises available. The number of calories burned depends on the runner’s weight and pace, but on average, many people burn about 100 calories or more per mile. Calorie-burning power aside, running has both cardiovascular and strength benefits and is also a good way to maintain a healthy body weight or lose extra pounds. I like to cross train by pairing my running with other activities such as biking, swimming, Pilates, or yoga, but as the mainstay of someone’s exercise routine, running is bursting with health and fitness benefits.


10. The Runner’s High

Perhaps one of the most noteworthy experiences associated with running is the famed “runner’s high.” Though mystifying to non-runners, this needs no explanation among runners. For me—and for most runners—this endorphin boost is the best part of running and keeps me coming back for more. After pushing myself with a long run or a faster-paced short run, I’m energized despite my physical exhaustion. The euphoria that washes over me makes me feel invincible, minimizing challenges I may be facing in other areas of my life. Confidence courses through my veins even as my heartbeat returns to a normal rate, and I feel certain that I have what it takes to leap any hurdle. And even more important, my self-esteem is elevated. I feel proud of myself for conquering the battles of motivation, fatigue, weather, and terrain. I know that I’ve invested in both my present and long-term health, and I’ve had fun along the way.


When I look back on my pre-running days, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come. As far back as early elementary school, I dreaded the mile run fitness test we did twice a year in gym class. Even up through eighth grade (the last year I had gym classes that included the mile run), I would lose sleep at night because I couldn’t stop worrying about the mile and the agony of four laps around the middle school track. Today, going for a three-mile run seems all too brief. I now have numerous 5k and 10k races under my belt, and I just ran my first half-marathon in May.

As I was training for the half and the long runs moved into territory beyond the distances I used to term “long runs,” I found that I thrive on nine- and 10-mile runs. I used to swear that I could never see myself running a marathon. Energy aside, wouldn’t running 26.2 miles get boring fast? Now I’m not so sure. With all these reasons to run, the half-marathon training just served to make me hungry for more; I may have to set my sights on running a full marathon next.

How about you? If you're not a runner (yet), did any of these incentives make you consider trying it out? Or for all my fellow runners out there, are any of these in your personal "top 10"? I'd love to hear your comments!


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