Throwback Thursday: 2014 New York City Marathon

Last Fall, I wrote about my preparation for the NYC Marathon and even shared my struggle packing for the trip.  I left for New York feeling confident in my training and hopeful that the weather wouldn’t be as bad as what the forecasts were predicting.

Alas, things don’t always go to plan.

As soon as I arrived on Friday, I met up with my college friend Dyan, who was my hostess for the weekend.  She took me straightaway to Javits Expo Center to collect my race number.  So far, so good:


We walked around Manhattan on Friday afternoon and evening, just enough to shake out my legs and adjust to the cool 50 degree temps.

By Saturday afternoon, it was clear that the weather was going to deteriorate for race day.  I wasn’t feeling like running in 40 degrees with 30mph winds would be comfy in shorts.  I wasn’t so worried about feeling cold as I was about having muscle issues, given that I’m not exactly trained to run in cold weather. So Dyan and I went to a sports store and I bought a pair of tights.  One of the first rules of thumb of marathoning is never do or wear ANYTHING new on race day.  At this point, though, I didn’t have much choice.

We went from there to Mass at Dyan’s local parish church.  It was good to go and take some deep breaths and send up prayers of gratitude– for good health, for the support of my husband who encouraged me to take the time and spend the money to train and race, and for the communities of strangers I’ve enjoyed by being a runner and being a Catholic.  In short, life is good.

Dinner was at an Italian restaurant on the UWS; it’s Dyan’s local place, and I’ve been there before with her and remembered I liked it.  I ate an enormous bowl of bolognese, enjoying it very much.  I opted to skip dessert, not wanting to feel too full to sleep well.

We went back to Dyan’s and watched the Irish struggle against Navy.  I used the game time to organize all of my clothes, both for the race and for keeping warm ahead of the start.  I felt well-organized and calm, and thankfully, ND won in the end, so I could go to sleep happy.

I slept great until 4.30am, when the wind blew down some scaffolding on the building next door.  I was only able to doze on and off after that, both because I knew I had to get up relatively soon and because I was starting to get freaked out about the wind.  I got up at 6, ate a banana & PB, got all dressed, and headed out to make my long journey to the start.  As soon as I stepped outside, I knew that the forecast for high winds was no joke.  There is a slight hill up the one block to the subway station, and I could barely make it up the hill the wind was so strong.

On the subway, I chatted with a group of 30 year olds all running their first marathon.  At the ferry terminal, I chatted with a woman from Long Island who had put her name in the lottery 9 times before it was finally drawn for this year.  On the ferry, I kept to myself, just trying to take in the view and the moment.  It’s pretty crazy to be on a ferry with 5000 people, all of them runners.  All with a common goal and thousands upon thousands of hours of training invested in it.  The bus ride from the ferry terminal to the athletes’ village at Ft.Wadsworth (at the base of the Verranzano Narrows bridge) took FOREVER.  I put my head in my hand and tried to doze.  It was nearly 50 minutes later when I got off the bus and lined up at the security check.  Dogs sniffed bags before getting on to the ferry, but getting off the bus each and every runner was wanded by NYPD.

I had only about 75 minutes until my start time, so I knew I had only 30 minutes before I needed to be lined up for my corral.  I used the porta potty– hats off to NYRR for really and truly having plenty out there– and then went and stood in the line for my corral.  As my wave was called, the line started to move forward. When I was about 15 people back, the volunteer closed the corral.  Apparently, he was checking only for the corral assignment and NOT the wave assignment.  People from wave 3 & 4 were able to jump the queue, filling the corral and closing it off to at least 50 of us wave 2 runners who now had to wait another 25 minutes to start.  The worst part was that I’d already shed all of my extra clothes save my fleece jacket, and it was miserable outside.  It was 37 degrees, and the wind was whipping around close to 30mph.  I’d also already eaten my pre-race GU, so throwing off my timing by 30 minutes was incredibly annoying.

Fortunately, I’d chatted up a woman named Grace from Charlottsville who it turns out is 40, has kids who are 11 and 8 and a husband who is an independent IT consultant, and she’s a pilates instructor.  So we had plenty to chat about as we waited.

When we FINALLY got into our corral and then led up to the foot of the bridge and the start line, all the nervousness was gone and it was pure excitement.  Because I was in Corral A, I was literally standing on the starting line when the cannons were fired.  I got a little choked up as Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” played over the loudspeakers and we took off up the rise of the bridge.

