Karen Watson’s competitive nature led to a successful career in management, but happiness evaded her.
In 2000, the now 43-year-old Rancho Santa Fe woman experienced an epiphany. It was at her 20th high school reunion.
“I realized that all I had was a career and that was it,” said Watson. “I needed something that was special.”
For her, that something became one of the ultimate tests of endurance racing, the Ironman triathlon.
Three years into the sport, in 2003, Watson finished her first Ironman triathlon, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and running a marathon (26.2 miles).
This year, Watson plans to compete in two Ironman races , in Tempe, Ariz., on April 9 and back to the turf of her inaugural Ironman race, in Penticton, Canada, in August.
Watson said she’s finally found a balance in her physical, personal and professional life.
Her new mission is to help struggling professionals achieve their life balance.
Watson gave up her management career , she worked in the San Diego office of Boston-based technology company Iron Mountain Inc. as director of client services in her last executive position , to become a personal trainer and founded her own company, Rancho Santa Fe-based Total Life Balance, six months ago.
A one-woman shop, Watson’s business offers busy professionals with deep pockets personalized training programs, including e-mailing clients to ensure they aren’t slacking off.
Watson says she has no plans to hire employees and prefers working with independent contractors instead.
“As a manager, it’s my strength to work with teams and develop people and keep them focused on their life,” she said.
Watson, who has a dozen clients, is facing some tough competition in San Diego.
One of her firm’s competitors is Multisports.com. Eight-time Ironman Hawaii champion Paula Newby-Fraser teamed up with the online and personal coaching business of Paul Huddle and Roche Frey to start Multisports.com in 2000.
The Encinitas-based company offers triathlon-related services, such as camps and coaching services, through its network of professional athletes.
According to Ken Germano, the president of the American Council on Exercise, a San Diego-based nonprofit group that certifies fitness professionals, the demand for personal training continues to rise, especially among the aging work force.
Germano said he expects that aging workers will use personal trainers to look and feel better.
By 2010, the need for fitness workers will rise from 170,000 to 250,000, Germano said, citing a Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
To get the word out about her firm, Watson deploys several marketing tactics: E-mail blasts to human resources work-force groups, placing ads in management magazines, and using direct mailing to individuals living in Del Mar, Carmel Valley and Rancho Santa Fe, posh local neighborhoods she described as her “sphere of influence.”
She’s also teamed up with Carlsbad-based Health Dimensions, a company that specializes in putting on fitness expos.
Katherine Schiele, a San Diego-based realtor in her 40s, considers the $695 Watson charges for a six-week program money well spent.
“She has the program online and I can see if I make progress,” Schiele said.
Watson offers an eight-week personal training program that costs $150, a 12-week program for $250, and customized packages, such as one-hour training sessions, which run $65 per session.
Schiele gets additional one-on-one training, which raises the price, Watson said.
Schiele has always found excuses to skip workouts, but knowing that Watson will call her on it makes it easier to stick to her goals, she said.
“You can always find a reason why you don’t work out,” she added. “The big thing is to learn to manage your time so you can make time for yourself.”
Schiele said she’ll also participate in a retreat Watson is planning for Palm Desert.
The four-day retreat, which is set to start April 14, aims to help professionals assess their personal balance and to develop goals, Watson said.
“The retreat allows enough time for individuals to work on self-development rather than a one-day seminar,” she said. “You can come in and listen, participate, build and walk away with a product. This is how you get results.”
The weekend kicks off with , yep, you guessed it , exercise.
Pilates and other forms of yoga are great for building physical and mental strength, Watson said.
“When you’re strong on the core, you are also strong as a human being,” Watson said.
Guest speaker Jill Murray, a Laguna Niguel-based author and psychotherapist, will discuss unhealthy relationships among co-workers and between employees and their bosses and offer tips on dealing with them.
“That’s important to a lot of people,” Watson said.
Another component is team building.
“You will climb up a 40-foot rock wall and rely on another person to help you out,” she said. “This will help you face the fear of not being 100 percent in control.”
If that doesn’t do the trick, people can test their fears walking on a tight rope.
Watson said she wants to limit the retreat to 25 people to keep it personal.
As of April 6, Watson still had two slots open. The cost is $1,695 for single-room occupancy and $1,495 for double occupancy at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Palm Desert.
She’s also working on putting together two more retreats , one in June in Sedona, Ariz., and an October event in Santa Barbara.
Training for an Ironman race takes a lot of time, Watson said. “But I didn’t want triathlon to be my life.”
Now that she’s traded steel-type boardroom tactics for Ironman training, Watson has more time to spend with her family.
And happiness no longer eludes her.