Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Laurie Kocanda (top photo) and Kara Douglass Thom (bottom photo) have many things in common; both are mothers, runners, triathletes, authors/editors, etc. And like many of us, both are trying to balance family, careers and training – among other things. Recently they’ve joined forces in an effort to share their “secrets” with other women (and men) who are trying to master the same balancing act.

You guys gave a presentation at the TCM expo. How did that come about and what is the topic?
Kara: I have a children’s book called See Mom Run, and in an effort to promote the book and my interest in prenatal/postnatal fitness I approached TCM with the expo topic. That was in 2004—I was training for the marathon and hoped my twins (who would turn one that August) would “see mom run” and finish that marathon. Then (surprise!) six weeks before the race I realized I was pregnant. I figured this out at a track workout, by the way. I felt great but my heart rate wasn’t recovering as it normally did. I felt great, wasn’t sick and figured there could be only one other thing at play. I was right. Anyway, I digress. Point is, runners don’t need to buy pregnancy tests. So there I was pregnant again and my body immediately put the brakes on. I had a hard time running the first pregnancy (obviously, two in there) but my body didn’t take to running even with one in the oven. So, what was I supposed to say about running through pregnancy? A lot of nothing! When it came time to revisit the idea of doing this talk (2006) I realized I did have a lot to say in terms of being an athlete and struggling with the challenge of not being able to run. Very rarely do you hear this scenario, which, I believe, is quite common. I knew Laurie Kocanda and how she handled an athletic pregnancy beautifully. The two of us could speak to both scenarios: how to run through a pregnancy when you can, and how to handle it when you can’t. Thing was, our first meeting to prepare the talk we realized whether you run through pregnancy or not is really insignificant. After you have children we’re all on the same playing field and we share the same challenge: how do I get my workouts in now? That’s how the idea for our next book, Hot (Sweaty) Mamas, was born.

Laurie: Kara asked if I’d like to talk with her at the expo on running during pregnancy. (I was very fortunate to have run through both of my pregnancies.) Sounded like fun to me. When we sat down to plan our talk, though, we realized the hard (but wonderful!) part of motherhood comes after you arrive home with your baby. Finding time to workout, and believing that you deserve and need that time, is a much more difficult task. So, we changed our focus. It’s a topic that interests both moms and dads—we’ve actually had dads at most of our talks.

Do you have more presentations planned for 2007 and will they be similar to your TCM presentation?
Kara: So far we’ve talked at the TCM expo, the White Rock Marathon expo in Dallas and at Gear West. We’re hoping to organize a few more talks locally this spring and summer. The talk keeps evolving as we share and learn from our own experiences and those with other mom athletes.

Laurie: We have a couple of running stores that are interested in hosting the talk. Hopefully within the next few months we’ll have something on our calendars.

What are your secrets for balancing family, work and fitness?
Kara: Funny you ask, I wrote an article with almost the exact same title for Lifetime Fitness’ Experience Life magazine, in their January issue. The article focused on priorities. For my husband and I (and I’m fortunate he’s in on this with me) fitness is one of our priorities. We know this about each other and no one is surprised when the other needs to make arrangements to get a workout in. However, to make certain we each have time for fitness we have established a routine so we know who gets to workout when. It makes for one less thing to coordinate, which is helpful. If I want to be certain to get a workout in, it needs to happen early—before anyone is awake. But, I also like to use the gym or (in extreme cases because my kids’ ages are 3, 3, and 2) get them involved in my workout. This helps them understand fitness is a priority in our family, too. But, as I mention in the article, sometimes training has taken a “way back” seat in my life. It took me a while to become OK with that, but I’m healthier (mentally and physically) for it.

Laurie: For me, flexible planning is key. I have a schedule that I follow—up early for my cycling classes and certain days where I have a sitter (lucky me, that’s grandpa) to come and watch the kids while I run. I only have two days that are a bit uncertain as far as my running is concerned. I usually try to hook up with a friend to swap workouts or head to the gym. If those fail, though, I run when my husband gets home. I don’t like doing that too often, though, because I want to be with him and the girls at night. But sometimes it’s the only thing that works.

