Employee Spotlight – Karen Matsuoka

Karen Matsuoka is the Provider Services and Contracts Manager at Community Health Center Network. She spends the majority of her work day connecting with specialists and hospitals to ensure that members can get the specialty care access they need to stay healthy. Karen has a very interesting way to de-stress from her often hectic work day. I sat down with her for a few minutes to learn more about her healthy hobby.

Joi Wilson (JW): When did you first develop a passion for running?

Karen Matsuoka (KM): In 2006 a friend of mine was diagnosed with leukemia and she died within six months of her diagnosis. I had become familiar with a training group called Team in Training, which prepares individuals for participating in half, full, and tri-marathons. In honor of my friend I decided it was time to do something. I signed up weeks following her death for the Kaiser half marathon in February 2007 and prepared with Team in Training.

JW: How did you feel during your first half marathon?

KM: Doing 13.1 miles for the first time, even though I’d gone through the endurance training, was probably one of the most challenging physical endeavors I’d ever done. The last two to three miles were the toughest. My body ached in every place possible; I really questioned whether I’d be able to finish it. I had an outstanding coach who kept tabs on everyone’s progress and he happened to see me at that point and asked me how I was doing. When I told him “everything hurts” he just said, “Good; that means you’re alive.” My daughter joined me for the last mile just to get me across the finish line.

In May of 2008 I took on the San Diego run, my first full marathon at 26.2 miles! Your body, emotions, and brain go through so many different levels during the course of those miles.

JW: Have you been able to maintain the rigorous marathon schedule you started out with?

KM: My commitment has been to do at least two half marathons a year and to sprinkle in a few 10Ks or longer. I took a break for a couple of years but made the commitment to get back into it in 2013. This year I did the half marathon portion of the Oakland Running Festival with the Asian Health Services team. I also did the Nike Women’s half marathon and the Wharf to Wharf in Santa Cruz.

Because of pain in my knees I have transitioned to walking the marathons instead of running them. My goal is to maintain a 15 minute mile or less.

JW: Which race is your favorite?

KM: I love the Nike course. It goes through San Francisco, the views are gorgeous, and the hills work you! At the finish line you are given a Tiffany necklace by firefighters dressed in tuxedoes.

My goal for 2014 is to do the Oakland half again, the Bridge to Bridge, Nike half, Wharf to Wharf and another half that’s yet to be determined.

JW: I know that besides running, you’re also an avid hiker. What do you enjoy most about hiking?

KM: I hike almost every Saturday morning. It’s how I start my weekend and put the work week away. I meet up with a small group of women at 7am and we do anywhere from 6-10 miles. Our most common trail is Lake Chabot which is such a peaceful place at that time of morning. I enjoy being outdoors and being in a place where there are colors and natural sounds. I like the actual physical movement of the body on the ground. Just reconnecting to the simple beauties of nature can be so rejuvenating. At times when I’m at work it’s a beautiful image to put myself back in.

JW:  What is your advice for someone who is interested in taking up running or hiking?

KM: If you’ve never done a marathon before, I suggest joining an endurance training group. It’s the best way to get the appropriate training and to have the level of support you need to get through the training and the actual event.

If you’re already a walker, it’s really easy to transfer that to hiking. There are so many great hiking trails in the East Bay. You can find them through East Bay Regional Parks. Get a small group together and “just do it”!