I cannot describe the strength of the wind.  It was a crosswind as we ran the bridge, and I was literally being blown sideways.  Grace and I were laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.  We were reminding each other to look up, look out to the harbor, across to Manhattan, and take it all in.  There were whitecaps on the harbor, which I hadn’t noticed (or hadn’t been there) when I was on the ferry just two hours before. People’s hats were flying off left and right.  Some people stopped to take selfies on the bridge.  My main memory of the bridge is hearing the thwack, thwack, thwack, thwack of everyone’s race bibs fluttering in the wind.

The first mile mark I saw was Mile 3, and when I checked my watch I knew I’d gone out faster than I wanted to.  This is so typical in a big race, particularly after the aggravating false start and wait with the corral issue.  I immediately walked for 30 seconds so I could pull back the pace a bit, telling Grace to go on.  I was able to catch her again at the first water stop.  We kept running, kept talking, and and had settled into a better pace.   I took my first GU at Mile 5, and all was going great.

At the 10K, I checked my pace and decided another walk break would be prudent, so I again told Grace to run on.  It was the last I saw her, but I was grateful for the company both pre-race and through the early miles.  By this point, the crowds were sizable enough to be near-constantly encouraging.  I was high-fiving kids, running strong, and really enjoying myself.  I was even able to disregard the wind a bit, except for when I would stride and my up-leg would be blowing into my base leg, whacking it hard.  I could feel that I wasn’t running relaxed, but at this point I was moving along well.

I knew that Dyan and my friend Lara–who took the train up from DC for the day just to cheer me on!– were planning to be around 7.5 miles on the left side of the road.  It was so encouraging to start scanning the crowds, just knowing that out of the thousands of people on the street right then, I had real friends there just for me.  I saw Lara’s face first, and then I heard them both scream.  I remember throwing my arms in the air and smiling like a goof, so excited to see them.  I knew I was about halfway through the headwind portion of the course, and I was still feeling pretty good.

At Mile 10, I took a walk break so I could eat my next GU.  Suddenly, my stomach flipped.  I felt nauseous.  I’ve never had this happen before, so it was really disheartening.  I started running again, noticing a slight downhill in front of me; I hoped that getting back into my pace would make me forget about my stomach.Unfortunately, instead of feeling better, I felt worse and worse.  I tried to remind myself to just look up and enjoy the day.  I was noticing the signs held by folks in the crowd, thanking every police officer at every intersection, high fiving more kids, and generally trying to get myself out of my head.  A few minutes later there was a gospel choir rocking it out on the steps of a church.  I got a lift in my stride.

My half-marathon time was right around 1:55, which was nowhere near the pace I needed for a sub 3:45 Boston Qualifying run (my Gold Standard goal), but I knew that wouldn’t happen once the windy day materialized.  I was still hoping for a sub-3:50, though, and I was bang on pace.

Unfortunately, my stomach was awful.  I was drinking water, but I didn’t dare try to take any gatorade, for fear that would tip me right over the edge.  I got to Mile 15– the Queensboro Bridge– really wishing I was feeling better. More than 10 miles is a long way to run when you feel crappy.

I actually loved running over the bridge.  Many runners hate it for two reasons: 1) There are no spectators on the bridge, and 2) The rise leading up to the top of the bridge is one of the bigger hills on the course.  I liked the quiet break from the crowds, as it allowed me to turn inward and do a full body scan of how I felt.  My hamstrings were really tight, which at the time I thought was from not taking in any electrolytes.  (In hindsight, I think it was from running hunched over into the wind for 15 miles, not being able to take a real stride.)  The crowd coming down off the bridge was awesome.

Between Mile 16 and 17, I was running on the right side of the road.  From the left side of the road, I heard a loud cheer of “KAREN”– again making me throw my arms in the air and give me a lift.  I assumed it was Dyan and Lara, who I knew were going to stop in at a watch party not far from that point.  As it turns out, it was my husband’s uncle & cousin, who were in town from the Cape to cheer on their daughter/sister.

As I kept running north in Manhattan– away from the finish line–, I remember wishing I’d paid more attention to which street the course turned left on in the Bronx.  I felt like the numbers kept counting up and up and up and up and there was No.End.In.Sight.  I knew that seeing the thousands of runners in front of me going up a long hill meant I was going to do the same.  But my hamstrings were tight, my stomach was queasy, and I had lost my good humor.  I’d also read so much about how the Bronx was disappointing crowd-wise, so I was starting to go into a negative mental spiral.  Little things– like my shoes sticking to the Gatorade-soaked street in the aid stations– was driving me crazy.

I got to Mile 20 right at 3 hours.  That made the math easy.  All I needed to do was run just under 10 minute miles, and I could still finish in under 4 hours.  At that point, I stopped to walk for a minute, and I promised myself to keep trying to enjoy the day.

