Running Philadelphia: Back on My Feet 5-Miler

The Stroehmann Back on My Feet 5-Miler fell on the same day as the Bearathon in Waco, which is the half marathon I have ran for the past two years. I was a little disappointed to not be running it again this year. The race, known as the “Toughest Half in Texas,” raises money for student scholarships, which is a great cause to run for especially for alumni.
This BoMF 5-Miler raises money for a great cause as well. I had read about BoMF a few years ago when I started running. The basic premise for this non-profit is to utilize running to help transform the lives of people who are homeless. It all starts with running and then they progress to getting jobs, homes and a new life.

I can certainly relate to the transformative power of running and fitness, which, as I’ve written in my first blog post, has been instrumental in my own recovery. I was thrilled to get the opportunity to give back in a small way to the local chapter. My friend Maria’s daughter is the Executive Director, so she is very supportive and encourages others, such as myself, to be as well.

After attending the annual fundraising event Back on My Feet Bash with Maria in October, I signed up for the 5-Miler.

As I usually do on race days, I woke up at 4:30am to have a small amount of caffeine and start my race day ritual. I’m not a morning person. I don’t even like running or practicing yoga in the mornings. I’m pretty sure these races are scheduled so early so participants aren’t thinking. They’re just running. I don’t start really thinking clearly until after the first mile or so, which is about the same time my body has really warmed up.

Despite the early hour, I was filled with excitement and anxiety before the race.  I was excited to be running in a new city, but felt anxious not knowing what to wear. I didn’t want to get too hot while running, yet I didn’t want to be so cold that I had a hard time functioning before I warmed up. I decided at the last minute to go with three layers instead of two once I stepped out of the car and felt how cold it was.

Most of the time when I run a race, I have two goals: 1) finish and 2) don’t be last. I run for the sake of running, which for me includes intervals of walking when it’s longer than a 5K. But after two years of running races, I decided that I wanted to push myself harder, which meant running the entire race and pick up my pace.

I really had to dig deep to get through the last mile. My legs and feet were worn out from running so hard. I kept repeating to myself “finish strong” like my baby sister told me to when I first started running. I was thrilled and relieved to see the finish line!

Running the streets of Philadelphia was interesting and felt like I was getting short tour of the historical city on foot. My favorite part of the route being the start/finish line was within view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I love that place inside and out!

Once I had a banana and water and rested for a few minutes, I made my way over to run the Rocky Steps that lead up to the museum since I was so close. Thought that would be a perfect place to take a post-race photo!

After running up the steps, which left me a little out of breath and even more fatigued, I gazed out to enjoy the view of the city and take a picture.

Just as I finished taking another picture, my phone rang. It was my Maria.
“Denita, where are you? Your name is being called out right now! You got third place in your age group! Come get your medal!”

“What? Okay. I’ll be there in a minute!”

Getting a medal is not something I even remotely expected. So I ran down the steps and crossed a few roads faster than I ran the race to get to the award ceremony and picked up my medal.

It was awesome getting a medal, espcially since this was my first time to run in Philly! I proudly wore it to The Bishop’s Collar, where we ate and I had my usual post-race mimosas! By this point my runner’s high had worn off and I was ready to crash.

At one point Maria looked at me and said, “I know that this is probably like asking a a mother who just gave birth if she wants to have another child, but do you think you think you’ll run it again next year?”


To learn more about this organization that gives back so much to the community and to donate go to


Exploring Philadelphia: Love at First Sight

My first glimpse of Philadelphia was from an airplane as I flew into the airport this past April. Flying in to spend the weekend in Jersey. I was in awe of the massive sports complexes clustered together, the skyline, the naval shipyard… It was all pretty much a blur since I was seeing it so late at night and while in a moving vehicle. An unfamiliar place with unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells.

Unfortunately that weekend didn’t include any excursions to Philly, except for returning to the airport.  Little did I know then, Philadelphia would become a destination I would explore repeatedly and seemingly on a regular basis. While Philly is entrenched in American history, I’m also irresistibly drawn to its artistic side.

My 1st day excursion into Philly was a spur of the moment trip this summer. I had three objectives: see the Liberty Bell, the LOVE sculpture and eat a Philly Cheesesteak. Seeing the Liberty Bell was something I wanted to do for historical purposes and on a lighter, playful note, because Barney and Ted made a trip to lick the Liberty Bell in “How I Met Your Mother”, which is a series I loved watching.
And the LOVE sculpture, aside from being an iconic artistic piece for the City of Brotherly Love, it’s a piece that my baby sister and I have admired for years. During our trip to NYC for my 39th birthday, one of our stops was to see and pose with the LOVE sculpture there.
Of course there does not need to be a compelling reason for eating a Philly Cheesesteak. Tasting local food is all part of the experience.
Needless to say I didn’t accomplish anything that day other than what I considered a tourist hit and run. I had completely forgotten the DNC was being held in Philadelphia. Traffic and parking were more than I wanted to contend with. My exploration would have to wait for another day, which I would plan in advance. I settled for appreciating the city once again from a moving vehicle.
When I returned to Philly, I visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art, since admission was free on Sunday (and every first Sunday of the month). I spent most of afternoon there soaking in all of the art. It was such a thrill to find pieces by my favorite artists like Picasso, Dali and Van Gogh that I’d never seen in person before. It’s such a visceral experience that permeates my soul and floods my being with an inexplicable joy when I see certain pieces of art.