You’re currently the editor for Twin Cities Sports, Laurie, is that your full-time job?
I’m the editor, but it’s not a full-time position. Hopefully within the next few years we’ll publish every month and the job will grow. I work from home, so my hours are completely flexible. I love covering the local scene, and love hearing from readers. Anyone with a great story should contact me at laurie@twincitiessports.com.

Kara, can you tell us about your book, See Mom Run?
The idea for See Mom Run came to me during a yoga workout, long before I was even pregnant, I might add. I approached my publisher (Breakaway Books) about it and it was a go. Books take a long time to get from idea to bookstore. By the time the book was published I was two weeks away from becoming a mother. The irony is I could barely walk. Running was a distant memory! I had to work my way back to becoming the mom in my book who trains for a marathon with the “help” of her daughter. I did it, finally, at TCM in 2006—with the “help” of my three daughters.

How about your first book?
Becoming an Ironman is a collection of stories from people who competed in their first Ironman, including people who did their first during the years the sport was just beginning, firsts from professionals when they weren't yet professionals, a look at attempts by people who didn't ultimately finish, just lots of various scenarios. I was lucky to find an interested publisher (Breakaway Books) when I came up with the idea for the book, shortly after finishing my first Ironman at Canada in 1999. I began collecting stories in 2000 and the book was published in 2001. It's sold steadily ever since. It's not a training book, but with so many personal details and a variety of circumstances it does help people who are training for their first Ironman.

You guys are working on another book together. Can you tell us a little about that project?
Kara: Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Nurturing the Athlete within while Raising Children, is the working title. Laurie and I have been at work on it since last June. It’s a book for moms (former athletes trying to regain their identity as an athlete and those discovering sport) who are trying to figure out how to make it work without going crazy. Sometimes the stuff we go through as mom athletes is laughable, sometimes freakishly frustrating. We’re hoping to offer clarity, ideas, and sisterly support.

Laurie: Kara gave you a great description of the book. It’s so much fun to write about the things you are really passionate about. I can’t wait to get it in the hands of other mom-athletes.

How’d you get involved with running and triathlons?
Kara: I started running in 1992. One of my running friends was doing triathlons and talked me into a relay. I loved it. I was immediately hooked.

Laurie: I’ve been a runner on and off since graduate school. It wasn’t until I moved back to Minnesota and started training for my first marathon that I became a “real” runner. That was the summer of 1995 and I’ve been running ever since (somewhere around 25 marathons in that time). My foray into triathlon was somewhat spontaneous. My husband and I, along with a couple of friends registered for an Ironman after completing our first short course event.

What are your PRs?
Kara: My marathon PR is 3:35, at the 1998 TCM, before I lived here (moved from Dallas in 2003).

I did a 12:34 at Ironman Canada 1999 and 12:30 at Ironman New Zealand in 2002. That includes a 4 minute penalty due to my husband chatting me up while on a mountain bike (those kiwis are strict about that “outside assistance” rule!) Thing was I had a great marathon—I think it was a 4:12 or so. I did yoga while I waited to start running again. Between the zen and just being pissed off about it, I ran faster than I expected.

My 5K PR, which I’m sure is too old to count anymore, is 19:58. My goal this year is to see if I can get anywhere near that.

Laurie: I ran my fastest marathon after each daughter was born (is that a reason to have more children?). My current PR is a 3:18, which I ran at the 2006 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. My best half marathon time is a 1:36, which I ran at last year’s Urban Wildlife Half Marathon. I hope to best those times this summer.

My first Ironman was Ironman USA where I finished in 12:36. Next up was Ironman Wisconsin (post baby #1). I finished in 11:55. Again, baby made me faster. I’d like to do another Ironman in the next few years. I think my improvements in running will help me significantly.

What are your goals for 2007?
Kara: Ah, I believe I got ahead of the interview! See above!

In addition, I’d like to do a few more sprint triathlons. That’s what I did last year—my return to triathlon after almost four years without racing. I loved doing short races and found them as satisfying as a season full of long-course racing. (Of course, doing a sprint and then going home to take care of three kids is a little like long-course racing).

