A Letter to My Body

Over the weekend I had some time to reflect on my life and realized that over the years I was not kind to my body, and, after all that, it was still willing to work with me on the goal to become a runner… I felt it needed a letter of apology/thanks…

Dear body, 
Hi there! I figured I would write to you and check-in with you after the last year and a half.  First of all, I would like to apologize about the many years prior where I didn’t respect you nor did I demand others respect you.  I truly am sorry for the abuse you were put through. I could list it all, but I am sure you have not forgotten the no sleep, the partying, the poor diet, the cigarettes…. you remember it all.  
I am also sorry I never paid attention to your warning signs: high cholesterol, trouble breathing, weight gain, lethargy, acne, dull skin. You tried time and time again to get me to pay attention to you and instead, I blew you off.  You, the one thing that keeps this mind safe and able to progress, what was I thinking?
I also would like to thank you for not giving me a total freak out moment to get me to see the light.  I thank you for tolerating my half-@ssed attempts at taking care of you over the years, the sudden let’s eat healthy moments, the random 1 month obsessions with a gym or workout. You deserved a more sincere attempt, and I am sorry I gave you lame.
I don’t know when it happened, or what signal you sent my brain, but, it did happen, I realized you deserved better, and I needed to give you the respect and care you rightfully deserved.  Thank you for allowing me to make up for my errors and not completely shutting down on me when I did a 180 on our lifestyle.  Really, I appreciate that.
I also appreciate that you are working with me in our journey to become a strong runner. I know we aren’t going to be winning Olympics, but, it feels good to be out there several days a week. Thank you for saving some strength and will to work with me on this.
I know some days it may seem like I am still beating you up, but trust me on this, the running, the working out, the healthy foods…. they are a great thing for us! I promise you that I will never misuse you again, that I will treat you with the respect you deserve and moving forward, continue to heal you, nurture you, and mold you into the pillar of strength I know you are. 
So again body, I am sorry for all my wrongdoings and I thank you, from the bottom of our heart, for allowing me the chance now, when we are almost 38, to make it right.
Now, let’s go run a few miles and do some strength training! There are PRs to obtain and a leaner, stronger body for you!
I love you more than you know,

Friends, Volunteering, Dogs: 3 Things I Love That Aren’t Running!