I felt intoxicated from the art when I finally stumbled outdoors. The cherry on the top of my artistic experience at the museum was seeing the AMOR sculpture by Robert Indiana outside in front of the fountain. While it wasn’t his LOVE sculpture, I was still smitten.

Running the Rocky Steps at the entrance was more than a rite of passage and another thing to cross off of my bucket list. It helped reorient me back to reality considering the physical exertion involved in running what seemed like a never-ending supply of concrete steps. Midway through I started thinking that it was not nearly as fun as I thought it was going to be to run the steps. I did not feel empowered or accomplished, that is, until I completed the last step. Then, I did throw my arms up in the air. I had to.

After devouring a Balboa burger I purchased from the food truck at the top of the steps, I made my way to the Rodin Museum. Even before I stepped foot on the grounds, I was anticipating what it would be like to see the replicas of the sculptures that I had read about so many years ago and continued to appreciate over the years. “The Kiss” and the “The Thinker” were foremost on my mind. I’m in awe of how much emotion can be captured and evoked by a single work of art, much less a large body of work. The collection was breathtaking. Everything I expected and more.

Since that first trip this summer, I’ve made several trips back at least once a month. The list of sights to see and experiences continues to grow every time I’m there. I finally made it to Love Park and posed with the LOVE sculpture. Twice. Once this summer and then again during Christmas.

I’ve also tasted my first Philly cheesesteak from one of the most famous vendors, Pat’s King of Steaks.  Although it seemed like a no-brainer that a cheesesteak would come with cheese, that is not the case.  When ordering, you have to specify “wit wiz” or “wiz witout,” which threw me for a loop at first.  Wouldn’t that just make it a steak sandwich without the cheese?  So I waited in the typically long line and ordered my sandwich and fries “wiz wit, along with a birch beer.

According to locals I still need to try the cheesesteak from the rival across the street, Geno’s Steaks, so that I can make a fully informed decision about who makes the best one.  As far I’m concerned, anything “wiz wit” is going to be good!

It was also during Christmas when I had the opportunity to see the Liberty Bell, which I did not try to lick. But I did think about it. I wanted to taste freedom like Barney did. Because it would be. Wait for it. Legendary y’all!

Exploring Jersey

Getting out and exploring Jersey is something I wanted to do as soon as I got here. I just love to explore, discover & experience new things when I have time.  
But I was a little hesitant to get out on my own. This whole state is new territory & I have to rely on google maps for everything.  Most everything that is. I can get to the park, library & grocery store without Siri telling me what to do now.  Woohoo!
And then it occurred to me, this is NEW TERRITORY! New territory for me to EXPLORE and DISCOVER! I don’t have to wait for anyone to go out and do it. While I enjoy sharing experiences, schedules don’t always line up. There is so much I want to see and experience here! I’ve been making a list as I think of things.
While the idea of getting out and exploring the area thrilled me to no end, I was having some reservations. I’m sure to the people here in Jersey it seems silly. But I was really uncomfortable with the idea of getting gas here.   
Here in Jersey (& apparently in Oregon) you can’t pump your own gas. At all! Ever! It’s a state law. That was a mind-blowing revelation to me.  
I am a little embarrassed to admit that I tried to limit my driving when I got here, because I didn’t want my gas to run out. I know that sounds ridiculous and unrealistic. A tank of gas doesn’t really get you very far. So it was inevitable that my gas gauge started getting lower and lower. I kept feeling a sense of dread the lower it went.  
Finally I had to get gas. I didn’t have to, but I wanted to go to the boardwalk to run & that is about an hour drive.  
I remember feeling all awkward when I pulled into the station. Felt so uncomfortable that some strange man, whose name I didn’t even know was going to be pumping gas into my suv for me. I’m sure that sounds weird to Jersey people, but I’m sure they think it’s weird that people in TX have to pump their own gas. (And we don’t mind, well I don’t. But I like to do things myself & not wait for someone to do it for me.)

 When the attendant walked up to my door, I felt like I should introduce myself (but I didn’t). I held $20 up and told him I wanted unregular gas (because I’m frugal). I kept holding it up expecting the man to grab it from me, but he didn’t. Instead, he walked off & started my gas.  

