Generosity Overwhelms INAL Founder…and me!

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With just our second Red Hammer Benefit Run you raised the bar with your generosity!

We hit the $250 mark for I Need A Lighthouse, Inc., an organization whose purpose has taken on new meaning to myself and my family in recent months.

INAL was founded to raise awareness of teen and young adult depression and suicide. They go into schools and churches to speak about depression and suicide, teach teens and adults the signs to look for in a depressed and/or suicidal teen, and how to get help!

Kathleen Wakefield, founder of INAL, was swamped putting the final touches on Saturday’s Beacon of Hope 5K, but she took the time out to thank us so much for our support. She was completely overwhelmed.

“Thank you so much for what your runners did for us,” Wakefield said. “Every bit helps us so much.”

Wakefield founded INAL after her 21-year-old son Jake committed suicide in July 2001.

“I knew within three days that I was going to put together this organization,” she said.  As a prevention organization they don’t receive a lot of feedback about how much they help, but Wakefield does get the occasional email saying thank you, or that they learned a lot hearing her speak and know how to ask for help now.

And that is what she works tirelessly for.

“Depression is treatable, suicide is not” is the mantra that flows throughout INAL website.

My cousin, Chase Wood, took his own life in March. He would have turned 21 next week. In the days and weeks since I’ve thought a lot about the stigma attached to seeking help for depression, the prevalent attitude that you should just be able to get over it, you have to be tough enough to handle it on your own, seeking help is seen as weak. Yet in every other time of illness or crisis, seeking help, talking about it, finding a source of strength in a friend, family member, doctor is encouraged.

Depression is a disease, a disease that is treatable, suicide is not.

My uncle, Ray, like Wakefield, hopes that Chase’s death is not in vain, that people pay attention, reach out, understand that depression is a disease and asking for help is not only OK, it is the right thing to do.

In the words of my uncle, “Please do not let this be in vain. We must all do our best to increase awareness of this horrible disease…and pay close attention to our friends and relatives when we know they are in a difficult situation. Act on the slightest chance that they may be weakening…be wrong…just don’t be late.”

I am so grateful to everyone who contributed to this RHBR to help INAL continue it’s efforts to raise awareness and keep people talking about this disease. Please take some time to check out I Need A Lighthouse.org I guarantee you someone who you know is struggling with depression or has a family member struggling and you aren’t aware of it. Become the person they feel safe turning to…become that lighthouse!

If you are looking for a race to do this weekend – it’s always a good day for a 5K! – The Beacon of Hope 5K is Sunday at the boardwalk.

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RHBR Helps PSA with Fitness Equipment!

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Think your few dollars don’t matter?

Here’s proof we can make a difference in our community and for some very special kids when we get together and run with a purpose.

The first Red Hammer Benefit Run was held April 6 to benefit the Peninsula School for Autism, a non-profit, private day school in Newport News. I set a goal for us to raise $100 and guess what? You did it! You responded!

The school is beyond excited about our support and generous donation. PSA recognizes how important physical education and activity can be for children with autism and has a portion of its curriculum dedicated to it. The school has a PE teacher, Colleen Cherry-Liguria, on staff and she works hard at developing a curriculum to help the kids develop fundamental movement skills, object control skills as well as communication and focus skills, and, oh yeah, have some fun too!

“This is definitely one of their favorite parts of the day,” Cherry-Liguria said. “they get really excited about the activities and with the older kids, we take them to a gym and they do a structured workout. They are so motivated to get there and do that workout every day!”

Currently the school has just four yoga mats for the kids to use and a handful of assorted balls for throwing activities.

Cherry-Liguria and executive director of the school, Sydney Mrowiec decided to use the $100 donation from RHR to create a dedicated fund to purchase equipment and help develop new curriculum. Appropriately the fund will be called the “Adapted Physical Education Curriculum Development Fund.” Wow, that’s a mouthful!

But now when Cherry-Liguria writes up the new fitness plan for the next semester she won’t be as restricted by the lack of equipment to use!