Tail Waggin’ Tutors: A Story of Volunteering, Dogs, and Making a Difference: 
It is no surprise to reader’s of this blog that I LOVE dogs…. I mention mine often, and they are my 4 legged fur children. I am also very blessed with a small group of amazing and supportive friends. And… I volunteer, and have always loved helping people any way I can. This blog focuses on those things, and not running. It is about a great friend, her awesome dogs, and an outstanding volunteer program she runs. Enjoy…..
You have all heard me mention J, a very, very dear friend of mine. Well, Jen and her husband have an amazing program that incorporates two things I love: helping people and dogs. I love my dogs, who doesn’t really? But, I love their dogs… they are hobby breeders of Cane Corso Mastiffs, and you fall in love with each and every one of them. They have amazing personalities and are all so loving.
Anyway, they also have a program called Tail Waggin’ Tutors that two of their dogs that are CDI therapy dogs are involved in. This has nothing to do with running, but, this blog is about life as well, and to me, a program that helps people and involves dogs is a great thing. I am highlighting her program because of this.  I was also lucky enough to actually observe this program in person, which made me love it even more!
Here are the questions I asked them:
1: What is your bio/background?   My husband (Ron) grew up in a family of dog breeders, so you could say that caring/training/raising dogs is in his blood. He welcomed his first Cane Corso in 1999.  I had one dog growing up, a german shephard, who passed when I was 14 years old.  The loss of my canine friend had broken my heart, and I swore off owning another dog! 
2: How did your kennel Firehorse Cane Corso begin?  When Ron approached me about adding a dog to our family, I was hesitant.  However, we visited several dog breeders until we found the one that just touched our hearts.  I once again realized that the love and loyalty that dogs provide is stronger than most relationships between humans.  From there, we grew our pack – importing dogs from Europe.  We began attending and participating in dog shows and other working events – Firehorse Cane Corso was created in 2005 and we delivered our first litter in 2006. 
3: What was your reasoning for getting dogs certified as therapy dogs?  One thing both Ron and I are passionate about – it’s our dogs.  We are very active in our community with our dogs – the dogs are overly socialized, attend school, and have fun at the playground with the neighborhood kids.  We once had a neighbor’s child knock on the door and ask if Nani could come out and play!  With that said, we decided that we’d like to somehow give back to the community. I found how my dogs act as a therapist for me – they comfort me when I am sad, stand behind me when I am stressed, and give me a reason to stay healthy!  The love is so powerful, and I wanted others to be able to feel this. 
I began researching community service activities including canines, and stumbled across the TDI Company (Therapy Dog International).  After talking to a TDI handler, I realized this was something I wanted to do.   TDI dogs need to pass a series of tests in order to be certified as a therapy dog.  I’m not just saying tricks and obedience either.  We had to also pass a series of health tests – since most therapy dogs visit with people that are ill and in the hospital.  We have been part of the Therapy Dog program for about 3 years now. 
4: How did the reading program start? Explain the concept of the program, too.  I began the TDI program working at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia.  After my first visit, at this time without my dog, I was devastated.  These children are deeply sick – many of them with no hope for a healthy future.  I saw how the canine visitors brought smiles to the children, their parents, and even the hospital staff!  For the 15 minute visit, the children forgot about their sicknesses, and played.  Their laughter was so incredible.  I decided that I wanted to put a spin on the Therapy Dog Program, and decided to partake in the Tail Waggin’ Tutors program.  TDI Company offers all the materials for a handler to create their own program.  Basically, I was responsible for contacting a local school, discussing and creating the program, and keep my fingers crossed that the Principal would agree to have my LARGE dog in his school!!!  I was accepted at the Kings Highway Elementary School.  The Principal, Stevan Lefever, was a huge supporter and interested in seeing how the students academics would improve with their new tutors, the dogs! (see more about the program below)
5: What was your initial impression of the program when it was presented to you and when the program first started? The Tail Waggin’ Tutors program is specifically a Reading Program.  Studies have proven that children who struggle with reading, will feel more comfortable reading to a dog.  A dog will not tell the child that they are mispronouncing a word, will not pressure the child to read faster, and will not make the child feel insecure if they stutter.  Therefore, the child has no issue reading out loud to the dog and with that, they end up improving their reading skills.  My husband and I are huge supporters of kids succeeding in school – so this program was a no brainer for us.
