Monday, March 31, 2014

Last Week's Workout Recap / March Recap / April's Goals

March 24th - March 30th


It was freezing cold and miserable AGAIN so I decided to skip the running portion of my training regime and do an hour of cross training.  I lifted my arms and then did a lot of core.  I figured going to the gym and at least doing something was better than nothing at all!


Once again it was freezing cold and actually SNOWING on March 26th.  My arms were sore from cross training the night before, but I decided to hit up an extra Barre class so that I was again at least doing something. This class was more intense than the one I normally do, and with already fatigued arms, I was definitely feeling it.  It was a tough work out, but I enjoyed it as always.

You guessed it, still freezing.  I need to be more hardcore about getting out there in the cold, but I had a pounding headache from work and was depressed about the cold, so I skipped my run again.  Excuses I know, but it is the truth.


I was all set to go running and do a Tempo run on Thursday.  Unfortunately, we ended up having something pretty huge come up with the house that ended up taking up out entire evening.  I was dressed and ready to go out, but had to solve our house issue, so I missed my workout.  I was NOT happy as you can imagine.


I took another Barre class, my normal Friday one.  My parents were coming to visit for the weekend, but I still managed to get it in before they arrived.  After a week of missed opportunities I was glad to do something, even if it was just cross training again.


I FINALLY got out on a run.  I did a 4+ mile Tempo run at a pretty decent pace.  It was sprinkling rain when I started out and raining pretty steadily by the time I finished.  At least I finally was tough enough to get out there in the weather and do something.  I was pretty happy with the run overall, but unfortunately my left toe is still bothering me pretty badly.  I'm starting to get pretty worried about how the 15k is going to go on April 6th.


I was signed up to go to a Yoga class at the new studio by my house.  I left to head to class.....AND....the car wouldn't start.  I ended up having to call AAA and stand in the rain for 90 minutes getting a new battery.  SIGH. Obviously I missed the class and the gym was closed by the time I was finished.  It was still POURING rain, so I drained my sorrows in a bowl of mac n cheese that I immediately regretted.  The best laid plans...

Total Miles for March: 51.7 (Including my work out on Monday that I actually DID get in.)

My thoughts on March 2014

I'm actually pretty happy with this amount of mileage, even though I am NOT happy with the lousy March weather this month.  This is the most I have run by FAR since last July when my toe started bothering me tremendously.  It might not seem like much, but I only ran 14.6 in February, to give a comparison.

My toe is bothering me, but I am hoping to keep pushing through it and have some successful spring races.  I am also hoping to up my mileage a bit in April if possible.  I was a wuss in March with the weather (I really can't do cold. At all.) Hopefully April will be MUCH warmer with a lot less precipitation.  I'm not going to get my hopes up too much though.

I'm also thinking it might have been good to not push my toe/foot much over 50 miles my first month back into training.  I know some people can do that in a week, but with my injuries, 50 in a month isn't too bad ha!  I also was able to incorporate a good amount of cross training this month, which is normally my weakest area, so this makes me happy.

My goals for April are:

1) Increase Mileage

2) Increase Speed Work outs

3) Continue Cross Training Regime

4) Pain Management

I'd also like to have a solid 15k time (my first!) and a solid 5k.  I think it might be too much to ask to want to PR in my 5k...but I can dream right?!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Running Injuries: Chiropractors for Sciatica and Slipped Discs

When I was 18 years old and in my freshman year at Penn State, I was working out on the stair stepper and slipped a disc in my L5 S1.  Ever since then I have had a lot of problems doing any kind of distance running.  When I run I get a sensation of my "back going out" meaning that I have a pain in my lower back, my butt and hamstring get incredibly tight, and I can no longer swing my left leg forward at the hip.  It is a really weird sensation that is hard to describe, but it completely hinders my forward momentum and I HAVE to stop.

This is really not a recipe for good running, and was making it difficult to enjoy my favorite sport for years.  I was really frustrated that I would be out on a run and BAM all of a sudden my back would go out, and I would lose all chance of successfully finishing my run.  It didn't necessarily happen every time I ran, but was more likely to happen in a race where I was pushing myself harder and running faster.

The first time I ran the Broad Street 10 miler this was a HUGE issue and I was miserable the entire second half of the race.  The next day at work I could barely walk at work, and my co-worker forced me to visit his Chiropractor, something I had always been reluctant to do (for some reason I hadn't heard positive things about the process.) I only wish I had gone SOONER and I am so grateful that he pushed me to attend that first time.

I am here today to change your opinion on Chiropractors if you are worried, or convince you to try it if you have been on the fence.  Of course, I think it is important to find the RIGHT Chiro, mine is extremely knowledgeable and has also worked in spine centers in hospitals. He is also really interested in exercise science and what helps to strengthen the back and core.  Just like with any doctor or professional, not every office that you find is going to be ideal, but if you do research and ask around to others for recommendations, I absolutely think it is the BEST option out there for back pain!

My Chiropractor is able to keep my back adjusted so that everything is in place and where it should be.  This means that my slipped disc is less likely to push on my sciatic nerve and cause the pain in my butt and hamstring.  He is also able to help adjust my hips.  My hips are frequently out of place and uneven, which is also a huge hindrance to running.  I can feel a huge difference in my hips, and therefore my stride, when my back is adjusted correctly.

