OnBalance Off-Balance

I recently met up with an old friend in London.  She’s one of those women I don’t see very often (you know, on account of our living on different continents), and I don’t even communicate with very often, but I always make sure we get together when I’m in London.  We first met in the late stages of pregnancy with our firstborns, and her son was born just one day after mine.  The boys are two peas in a pod, finding the same camaraderie and contented friendship that we mamas share.

I’m so grateful for my friend.  She’s also an awesome example of a person leading a fully-engaged life, enjoying the offerings of London while raising her two kids and working as a physician.  She has zero pretense and welcomes discussions about the challenges of balancing the many realities of life.  Anyone would admire her.

This lengthy (but heartfelt) preamble is necessary, as I need you to understand how surprised I was when she told me that she used to be a loyal OnBalance reader, but then the posts started making her feel inadequate.

Ummmmm, what?!?!?

Let’s review:

  • Super nice, absolutely genuine woman
  • Two bright, articulate, and entertaining children
  • Husband who is interesting and a delightful conversationalist
  • Medical doctor, committed to the well-being her patients in a way all of our doctors should be
  • Community advocate who volunteers in multiple capacities in her neighborhood and schools

What on earth does she have to feel inadequate about?


Look, y’all.  We’re all different.  The way we choose to spend our time is all different.  If you are happy with what you’re doing, ROCK ON.  If you’re not, find someone who will support your efforts to make changes.  It’s worth it.

You’re worth it!

In the interest of full disclosure, there’s always another side to my stories.  There are usually multiple other sides to my stories.  Here are some of the “other sides” I can think of off the top of my head:

  • My husband, while he is mostly brilliantly supportive of my running, can sometimes feel marginalized by it.
  • My kids, who I try to raise with a spirit of curiosity and sense of mind-body balance, screw up and have meltdowns.  A lot.
  • I’m a yeller.  I can go foreeeeevvvveeeerrr being patient with my kids until WHAMMO I am no longer patient, and I start yelling.  I’m not proud of this.
  • My house is not a museum.  My house, while tidy, is not usually very clean.  And I don’t particularly care.
  • We often eat very simple meals.  Think “picnic.”  (That’s my fancy, parent-marketing way of saying “random leftovers and other stuff I pull out of the fridge.”)
  • Someone is always not getting enough attention.  Sometimes it’s me.

What I share here at OnBalance I choose because I like to focus on the positive.  I like to provide stories that may inspire others to make changes towards a healthier lifestyle.  I like to offer tips for creating family wellness.

But please know that me and my family are very much a work in progress, too.

If you’re ever in Austin, you’re welcome to come over for a gourmet dinner of baby carrots, string cheese, apple slices, and almonds.  I’ll even clear all the homework papers off the table so we can sit and eat together.  You’ll have to pretend I don’t stink because I ran in the morning but haven’t been able to take a shower all day.  NBD.

Good health and great happiness to you.


Three Exercises That Keep Me Running

I mentioned yesterday that I’ve been fighting a few niggling injuries in my marathon and ultramarathon training.  Nothing is keeping me off the streets, but I am spending more time than usual with the ice pack, foam roller, and epsom salts.

There are three exercises that I do regularly that I credit for keeping me running. I do them every day in small sets throughout the day.  I want to keep those little annoying issues from becoming full-blown injuries.

To avoid the dreaded runner’s knee, I have been working to strengthen my gluteus medius.  A stonger glute med helps the IT band to function efficiently; a happy IT band keeps the knee tracking appropriately.  This triumvariate relationship is a great example of how pain may or may not be related to the location where you’re feeling the pain.  Working various parts of the kinetic chain helps the running gait to be as smooth and natural as possible.

Strengthening the glute med is really important for people like me– women who have had multiple babies and who have a pelvis that may not be sitting in its optimal position.

The three exercises I do are:

Fire Hydrant— two sets of 20 per leg each day

Side Plank Lift/Lower— two sets of 12-15 per side each day

Outer Thigh Leg Lift— two sets of 20 per side each day


Give those a try for a few days, and let me know how it affects your running.  I’ll be back in a few weeks for the second level of Glute Med work.

Until then, good health and great happiness to you!





