What’s on your Challenge List?

I found this hanging in the basement, where my kids spend a lot of their free time in the winter. I can’t get them to pick up dirty clothes off the floor, but I see they are self-motivated to try something hard, set goals, and work to achieve them. They are already discovering the joy of crossing something off a list.

I heard Kathleen Turner say in an interview on the radio that you must try things that risk failure in order to grow.

Before you ask yourself what you can put on your challenge list, ask this first: Do you want to grow? Then ask: How do you want to grow?

What’s on your challenge list?


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Finding Fitness Goals in the Chaos of Motherhood

A perk of pursuing 5Ks over marathons is that friends and family are more likely to join you on the course. That's me and my husband in orange (yup, wrong holiday) with my sister, brother-in-law and two nephews last weekend.

I’ve mentioned here and there my quest for a 5K personal record. In this surge of marathon pursuits, why would I care about a measly 3.1 miles?

It feels as if every runner I know is taking on a half-marathon or a marathon. This is not just anecdotal, either according to Running in the USA’s 2011 Annual Running Report: In 1993, the year I did my first marathon, there were about 250,000 of us running the 26.2-mile distance. That number doubled in 2010 with more than 500,000 finishers. But the growth in half marathons is even crazier. In 2000 there were some 482,000 people who finished a half-marathon. In 2010 that number exploded to 1,385,000. See what I mean. Everyone’s doing it.

I was tempted to jump deep into the marathon training tide. I haven’t run a marathon since 2006. I felt I was due. Plus I’m stronger now than I was during previous marathon finishes. I felt I owed it to myself to run the distance again. There was this ongoing conversation between my mind and body:

Mind: You used to sign up for an endurance event at least once a year. It’s been a really long time since you pushed yourself.

Body: Aren’t you forgetting those four babies? I seem to recall a lot pushing.

Mind: Yeah, yeah. You’re officially past calling yourself postpartum. Get on with it.

Body: We tried that once, remember? There was marathon training in 2004. The twins weren’t even 1-year-old.

Mind: Doesn’t count. You never did the marathon you signed up for because you got pregnant again. Slut.

Body: Yeah, and then we did it–finished in 2006. And I say “we” because I needed you to drag my sorry legs over the finish line.

Mind: That was pathetic. Don’t you want to redeem yourself?

Body: I do. I definitely do. Later.

This conversation has been going on for some time. Then two “Aha!” moments converged upon each other. If you’ve ever had one, then you know an Aha!-Aha! moment is nothing to dismiss. They’re really jarring.

Aha! moment #1: As I thought about plotting my training for a marathon my husband’s work travel ramped up requiring me to forego a few of my usual early morning runs. Sure, I made alternate arrangements and/or modified my training, but I would have been a lot more stressed about getting in *exactly* what I needed to do had a 26.2-mile race been looming in my not-so-distant future.

I still wanted a goal. But a goal doesn’t have to have larger-than-life qualities to be worthy of goal status. That’s the party line in Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom. Sometimes I read that book and I say to myself: Wow, there’s some really good advice in there. You ought to take it. So, following the advice I give myself I decided: For my current circumstances and schedule, I need a more manageable goal. I need something shorter, that requires less time to train. And, most importantly, I don’t need to apologize for that.

Aha moment #2: After racing a few sprint triathlons last summer, my runs were always strong. I love triathlon but I had to wonder: how would my 5K time look without swimming and biking first?

When I started running 20 years ago, I started by racing 5Ks. Over and over. Every weekend. I loved to race, and with the help of a coach my 5K times went from 23 minutes to my all-time best of 19:58. Soon after that I got the marathon bug and then the triathlon bug and rarely raced short run-only distances again. I look back fondly on those short races (and the less expensive entry fees, too).

Then came the Aha!-Aha! moment. (Brace yourself.)

After birthing four children I darn well feel like I’ve started over again. If the 5K distance is where my running started 20 years ago, then why not start racing there again now that I’ve “rebuilt” this machine of mine? Twenty years later could I run under 20 minutes again? Despite the short distance, my goal is still hard enough to challenge me and motivate me to get out and work hard to achieve it, but not so intense to add stress to my already hectic life.