My favorite part of the Chiropractor, besides how much it helps my running, is that it is all NATURAL.  When I had gone to "real" doctors before they had prescribed steroid shots in my back, muscle relaxers, pain killers, etc.  None of these things ever helped, and if anything just masked the pain, instead of fixing it.  Not to mention the steroid shot made my face blow up and get puffy--NOT GOOD.

The office I use combines both spine adjustments and massage to help the back to be both loose and straight.  They also offer an exercise regimen that is designed to help stabilize the core region, another important factor in keeping everything in place.  The massages really help to loosen up the muscles and allow the spine  to more easily move into place.  The exercises are for strengthening and stability, which helps keep everything where it should be.

In summation, if you suffer from sciatica, tight hamstrings/butt, or any other lower back ailments, try finding a Chiropractor--it might completely change your running experience!

Does anyone else suffer from sciatica?  Does anyone else have any good (or bad!) stories about Chiropractors?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What I'm Reading: The Outliers Book Review

What I'm Reading: March Madness Part 2

With the weather STILL not staying consistently warm; I've found myself spending more time indoors and sitting inside than I would in a normal March.  This means that I was able to complete a second book for the month of March.  For my second book of the month I decided to go non-fiction and finally read a book that I have been meaning to get to: The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  This is a book I have wanted to read for awhile, and I am SO happy I was finally able to get around to it.  I am giving this book a 5 star ranking and highly recommending it,

Confession time: I read this entire book in ONE day.  Yes, that is HOW MUCH I enjoyed reading this book.  I was hooked and fascinated by chapter one when Gladwell begins his discussion on how people become successful.  The entire book is basically a discussion on how people do not become massively successful because they have some incredible gift of talent that no one else has, but rather because a variety of circumstances all come together to lift them to fame and fortune. Gladwell states that yes, talent is important, but a lot of what lifts people to success is actually a combination of many factors, some that are not even in their personal control.

The book discusses the creation of success through everything from birth month to cultural heritage.  A lot of his concepts seemed really obvious once I read them, but yet I hadn't necessarily thought of it on my own.  I particularly enjoyed the chapters on the concepts of hard work, genius, and cultural heritage. Gladwell points out putting 10,000 hours of work into a project is more important than having the highest IQ in the classroom.  He also supports the fact that where you come from and your cultural heritage will have a profound effect on how you approach problems.  It made me want to go out and practice writing and/or running as frequently as possible and see what kind of success was possible.  It also made me ponder what traits my Irish relatives had passed down to me that would help or hinder me in life.  It was definitely a book that got me thinking, to say the least.

I have never been much of a non-fiction reader; I tend to enjoy reading an actual "story."  I have been finding lately though that non-fiction seems to have taken on a new syntax and style.  The books I have been reading lately seem to be told in more of a narrative fashion.  It almost seems as if the author is having a discussion with you about what they have learned about a topic.  I find this style works really well for me and keeps me engaged, versus older non-fiction books that I found to be more straight research and information.  Gladwell also uses this narrative voice and kept me interested and reading his entire book, until I found it was midnight and I had to get up in six hours!

I would highly suggest this book, particularly if you are interested in how other people seem to rise to the top, while some people are never able to change their status.

5 stars.  Seriously, Read it. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Last Week's Workout Re Cap

March 17th - March 23rd


My left big toe and now my right big toe had been bothering me from the 7 mile run on Sunday so I ended up taking Monday through Wednesday off from training.  I decided to give it a rest in an attempt not to irritate things TOO much before the Hot Chocolate 15k on April 6th. Not to mention, it was also snowing on Monday, cold on Tuesday, and POURING rain on Wednesday.


Still having pain in my toe so I decided to just do a short, short tempo run.  I ran a mile out, then did a FAST mile, pushing the pace down to around a 7:30 at times, then cooled down with a slow jog.  My toe was still bothering me, but after doing 7 on Sunday, doing only  2 1/4 felt like nothing even with the speed. It was definitely a cold, windy evening though, only about 44 degrees by the time I got out there.  Not the greatest first day of Spring--but much improved from earlier in the week.


My new passion (besides running): Barre class!  I am actually hoping that this class might improve the strength in my toes, besides the obvious core and leg benefits.  The class was tougher than the previous weeks, and I REALLY felt like I got a great work out.  It was a warmer evening too, so the hubs and I were also able to take the dogs out on a walk afterwards.


I decided that it would be smart to do our long run in the same basic area as the Hot Chocolate 15k, so I decided to head down to the city.  Kelly Drive was closed for tree removal, so I headed over to MLK drive.  I believe the Hot Chocolate course is going to be on that side of the river anyway.  I parked near the Roosevelt Bridge, and ran down to the Art Museum, around, and back for a total of 8.44 miles, 9:23 average pace.  Unfortunately, my toe hurt so bad by the end I couldn't even stand it.  I also had to stop and stretch for a quick second at 6 1/2 as my back had gone out and I was no longer able to move my left leg at the hip.  I am a total mess.  I am hoping that my body magically just feels good and pain free for the Hot Chocolate 15k and the other various races I have coming up.  I know that isn't how it works, but I'm still wearing my Correct Toes as often as I can hoping they will work!


This was supposed to be my cross training day, but my feet were not feeling up to much after the run the day before.  I took the dogs for a walk at the park, but other than that just took it easy and did some errands and things around the house.  Shifting cross training to Monday since it is too cold (for me) to run anyway!