Comrades Update: Travel Planning

Original image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/iancvt55/6314700070/in/photolist-aC1uk9-7cYPhE-fAyY4o-jKFePi-ZXab-6QEB4N-6SQ7xD-6SQ7nT-d5ucD5-76QjnX-5ow5kw-fAyXyw-66Sjgb-5FuGyS-7vNP6P-m5b95-nnnEQk-6mHAFT-e2QeAZ-e2VTTu-oRAFkR-5A31TT-fAkg52-63ftaU-9pYeeN-9s5We-rG94fu-63fmdw-4ACyTV-6mMLaQ-9wyE74-8eC3Cs-4iM16r-5vzsQS-74grSb-pGEjMR-rSqcgQ-82vDDR-f5hqhY-nvpRHk-67ocDp-4yySQ-6hqjby-oLEPqU-NzbD8-fAu4Kq-r5Q2ZV-4phHeA-ff1Aq9-pPyM6

Comrades running training is going well.  I’m less than a month until my qualifying marathon, and despite a few annoying not-quite-injuries-but-not-quite-right issues I’m dealing with, all signs point to a decent qualifier.

But now that we’re t-minus six months from heading to South Africa, I’ve turned a lot of my attention to putting together my travel plans.  Fortunately, the whole reason I’m going is to do this race with my dad, and he was a travel agent in a former life.  Long ago he acquired the nickname “Suntan Steve” thanks to his love of travel planning, so I’m not exactly going in to this trip blind.

After a lot of discussion, we’ve decided that I will meet my parents in Johannesburg, and from there we’ll catch a flight up to Zimbabwe for a few days at Victoria Falls.

The local name translates as “the smoke that thunders”– and I cannot wait to hear the roar of the water.  (For those of you new here, I am a water person.)  While we are at Victoria Falls, we’ll do some very easy hiking around the area to take in the natural beauty.  We also have a helicopter tour planned.  I’ve traveled all over the world in all kinds of planes, trains, and automobiles, but I have never ridden on a helicopter.  I’m only the tiniest bit anxious about it.  But to see the Falls from that vantage point will be absolutely spectacular.  After the view on high, we’ll enjoy a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River.  There’s also a daylong excursion to Chobe National Park in Botswana for a safari.

I am so excited about the prospect of seeing Africa’s “Big Five.”  I have no doubt that I will be awed by the imposing grandeur and power of these animals.  I am looking forward to this portion of the trip because it will be a totally new-to-me set of experiences….but it should be thrilling without being exhausting.

After these four days of natural wonders, my parents and I will fly to Durban.  My dad and I need a few “down days” before Comrades.  We’ll hang out at our hotel, visit the Comrades Expo (before the locals arrive), hopefully meet some of the other American Comrades I’ve been chatting with online, and basically just hang out.  I haven’t decided yet whether I want to do the bus tour of the Comrades route (and potentially lose whatever small amount of confidence I have managed to muster) or if I want to go into it with only the excitement of the day to carry me through.  I have a while to decide.

My husband will arrive in Durban on Saturday, May 28th.  I will try very hard not to go Pre-Race Crazy on him.  He will, after all, have just spent 40 hours travelling after a week of solo parenting.

Sunday, May 29th is race day.  It starts early, with at 2.30am bus departure to the start in Pietermaritzburg.  The pre-race festivities start around 4am, and the cockrell crow start is at 5am.  That’s when my 12-hour time limit starts.  I hope to arrive back in Durban under my own power before 4pm.  I’ll hang around the stadium, cheer on the other Comrades, and then waddle back to my hotel and sleep.

We are departing Durban the day after Comrades, and I’m wondering if I’ll regret this decision.  Obviously, I won’t be moving very fast.  But I’ve also read that a lot of the international runners meet up for a brunch Monday morning.  I’d like to stick around for that, and then we’ll grab a flight to Cape Town Monday afternoon.

We’ll spend a few days in Cape Town, taking in the sights.  I’ve heard the city described as a cross between San Francisco and Honolulu– sounds good to me!  I want to go to Robben Island, to see the site where Nelson Mandela was held captive and launched the South Africa we know today.  We’ll see if I feel up for hiking up Table Mountain.  Doubt it!  Pray for good weather so we can ride the cable car.

We’ll head out the Garden Route and spend one night at a game reserve.  While some reviews liken these parks to glorified zoos, I wanted my husband to have some experience of African wildlife during his stay.  Also, I wanted to drive the garden route anyway, so it makes sense to combine this journey with a stay at a lovely lodge.

After that we’ll make our way to the Cape Town airport and head home.  All in all, my trip will be 16 days.  This will be the longest I’ve been away from my children ever– when my husband and I went to Peru, we were gone 8 full days (plus the night before).  My husband will be gone 9 days inclusive of travel, so everyone is comfortable with leaving the kids for that length of time.