Finally, we got to turn left.  And then turn some more.  And then make another turn.  I kept waiting for the horrible headwind to turn into a tailwind to blow me towards Central Park, but that never happened.  At one point in Harlem, It continued to be a fierce crosswind, back to knocking my upfoot into my base leg.  And not a block later, there was a gust so strong that it literally stopped me in my tracks.  I yelped.   It really was that bad.


The absolute best part of my day was when I was preparing to tackle the nearly mile-long hill up 5th Ave between Mile 22 and Mile 23, and I heard the unmistakable shouts of Dyan and Lara.  I saw their smiling faces, heard their cheers, and it was so uplifting.  It’s hard to explain how boring it can be to be a marathon spectator, other than the obvious: you only get to see your runner for a few seconds, yet you’ve been out in the cold and the wind.  But to the runner, it is everything.

I made it up the hill– even managed to stay under my 10 min/mile pace I needed– with my hamstrings on fire.  My stomach was slightly better, but every time I tried to push the pace even a bit, it was not good.  I was thrilled to FINALLY turn into Central Park after Mile 23.  I looked up and sought out the rock outcropping where I spent a glorious afternoon with some girlfriends– one of whom was taken by breast cancer far too soon– a few years ago.  It made me catch my breath and remind me how much goodness there is in my life.

I hit Mile 24, and immediately got pissed because I knew if I’d been allowed to start in my assigned wave I’d be done by now.  You’d think I could have held on to the goodness of girlfriends and good health a bit longer, but sadly that just wasn’t where my mind was.  I’m unfailingly human.

So I pressed on, trying to soak in the crowds in the park.  I felt stronger on the rolling hills than I had on the long, flat stretches through the Bronx and Harlem.  As I turned right onto Central Park South, I was shocked at just how far away Columbus Circle seemed.  I started to read the shirts of the people around me, appreciating the charity runners, the international runners, the old folks, the young folks, the huge number of women running, and all the beautiful shades of flesh on the street with me.  It really was an international street party.

Turning back into the park and toward the finish, it all seemed to be ending so quickly.  I knew I had less than 1/2 mile to run, and I knew I would finish under 4 hours.  I reminded myself to look up and smile.  I didn’t feel great, it was my worst time ever, but I was still so lucky to be there and be a part of it.  The next thing I knew, I’d crossed the line and had a medal around my neck.  My official time was 3:59:09.  Don’t ever let it be said that once I have a goal in mind I’ll use any more energy than necessary getting there!!  I was incredibly disappointed, even though my high level goal had always been to break 4 hours.  I just knew I was way better trained than what my time reflects.

Thank God I had been warned that getting out of Central Park was the hardest part of the marathon. I’d received my medal and finisher bag (with apple, protein shake, water, pretzels, etc), but the finish area was so packed with runners that I couldn’t even really walk.  It was a long, slow shuffle a mile northward before I could exit the park. Then I was shunted back southward for nearly a half-mile before I was finally freed of the great marathon logistics. It was another half-mile walk to the subway to get back to Dyan’s.I must say, the people on the streets walking to/from the subway were awesome.  As soon as they saw me in my bright blue poncho, people shouted congratulations or held up their hand for a high five.  Even a little girl who looked to be Rosa’s age who was riding in a stroller looked right at me and said, “Good job, Runner!”  Melt.

I got back to Dyan’s and immediately peeled off my clothes and jumped in the shower.  Dyan and Lara arrived just as I was getting out. It was great to see them and finally get to give Lara a hug!  We chatted for 45 minutes or so, but yet another crappy part of being shut out of my corral was that it ate up 30 minutes of my Lara time.  Boo!  Hiss!  I did get to ride the subway with her down to Penn Station to catch her train so we could chat a bit more.  It’s incredibly humbling to have your friendship, Lara.

The rest of the day went quickly, with a trip to a diner for chicken souvlaki pita and fries for dinner. I stretched throughout the evening as we watched the media coverage of the race that Dyan recorded.  I was uplifted by hearing the elite runners complain about the winds, using phrases and key issues I’d described to Lara and Dyan.  That was incredibly validating.

I also loved reading through my texts and FB messages.  To hear from so many friends was really touching.  Around 10pm, I got a friend notification on FB— it was from Grace!  She didn’t know my last name, so she must have searched the marathon results for “Karen from Austin” to find me.  I love this, as it’s such a good example of what I love about running and runners.  The friendship and camraderie is uplifting.