This! This is what it means to find fitness in the chaos of motherhood!

I still look forward to signing up for a half marathon or marathon. I do. I definitely do. Later. For now I will continue to chase my 5K goal. I got closer to it last weekend and made the local paper. Sweet!

How about you? Do you modify your goals according to what’s going on in your life? And what’s your goal right now? I’d love to hear about it! –Kara

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Dangling Carrots: Will Fit Parents Influence Kids to Become Fit Adults?

What can make a fit mom, trying to raise fit kids, more proud than seeing her child grasping a donut hole in one hand and a baby carrot in the other?

O.K., a few things. But this ranks, I tell you.

After church on Sunday the kids ran into the foyer, where the post-service donuts and coffee are served. One of the reasons they like this church (for now, actually, the only reason) is because they offer donuts. When I found them the first thing that caught my eye was the bright orange nub of a carrot poking out of my daughter’s fist. She was simultaneously taking bites of donut and carrot.

Here’s why this matters to me:

#1–I did not say, “In order to eat a donut hole you must also eat a carrot.” But I have said that, or versions of that, quite a bit in my years as a mother.

#2–I did not expect anyone to eat their vegetables that morning. I didn’t know there would be vegetables served with donuts. (Who does that? Are you pointing at me? I didn’t do that, I promise!) The choice was all there’s. I know she likes carrots, but…

Before you a table; a spread of donuts holes and a little bowl of carrots. What would Jesus do?

OK forgive my irreverence. But seriously, the child who chooses a carrot? Let me be a little bit proud, here.

Seeing that carrot in her hand, it was like getting an A on my Motherhood Report Card (they don’t hand these out very often). I felt like perhaps I was doing something right. That my message about how our body needs healthy food for fuel was resonating.

More likely, of course, is that she just likes carrots. I’m puuuuurdy sure had broccoli florets been offered they would have gone untouched.

But let’s linger here for a little longer. Let’s dwell in the victory, such that it is.

A huge part of our message in Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom is that an important reason to exercise and eat nutritiously–aside from the bazillion health benefits–is to role model a fit lifestyle for our children. There is research that supports this. But you know what? There is also research that says, “Meh… what parents do doesn’t really matter.” Like most research out there you can find a study that supports any view you want to take.

What I can’t find in the research, but that I swear I’ve read somewhere because I repeat it often, is this: Parents who are active raise kids to become active adults.

Subtle. Did you catch it?

Most of the research focuses on what makes kids active. But we know very little about what will influence them to become active adults. In the long-term plan, this really is the ultimate goal. What will they choose for themselves when they leave the nest?
I have plenty of anecdotal research, of course. My favorite comes from Liz Johnson, a triathlete I knew in Dallas, whose story I included in my book, “Becoming an Ironman: First Encounters with the Ultimate Endurance Event.” Liz was a single mom of six kids. She lived in a small town in Kansas, coached a swim team and taught aerobics when aerobics was the hot new way to exercise. She trained for the Hawaii Ironman in 1989 and her kids helped her every step of the way:

My support crew and my training partners were my children. The kids all swam, so we were in the pool together a lot. Three of the kids did track and cross country, and my third son Jere–number four child–used to get up and run with me in the mornings. People talk about how training is time away from their family, but not for us.

She goes on to explain how she tackled her long bike rides:

We would take the car and two bikes and the kids would take turns riding with me. They would ride about ten miles apiece and then switch out. Of course, we had to work it so we had somebody old enough to drive the car.

But here’s what Liz says at the end of her story, that perhaps is all the research I need, maybe it’s the research I’ve been referring to all along:

Aside from being an ironman finisher one of my greatest athletic accomplishments is raising children who have grown up to appreciate fitness and include it in their life somehow.”

Maybe that’s why the carrot was somehow symbolic that my choices are influencing my children’s choices; a sign that my kids will grow up to make healthy choices, too.

