Starting from Scratch

By Dacia Perkins – August 7, 2012

Have you ever wondered how celebrities get fit so quickly, whether they’re preparing for a physically intense role or just losing weight after pregnancy? I certainly have, especially after my daughter was born. And maybe if I had doctors, trainers, and nutritionists at my beck and call, I’d be able to become physically fit in a matter of weeks as well. But that’s not reality.

Reality is having a baby and being in the worst shape of your life. Your legs constantly ache because they can’t support all the weight you gained. You strain your back countless times because your core muscles are now nonexistent. And you’re embarrassed to show yourself in public because you still look pregnant, even after having the baby. At least that was my reality after my daughter was born and, unfortunately for me, there was no celebrity shortcut to get my fitness back.

I was a professional runner before I got pregnant, but you never would have known that after my daughter arrived. I had to stop most exercise around my sixth month of pregnancy as a consequence of gaining more than the recommended amount of weight. I was so swollen you would have thought I was storing food in my cheeks. And I could barely put one foot in front of the other due to lack of sleep. I had a long, hard road ahead of me if I was ever going to run competitively again.

So how did I do it? How did I lose the weight, gain back my fitness, and start competing again? I was patient, I learned to listen to my body, and I worked my butt off.

After my daughter was born, I was so out of shape that I basically had to start from scratch. My first “workout” was walking 20 minutes. For someone who used to run 60 miles a week, my “easy days” at seven-minute mile pace, this was a very humbling experience. But the fact of the matter was my body was not able to handle any more than a short walk around the block. So in order to bridge the gap from walking 20 minutes to running 15 miles, I knew I was going to need a lot of patience.

I was not fortunate enough to be able to run after a few short weeks of training. It took months of walking/jogging, months of slow base-phase runs, and months of setbacks before I got to where I am now. In total, it took almost two years. If I hadn’t had the patience and endurance to keep going even when the end was nowhere in sight, I would have set myself up for defeat. So if you ever find yourself in a similar position, be patient and endure, even if it’s taking longer than you’d like. The end will come in time.

Sadly, having patience was the easy part. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn while working my way back into shape was listening to my body. There were many times when I tried to slip back into my former routine and many times when I forgot that new circumstances called for new habits and behaviors. Consequently, my training started to suffer.

I used to get away with eating Pop-Tarts for lunch, but that was before I needed sustained energy to not only continue training but to keep up with my child. It took me a while to realize that I could no longer stay up until 1 a.m. when my daughter was waking up at 6 a.m. It got to the point where exhaustion was standard and getting sick was part of my normal routine. And the worst part was I didn’t realize what I was doing to my body until it was too late. I had the opportunity to make a comeback the year after my daughter was born but, ultimately, my lack of adaptation was my downfall and I had to cut my season short.

It wasn’t until I hung up my shoes after that first year that I realized I needed to start forming some new habits if I was ever going to be healthy enough to become fit again. When I was hungry, I needed to eat something healthy. When I was thirsty, I needed to drink water. And when I was tired, I needed to sleep, no matter if that meant putting something else on hold. My body was constantly letting me know what it needed to maintain itself; I just needed to start listening.

Being patient and listening to my body were very important steps to getting back into shape, but I would never have become fit again without good, old-fashioned hard work. There were plenty of times when I tried to slide by with the bare minimum. Give me a range and I would run the least amount or the slowest time acceptable. But those practices were getting me nowhere near where I wanted to be. And there finally came a point when I realized I needed to put my nose to the grindstone and start working hard if I was actually going to start seeing some results.

After having a baby, I was in the worst shape of my life, far worse than I could have ever imagined. And seeing how much more quickly celebrities (and regular people alike) were able to get in shape was very discouraging. But I eventually came to terms with the fact that just because I wasn’t able to become fit within a matter of weeks didn’t mean I was never going to be fit again. With this realization, a patient attitude, the ability to listen to my body, and a lot of hard work, I was able to get into shape again. And I might be in my best shape ever.

Dacia Perkins is a four-time NCAA All-American and 2008 Olympic Trials semi-finalist. She won six state championships before graduating from Lake Travis High School in 2004 and starting her college career as a University of Arkansas Razorback. After graduating from Arkansas in 2008, Perkins competed internationally before moving to Austin with her husband. She is currently training for the Olympic Trials in June as a member of Rogue Athletic Club, an Austin-based nonprofit with the goal to help aspiring Olympians reach their highest potential. Perkins is married Adam (also a former Razorback track athlete) and the mother of a rambunctious little girl. Website: ; Running Blog: ; Personal Blog:


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