I had so much adrenaline I couldn’t sleep.  I finally went to be around 11pm.  I startled awake around 4am with the feeling that I was still being wind whipped. I was up for nearly 2 hours before falling asleep again.  You’d think I’d sleep better after running a marathon, but that wind was so freaking intense, my poor nervous system just couldn’t shut off.  Honestly, it took a good 36 hours after finishing before I really felt like myself again.

Despite the less-than-optimal results, I’m so thrilled to have been a part of the NYC Marathon.  I maintain that distance running is a democratic and inclusive sport, and being part of that community gives me so much joy.  Here’s to one day running Berlin and Chicago, rounding out my participation in the Five World Marathon Majors.

It’s May again already?

Last Fall, I made the conscious decision to stop posting here at onbalance, in an effort to free up some time for my family and my personal fitness training.  The irony is that I was doing a lot of long distance running, and it is on these runs that I get my best ideas for blog posts and other fitness tidbits to share.  I’ve been keeping a list of these ideas, have repopulated by blog posting calendar, and am going to be here every Monday and Thursday throughout the summer….just in time to keep you from flagging while the weather is hot and the kids are out of school.


As usual, May means I’m  in the midst of my busy season teaching swim lessons.  I love working with children and teaching them water safety and the joy of being in the water.  Seeing the neuromuscular connections take place, the mechanics improve, and the body moving successfully across the water never fails to excite me.  And to see the kids’ confidence explode with this success is the cherry on top.


In an unusual turn, we’re having a way wetter and colder than normal May here in Austin, so my Aqua Kriya Yoga classes are off to s slow start.  We’re meeting this year on WEDNESDAY evenings, 6.30-7.30, in Central Austin.  (NOTE:  This week only, class is on Thursday 5/21 instead.)  Leave me a comment or drop me an email at karen @ balancepft dot com if you’d like more information.  Not in Austin but curious about aqua yoga?  Check out some FAQs I’ve answered.


Business-wise, I’m continuing to add new offerings to better support my clients on their fitness journey.  This year, I’m excited to be able to grow my Personal Training base.   I’m looking ahead to August, when all three of my kids are in school five-days-a-week; this means I’ll be able to see more clients even more regularly.  Walking with people as they develop new healthy behaviors is so rewarding.  Please do let me know if you’d like some support and direction for  your own wellness.  Not in Austin?  I can support you through virtual training, too!


In April I finished my certification to become a Prenatal Kriya Yoga instructor.  I’m spending some time this summer thinking about the best way I can reach out to and serve pregnant women with this soul and body nourishing practice.  Stay tuned!


My upcoming fitness goals are, once again, running focused.  In the short term, I’m looking forward to running Beach to Beacon in Maine this August.  Like two years ago when I ran Falmouth Road Race, toeing the line at B2B allows me to participate in one of the classic American summer road races.  It’s in the hometown of American distance running legend Joan Benoit Samuelson, who sparked my mind as a 10-year-old girl when she won the 1984 Olympic Marathon.  Longer term, my dad and I are cooking up a plan to go to South Africa next May to participate in Comrades Marathon, a 90K ultramarathon that is considered “The Ultimate Human Race.”  Again, stay tuned!  I’m going to need your support!

Good health and great happiness to you!

Happy New Year!

For me, it’s out with the old:


And in with the new:


Wishing you a well-supported, well-balanced 2015!

Inca Trail: By the Senses

I turned 40 in September.  So far, forty is most certainly fabulous.  In addition to running the NYC Marathon at the beginning of November, my husband and I celebrated this milestone birthday with a trip to Peru this month.  The cornerstone of our trip was a four-day, three-night trek along the 45 kilometer classic Inca Trail, finishing at Machu Picchu.   As an architectural historian-turned-fitness trainer, this trip has been on my travel bucket list for a while.

I’ve struggled with trying to recap the trip.  Every time I sat down to write a review, it was as if my whole being was still on sensory overload.  So instead of a typical trip review, I’m going to describe the Inca Trail by the senses.

The trekking group of Alpaca Expeditions.

The trekking group of Alpaca Expeditions.


Just a few hours into Day 1, our guide Saul asked us to step off the trail.  He asked us to link arms and close our eyes.  We then walked toward his voice, near the edge of a cliff.  It was a real trust test.  Just as I was getting really nervous, he asked us to stop, take a deep breath, and open our eyes.  In front of us was the great pre-Inca site of Patallacta, first inhabited around 500BC.  It was a transforming experience, immediately heightening the awesome reality that we were really on the Inca Trail, where people have walked, lived, traded, and built for centuries.