Not that we know what we’re doing for childcare yet, but I’m still trusting it will all work out…





Image from Ian Halsey

The Power of Potential


This is a post that’s been brewing for a while.   Last April, I went to California for a intensive weekend retreat to complete my Prenatal Kriya Yoga instructor certification.  The retreat was held at an absolutely stunning hacienda-style home in the hills of San Jose, where we were treated with the stunning spring display of rose bushes in bloom all around us.

While the full, weighty blossoms were undeniable in their almost in-your-face beauty, I was struck by the perfection in the rosebuds.  The colors were bold and striking.  The form was compact but impressive.  The petals perfectly cuddled each other as the sepals fell gracefully down and away.  The little rosebud was just as beautiful as her big-blossomed cousins.

Maybe it’s the same with us.  To be constantly thinking about (or, more accurately, worrying about) how we are going to look, feel, think, or act once we are in full bloom, we miss out on the peace of contentment in our current life.  If we can learn to rejoice in the way we are now, celebrate what we can do, and feel grateful for our current capabilities, we can best embrace the power of our potential.

True growth happens when we can take a thorough stock of our strengths as well as our failures.  By accounting for the positives we have right now, we can give ourselves an honest appraisal of what we need to do to reach our full potential.  If we acknowledge the beauty in our various parts right now, we can use them to push ourselves even further.  After all, if we believe that we are made of goodness, strength, beauty, and wisdom now, imagine how much more we have to offer as we continue to grow!

We have all of the potential within us to be the best, most impressive versions of ourselves.  By recognizing the value in our life day-by-day, we set ourselves up for the exciting unfolding of our potential.

Good health and great happiness to you!

Can I Speak With You?

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Every time I have a public speaking gig, I get that flutter of excitement, knowing that someone in the audience is feeling down about their physical health, the stress of life that prevents them from taking care of themselves, and the struggle of just how that’s going to change.

I’m excited because I know that the message I’ve crafted for their group is going to offer them not just hope but practical strategies for success.

As a public speaker, I love to take my stories of family, fitness, and wellness to groups who align with my message that everyday people do, in fact, have time for regular exercise.  My strategies for efficient, effective exercise resonate with people who feel stressed out by the realities of work and family pressures.  What I hope people learn is that an overall plan for wellness– meaningful exercise, plentiful sleep, and nourishing foods– is actually within their reach.

Who are these people?

  • Mom’s groups
  • Playgroups
  • Corporate wellness programs
  • Service & social organizations
  • Charity athletic teams
  • Goddess circles

Speaking to groups allows me to tap into the skills I used when I was teaching college and needed to engage a group of people with varying interest levels in what I was talking about.  By adapting my message to the specific group, my presentations offer real, practical advice to add value to the listeners’ lives.

Topics include:

  • Fitness & Family Time
  • Exercising with Baby on Board
  • Postnatal Fitness: Beyond the Mummy Tummy
  • Exercises for the Deskbound
  • Creating a Wellness Culture at Work
  • Training with a Team
  • Finding Power in Peri-Menopause
  • Yoga for the Unbendy

When I am engaged as a speaker, I also include plenty of time for questions and answers.  I love to facilitate group discussions about fitness and wellness, and I never pretend to have all the answers!  My extensive background of research in women’s wellness and practical understanding from my years as a personal trainer mean that I can connect the dots for people who find regular exercise challenging….and get them over the hump to see how taking care of their body really does make them feel better!

I look forward to hearing from you about how I can help the members of your organization craft a well-balanced life.  You can find me at karen@balancepft.com or leave a comment here so I can get back to you.

Good health and great happiness to you!

Find a New Path

find a new path

For most of the last eight years, I’ve had a child in preschool.  Fortunately for me, the fantastic preschool my children have attended is close enough to our home that I can run.  Granted, it’s not really a very interesting route, and it has a lot of bumpy curbcuts, uneven sidewalks, turning traffic to be aware of, and there’s some significant maneuvering required on garbage day.

But we get it done.

I freely admit that I’ve always been proud of this efficiency.   One of the hallmarks of my personal training philosophy is helping people find ways to insert exercise into their days when they feel so pressed for time that it’s easy to squeeze exercise out.  Modeling this healthy behavior through the running commute has always been a way I demonstrate that I walk-the-talk.

So, eight years I’ve been patting myself on the back for my boring but efficient run.  This is my final year of having a preschooler, and after the hundreds—thousands, likely—of trips with the BabyJogger to preschool, I made a realization.  If, after the first half-mile, I make a right turn and jog one block, I can run parallel to my old, unpleasant route for most of the way to preschool.  Doing this adds only about a half-mile to my overall distance, but it completely changes the experience.