If there’s one thing I’ve realized as a parent–and I realized this fairly early on–it’s that I don’t have a whole heck of a lot of control. My job as a parent is to help them become who they are meant to be. I live the way I do because I want to for my own reasons; in doing so I hope I’m leading by example, that there are some merits worth emulating. And, as a friend of mine said recently, one of my goals as a parent is to end up on my children’s advisory board. Good enough.

I will bring the donut holes and the carrots to the meetings.

Do you think a parents lifestyle influences their children’s choices? Do you have research to back that up? Either way, I want to hear about it!


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Look Where You Leap

As Leap Day approached I began to have this sense I was to get what I always seem to need: an extra 24 hours in the day. I didn’t write this blog post as usual on Monday because, well, I could do it on my “extra” day (and I also wanted the novelty of posting on Leap Day for no other reason than to have February 29 logged on the blog, which is about as significant as picking out a certain coffee mug to drink from in the morning to elicit a certain mood, but that’s what I do).

An extra 24 hours.

Would the laundry get washed, folded and put away? If so, Leap Day could replace my desire to declare “Naked Day” for this same purpose.

Would I have enough time to work on upcoming deadlines? If so, Leap Day would allow me to bring my head “above water,” rather than stay where I usually am, just below the surface, breathing with a snorkel.

Would time for my workout come easily? If so, Leap Day could become the “restart” day I’ve needed in the slow-to-motivate last two weeks.

Then I started to think that perhaps Leap Day should be designated a holiday so that people can take advantage of their 24 hours however they wished. I wanted my daughters home from school. I wanted us to approach our extra 1,440 minutes with intent. By marking this bonus day in some way special, we would celebrate time–really consider what it means to have time here on earth–and thus, our life and our time together.

Backstory: I spent the weekend at the Motherhood and Words Writing Retreat. I was cocooned with seven extraordinary women with ample time for writing my life and a bonus health coaching session that provided much needed tools for living my life (and don’t you know I’ll be blogging about that in the future). If you’ll allow me to continue with my metaphor, I feel as if I’m still snugged up in that protective cocoon built from my experience at the retreat. Sure I came home and dove back into “real lice”–oh my gosh, did I say lice? I mean life, although, yes, there was lice, too (again, another post, focus Kara!)–I can’t shake the serenity. There was a metamorphis. I feel different. I have new friends; new essays; new ideas; new knowledge. I am by no means ready to fly, I am still enjoying this place of comfort and transition–LO!–the PRESENT!

Is that truly possible? Am I here, living in the present? Or… is it the coffee mug I chose this morning? The one that evokes Eastern religion and meditation for me. The green is calming, the orange blossoms–my favorite color–make me happy. Or did I pick the mug because I’m already here, in the present*, where I should stay because, to quote a friend: it’s the only place my body knows.

Would you believe… while writing this post, the school district called with their automated message announcing that, due to severe weather, school is cancelled today, Leap Day. Coincidence? No, I can’t see it that way. God is so unbelievably good to me like that. I will embrace the day for the holiday it is.


*Disclaimer: I kind of hate it when people talk about the importance of living life in the present when I don’t feel I’m doing that very well, mostly because I’m hearing something I already know and forcing myself to thinkabout being present doesn’t seem to work very well. Therein lies my problem, as I learned on this retreat. I can’t just *think* about being present, I must act on living in the present. I can no more think my way about being present as I can think myself into running a personal best 5K. For that I am planning my workouts and diligently following the plan with specific speed and strength training. So it is with living in the present. Apparently mindful workouts (sitting still, reflecting, meditating) are necessary.

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Life with a Fit Mom from Birth to Age 3

My mom says when you grow up in a fit family you have the advantage of never having to start exercising. Apparently getting started on the path to a fit life is the hardest part. Kids in fit families just don’t know any different.

Here I am working out with mom. Before I was born she would smuggle me into the fitness center.

This still goes down as our hardest workout together. What started as an easy walk around the maternity floor–throwing in some lunges and squats–became more difficult as the night went on. It left us both exhausted and crying. The exercise-induced endorphins were awesome though.


I don’t exactly remember any workouts those first few months. Maybe I slept through most of them. Maybe the dog wouldn’t let me out of her sight.