Patallaqta, from the cliff edge


Being high up in the mountains, we were in “the cloud forest” for much of our trek.  Watching the clouds roll in, lift up, and blow through a valley was surprisingly captivating.  My favorite example of this phenomenon was when we arrived at Phuyupatamarka (“village above the clouds”) in the morning of Day 3, and our guide Saul told us that Machu Picchu mountain was across the cloud-filled valley.  He looked out and across the sky, and he said, “Let’s wait about five minutes; the clouds will lift, and you’ll get your first view of Machu Picchu mountain and Aguas Calientes.”  Sure enough, we waited and the clouds evaporated just as he said they would.  He told us the history of the site—a communication post to call across the valley to the sentries stationed on Machu Picchu mountain–and just as he finished and we set off, the clouds descended on the valley once again obscuring the view.

Village Above the Clouds-- when we arrived

Village Above the Clouds– when we arrived

Five minutes later, the clouds lifted just as Saul predicted.

Five minutes later, the clouds lifted just as Saul predicted.

On Day 3, we hiked through the rain forest and jungle.  There were a lot of beautiful butterflies, the likes of which I’ve never seen before.  But what caught my eye was this shimmery, iridescent white butterfly that had purple and yellow under its wings as it floated across the sky.  It was so perfectly magical, it almost seemed fake.

In the jungle

In the jungle

Before the trip, I was a little afraid that seeing Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate wouldn’t live up to the hype in my head.  I was wrong.  Standing there on a bright, clear morning, looking 1000 feet down at the forgotten city, I got tears in my eyes.  It was, quite literally, a breathtaking experience.

From Inti Punku (Sun Gate)-- the original access point to Machu Picchu

From Inti Punku (Sun Gate)– the original access point to Machu Picchu

The stars.  One of the reasons I wanted to hike the Inca Trail was because I wanted to really escape and surround myself in the natural world.  I was hoping to catch a glimpse of a wide night sky.  We were blessed with clear weather during our trek, and the nights were positively spectacular.  Being able to see the night sky in its magnificence was a perk to waking up early (like 3:30am early) while on the trail.


The climb up to Dead Woman’s Pass (13,829 feet) on Day 2 had the soundtrack of heavy breathing.  We would walk for 5 minutes, rest for a minute, and repeat…for two hours.  The trail itself was quite good on the climb—mostly dirt trail as a ramp with a stone step up every 10 steps or so–  but the altitude was a challenge.


After lunch Day 2, we descended a series of stone steps for about 30 minutes before coming to a clearing.  It was so magnificent; we just stood and took it all in.  The next thing I knew, Saul had pulled out his pan flutes and was playing “Let It Be.”  Rather than being cheesy, it echoed beautifully among the mountains and filled the vastness.


I loved listening to the chaskis (aka “porters” — Chaski is the Quechua word for “Inca runner”).  The Quechua language is one-part guttural, one-part clicks, and one-part fluid language.  As they passed us, heavily-laden with enormous packs, they’d be chatting.  The chaskis also laughed.  A lot.  It was clear that each trek brings together a community of men who enjoy each other’s company while working hard.  I admire that.


There was a thunderstorm during lunch on Day 3.  The thunder rumbled so loudly, bouncing around the mountains.  One time there was even an extra “POP” after the thunder from atmospheric energy.  I’d say it was cool, but I was freaked out of my mind.

Having time to talk with—and listen to—John was a real treat.  After fifteen years, we had nine straight days of uninterrupted conversation, and I still love hearing his voice.  I did tell him to quit singing “I hike the Inca Trail in the morning sun” after the 1,000th time, though.



Coca tea—the coca plant grows in the rainforest of the Andes, and its leaves are used to combat everything from nausea to headaches.  As such, the leaves are steeped in hot water to be used as a tea to combat (or help prevent) altitude sickness.  It tastes fine, but OMG the smell.  Nasty.  I found that if I exhaled while sipping the tea I could drink it fine.  But if I forgot, the smell turned my stomach.

Popcorn.  You’re smelling it right now, aren’t you?  Imagine coming in to camp after 8 hours of hiking and smelling popcorn.  Pure awesome.

We had a 10 minute rain shower as we sat on the top of Dead Woman’s Pass on Day 2.  As we descended the million uneven, slippery stone steps down the backside of the pass, the air had that freshly scrubbed clean smell.  Maybe it was just the altitude, but I couldn’t get enough of it.

Descending the back side of Dead Woman's Pass

Descending the back side of Dead Woman’s Pass

Llamas are endearing to watch.  But they stink. A lot.

Llama at Intipata

Llama at Intipata

Llama at Winay Wayna (Forever Young)

Llama at Winay Wayna (Forever Young)

Free advice: If you’re going to trek the Inca Trail, choose a tour company that has its own toilet.  Just trust me on this one.