Thank you so much to everyone who participated! It is so exciting to already see what a few dollars pooled together can do!

SOOOO, let’s keep it going!

Our next run is Saturday, May 4. This one will be for I Need A Lighthouse, an organization dedicated to raising awareness of teen and young adult depression and suicide.

In March this one became very personal to me when my 20-year-old cousin took his own life. He would have turned 21 in May.

The statistics are staggering. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in those ages 10-24. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “more teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia and influenza, and chronic lung disease – COMBINED.”

I Need A Lighthouse works hard to educate teenagers and others about mental illness and depression and teaches them the signs to look for in friends and family and how to help.

This is an issue that I bet has touched more people than you realize. Since my cousin took his life we have learned more and more of our friends and neighbors have also been affected by suicide.

Depression is treatable, suicide is not.

Join in on May 4 to help I Need A Lighthouse continue to reach out and educate and save young lives.

 

BOSTON…

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There is nothing like it. No other race, no other event, no other finish line…

You never forget your first one.

I told Keith Alston before he made the trek up there for this year’s race, that it was going to be unlike anything he had ever experienced. Enjoy it, embrace it, take it all in. Run your best, but at Boston, especially the first one, your finish time just becomes insignificant.

Like most other runners, from the time I entered my first marathon in 2005, I determined that someday I would run Boston. I qualified in 2007, but injuries kept me out until 2009. I’d run NYC and MCM. MCM was my Boston qualifier. Even knowing Boston is the ultimate. Even working so hard to get there and being thrilled to go, I had no idea just how special this event was until I got there.

The entire city and all the ‘burbs are electric with excitement. The streets are flooded with runners, most sporting that coveted Boston jacket they earned the right to wear proudly! Bostonians welcome you with smiles, eager to find out where you are from. “Is this your first one?” They ask eagerly, almost hoping you say yes!

“Just wait until you hear the girls in Wellesley!”

“Have fun! Enjoy it!”

Other runners are equally excited to encourage first-timers to really take it all in.

“Just wait until you hear the girls at Wellesley!” You hear it over and over again.

I’ve run marathons of all different sizes in a variety of locations, from Vegas on the old course where they took you out into the desert and had you run back to town and you are running in this bizarre sort of silence until mile 16 when finally a dozen or so spectators appear…to NYC where the streets of Brooklyn are lined with firefighters and bands and church choirs and people dozens deep line the streets of Manhattan.

Boston trumps them all.

Lisa Johnson (left) and I on Heartbreak Hill in 2009 - we are the ones smiling!

Lisa Johnson (left) and I on Heartbreak Hill in 2009 – we are the ones smiling!

 

Every inch of that course is filled to the brim, not just with spectators, but boisterous spectators! They have cow bells, boom boxes and apparently incredible lungs! The noise never stops and then, then you start to hear a roar off in the distance.

Really? That can’t be. That is really loud…really loud. I mean we are still like a mile away aren’t we?

Wellesley girls. Thousands of them, screaming and cheering their hearts out for EVERY runner. Every single runner is a rock star to these girls. Everyone tells you, but until you hear them from miles away and are in the midst of that deafening sound, you just can’t even imagine.

I told Keith to be ready, but he couldn’t even believe it.

“They cheered like I was winning the race,” he said. “They had already been at it for hours and they just keep cheering! It was amazing.”

And so it continues the entire route, when the Newton Hills have caused your legs to buckle, you finally see that Citgo sign welcoming you back downtown and then you make that final turn…that big left hander onto Boylston.

The crowd is deafening, the street is massively wide and you just start to float. This is Boston! All the late-marathon pains disappear. You are smiling uncontrollably. It’s just magical.

I honestly don’t know how this even happened, but I started to scan the spectators, keeping in mind that all of the volunteers and security personnel wear neon yellow jackets. My better half, Jolly, also had on a bright yellow windbreaker when I left him that morning. Because in ’09 this was a big race for Americans Kara Goucher and Ryan Hall, I had encouraged him to go straight to the finish, watch those elite runners come in, I mean how often do you get to do that. So I knew he would have been planted there somewhere.