I was assigned with the Reading Teacher, Mrs. Maureen Pacana, and together we created the program.  We were using the summer school session as a pilot.  Mrs. P was tasked to report all of her findings to the School Board.  I thought it was best to have an Orientation with the children and their teachers to introduce them to our dogs, teach them how to approach a dog, and explain the program.  I found wonderful materials on the AKC website – material such as coloring books that instruct how to greet a dog, a word puzzle of the different dog breeds, and several other learning games that were all related to the subject of dogs but appropriate for children.  I provided this to the teachers in advance, who worked with the students to prepare them for our first visit, the Orientation.  Imagine my surprise when we walked into the gymnasium and the children had made “Welcome Banners” with our names on it!   The children were so excited to meet us!  Our orientation was so much fun, we dressed up Dorian in costumes, he showed off some tricks and obedience.  We played games where the children interacted with Dorian, learning how to greet a strange dog.  Everyone left there with such a positive attitude about the program, we were so excited to get started.
Each child selected for the program had met a certain criteria – mostly their grades were below average, they were in danger of failing, and their parents needed to sign a release form.  Each child is given 15 minutes with Dorian and/or Trinity.  The child is responsible for bringing a book that interests them.  We have our own section in the school, with sitting mats.  If the children struggle – we as the handlers are NOT to interfere.  We are taught that if the children ask questions, we are to tell them broad answers such as “sound it out” or “try your best.”  Again, the program is designed for the students to just read without worrying about their errors.  The teachers meet with the children individually to discuss and evaluate their reading session. 
6: Explain how the program is running now? How has the school/community received it?  The program is about to start its 3rd season in 2012 at Kings Highway Elementary School.  We have actually had teachers from other school districts contact us and inquire on expanding the program.  However, there are no funds for this program offered by the School Districts.  As well, this is all voluntary hours for the handlers – Ron and I.  Since I work full time, that leaves Ron to lead the program solo.  All of the hours are completed during the day, Monday through Friday.
7: Do you have a story or example of something with this program over the years that has stuck with you?  My goodness, there are so many stories.  I will mention at least two, as both broke our hearts and I believe just reinforced that this is the exact reason we participate in this program.  There was a student reading to Dorian, he was struggling a bit and threw the book down – ran out to the teacher.  The teacher asked him why he was upset.  The student kept replying that he “was stupid.”  The teacher asked:  Did Ms. Jen say you were stupid?  Answer – No.  Did Mr Ron say you were stupid?  Answer – no.  Did Dorian say you were stupid?  Answer – no.  Then who said you were stupid?  Answer – my mom and dad.  Heart breaking.  I could have cried right then and there and actually still tear up every time I recall this story.  After the teacher calmed the student, he rejoined the reading circle.  He ended up cuddling up with Dorian and read his poem straight with no issues.  I was so proud for this boy.  (I actually was there for this one, it really was heartbreaking to hear that his parents call him stupid.)
Another story deals with a little girl who had a mental disability.  She came to visit Dorian at one of his reading sessions.  She was playing with his ears, touching his paws, and twirling with my pony tail.  She kept petting Dorian (who was as big as she was) and just wanted to continue to “talk” to him.  The teachers were all flabbergasted – speechless.   I found out that this particular little girl does not like human touch.  She also never talks.  Her parents struggle every day to connect with her – as she does not “like” to be hugged/touched and refuses to talk about her day.  Here in 5 minutes with Dorian, she was sitting in my lap and discussing her day with my dog.  It’s stories like these two that stick with us.  It reminds us that there are children in this world who are very unfortunate.  If my dog and I can give these children a memory of something good – then we will continue this program forever.  Also, we are helping these children to overcome their struggles with reading – something that you need to be able to do every day in your life.
8: Any plans for expansion?  We would LOVE to expand.  We have a total of 6 Firehorse Dogs that are certified Therapy Dogs.  Again, the problem is funding and finding volunteers (who are also certified TDI Handlers) who are available during the school hours. 
9: Have you been given any information on impact of the program on reading ability?  This is the most amazing part of the program…..the results speak for themselves.  Children who originally averaged a D in reading, ended the Tail Waggin’ Tutors Program with an average of a B+.  Not only that, but as the dog handler, we have seen how the children built relationships with our dogs.  They made posters to cheer us on when we participated in the National Dog Show, the principal and several teachers attended the dog show to even further their support.  Dorian received a birthday card from the students and he also had his own page in their year book!!!!
10: Any other info you would like to share?  The TDI Company offers insurance for all certified handlers and their therapy dogs.  This is a reassurance for the principal, teachers, and the parents! 🙂  Also, I have learned that the teachers are a major component to the program.  If the teachers are afraid of the dogs, the children will be afraid.  As well, the dogs will read from that energy.  It’s very important to have a solid relationship with the school.  It’s also very funny that the children, if they see me in the community, don’t have any idea who I am — until I say “I’m Dorian’s mom!!!!” LOL But they can pick Dorian out in a serious crowd of people – and have even spotted Dorian in the TV Guide!  (Before I knew he was in it!!!)
So… that is it, a little story about what I feel is a great program, making a difference in children’s lives. If you have any questions about the program or TDI, please contact TDI@gti.net