Total Miles in March (so far): 44.5 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Cross Training: Barre Amped Classes

I really don't like cross training.  I like to run...and that is about it.  This is also why in the winter I tend to gain weight since I'm never motivated to go the gym.  I don't like the elliptical; I don't like the bike; I don't like lifting weights.  I will do all of the above things, but it really takes some effort on my part to do these things.  I totally understand that cross training is important, especially strength training, but that doesn't mean that I have to LIKE IT.  I've also tried doing yoga, which I do like, but have never been able to get as fanatical about it as everyone else seems to be.  Then about a month ago I tried something new that has TOTALLY changed my thoughts on cross training: Barre classes!!

I had been hearing good things about Barre classes from various sources.  Everyone was saying that it was a great work out and a lot of fun.  After a horrible, cold, snowy winter/spring that was making it difficult to run consistently, I finally decided to try it myself and bought a package of Barre classes at La Maison in Wayne.

I love it.

No really.  I absolutely LOVE IT.  I'm not sure if I expressed accurately how much I hate cross training normally, but something about Barre is just different for me.  The class that best fits my schedule is one on a Friday afternoon.  This means that I am willingly and consistently going to the gym on a Friday afternoon to take a class.  I WANT to go and look forward to it.  If you know me, this really is incredible.

For those of you that aren't familiar with Barre, it combines ballet, yoga, and pilates into one class.  I love taking a class that combines all three disciplines.  This means that what we are doing in class changes and keeps me interested.  There is a wide variety of activities and movements that give me  a fantastic whole body workout.  I can already feel my legs and core getting stronger, not to mention my posture getting better.

If you get bored with group activity classes, or hate going to the gym, I REALLY suggest trying out Barre! I am HOOKED!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Correct Toes and Bunions

I have some pretty serious bunions (genetic) that have been irritated by years of distance running.  Starting last June I began to have some MAJOR pain in my left big toe while training for a half marathon that was making it difficult to run at all, let alone long distances.  I detailed some of what I have done in an attempt to cure this/avoid surgery in a previous post.  Today I wanted to talk about Correct Toes since they seem to be the best non-surgery option I can find through my personal research.

The reviews that are available for Correct Toes are INCREDIBLE and when I first learned about them, it made me want to order them immediately.  Correct Toes is basically a spacer that fits between your toes that can specifically eliminate bunion issues.  Review after review says that they have straightened people's feet and eliminated their foot pain for bunions and other toe related issues.  They seem to be a really great, non-surgery option for a lot of people. I can't even describe how excited I was to order them after reading the reviews this past fall.

I am still  wearing mine in the hopes that they will work, but so far they haven't seemed to help me very much.  I know this is probably because I can not wear them with my work shoes as any shoes that I own that are "work appropriate" would definitely not allow for the toe spread that is required for this product.  Also, I have been unable to run in them since the silicon in my toes hurts me when I run making it basically impossible, not the actual toe spacing, but the product rubbing between my toes pushes and puts too much pressure.

I try to wear them after work and to sleep in every night.  Today I wore them when I took the dogs on a short walk.  I still haven't seen much progress though.  My left toe is definitely getting WORSE if anything.  I was on a training run today where my toe hurt so bad by the end I could barely move.

I am SO INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATED because running is my absolute favorite activity and, honestly, a huge part of my personal identity.  Am I not using the Correct Toes correctly?  I want them to work for me as they did for so many others SO badly!  Anyone else try this product?  Anyone have any suggestions for how to use them better or to solve bunion related big toe pain?  HELP!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Taming the Wild Hound Dog: Using the Gentle Leader

My husband and I rescued two male hound/lab mix puppies the previous summer (littermates).  We immediately enrolled them in a puppy training class to teach them basic commands such as sit, down, come, and stay.  We wanted to make sure that they were well trained dogs that listened and could be respectable members of the dog/human community.  Especially with big dogs, I knew it was important to make sure they had manners and knew how to listen.

For the most part, they absolutely are well behaved.  They politely sit before they can eat from their bowls or go out. After this snowy winter they will each lift all four paws to have them wiped with a towel upon coming in. They know not to enter the kitchen in the area between the island and the stove.  They live in harmony (mostly) with our two cats.  They don't steal food from the table.

The one training piece that continued to be difficult (for me, anyway) is walking the larger of the two dogs.  When I walk him, if he wanted to, he could easily pull me over. This winter in particular was tricky due to the large amount of snow and ice, that made it more difficult than usual to keep my balance on dog walks.  I was frustrated with walking him because even though he did not usually pull me over, the constant pulling was irritating my back and neck muscles. I continued to work on training him to walk nicely, but when he saw something he wanted to go after, there was a good chance I was going with him, whether I liked it or not.

I knew that I had to come up with a new solution for walking him that would make it a more enjoyable experience. I had grown up using choke chains for obedience training methods, but since my dogs would not be show dogs, I didn't want to go this route. I looked around for other ideas and came across what would soon be my perfect solution: The Gentle Leader.

Dog with gentle leader
The gentle leader is a a thin strap that loops around the dogs muzzle and behind their head. The idea is that the pressure on the dog's muzzle when he pulls forward pushes his nose down and makes him lose his momentum from pulling.  The website claims that the dog will actually turn around, but I found more that it just slows their momentum and makes the dog stop wanting to pull forward. It definitely does direct their attention to you, and make them think they should stop running forward.