Somehow I managed to pick him out of the crowd. He had secured a spot at the front of the fence on the right side of the street. I hollered at him, waved and dashed over, gave him a kiss and ran to the finish!

I will never forget that finish line, never forget that day. As runs go, far from spectacular to me, but as days go it was great. I did take it all in, stopped and pet some cute dogs – a beagle, of course! – waved and smiled at spectators and volunteers, found my friend Lisa Johnson along the way and ran the Newton Hills with her.

Boston more than lives up to the hype and hoopla that surrounds it. Every agonizing training run and tough race it takes to get you there is worth it.

I told Keith to take it all in. Embrace it, enjoy it, be overwhelmed!

And so he did, I started getting texts from him on Friday about how “all about the marathon” the city was, then again on Monday during the bus ride to Hopkinton about the runners he had met.

He was excited, ready to run and have fun. He did. Marveling at the Wellesley girls, the Newton Hills, that unfamiliar pain in your legs that comes from running downhill for so many miles and then trying to alter that position, and then, finally that finish.

“That street is just amazing, that finish…,” Keith said. “You were right, there is nothing like this, nothing!!!”

Keith had crossed the line, gotten his medal, water and was making the lengthy walk into Copley Square to retrieve his bag and his family when he heard the blast.

“It sounded like a canon, you know like at a football game, like artillery. I saw the smoke. I knew it wasn’t good.”

Indeed it wasn’t.

On a day that is typically so joyous and wonderful in one of the greatest cities in the world – always been one of my favorite places – the unthinkable had happened.

The knot in my stomach grew throughout the afternoon and evening as we learned more and more the extent of the destruction. It left me stunned and heartsick. So grateful Keith had gotten to have his magical day and get out of town safely. So heartsick for those who lost loved ones and had life-altering injuries.

Thoughts kept returning to how wonderful my experience there had been, how happy the entire weekend was in that city and it just angered me so much that people were robbed of that memory and worse…

Our hearts are with you…

 

Life Happens…

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…and it doesn’t always care about that PR you’ve been dreaming about, working for.

Soccer practice, swim lessons, band practice, the flu, proposal deadlines, bronchitis, the flu again, your in-laws come to town, your child needs help with chemistry…all of this is way more important than getting your swim, bike, run in. Fortunately you realize this and take the time to help out, get rest, do the right thing.

As the weeks and months creep toward your goal race, you realize, with much dismay, that big PR is just not in the cards. So how do you come to grips with that?

Now I am not talking about an injury that has set you back or a lack of fitness such that you are setting yourself up for injury by doing the race. That is another blog. I am talking about solid enough fitness to do the race, just not quite as fast as you’d hoped.

First, drop the expectations.

Once you’ve done that you are instantly more relaxed and ready to have fun. When you are relaxed and having fun you run better and you will probably do a lot better than you expect.

Be realistic about what you can do. Were you shooting for a huge PR? Are you on track for a lesser PR? Or maybe you are close to matching your current one. Then make those adjustments to your training plan for the final weeks leading up to the race and don’t forget to make the mental adjustment too!

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Is there a group of friends doing the same race? Is there someone else trying for a PR time that is easy for you? How about pacing them, or just running with the group, having fun, taking in the sights and sounds of race day.

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On your own? Take in those sights and sounds yourself. Engage the crowds, smile, enjoy yourself. We often get so caught up in paces and PRs we don’t get to enjoy the festive atmosphere that surrounds these events.

The main thing is to relax, cut yourself some slack. I know I have had the most enjoyable races, and often posted very decent times, at the events where the only expectation I had was to have fun! We are not professional athletes, we do this for fun, remember? There is still time for that PR the next time out.

 

RHBR April Charity – Peninsula School for Autism

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The first Red Hammer Benefit Run is scheduled for Saturday, April 6.