Laurie: My primary goal for 2007 is to PR in the marathon. I’d love to set a new half marathon PR on the way. After a two-year hiatus from triathlon, I’d like to race a couple this summer and finish near the top of my age group.

What’s your training philosophy and what is a typical training week like for you, in-season (i.e. mpw, types of hard workouts, etc.)?
Kara: I don’t really know typical anymore. My running days are Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. I try to get on the trainer or in a spin class twice a week (but it’s usually once) and the pool once. Sometimes my workout consists of walking with my 2-year-old in the backpack, my twins in the jogger, and the dog on the leash. I wear my heart rate monitor. It counts as a workout.

Laurie: I love to train so I try to sneak in as much as possible during the week. I’m up early three days a week to teach group cycling classes and try to run six days per week. I usually average in the mid-fifties for mileage—that includes a weekend long run, track work, a mid distance tempo run, and at least one social run with a pal. Without my amazing supportive husband, great friends with whom I swap workouts, and a father-in-law who loves to babysit I would never get my workouts in. I quit my “day job” last fall in order to say home with our children, so I don’t have too many guilty workouts these days. It’s great.

What’s your fondest running and/or triathlon memory?
Kara: I’m afraid to start thinking about it because I won’t be able to stop writing things down. I know this: without running, my life wouldn’t be nearly as full, colorful, rich, or satisfying. This is as much about the experiences I’ve accumulated as well as for the people I’ve met. And it’s not just about the running. The places and races I’ve run in and the people I’ve met have led to other relationships, jobs, opportunities, etc. If I take running out of my life, I just can’t imagine what it would look like.

Laurie: I’ve developed some amazing friendships through sport. My closest friends are those I run with, including my husband. I can’t remember or imagine life without running and sport. So, I guess it’s the whole package that I cherish. Last summer, though, I did get run across the finish line of Grandma’s Marathon with my oldest daughter. Every other time, I’ve had to carry her. I had a wonderful vision of us running the whole marathon together someday. That was pretty cool.

Do you have a favorite race? Why?
Kara: I’ve had the pleasure of running in races like Big Sur Marathon, Bay to Breakers and the Dipsea in California. Then there’s Wildflower [triathlon], also in California. What is it about California? I don’t know, but those are some very memorable races. Of those, I’d say Dipsea is my favorite. I’d give my big toe to do it again.

Laurie: I’m a huge fan of the Twin Cities Marathon. Love the colors, love the course, and love the people. Every year it reminds me of why I enjoy living in the Twin Cities. We are really are lucky to have such a wonderful marathon in our hometown.

If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
Kara: I’m still finding my way in Minnesota, so I don’t think I can answer that intelligently. Although, I’m quite proud to live here, it’s such a progressive city with so many notable and admirable citizens. But would I want to run with any of them? Don’t know… I have been lucky enough to get invited to run with a great group of women who meet for track workouts every Wednesday night during the summer. Along with the workout they serve up inspiration, motivation, and heaps of fun. I suppose then, I’m already running with the Minnesotans I want to run with.

Laurie: Before we had kids, my husband Tony and I ran together most days of the week. We still run together, but not nearly as much as we’d like. So, I’m going to say I’d run with Tony. I’m a little slower, but it’s a good view when I fall behind.

Finally, what do you wish you’d known when you first started running?
Kara: Not a thing. Ignorance is bliss, especially when you’re in your early 20s. If I had known then all the “prophylactic” exercise I would need to do just to be able to run pain free 15 years later, I would have been severely depressed!! I just ran back then. It was for nothing but joy. No cares as to who would watch the kids when I did, or worry about my hips hurting, or without fear about running alone in a strange city or secluded (and often beautiful) places. There’s something to be said for safety, yes, but I’m glad my wonderful running experiences were unencumbered by fear, worry, or ego.

Laurie: When I first started running, I oftentimes ran with people who were quite a bit faster than me. I spent a lot of time apologizing for my lack of speed. Over ten years later, I’m now on the other side of that equation and I don’t like hearing people apologize. Running is about movement and personal challenge and friendships. Every run has a purpose, slow and fast. Knowing that ten years ago would have made me more at ease with my speedy friends.

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