But what do I get by veering off my well-trod route?

A wide open street with little traffic.


Homes that are seasonally decorated, giving The Stowaway fun scenes to observe and comment on.



The neighbors who are in their front yards or driveways  proffer a friendly “good morning.”  (This is much nicer than the cars who would honk at me when I would cross the side streets– despite pedestrians having the right of way.)

It’s really unbelievable how this little change has added so much happiness to our commute. 

As I was running home a few days ago, I got to thinking: what other things do I do out of habit that I could change ever so slightly and increase the gentleness and pleasure in my day?  In what ways am I stuck in patterns that, while necessary to get the stuff of life accomplished, aren’t adding joy?  Can I tweak them a bit?

My mind is racing with ideas. 

Most people think running is about strong legs and a solid cardiovascular system.  But this revelation demonstrates what I’ve always loved about running: it’s so much more than what’s happening in your body.  Whether you’re able to see an old idea in a new way or you have a wildly productive brainstorming session on the run, running stimulates creative juices in a way that nothing else does for me.

Hop off the well-trod path.  Hang a right and see what new—and improved!—path is waiting for you right around the corner.

Good health and great happiness to you!

Marathons and New Motherhood

I recently visited London, where my husband and I lived from 2002-2004 and where our first child was born.  My visit stirred old memories and emotions, as this was the first time my husband and I had been in London without kids since August 9, 2003…the day before our son was born.  

There I sat in the runners’ staging area at the start of the 2004 London Marathon, attempting to express breastmilk as discreetly as possible.

I’d gained entry into the London Marathon via the “Good For Age” qualification standards that allow runners to bypass the notoriously unfavorable lottery.  I had a qualifying time I earned at the 2002 Boston Marathon.  Between my qualifying run and London race day, I’d gotten pregnant and birthed my first child.

Running was the one constant in my life as I transitioned into motherhood while living in a foreign country.  I had a fantastic group of friends, but it was the daily ritual of running that kept me connected to my familiar, pre-mother self.  Every day, I’d settle my son into the BabyJogger and set out for Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.  We became a fixture in the park, our big blue running chariot quite an anomaly.

Of course, many of the park regulars had witnessed my very un-British behavior, as I had run nearly daily all throughout my pregnancy.

“Oh, dear love, what are you doing?” one well-meaning older woman inquired as I finished up a two-mile jog on my due date.  She would not have been more surprised if I birthed the baby right then and there.  After she admonished me (I’m still not sure for what exactly), I set off for home, running high on the happy endorphins.

When my son was two months old, I was surfing the internet during a middle-of-the-night nursing session and learned about the Good For Age bypass into London.

“That’s it!” I thought.

It was just the goal I needed to set for myself.  More specifically, I needed to set the goal of finishing the marathon in the same 3:45 time limit that allowed me the Good For Age entry.  I didn’t want to be a fraud!

Over the next six months, I ran hundreds of miles, most of them with my son sleeping in the big blue chariot in front of me.  When I would stop to walk or take a water break, he would wake up and cry.  As soon as I ran again, he’d nod off to sleep.  He was an incredibly effective training partner.

Race day brought a mix of emotions, as it always does.  Would my husband survive without me for the day?  Would my baby drink milk from a bottle?  Would these annoying rainshowers last all day?  Would the course be empty of crowds because of them?

I didn’t question my ability to complete the race;  I knew my goal was challenging but achievable.

Once the gun went off, the worries fell away.  I wanted to soak in the experience of the race, the multi-national crowds out in force despite the weather, cheering us on as we ran by.  I managed to find myself running slightly ahead of three men in sarapes—The Three Amigos—who both endearingly and annoyingly played mariachi music at each mile and half-mile marker.

In the final mile of the London Marathon, runners stream toward Buckingham Palace before making a U-shaped turn onto The Mall and finishing about a quarter-mile later.  As I entered the stretch just before the turn, a man in a horse costume—complete with giant plastic horse head—galloped past me.

“Oh, no.”  I thought.

“If I can birth a human, be his entire source of sustenance, and still train for a marathon, I will not be beaten down the homestretch by a horse.”

This was, quite honestly, the first twinge of competitive drive I’d felt since becoming a mother.

I managed to outkick the horse and finish in 3:44:45.

Goal achieved!

The eight hours from the time I caught the train to get out to Greenwich for the start until I returned home to our South Kensington flat was the longest time my baby and I had been apart in his entire eight months and eight days of life.  That tiny baby is twelve—TWELVE—now, and I still run marathons because nothing else makes me feel so fully myself.