April is autism awareness month and as such the charity we are running for is the Peninsula School for Autism in Newport News!

RHR athlete Claire Ellis is a behavior analyst who works with kids who have autism on a regular basis. Having spent a lot of time at the school, she has seen first hand how much this facility and its people have to offer.

This unique school focuses on applying principles of behavior analysis to individuals with autism. Each child who attends this school recieves individualized programming based on their specific needs. A child’s program can include working on skills such as language acquisition, academic skills, self-help and life skills, social skills, problem solving skills and more.

The school was founded by two families, Abbitt and Kim, in 2009 and opened its doors on September 6, 2011. Both families share the vision of providing year-round, school-based services to meet the needs of their own children as well as other students within the Peninsula region. Through personal experience, the founders have experienced the benefits of one-to-one, scientifically-validated teaching practices for their children’s achievement.

“When I began working at PSA, I immediately knew this was a special place,” Claire says. “Between the incredibly devoted staff to the most amazing students, I was so impressed with the school. What I found to be the most impressive about this school was their dedication to making sure their students needs were met in all capacities, including fitness. For their older students, they incorporated teaching them how to navigate and use equipment at a local gym as part of their curriculum. This is a skill that can frequently get overlooked in the population we serve. It is so refreshing and exciting to see a facility place an emphasis individual needs, including teaching the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”

Want to get involved? All we ask is that you pledge $1 per mile run that day, whether you join the RHR group run at First Landing, run the Run for Autism 10K trail race or run in your neighborhood in Florida, California, even on a ship at sea! No amount is too small! If you run 3 miles, that’s $3! It all adds up! Our goal is $100! I know RHR and our friends and family out there can do that!

If you want to learn more about PSA or any of our Benefit runs or how you can pledge some mileage, please email me denise@redhammerracing.com.

Not Sure What Running Shoe to Buy? What Feels Good to YOU?

Seems I’ve been doing a lot of talking about shoes this week, with new and experienced runners alike.

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I am a typical woman with regards to my love of shoes, however, my fetish is mostly reserved for running shoes! My closet is stocked with a multitude of brands and styles. I often justify buying them as part of my job. In all seriousness I do like to try new ones, not because I feel like I am always searching for the next great thing, but because I want to be able to talk to my clients about the shoe, how it felt, and so on. I have had the privilege of working with a lot of shoe reps in learning about the shoes, the benefits, the changes, how it differs from something else. There are as many different theories as to what makes a great running shoe as there are shoes and that is a good thing! Because there are lots of different feet out there!

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I feel obligated to start with a BRIEF statement on running form and the minimalist shoe craze.
People are spending a lot of money and a lot of time trying to make wholesale changes to their running form because reading a book told them they are running wrong. Because a shoe company says they are running wrong, but wearing these shoes will make you run right, faster, injury free…if you spent as much time simply running as you spend fretting and trying to make huge changes for reasons you may not even understand, you would be a better runner.
Yes, form can be improved, a couple of very simple drills, shorten your stride, increase your turnover, your body naturally reacts to have you running with so-called proper form. No, you do not need to make huge wholesale changes to what comes naturally to you. I posted an article a few months ago with scientific proof that different tribes in Africa, whom we seem to constantly try to emulate, some forefoot land, others heel strike, guess what, both are efficient for them. So just get out there and run, relax, do what comes naturally and enjoy yourself!
Now to address the shoe dilemma.
How do you pick the right shoe for you…let me repeat that RIGHT SHOE FOR YOU!
People ask me all the time what shoes I run in. I usually don’t say, at least not initially. For one thing, what is right for me is not right everyone. I switched brands several years ago when my then-brand of choice changed my favorite shoe too much and my current brand finally made a shoe I like! I actually now run in two different brands and three different styles of shoe, and that doesn’t include races!
That is probably a bit excessive, but I encourage you to have two styles of shoe in your weekly rotation. Most simply have a long and easy run shoe and a hard run, race day shoe in the lineup.
Let’s talk brand loyalty a bit. Shoe manufacturers are always tweaking and “improving” shoe styles and it often is far from an improvement. Through your years of running you know you have come across a favorite shoe. They make you feel like you are floating, you are excited to go run every time you put them on, then the new updated version comes out and….it @$#*ing sucks! It in no way resembles your faithful running buddies. When this happens, and it will, don’t be afraid to make a brand switch.