The Gentle Leader has been a life saver when it comes to walking my dog. He is about 65 pounds (still growing!) and an 11 month old hound dog mix, so if he wants to run forward, he definitely can.  This THIN strap stops him in his tracks, but not in a way that I feel like he is being hurt.  It is a thin strap of material, but just because of the pressure on his muzzle, he is stopped.  I feel bad for dogs that are wearing big, thick choke collars now, because I know there is a much simpler method.  I can walk him with one hand and feel completely in control.

I was worried at first that he would not want to go on walks with the strap on his muzzle, but when he sees me take it out he comes running, because he knows he is going on a walk.  While I wouldn't say he LOVES having it on, he does understand that it serves as part of his walking paraphernalia. It is  more enjoyable for both of us, as I am not constantly pulling on him and yelling, and we can both enjoy the walk.

I have suggested the Gentle Leader to my parents and friends that have big dogs that sometimes pull.  Obviously, training the dog to always walk obediently is the better strategy, but at least for now, the Gentle Walker provides a perfect solution for our dog walks.  We can both now enjoy the experience without injuries or stress.

My Book Review Rating System

It occurred to me that if I'm going to be rating books I should provide a little more information on how I select my ratings, and give examples of books that fall into these ratings.  This way, you can get a feel for what kind of books I like or don't like, and if my reviews might be helpful to your personal reading tastes.

0 Stars: You won't actually see this rating from me, because this is what I would give a book I would refuse to pick up and not even TRY to read.  Examples: anything horror or zombie related.

1 Star: These are the kind of books that I try to read, but end up not being able to finish it (and not finishing a book means I REALLY DO NOT LIKE IT  because I hate when people, myself included, don't finish books). I would absolutely not suggest this to a friend. Examples: The third book in the Fifty Shades of Grey series. (Actually all of them, all of them are 1's in my mind.) I hated the first two, but at least tried to get through the series, but by the third one it was so ridiculous and awful, that I couldn't even skim through it like I did the first two. (I only kept reading because everyone else seemed to like them so much, I though if I kept going I'd figure it out) Seriously people, how did THAT series become so popular.

2 Stars: These are books that I at least managed to finish, but I really did not enjoy and would not suggest to others to read.  Examples: This would typically be a lot of romance novels that I come across hoping they are "chick lit" and they turn into cheesy romance novels.  (Seriously, there IS a difference!). Sometimes they are books that just strike me as "rushed" or very inaccurate.  Slammed by Colleen Hoover is an example. I was excited to try a book about slam poetry, but it was just NOT well written, or even accurate about high schools, and certainly not how student/teacher relationships work.  I DID NOT like it and would not recommend it, but I did finish it.

3-3.5 Stars: These are books that I consider to be pretty decent books.  I would probably even suggest them to other readers if they are looking for something in that genre.  I might not personally be super impressed, but I can see how they are entertaining or well written, and can often discuss their merit to others.  Examples: The previously mentioned The Book Thief or The Lone Wolf. Also, many classics that I can understand why they are classics, but again would not want to read them in my spare time.

4 stars: This is a pretty big deal book in my world if it makes it to this level. It means I really enjoyed it and could not put it down.  I would probably read this book again, and would definitely suggest it to others.  I felt that I connected with the characters, and sometimes I might even cry at their plights.  Examples: pretty much all of the Jane Green books, Jennifer Weiner books, John Green books, the first Hunger Games book.

5 Stars: For me to give this rating, the book has to actually move me. It has to make me think. It has to make me talk about it to other people. It might make me change my mind on things. I'll probably even do additional reading or research because of this book. I will have an actual reaction to this book, rather than just enjoying it for pleasure reading. If a book hits this level, I'll recommend it and suggest it forever.  Examples: To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone with the Wind, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Eat, Pray, Love,  Born to Run, The Omnivore's Dilemma, The Outliers.

Here is my rating scale with examples.  I tried to provide a description, plus examples of what authors and types of books I like and dislike.  I hope this helps going forward.  I'd love to have some comments and discussions on my book reviews!

Monday, March 17, 2014

What I'm Reading: March Madness

I already finished my novel for the month of March so I am able to post another novel review already! Hopefully this means I can get a second book in before the end of the month!  The book I just completed reading was Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult. This book was definitely a quick read, as all her books are, and I blew through it in a couple of days.  I'm going to give it a 3.5 out of 5 rating since it kept my attention and had the normal twists and turns that she always includes, but was not quite as good as some of her previous novels.

I almost want to assume that anyone reading this review has read a Jodi Picoult book before, or maybe I should say every female?  Her books tend to be extremely popular with the female audience ranging from about age 14 and up.  Her books all seem to be New York Times bestsellers, rightfully so in my opinion, because they are quick and interesting to read.  Some of her more famous titles include: My Sister's Keeper, 19 Minutes, and The Pact (my personal favorite--a reverse Romeo and Juliet).  My Sister's Keeper was even turned into a movie featuring Cameron Diaz, but the movie BUTCHERED the book and didn't even keep the original ending. Overall, she is an author with many titles, that consistently turns out a quality product.  Even if you don't end up reading this book, I highly suggest checking out some of her other titles.