Early on I couldn’t go to the gym because I was too little. Then mom was too sleep deprived to remember to make an appointment in the infant room. So I hung out with dad.
Tethered together like this, we got in lots of walking workouts. We were also the family’s cheer team that first summer, watching as they competed and crossed finish lines. We were patient (as only mastitis can make necessary). Our turn would come.
Life changed when we got our Bob Revolution Stroller. Whether running sprints to the post office (hurry, before the bus!) or a leisurely jog through the arboretum, mom’s been a reliable training partner.
As I grew and got stronger, she got stronger. At every opportunity, was the workout.
The following summer, after all that training mom got back to crossing finish lines. I cheered her on.
Then, like a baby bird I got tossed out of the nest. I wasn’t sure I could fly.
We experimented with snowshoes that winter. Awesome.
Mom says finding opportunities to workout with kids is also an exercise in creativity and persistence.
And like we do whenever the weather allows, we “play out” a lot. If you’re ever at a park never allow your mom or dad to sit on a bench and watch. Make them move, too.
That fall they threw me out of the nest again. I’m definitely growing up active, but racing is for the birds.

We still go to the fitness center together a lot. I have my workouts and mom has hers. Mom doesn’t need to smuggle me in or make an appointment any more, she just has to remember to carry more stuff in her gym bag. I’m old enough now to know better not to sabotage her workout with a dirty diaper. I’ve learned the day will go better for me if I let her workout… She’s a nice mom and all, just nicer after the workout.

Now that I’m three, my fitness world is expanding: swimming lessons, soccer, riding my bike. So much to do. Mom still makes a pretty good training partner. She says she always will.

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Are You Drawn to Scale?

Will this be a make or break moment?

Sometimes you know you’re the bee’s knees. Like those mornings when you drag yourself out of bed an hour early so you can squeeze in a workout before the rest of the crew gets up. Or, those afternoons you insist everyone (including Mom) enjoys a healthy afterschool snack. Maybe you’ve raised your chin a little higher because you’ve been consistent and dedicated to a new healthy way of life.

And then, feeling confident and self-assured, you climb on the scale for a little extra validation. Which quickly becomes




Stepping on the scale isn’t always happy inducing, is it? Sometimes that number just doesn’t jive with what’s going on in your life and suddenly, faster than you can down a little high carb comfort food, your mood is soured and your motivation squashed.

Here’s where your mindset can be make-or-break. On a good day you might assume the scale is inaccurate, you’re retaining water, or the weight gain is the result of fat turning to muscle. You shrug your shoulders, step off, and move on with your life. A “bad” number is nothing but a small blip on your radar.

Other times a disagreement with the scale can leave you feeling like you’ve been kicked in the gut. You decide you’re a hopeless case who is never going to meet her health and fitness goals and make your way to the cookie jar. Or, maybe you’re prone to the opposite behavior and begin restricting your diet. Either way, there is no healthy escape.

We’re all prone to either reaction on any given day. Ensure you’re doing everything you can to foster your fit lifestyle. Live life a little more deliberately and follow these five pointers when you’re drawn to check the scale:

  1. Don’t weigh yourself every day. Lots of factors, especially water retention, can cause your weight to vary significantly from day to day. Don’t get sucked into those daily fluctuations in weight—your mood is likely to follow. Who needs another reason to be moody?
  2. Your weight can vary 2-4 pounds during the day so when you do hit the scale, do it at the same time each day. Morning, when you first get out of bed, is best since that’s when most of us are at our lightest.
  3. Use the same scale each time to weight yourself to avoid confusing accuracy with variance.
  4. Think through the consequences of meeting or not meeting your goal. Only step on the scale if you are confident you won’t let an unexpectedly high number defeat you.
  5. Chuck it (as in garbage heap). Remember that your weight doesn’t tell the whole story. Instead of judging your progress by the number on the scale, gauge your success by how your clothes are fitting, your energy level, or your general state of health.  After all, that’s what this whole healthy living thing is all about anyway, isn’t it?

-Laurie Kocanda

What’s your relationship with the scale like? Connected at the hip, separated for good, or somewhere in between? Do you own a scale? Why or why not?

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