Running Buddy of the Month for August 2012 – Mara and CleahBy
Pooch to 5k was a vital part of an effort to get in shape after a seven-year stretch of bad times–lot of deaths in the family–that had taken a toll on my body and mind. I’ve always been athletic, involved in such sports as bicycle racing, running, and triathlons. But, when times are bad, I go to seed, stop exercising and gain a lot of weight.
One of the worst blows of my life came in March 2011, when my beautiful Lisa, a dog I had adopted from a shelter 8 years earlier, was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma. She died in April 2011. Lisa’s early years had been very hard, and when she came to me, she had a lot of fears. Running in the woods helped her become more confident, and it became our weekend ritual, almost a religious experience.
When she died, I remember that I kept asking people, “Who will run in the woods with me now?” Not all dogs become good running partners, I knew from experience. When I got my first dog, Maggie, 11 years ago, I was still involved in long-distance sports. She was a very wild youngster, and I believed she could just come out with me and do five miles, with no preparation.
On one of these outings, she plopped down on the sidewalk and refused to move. I gave up, and she has never been a running dog.
Two months after I lost Lisa, I learned that a Leonberger breeder I knew was looking for a home for 3-year-old Cleah. Maggie and Cleah hit it off immediately, so this sweet Leonberger joined our family.
I love Leonbergers, because they look like Lisa, but their size makes them less than ideal running partners. Still, Lisa was a big dog, and she was a natural, one of the most athletic creatures I’ve ever seen.
Cleah’s very small for her breed, only 90 pounds, and extremely light on her feet. Her breeder describes her movements as “catlike,” and when you see her in agility on the dogwalk, she definitely looks more feline than canine.
I hoped to turn Cleah into my partner to run in the woods, and I was determined to not make the mistake I had made with Maggie of pushing her too far, too fast and ruining the fun.
This is where Pooch to 5K came in. I found your program online, and sent you an email about our situation. At first, you cautioned me that a Leo may be too big to be a running partner. But when I pointed out that she’s really small and I’m really slow, you said, Have fun!
We started in February, 2012, doing our city runs in the early morning and woods runs on the weekends. (We live in the middle of midtown Manhattan, across the street from the United Nations, weekdays, and weekend on Long Island, where we have the path in the woods.) I was in terrible shape at the time. After I lost Lisa, I went on what I call my “all-white” diet-refined sugar and bleached flour. My weight skyrocketed. (I can’t say exactly how much because I was terrified to get on the scale, but none of my clothes were fitting). The first few sessions were really hard, even though it was a only minute of running. But I was determined to stick to the program. Cleah was not physically stressed at all; she never broke out of a fast walk. (A sidenote on Cleah: She’s a former show dog, so I did not have to spend any time teaching her to heel. It’s what she does best, and is so fluid and light one the lead, it feels like I’m walking a cloud.)
At the same time, a group of Leonberger owners decided that they wanted to slim down, and started a support group on Facebook–Getting Leo Lean, Fit & Healthy Together. We compare food and fitness tips, applaud victories, and offer encouragement after setbacks.
With Pooch to 5k, Leo Lean, and a weekly deep-water running session, my clothes started to get looser and the running started to get easier. By April, I became confident enough to step on the scale, and while still about 20 pounds heavier than I’d like to be, it was not that bad. I have lost about 10 pounds since I started weighing myself, and hope to drop another 10. It’s all been with small changes. A lifetime of yo-yo-ing has shown me that drastic dieting does not work for me.
Cleah and I finished the Pto5k program in June. It took a bit longer than 12 weeks, because if I thought Cleah looked tired or was not having fun, or if the weather was really crummy, I stopped the session. By June, we were comfortably doing half-hour runs three days a week.
Then I decided to see if I could get through an organized 5k run-the Massapequa Park Firecracker 5k–in a reasonable time. My pace was really slow, but I made it across the finish line.
One of the women in the Leo Lean group is a professional running coach, and she had posted a program similar to Pto5k, but for humans. She offered me some tips on getting faster, and in my last 5k, my time was better by three minutes and 48 seconds. I have added a speed workout to my usual routine, but I leave my four-foot at home for this.
My plan is to continue doing local 5k runs, and I’ve signed up for an Aquathalon (swimming/running) in September. I hope to get through it. I’m also hoping to do a canine/human 5k in October. We don’t have a lot of them organized around here, and it looks like fun.
Your program gave me a framework, discipline, and a push that I would not have had on my own. I cannot tell you how sad I was at the start of this whole thing. After losing Lisa, I didn’t think I would ever run in the woods again. I couldn’t bear the idea of doing it without a dog by my side.
My biggest hope is that I’ll be able to keep up the discipline when times get bad, as they inevitably do. I don’t want to fall into unhealthy habits. At my age (50+) I don’t have much room for recovery.
I wanted you to know the whole background, because I don’t know if you understand how important you and your program have been. Really, Pooch to 5k has been a lifesaver. Thank you!