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How to shop for running shoes…
First and foremost go to a running store!! No big box sports equipment stores, no department stores. Go to a running store, make sure they watch you run and walk, understand how much you run and offer you lots and lots of shoes to try on! It might seem overwhelming at first, but it’s worth it. Try the shoes on, run in them, spend more than 15 secs in them. When you narrow it down, put them on side-by-side, one of each on each foot. Run around in them without looking at your feet and ask yourself some questions. Which shoe do I notice the LEAST? Which one feels comfy, springy, like an extension of my foot?
That is the shoe you want, even if it is hideously ugly!
The reason for the shoe you notice least is because you don’t want it to be about the shoe, even something you notice that is not unpleasant running in the store, may not feel so great 3, 6, 12-miles down the road!
There really are a lot of fantastic running shoes out there, very well made, designed with lots of different foot shape and needs in mind. I promise finding the right shoe for you can make a world of difference in running well and pain free and get you excited to get out and run…which is ultimately the best thing you can do to become a better runner!
If I can answer any of your questions about what to look for or how to incorporate a second style into your routine, please feel free to email me denise@redhammerracing.com.

Awesome Saturday Trail Group

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The RHR group run is always one of my favorite runs of the month!
Especially when we get to see friends we haven’t gotten to train with in a while, show new people trails they didn’t know existed and when people turn in their longest run without even noticing!

Last Saturday proved to be a beautiful morning for running, a slightly chilly start gave way to very comfortable temps out on the trails, no wind and, as usual, terrific views from Long Creek Trail in First Landing State Park.

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We’ll continue to meet up for a trail run the first Saturday of every month. Recently I was inspired to add a slight twist to April’s run…stayed tuned for details on running with purpose!

Stop Skipping Those Strength Sessions!

You know who you are!

And I was one of you once.

I’m not a fan of going to the gym. I admit it. I never have been.

As a long-course triathlete and endurance runner, it was hard enough to get all of my swimming, biking and running done. Make time to lift weights? Why bother. A firm believer in specificity, my thought was that time at the gym wasn’t going to make me a faster runner, time pounding the pavement would.

So I avoided it. In my defense I practiced power yoga on a regular basis, which does build terrific core strength and does a great job of opening up the notoriously tight runners’ hips and keeping things balanced.

Several things have happened in recent years that got me to the gym and the results have kept me making time for it.

One of those things is something that happens to every single one of us, every single year! Birthdays! They keep coming! Now I’ve never been one to fret about age. I’m active, relatively healthy and people rarely believe I am in the age group I am in! I thank my Mom and her genes for that.

Increasing bone density has always been one of preached benefits of weight lifting, but running does that too. What lifting weights also does is strengthen all of those tendons and ligaments connecting our muscles and tissues that help us keep moving!  Even as the birthdays keep coming.

To continue along that thought, no matter what your age, keeping your bones and tendons and muscles strong helps keep you injury free! And when you stay injury free, you can keep swimming, biking and running and that makes you faster!

On a personal note, many of you know about my continuous battle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Last year it was suggested that spending some time in the weight room a couple of times per week could help my energy levels. While what I wanted to do more than anything was run, I was willing to try. 30-40 minutes a couple times per week was all I needed. I would leave the gym feeling refreshed and energized. The frequent weakness that would take over my body became more and more infrequent. It was the boost I needed to keep me moving and ultimately running!

So while I can’t sit here and promise you squats and dead lifts and overhead presses are going to have a dramatic effect on your run splits, I can promise you they will make you stronger, and a stronger body moves more efficiently. I can promise they will help stave off injury, and that keeps you running and that makes you faster!

So get up and get to the gym!