The Lone Wolf is a novel that follows several characters thoughts and actions surrounding a car crash that has left a father of two, Luke, in a coma.  The book shows the perspective of both of his kids, Luke from the past, the ex-wife and mother, the stepfather/lawyer, and a couple of other select characters.  The main moral dilemma of the novel is what to do about Luke: should he be taken off of life support and have his organs donated, or should he be kept alive in the hopes that he will one day recover.  The daughter that currently lives with him wants to keep him alive, and his estranged son, who has returned from Thailand after the accident, wants to let him slip peacefully away.  Luke is a wolf lover and wilderness expert, and has even lived in the Canadian wilderness as a member of a wolf pack, making it a clear choice to many that he would not want to wake up in the condition that he would most likely be in, if he ever was to wake up.  His daughter is harboring a secret that keeps her desperately holding on (plus her obvious love of her father) and the estranged son also holds his own secrets, and a possible vengeance for his father's former sins against him.

Showing the novel from the various character perspectives is always a favorite writing technique of mine. I think it keeps the reading fresher, and allows the reader to see all points of view.  I will say that I was not as involved with these characters as I have been with some of her former works.  This story also involves a teenager taking out a law suit on a family member (My Sister's Keeper anyone?) and I found the characters to be less desirable and connectable than previous works. Also the "secret twists" that they were hiding were not quite as scandalous or interesting as some of the ones that Mrs. Picoult has provided in the past.

 I did enjoy all of the wolf information that was provided.  The author definitely always does her research before writing any novel.  I'm an avid animal lover, so I enjoyed learning more about wild wolves.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and thought it was entertaining.  I don't think its quite up to par to some of her previous works, but I imagine it would be hard to consistently come up with totally different plot lines and characters every year.  Definitely worth a read if you enjoy her books (or even if you haven't read them before) and are looking for a quick, easy read.

A Hound Doggin' Good Time!

This weekend, when we were at a 30th birthday party, my one friend who had recently rescued a female hound dog asked us if we would like to bring our two hound mix puppies for a dog date to Shake Shack in King of Prussia. I thought this seemed like an odd place for a doggie date, but she quickly assured me that they have a couple of dog friendly menu items and that dogs are allowed to hang out on the patio section.  Sure enough, she was correct, and on Sunday we spent some time on the patio of Shake Shack while our dogs slurped on Pooch-inis.

A Pooch-ini is basically vanilla custard with peanut butter sauce and a dog biscuit in a cup for dogs. They also sell just the dog biscuits if you want to stay away from giving your dogs custard.  It was a cold day, so we were the only ones brave enough to sit on the patio, but the dogs definitely appeared to be welcome at what is more typically a "human" establishment. In fact, all of the little kids that were inside were all watching from the window and several came out to visit and pet the dogs.  All three dogs had a blast and absolutely loved their special treat.

We loved the casual atmosphere, dog acceptance, and I must say that the human peanut butter milkshakes are delicious too!  All in all it was a great day, and if you're looking for a casual, dog friendly lunch spot, I would definitely recommend Shake Shack!!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What I'm Reading: February Flashback

For as long as I can remember, reading has been one of my absolute favorite activities.  I am normally a pretty active, energetic person, (Note 1) and the only thing that calms me down and keeps me still for a long period is reading a good book. (Note 2).  I figured it would be fun to share my thoughts on what I've read for pleasure lately. (Note 3).  I'm pretty busy with work (Note 4) and race training, but my goal is going to be to read at least one book a month--at least until summer!  My first review is going to be a Flashback to February as I think the book I read last month is worth noting.

*Note 1: Otherwise known as ADD
*Note 2: Seriously, try and watch a movie with me. I dare you.  I'll get up to pee, get a drink, pee again, play with the dogs, play a game on my phone, check Facebook etc the entire movie.
*Note 3: I DO enjoy a lot of chick lit (NOT Romances--there is a difference) but there will be other kinds of books on here too.
*Note 4: I read A LOT at work, in some ways you might call me a "professional reader" ha! Which is why I have to limit myself to roughly one book a month for "pleasure" in my off hours.

February Review:  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This particular novel is not one I would necessarily pick up to read in my free time.  For starters, the narrator is Death and the story discusses Nazi Germany, but it came highly recommended by one of my favorite young adult authors, John Green.  I am a huge fan of his writing, both my husband and I have read his entire collection, so I figured if he was going to recommend this book to his readers, it was worth trying. Also, it was on the New York Times Bestseller List for 230 weeks, so clearly a lot of people are reading the book.

The Book Thief, in my opinion--humble though it may be--is only going to rank as a 3.5 out of 5. I just can't give it the 4 or 5 stars that everyone else seems to give it.  I feel like I am supposed to love this book and tell you what a literary masterpiece it is. In fact, I will even confirm here that it is bound to become a classic. This book truly is an innovative and original novel about a German family living during Hitler's regime. The characters are well developed, the subject material is approached differently than what you normally see in Nazi Germany era books, and the narrator as Death provides for a totally different kind of read and feel to the book, with a lot of non-subtle foreshadowing (not even foreshadowing so much as TELLING) of what is to come. I appreciated the character development, and it was interesting for me to read a book from the German perspective, as most books I have read about this era are from either an American or Jewish specific background.