The best part of hiking the Inca Trail is getting to explore the many Inca archaeological sites along the way to Machu Picchu.  At these sites, we were given a history by Saul, then we were free to wander around, see the Inca’s handiwork up close, and examine the constructions.  The smoothness of the precise Inca stonework is well-known.  But to run your fingers across it and realize it was made by hand provides connection and meaning on a very human level.


Sayaqmarka (“steep-place town”) at the junction of three valleys


Exploring Sayaqmarka

Exploring Sayaqmarka

Hand-hewn cornerstone at Sayaqmarka, probably  originally used to anchor a roof structure

Hand-hewn cornerstone at Sayaqmarka, probably originally used to anchor a roof structure

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of using hiking poles on the trek.  The grip of the poles in my hands not only helped take some of the work of the challenging 45K hike out of my legs, but it gave me confidence when going down the steep stone steps.  So many times I commented how glad I was to have a firm grip on the poles.

Descending the steep steps at Intipata

Descending the steep steps at Intipata

The bowl of warm water that our chaskis brought to our tent each morning and night was wonderfully refreshing.  Washing my face with warm water was a simple pleasure for which I was grateful.  We also had water to wash hands before meals.

On the narrow ledge at Winay Wayna campsite (night 3)

On the narrow ledge at Winay Wayna campsite (night 3)

The weather is extremely varied along the trail.  In the course of one day, I would wear a short sleeve shirt with either a long sleeve shirt over it or arm warmers.  Sometimes I’d throw on my fleece jacket, too.  My headwear alternated between my running hat and my running skullcap (with earflaps).  Gloves went on and came off multiple times a day.  Feeling the weather change as we hiked through several microclimates every day heightened my appreciation of the physical nature of our journey.

Day 2, morning, on the ascent of Dead Woman's Pass

Day 2, morning, on the ascent of Dead Woman’s Pass

Day 2, at Runkuraquay, on the way up the second pass

Day 2, at Runkuraquay, on the way up the second pass

Let’s face it. Camping isn’t really comfortable.  John had never camped a night in his life before this trip.  Muscle soreness from hiking + aches and pains from sleeping on the ground = A clear reminder that we’re not 20 anymore.  But the views from the tent were priceless.

Out of the tent, looking right at Machu Picchu mountain.

Out of the tent, looking right at Machu Picchu mountain.



Do you like eggs and fresh fruit for breakfast?  Or do you prefer pancakes?  Hot chocolate, tea, or coffee?  We had all of these things, each and every morning.  If none of that appeals to you, stick around for lunch and dinner, where each meal included some kind of chicken, some kind of fish, two vegetarian dishes, yucca and potatoes, and other foods I can’t even remember.  So.Much.Good.Food.  All while camping.

Dinner options

Dinner options

I never knew Peru had such awesome soups.  Each of our dinners began with a soup course, and each soup was better than the last. Maybe it was the warmth of the soup, or maybe it was the varied but always fresh flavors, but MAN that soup was good.  We had a professional chef as part of our eight-person tour group, and he even commented that the soups were outstanding.

Soup's on!

Soup’s on!

To celebrate our three days of hard hiking, the chef steam baked a cake for us on the last evening.  We shared it with the chaskis, savoring the satisfaction of hard physical work and delicious cake—two of my favorite things!

Saul and two of our twelve chaskis

Saul and two of our twelve chaskis

In the end, there’s so much I’m leaving out of this review.  The trip lived up to–and exceed– expectations in so many ways.  Ironically, the only tiniest bit of disappointment was Machu Picchu itself.  After three days of exploring ruins like this:

Practically deserted Intipata, free to explore as we wished

Practically deserted Intipata, free to explore as we wished

…it was really hard to a) follow a prescribed path around the site and b) share it with 3000 other people.  As such, if you have interest in going to Machu Picchu, I encourage you to hike the Inca Trail.  You’ll gain an incredible appreciation for the Inca people and culture as a whole, thus better contextualizing your understanding of Machu Picchu itself.  Even better, you’ll have had the experience of so many other Inca sites, exploring them as you wish, and completing the trek is terrifically satisfying.

I concur with our tour operator, the fabulous Alpaca Expeditions, whose motto is “the journey is the destination.”





NYC Marathon Pre-Race Packing

Pre-race anxiety is a marathoner’s right, and I am experiencing it in a new and different way right now.  I have run 10 marathons before, but only once did I fly to the event.  I was flying from a cold climate (Boston in February) to a temperate climate (Austin in February), so I was fairly certain I’d be running in warmer weather than what I was used to.