Rockin Rabbit Half Marathon

Well, Saturday I ran my 3rd half marathon ever, my 3rd in 70 days as well. It has been a very busy running month for me, a half on March 17th that I set a great PR at (2:21:35), a 5k March 24th that I set a HUGE PR at (28:54), a weekend of FAB-O running events and an 8 miler, my first ever trail run… and topped it off with the Rockin Rabbit Half. I was excited for this race because it would be my qualifier for Half Fanatics, a goal I had set for myself to accomplish this year. I was a little nervous about this one, since it was a 4 mile incline, followed by a 9 mile descent of 2000 ft. I wasn’t sure that my quads were trained enough for that type of downhill, and, to be honest… I was tired from the busy running month.

I secretly wanted to finish sub 2:20, but, was really focused on seeing how my training was going overall. I had been upping my training (thanks Coach), gotten better sneakers, working on my form (I’m a bad heel striker), and trying to improve all around. But, don’t all runners try to improve? I had run 2 weeks in the new sneakers, including an 8 miler, and felt good in them, comfortable, and they definitely helped my form. I opted to go with them. My only concern… my regular running socks, Balega Hidden Comfort felt too cushioned and too much for these sneakers, so I went with a pair of Reebok socks I had around (not the smartest decision).

So… I did my carb loading, etc leading up to the race, kept my morning ritual as I usually do… and headed up to the race. The race map and plan stated there would be aid stations every 2 miles, so I opted to run to each one, walk for 30 sec through each aid station. This worked for me at Six Tunnels for the most part. So… I started slow on this one, knowing that the first 4 miles were all up hill. At mile 2, I took a short walk break… but there was no aid station. Thankfully I had my own water, etc. but this had me worried how the rest of the race would be laid out, I’ll admit, this threw me off a bit. (and there were NOT aid stations every two miles). I started to run again, but the one hill was a bit tough, so I walked sooner than 2 miles. With doing this, after 4 miles, I took an even shorter walk break to get some water, and kept going. The descent started, and I was feeling good. I was watching my pace, so as not to get too fast, and destroy my legs. I took less walk breaks, it was probably mile 7 when I took a walk break to have a Clif Shot and some water. I ran then until mile 10. I was really doing well here, and my pace showed it. I am normally between 11-11:30, and I was at 10-10:30 during miles 4-10.  At mile 9, I was HUNGRY…. this was new for me. I also realized around mile 8 that a blister was forming…. uh oh. This, was also a first for me during a race. Actually, in almost a year of running overall. At mile 10, the route veered onto a dirt trail. I had just run this part on the March 17th race, so was familiar with it… but, after 10 miles on paved, it took a bit to get my footing right on the dirt and stone… and right about then, I could feel it, the blister popped… it hurt, but, with 3 miles left, was just going to keep on going. Wasn’t much I could do about it now. So, as I was running, I was keeping a decent pace, but, with the blister, ready to be done. At mile 12.5, the fun continued… a stone got in my shoe, the same shoe that had a blister on the toe. Really?! Thanks running gods… thanks. So, I chugged on through until the end. I finished only 4 minutes off my PR at 2:25:09. Not the time I wanted… and when I look at my mile pace, I can pinpoint the issues I need to work on.

So… what have I learned?  After 3 half marathons, few things:

  • my form still needs work.
  • I LOVE my Saucony Kinvara2 sneakers.
  • when the blister started forming, I over compensated with the other leg, causing more tight muscles in that leg.
  • blisters suck and must never happen again. I peeled off an entire layer of skin, on the 4th toe, it was rubbing against the middle toe (which was taped because it was sore).
  • I created a bad mix: newer shoes, not good running socks, a taped toe, long descent… it was bound to happen.
  • I need more hills training. (I know typing this will only make Charlene torture me in training, but, if I want to improve, I need more hills training) I need to better slay the dragon on inclines.
  • I need to do more strength training on my legs to prepare for steep descents
  • I need to work on my endurance…. my energy wanes at the end of a race, and I know my time suffers because of it. 
  • I need a better fueling plan and a much better hydration belt.
  • I want to eliminate walking…. and if I am going to sub 2 hours, I will have to.
  • My brain really is my biggest enemy. It kept wanting to walk, telling me I couldn’t do it…. and when I get tired, I tend to listen to it. I have proven, I can do this…. I need to believe that myself.
  • Wearing that ninja shirt, really made me feel proud to be a member of such an amazing and inspiring team.
  • I really enjoy half marathons….