 Let me make it clear: I can agree with the critics that this book should be praised for it's literary quality.  I just found it rather...depressing (duh, its about Nazi Germany) and a slow read. In particular I did NOT like that Death told us early on that certain characters would die, which made me feel withdrawn and disconnected from my favorite character as I knew he/she ( I won't spoil it) was going to die well before it happened. I didn't want to form as deep an emotional attachment to a character that could die on any page.  I suppose a book narrated by death about Nazi Germany is expected to have a lot of death, but still, it made me detach from the book.

It felt distinctly like the kind of book that I would read in school, rather than what I like to read in my free time.  I know I mentioned that I like to read chick lit, but I also do enjoy a lot of serious and classical novels.  My two favorite novels ever are To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone With the Wind, so I'm clearly not afraid of long or historical books.   Something about this book didn't quite do it for me, and I can't quite put my finger on it (besides the death foreshadowing). This is a book that I WANT to love and give 5 stars to, but I have been unable to recommend it to my husband or reader friends, and I just can't quite recommend it here either.  I feel like all "real" readers are shaking their head and thinking how shallow I must be...but yea.  3.5 stars.  Sorry.

Rescue Dogs and Chewing!! Kuranda Dog Bed to the Rescue!

This past August, my husband and I adopted two hound/lab mixes from the Rescue Organization All 4 Paws.  We originally only intended on adopting ONE puppy, but ended up taking home two male litter mates.  The dogs are our precious boys and have brought so much joy to our lives in the past eight months, with the exception of ONE big issue--CHEWING!

The dogs are crate trained and kept in separate crates during the day while we are at work.  The one dog is totally fine in his crate, but the other dog has crate anxiety during the day, which is manifested in chewing.  He chewed through 2 dogs beds, along with various blankets and towels.  We tried giving him kongs with treats and various other distractions during the day to keep him busy, but nothing worked. One day we came home to find he had chewed the plastic tray bottom of the crate into pieces.  We had to remove the leftover chunk of plastic and watch him closely to see if he could pass the pieces. Once the crate tray was removed this meant that he was laying on the wires of the crate, which would obviously be uncomfortable.  This lead to us ordering a thick rubber matting for the bottom of the crate.  We had read that it would be chew proof, and would also be comfortable for the dog.  WRONG.  VERY, VERY WRONG.

I came home from work one Thursday, only to discover that the dog had chewed through the rubber mat and swallowed a couple of chunks of it.  Unlike with the crate tray, he was not able to pass the thick rubber, and was vomiting profusely all over his kennel, and later, the carpet, yard, etc.  I ended up having to rush him to the vet office (luckily our regular vet made time for us to come in so we did not have to go to the emergency vet--an expensive option we had used with our cat before).  The vet took x-rays and informed me they would have to perform surgery to remove the rubber.

You can imagine how scared and upset I was! Fortunately, after 2 incisions (one in the stomach and one in the intestine) and five days at the vet, he was able to come home and begin the recovery process.  BUT, we STILL had nothing comfortable for him to rest on in his crate!  This lead to us continuing our research process, and FINALLY finding the BEST OPTION EVER for owners of dogs that chew! We discovered the Kuranda Bed!

kuranda aluminum dog bed
The Kuranda Dog Bed is the ONLY chew proof option that we were able to find, and our dog loves it! It fits in the crate and is comfortable and orthopedic for the dogs.  There are a couple of different options, but we went with the aluminum dog bed.  This model has an aluminum frame with a tautly stretched material for the dog to lay on that honestly, reminds me of a trampoline... but IT WORKS! Ever since we have put this in the crate we have had NO chewing problems.  Our other dog tries to get in there to sleep on it, along with our cats!  Whatever it is about the Kuranda bed, animals love it...and more importantly...they can't chew it!  Plus, the company offers a one year chew warranty; they are that positive that the bed is chew proof.

We actually want to get another one for our other dog that is not a chewer, just because the pets seem to love it so much.  Unfortunately, they are a bit expensive, but DEFINITELY cheaper than paying for stomach surgery, and worth it to keep the dog safe! Regardless, when we have the spare cash, we will definitely look to get another one--we are that happy with the product!

In summation, if you have a dog that is a chronic chewer, and you worry about them destroying everything in their crate, or possibly swallowing what they have destroyed, the Kuranda bed is for you!  And no, I don't work for them--I just wish someone had told me about this product when we first rescued the boys, instead of finding out several dog beds and a stomach surgery later!!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Chronic Injuries: Big Toes and Slipped Discs

Another cold day in Philly has me dreaming of warmer temps! Supposedly it is going to warm up this weekend on Saturday and I am very anxious to get out and get a long run in! For tonight, it looks like I am going to be at the gym doing some cross training.  My husband and I attempted to do a run outside yesterday evening, but with the cold and dark, we had to end up cutting it shorter than we originally wanted.  Daylight Savings this Sunday should help with the light aspect, now if only we could consistently get some warm temps!

Unfortunately, when it is cold and icy, I have difficulty getting a lot of running in as I have trouble running on the treadmill.  I have two chronic injuries that are severely irritated from the pounding on treadmills, far more so than running outside on the roads and trails.  I think it is important to describe my injuries as they are chronic and can be detrimental to my training, and I'll probably refer to issues associated with them frequently! Any helpful comments or suggestions are definitely welcome if you also suffer from either of these injuries.