This time, I am leaving Friday (tomorrow!!) morning, returning Monday night.  The weather forecast has highest highs around 55 and lowest lows around 36.  First of all, these numbers mean NOTHING to me, as I have not felt anything as cool as 50 since last spring….  I can’t even imagine what 50 feels like, much less 40 or 36.

I also need to pack regular clothes, which includes an outfit to go to a Broadway show as well as my super cozy wear-in-public-appropriate loungewear for the trip home.  I have a pair of somewhat fashionable shoes that has to get in the suitcase, too. And I’m planning on carrying on my bag, so as to avoid those nasty checked bag fees.

Of course, I also need a full compliment of running attire, given that some models show race day to be dry with temps ranging from 38-45 and some models show race day to have snow (no, dear God, no) and some models show race day to be 40 and rainy (definitely not ideal, either).  All models show Sunday to be very windy– 20-25mph winds with gusts up to 35-40mph.  My race day outfit will be my Texas flag running shorts and some combination of these running bras and tops, depending on the weather.  I’m sure I’ll wear gloves and my running hat, at least until I’m off the Verranzano-Narrows Bridge.


The race time temps aren’t so important for the race itself, but they will affect my pre-race body.  I catch the Staten Island Ferry at 7:30am, but I don’t start the race until 10:05am.  What am I doing for those hours in between?  Sitting around soggy Ft. Wadsworth in the athletes’ village, trying to cast off more nervous energy than I absorb.  I’ll also be trying to keep warm.

I went to Savers yesterday to buy a fleece jacket and sweatpants that I will wear over my racing clothes (whatever they happen to be….) and then toss at the start line.  Those will go over an old Balance Personal Fitness Training  t-shirt and a pair of capris I made myself.  I also bought long socks and cut out the toes to make arm warmers.  I have old gloves that I will wear over my running gloves. And a knit hat. And I have my running hat, should it be on the colder end of temps.  And a baseball-cap style hat in case it rains. And sunglasses.  I’m taking an old pair of running shoes and two pair of old socks to wear to the athletes’ village. Of course there will be Body Glide, too.  Consider yourself lucky if you don’t know what it’s for.  There’s also a red transparent poncho to go on top of everything and a small plastic sheet to sit on in case it’s muddy or wet around the start corrals.


This is why I have anxiety, y’all.  I run because it’s easy.  It’s simple. Straightforward.

But this race prep thing?  It involves trying to predict the future, and I’m not good at that.

In the end, though, I’ve got these things in my suitcase, and they’re really all I need.


Everything else is details!

Marathon Mania

I last left you several (eeep…THREE) months ago, when I was writing a series of marathon training plans.  I’d pre-written most of the blog posts for July, as I was heading out for vacation with my family and wanted to be able to focus on them.  As it turns out, I rather like my family, and I’m so happy to have a business and life that allows me so much time with them.  I also used that month to decide that I needed to pull back from some aspects of my business– namely blogging and taking on new clients– so I could put more energy in to my own marathon training.  I haven’t been so inwardly focused in years.

I’m now T-minus six days and counting until the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon.  My training has gone exceptionally well, and I feel prepared to run a respectable race.

The ironic thing is that I wound up following a completely different training plan than any of the ones I’d been outlining here at OnBalance.  I chose, instead, to follow a training plan by Doug Kurtis that I saw in the June issue of Runners World.    Kurtis is the only person recorded to have 200 sub 3:00 marathons as well has to have run a sub 3:00 marathon in five different decades.  This guy knows how to run fast and how to train to stay competitive as the body ages.

I liked the plan’s balance between easy days, mileage, tempo/interval runs, and long runs.  There was a methodical build up in mileage, but even the mid-week runs (which max out at 8 miles) were compatible with a busy mom’s schedule.  Even juggling early morning clients, getting my kids to school (three kids at three different schools), and finding time to shower before my regular morning slate of clients, I never felt overwhelmed.  Cheers to that!

But what I really liked about the plan was the number of long runs that were divided into two efforts on the same day.  This worked well for me logistically– for example, I can do 8 miles before an 8am soccer game and then do 8 more in the evening way more easily than I can get in a 16 miler when both boys have to be at two different soccer fields for morning games.  I also loved the confidence that came with running tired.  I feel very well-prepared for the final miles of the marathon, knowing that I have a lot of experience running on tired legs.  (This was the big appeal of the Hanson Marathon Method as well.)  As I sit here with extra energy during my taper week, I know that I am ready for the race on Sunday.