Well, next up on the race list, a trail run 5k. I am not setting any goals on this one, as trail running is new to me, but will enjoy it. After that, I am possibly doing a 10k the following weekend, then I will be traveling. I am set for a 5k in May. I have 3 more half marathons I am doing this year, and considering 2 others. Now…. to work on fueling, socks, endurance, time.

Two great running things that happened for me: I registered for the Philadelphia Half Marathon. I will be running it with my cousin Ryan while my brother, and two other cousins run the full marathon. A family running adventure! Also…. I became a Half Fanatic #2166!!! 

Also… the Ninjas dominated a local 5k, and there were 2 other ninjas at this half, one set a PR, one finished, with a hamstring injury. Another ninja conquered a mountain in the Hollywood Half with a great time and found a successful fueling plan! Go NER!!!

I forgot to take a pic at the race, so had the hubby take one when I got home… I will spare you all the pic of the blister, but it is on Facebook. This singlet is awesome!!

March Recap aka Why I Love Running

Well, March was a fun month all around, but especially in running. First, some quick highlights of the amazing month of March:
  • I ran a total of 64 miles!
  • I set a PR in a half marathon (2:21:35) and the very next week, went sub-30 on a 5k for the first time(28:54) OFFICIALLY (my coach had me do it on a weekday run, this one is on the books).
  • Our team dominated at the Cirque 5k and took home an award as a team on top of many individual awards.
  • I actually officially joined a team: Ninja Endurance Racing. My singlet will finally be ready for me to wear at my April 7thRockin’ Rabbit Half Marathon.
  • I went for new sneakers…. this was huge for me… and I think I found a pair that fits great and that feel amazing! Thanks Saucony for the Kinvara 2.
  • I started working with a run coach.
  • I did my first ever real trail run, the scenery was amazing and made up for the fear of falling off a cliff.
  • I volunteered for the first time at a marathon/half marathon.
  • I signed up for the Philadelphia Half Marathon. My cousin will do the half with me, and my brother and two other cousins will do the full marathon. Somehow, we all decided to take up running in the last several years and now we will get to run a race together… truly amazing.
Now… for a story about how running truly is amazing:
Through my coach/friend on the day I went shoe shopping, I met a friend of hers, Brandi. Brandi has just moved here from Virginia about 2 weeks ago. As we are girls… we hit it off while shopping for shoes, even running sneakers can bond girls, lol. Anyway… turns out, the girl is a fellow Hokie!  Finally, another Hokie in Vegas!! Brandi had a rough year physically and is getting back to running, finally! So, she joined us for Charlene’s FAB Virtual Run events on Saturday and Sunday. She is also planning to join some of us for regular runs and races we have scheduled. When she and I were running Saturday, she mentioned that I was the first friend she met out here. That warmed my heart… and made me think, yet another reason I love running. The running community is so welcoming and encouraging and exciting! It brings together people from all walks of life, anywhere in the country. It’s amazing. Just looking at places that read my blog or follow me on twitter, I have people from all around the world, and we are in some way connected because of running… and always supportive of each other and our goals, workouts, ambitions. I love it!! 
We all met up Sunday for day 2 of the FAB Virtual Run, for our own reasons, many of us were “off” our minds not in it, our brains distracted, or our hearts heavy. I was unfocused. I walked a mile with Brandi and started to feel better. There were 25 mph winds that day, so of course that meant long run day, so after the event, Charlene and I headed out for 8 miles, which really felt so much longer with all the headwinds… but, we did it, despite the wind, despite being tired, our minds not into it, etc. we ran 8 miles, and pushed it the last half mile. Despite my desire to curl up on my couch all day, I went out and ran, and afterwards, felt strong, more confident, and less “off”. So thank you running, for everything.
PS: My new friend may actually get me to try biking again. I am exploring my options and looking for a bike. Anyone have any ideas, suggestions? They are all welcome and appreciated!!