The first injury is a slipped disc in my L5 S1 that was caused by over-exertion on the stair stepper machine my freshman year in college.  The slipped disc causes sciatica in my left leg.  Sometimes, when I run too far or too fast, I have a sensation of my "back going out"  (best way I can describe it) and I will lose the ability to swing my left leg at the hip. I then get numbness in my leg and can no longer extend my leg forward in the running motion.  I can actually trip and fall if I attempt to keep moving when this happens.  It's hard to describe exactly what it feels like, as it is somewhat painful, but more so just a total lack of movement is what is the most prohibiting.  If I stop running and walk, the issue will cease and become less troubling.  When this happens, my left hamstring also becomes incredibly tight and painful, and has also caused me to have some chronic hamstring pain and tightness

I used to suffer from this far more; my first Broad Street was absolutely miserable and my time reflected it. By around mile 5, I was having difficulty running forward at all.  Afterwards, I could barely walk for a couple of days.  One of my co-workers pushed me to see a Chiropractor (something I had always been reluctant to do), but when I finally gave in I wished I had done it years before! I had tried physical therapy and even steroid shots into my spine, but nothing had worked previously.  My Chiropractor was able to help the alignment in my back and I have had a MUCH easier time controlling my back pain since I started seeing the Chiro.

I still am troubled by the sciatica, but I have definitely found it to be less troubling than in the past.  I need to make time to go see the Chiro more! I tend to wait to go in until it is troubling me again, instead of being pro-active.  I am definitely a fan of this NATURAL way to help my back though.  If anyone is wondering if they should try it, I would highly suggest it, as long as you can find a good, qualified Chiropractor that you can trust!  Let me know if you have any thoughts on sciatica, slipped discs, etc.

My second chronic injury is newer and something I am still trying to deal with on a day-to-day basis.  I am currently trying to train through some pain, and hoping I can keep it manageable.  I haven't ran since August, but the time off did NOT fix the issue.  What I am dealing with now is severe, chronic pain in my left big toe caused by bunions.  I have genetic bunions that I have irritated by years of running that have now lead to permanent pain in my big toe.

I first started experiencing the pain in June when I was training for the Oddyssey Half Marathon. When I was on a 12 mile training run I noticed that my left big toe was hurting incredibly bad. I had recently upgraded to the newest version of my Asics, so I thought it might be shoe related.  At the time I thought it would be manageable, and actually went online and ordered my previous years shoes in order to go back to what was working. My solution did not turn out to be the easy fix I had hoped, and the pain continued for the rest of the summer, until I finally decided to take a break in August.  During this time I also went to a podiatrist who informed me it was bio-mechanical issues in my foot (flat feet and bunions along with weird bone structure) and attempted a steroid shot (once again these shots do NOT seem to work on me--whether it be back or toe).  He also attempted some minor adjustments to my inserts.  Nothing helped, which is when I decided to take some time off and rest it (usually the cure for all running related injuries!)

When the doctor was unable to figure out a cure I decided to pursue some other options. Returning to the same shoe I had been using (just newer) had not worked.  I decided to try a new kind of shoe that allowed for more toe spread (bunions are irritated by a tight toe box).  I tried the Altra Zero Drop shoe that has a much wider than usual toe box.  They are also part of the minimalist shoe movement and had some fantastic reviews in various locations.  While I like the shoes and the space for my toe, I still had toe pain, PLUS the flatness bothered my foot and I began to have pain spreading all through my arches and across the bottom of my foot.  I now try to use them for walking the dogs and cross training though to give my feet room to breathe when I can! I would LOVE to hear if anyone else has tried these shoes!

The other strategy I tried is something I am still currently working with.  When reading a running magazine I discovered an advertisement for Correct Toes.  Correct Toes is an insert that you put in your toes that spreads your toes and is supposed to cure all kinds of ailments, particularly all the various issues I have with my toes and feet!  You are supposed to be able to wear them when running, but I found that it bothered my feet too much, not the spreading so much as just pain from the actual rubber in my toes.  I DO try to wear them every night and to sleep in.  I have tried to take pictures of my feet and see if they are improving, and I think I might be seeing a slight improvement in my right foot (the one not as bad as off).  Too soon to tell, but I am still hoping this works as it would be non-surgical and natural! Again, if you have experience or thoughts on these PLEASE LET ME KNOW! I would love, love, love some feedback!

Ok, this entry turned out to be WAY longer than I planned, but now you have a history of my chronic injuries and I won't have to explain in such detail again in the future ha!  I'm hoping for the best when I do my 6 mile run this weekend, as it will be the longest I've run since the 1/2 marathon due to my toe pain. I'm hoping I can make this work somehow and get back to running! Again, please, please, please let me know if you have any thoughts on either injury...particularly the toe issue! I would love some feedback or suggestions!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Restaurant Review: O-toro in Wayne

Today is Ash Wednesday and as mentioned previously, I will be giving up alcohol for Lent.  In honor of one of my more favorite Wednesday events that I'll be missing for the next few weeks, I'd like to mention my fondness for O-toro in Wayne and their Wine Down Wednesday half price glass (or bottles) of wine. My husband and I discovered this spot in the fall of 2013 and have been hooked ever since.

