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Profiles in Fitness: Interview with Karen Epps

A series of fitness oriented stories focusing on the people and businesses of Novato including interviews with real-life Novatoans and profiles of local fitness related businesses.

My first interview is with Karen Epps, 52, of the Hamilton area. Karen was nothing short of inspiring standing on the corner on a cold January morning, decked out in running clothes, waiting for the light to change so she could continue her run.  And she didn’t much mind when I interrupted her morning run to ask for the interview. “Sure!” she said. That’s the kind of adventurous spirit I was hoping to find. 

Karen never had much of a weight issue as a child, though she has struggled with her relationship with food.   She was 8 when her parent’s divorced.

“Food became an emotional buffer,” she said.

Eventually her coping mechanism shifted away from food and she slimmed down with a combination of “smoking, drugs and alcohol.”  She got sober at age 27 but continued to smoke for several more years.  When she decided to tackle her cigarette habit at age 30 she was “petrified” of gaining weight, so she took up running. 

Her very first run was around a field near her house. “One loop around the field was a mile and the first time I tried it I couldn’t make it even half way around, I was coughing and gasping for air,” she said. But she kept at it and enjoyed seeing progress, saying, “It’s very rewarding to see the milestones of distance.” 

Not only did the running help prevent the feared weight gain, but she learned it was good for her emotional health as well. “It helps clear my mind," she said. "It became a matter of taking care of myself.” 

Within the first year of running she found herself stuck at the 3 mile distance — “I just couldn’t get past it.”  She’d been running around that same field and when a friend suggested she get off the loop and try an out-and-back route. It was a turning point that cemented her love of running, and she’s never looked back. Karen is a self-made runner — she’s never read books about it, joined a track club or followed formal training plans. 

But she loves the numbers and meticulously logs distance and pace. “I think there’s real value to logging your runs," she said. "Do I only think I’m running five times a week or am I really running five times a week?”

She’s planning to run a half-marathon in spring or early summer, something she hasn’t done in about 10 years.  In 1996 she ran the L.A. Marathon, her one-and-only 26.2-mile run.  “I’m very happy with one, I’m so glad I did it, but it was enough for me,” she said.

Despite her meticulous logging she emphasizes listening to her body and improvising when needed.  If she’s feeling unusually tired she’ll shorten her distance, or skip her run altogether. “I’ve learned to trust that,” she said.  And when she’s had mild injuries she does something else such as stationary bike, Pilates or weightlifting until she can run again. "I just love running," she said.

Even with all the love she’s not immune to the dips in motivation we all experience.

“If you see somebody running you might think it’s so easy for them," she said. "And there is a certain amount of ease for me because I enjoy it, but I also have to push myself, you have to make yourself get out there and do it.” 

So running has been a constant companion since 1991 but her relationship with food hasn’t been as effortless.  It’s taken time, attention and focus.

“I’ve been in a constant relationship with eating healthier, coming into ‘right relationship’ with food, avoiding anything that takes me away from feeling my feelings or removes me from the present,” she said.

In the past she envied those people who seem to be able to eat whatever they want without consequence.  But now she’s found that same freedom after clarifying what she wants, “processed foods, our bodies weren’t intended to digest that kind of stuff.” Though she added, “it’s not like I never eat processed foods.”  She prioritizes balance in her diet, “I eat really well, I’m getting enough. I don’t deprive myself.  I can eat whatever  I want, whenever I want.”

She’s never been a scale person, preferring to use how her clothes fit as a guide.  But 3-4 months ago she noticed my clothes "started shrinking.”  And she found herself avoiding her “skinny” jeans in the closet.  So she started tracking her food intake. She now weighs herself every two weeks and has dropped five pounds since starting.

Karen’s advice to others looking for the motivation to get in shape?   Take the time and attention to focus on your eating.  As far as exercise, she suggests people find something they enjoy. “Pick something you have an affinity for," she said. "Running is not for everyone. We don’t take our bodies out, we take our minds out.” 

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Karen is a Unity minister, speaker and workshop presenter. For more information, you can follow her on Facebook.

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