The main change I made to the Kurtis plan was to eliminate the Monday run.  In the first ten weeks of the program, I replaced it with deep water running, 10 minutes for every mile.  In the final 10 weeks of the program, I opted to skip the Monday run entirely and focus on a good walk and stretching session.  I probably could have done the full program as written, but I’m pleased to report that I will be toeing the line in Staten Island injury-free.  I think taking one more rest day each week helped these 40 year old legs.

I thought that Kurtis’s ten tips for marathon training were incredibly sensible.  My only exception is that I prefer to run alone– as an extroverted introvert, I need time by myself to think and recharge.  That’s what running is to me.  Otherwise, his philosophy resonated with me, and now that I’ve followed his training plan I feel healthy, strong, and confident.

People have asked me why I follow someone else’s training plan when I get paid to write training plans for other people.  Here’s the truth: sometimes it’s nice to have someone else lay it all out for you.  My energy can be directed into the workouts rather than into whether or not I  should swap out this workout for that workout or spending time spinning my wheels by overthinking things.  At the end of the day, I wanted to run more than I wanted to craft a training plan.

Apologies for the break in blogging, but please know that the time and brain space that I normally devote to these posts has been constructively redirected.  It’s a real blessing to have the time, energy, health, and support to train for a marathon.  I’m grateful to have gone through this process again– for the TENTH time!– and look forward to trusting my training on Sunday.


P.S.  I’m looking forward to taking on new clients again starting next week.  If you’re in the Austin area and would like to talk with me about how I can help you achieve your fitness goals while still fitting in family life, you can email me: karen at balancepft dot com.

Marathon Training Plan Review: Hanson’s Marathon Method

This post is the third in a series that reviews marathon training plans.  Each review is based on my experiences and opinions.  Your mileage may vary.

Who the heck are the Hansons, and can I really run a marathon without doing lots of long runs?

The Basics

Keith and Kevin Hanson are brothers who own and operate a running store in Detroit.  Twenty years ago they took a look at some of the science regarding long distance running and developed a plan based on the premise that optimal running performance is achieved when running 2-3 hours…and physiological damage is done after that point.  To this end, the Hanson Marathon Method is a high-mileage training plan, but no single run is longer than 16 miles.  It is based on the principle of cumulative fatigue.  As the Hansons like to say, the plan teaches you how to run the last 16 miles of the marathon (when most runners fall apart).  The plan includes SOS workouts (Something Of Substance), which are tempo runs, speed workouts, strength workouts, and long runs.

The Differentiator

The Hansons’ plan that eschews the traditional long run is radical.  I must admit that I was skeptical of the entire premise.  The plan requires runners to train six days a week, also radical in our fast and efficient society.   Rather than looking at all of the easy days on the calendar and dismissing them as “junk miles”, the Hansons challenge their audience to understand the idea of cumulative effort and that running every day teaches you to run when tired.

The Pros

It’s a blessedly simple and straightforward plan.  Only three paces to guide your workouts– 5K and 10K paces for speed and strength workouts, goal pace for tempo workouts, and goal pace + 1-2 min/mi for easy workouts.  The book explains clearly the value of specificity– running faster is the best way to make your body learn to run faster.  And running a lot will help your body learn to run a lot.

The plan requires no fancy equipment.  While there is a very short chapter about stretching and strength training, it is not a formal component of the plan.  Let’s face it….most runners like to run.  And this plan is all running, all the time.

That said, you don’t have to devote your entire weekend to a long run.  For those of us who have weekend commitments that make running for 3+ hours on the weekend a challenge (soccer games, swim meets, other kid activities, church)– and then the afternoon nap required after such an effort– the no-run-longer-than-16-miles plan allows you to still have a family life on the weekend.

The Cons

There’s no way around it.  This is a high-mileage program.  It requires your commitment to running and running only.  For the 4-hour marathoner, you may be running two workouts per week that are close to two hours each.  Also, with only one rest day per week during the majority of the training weeks, you should expect to be exhausted during training.

For the novice marathoner, I can see that there might be a mental hiccup in truly believing that a 16 mile long run will have you prepared to run more than ten miles more on race day.  This is where you just have to trust the training (like one of the Hanson wives did, and PRed after having being skeptical of her husband’s training program).

The Bottom Line

If you love to run and have the discipline to run a lot of easy, fairly slow miles, this is your plan.  If you have a work/life schedule that allows you to workout 60-90 minutes a day, most days of the week, this is your plan.  If you like simplicity, this is your plan.

It took me two times to read through the book before I decided that Hansons Marathon Method is the training plan I’m using to prepare for the 2014 ING NYC Marathon.  I’m ready to rediscover the peaceful rhythm of running daily and am looking forward to trying the Hansons plan.