O-toro is tucked into the same parking lot as the Landmark Americana Restaurant on Lancaster Ave. At first glance it can be easy to miss, due to the fact that the Landmark is much bigger, more obvious, and they share the same building space.  O-toro is definitely worth a second look though.  The inside is stylish and modern, complete with a fireplace and small bar. The restaurant provides a combination of creative sushi and tapa menu items that are always fresh, different, and delicious.  They also have great happy hour specials, and as I mentioned, you can't beat their Wine Down Wednesday.  I also just noticed that they have a BYOB Monday, which we will be SURE to check out once Lent is over!

I'm a vegetarian, so I always enjoy their edamame tapa; besides the normal salt, the edamame are topped with a spicy goodness that gives an extra flavor blast that I really enjoy.  I also like to splurge on their shoe string fries that come in a huge serving size drizzled in a truffle viniagrette.  My husband (definitely not a vegetarian) swears by the Sunflower and Amazing Tuna Rolls, along with the Tuna Nachos.

This is one of our absolute favorite weekday dinner spots, and one of the places we always agree on with our very different taste preferences.  Check it out!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Broad Street Run Training and Lent

The Philadelphia Region has been hit by the third snowiest winter of all time, which has put a serious damper on my ability to get out and run. I wish I could be one of those die hard runners I see churning through ice, sleet,and snow; but at the end of the day, if it is below 35 degrees outside, I'm probably sitting on my couch with a glass of red wine (one of my other favorite R's!) and my dogs watching Netflix instead of braving the elements. All lazy times must end though, and with the arrival of March, my acceptance into another year of the Broad Street Run, (and the tightening of my pants) I've realized it is time to tie up my laces and get back outside. (seriously, is it ever going to stay above 50?)

For those of that you that might not be familiar with the Philadelphia running scene, The Broad Street Run is a 10 mile race run down Broad Street in Philadelphia on the first Sunday in May.  About 40,000 people participate in the race annually, and in the last couple of years, a lottery has been required to select participants due to the high interest level. The race has really become a Philadelphia tradition, and the largest 10 miler in the USA.

This year will be my fourth time running Broad Street, and I am striving for a pretty lofty PR (personal record) this year.  My first time in the race I had never run a 10 miler and finished with a 1:43:43.  I was suffering from some pretty serious back issues (more on that later) and was happy to finish.  My second year I was more mentally and physically prepared for what the race entailed and finished with a 1:30:58 (a significant improvement--though still slightly troubled with back issues).  Last year I was determined to break that time and put in a race I could be proud of and finished with a 1:26:10, which I was extremely pleased with.

This year, my goal is to break 1:25, and preferably hit closer to a 1:21 (almost an 8 minute pace).  I'm more than willing to put in the training time, but am once again suffering from a pretty crippling injury (again--more on that later).  In order to give myself the best possible opportunity to do so, I have decided to do the unthinkable (in my household) and give up drinking, starting around the time of Lent, but carrying forward till the day of the race.  I'll make a few exceptions to this, but I am hoping that the energy gain and weight loss associated with not drinking for 2 months, will help me gain the extra edge necessary.

Starting last weekend (we decided to start Lent a weekend early) my husband and I did two training runs: one on Saturday and one on Sunday, both at slightly over 4 miles, running a 9:17 and 9:05 pace.  We were definitely feeling out of shape and are just attempting to build back some endurance currently.  For the first time, we were able to use the new Chester Valley Trail between Chesterbrook and Malvern.  The trail is nice and flat and was clear and had been treated for snow.  We will definitely be using this again and are thrilled about this new addition to our running routine.  We're hoping to get in a week night run this week (can not WAIT for daylight savings time this weekend) and are planning on bumping up to 5 miles this weekend.

2 months EXACTLY till Broad Street! Enjoying a Shamrock Shake for my Fat Tuesday treat tonight!

**Note 1.  I want to mention: No, I am not an alcoholic.  I do not drink every night, and I will not have the shakes from giving up booze for a couple of months.  When I say I am giving up drinking, I am referring to the fact that my husband and I drink socially with our friends a couple of times a month, or enjoy a bottle of red wine on Friday (or maybe Tuesday?) night.  This will not be the running form of AA, simply an extended Lenten Resolution that I am hoping will provide me with that little extra endurance in mile 8.
**Note 2.  I am 100% Irish American and I will be having a couple of drinks on St. Paddy's Day.  Sometimes exceptions must be made in the name of green beer and Irish tradition.
**Note 3.  I'll see everyone at Xfinity Live post-race for a couple of beers to celebrate my new PR and to compare race times.  :)

Welcome to the R5!


Welcome to my first attempt in the blogging world.  I've always had an interest in writing a blog, but I could never pin down exactly what I wanted to write about.  While I enjoy many things, I wouldn't say that I am passionate about any ONE thing to the point where I want to dedicate an entire blog to it.  I wanted to be able to discuss the different things that I dedicate my time to, while still maintaining somewhat of a common theme.  Living on the Philadelphia Main Line, which follows the R5 train line, got me thinking about how 5 of my favorite things all start with an R: running, reading, retail, restaurants, and rescues.

I've never been one to refuse both alliteration and a good pun, so here I am. On this page you will find my thoughts, musings, and revelations on what its like to be a 30 something living in the Philadelphia suburbs. Hopefully you find something that strikes your fancy! Feel free to leave me some comments on what you would like to hear more about!