While we waited, we started talking. You know, just gas station small talk, which I will have to get used to. We talked about me being new to Jersey & that I was headed to the boardwalk to run (but I didn’t say which one because that wouldn’t be safe). He suggested I try Point Pleasant beach. About that time the gas pump clicked.  
Apparently that’s when you pay for your gas. Afterwards. Which is weird to me, because in TX, it’s all pre-pay. I handed him the $20, but I felt like I should’ve handed him more. (I’ve been told you don’t tip the attendants only because I asked about it). He did provide a service. Since I didn’t tip him, I did thank him. And I really wanted to shake his hand when I thanked him, but I didn’t because that would’ve made it even more weird I’m sure.
As I drove off it occurred to me I hadn’t cleaned out my suv or cleaned my windshield which I usually always do when I pump my gas. Guess I will have to readjust that habit & figure it out later. But that could wait until after I got to the beach & ran on the boardwalk for the 1st time ever!
On the upside, I’m sure that I’ll really appreciate not having to get out of my vehicle & pump my own gas when winter hits or even when it’s pouring down rain (because that would mess up my hair).

Running Jersey

When I first got here, nothing was familiar. It felt a little disorienting considering I’ve never really lived anywhere outside of Texas. Even I felt unfamiliar. I looked the same, except for my frizzy hair (which I detail in a previous post).
Was I a Jersey girl now? Was I still a Texas girl? Can you still claim your state if you don’t live there? And how long do you have to live somewhere before you can claim that state as your home?
But one thing I knew was still certain, I was a girl who loved to run (Although I wouldn’t call it true love. It’s more of a love/hate relationship instead of a full-blown love affair with running. Think of it as a “it’s complicated” relationship status on Facebook).
I’m not fast. I’m actually probably the slowest, laziest runner you’ll ever meet. And I’m ok with that. I’m not trying to PR (achieve a Personal Record) or win medals at races.
When I run a 5K, 10K, 15K or a half-marathon, I have 2 goals (keep in mind I’m not an overachiever when it comes to long distance running & probably never will be):

1) finish (& do so before the people on golf carts pick you up because they’re closing the course. That actually happens. I call it the ride of shame, because everyone is staring & judging. Fingers crossed I haven’t been picked up yet).

2) to not be last (now I can be next to last, I just can’t be dead last, because that would be embarrassing).
Finding a park to run in was my first priority. Because running is such a great way to process information (& I have a lot to process)! There is an incredible park here in Hamilton called Veterans Park. It almost feels like an honor to run there. And I feel a deep sense of patriotism just being there.
I’d only been in Jersey for about 4 days before I ventured out to the park (which I had to google map to get there even though it’s right down the road). My intent that first time was to just to run a few miles, 2 tops since I hadn’t ran in a few weeks. But I got lost in the park. On the inside I panicked a little. And then I took a deep breath & kept running until I could find a map or a road or a parking lot.
Luckily I found a map 1st. After studying it, I figured out how it was set up. It’s one mile from one side to the other with intersecting paths designated & marked by the different branches of military service, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard & Marine Merchant.
I put one earbud back in (which is the only way I run for safety reasons) & found my way out. Although, I did stop along to the way to take in the sounds of children playing on the playground, the leaves on the tree blowing in the wind…
I immediately fell in love with this park. Not only does it pay tribute to all who serve & have served in the military like my brother, my dad, my uncles & cousins. It also feels like I’m in the country with its shaded trails that are asphalt (although I like to run along side on softer ground). It’s almost like trail running! For a girl that grew up in the country like me, it’s feels like I’m home even it’s just when I’m going for a run!

Tasting Jersey

I’ve been asked what I’m missing about not being in Texas. Of course I miss my family and friends, but it’s the food! Specifically BBQ & Mexican food! Mmm.
There is just something about brisket. It just hits the spot! Doesn’t matter whether it’s sliced or chopped, on a bun, (even a slice of bread), in a salad (yes I said salad), or in a taco, which is my favorite with some guacamole & salsa. It just melts in your mouth like a piece of beefy heaven.
Fortunately there is this ONE local place (because they’re not on every corner in Jersey) called Local Smoke that we ate at a few weeks ago that had brisket that tasted like it came straight off of barbecue pit in Texas. When I took that first bite, I swear I saw a star (the lone star from the Texas flag).
While BBQ is pretty much a staple in my diet, I usually enjoy having Mexican food at least every week or two.
It’s been 5 weeks. 5 weeks since I sat in a Mexican restaurant & had chips & salsa & guacamole while I wash it down with a Corona or margarita! And that’s just the appetizer, which I’d follow with beef enchiladas smothered in queso with beans and rice or chicken fajitas.
On the flip side, it’s been a culinary trade off. There are pizza and Italian restaurants everywhere (like BBQ and Mexican restaurants are back in Texas).
Chicken parmigiana is my absolute favorite Italian dish! And I’m not just saying that because I stumble over reading Italian words & not sure how to pronounce some of the words like arancini (which is the baseball-size risotto balls I ordered at a place called Ninuzzo’s & they are absolutely amazing)!
Although I have gotten looks of disapproval when I order it without pasta. (Because I just don’t care for pasta & as much as I’m trying to embrace new things I don’t really see that changing). And that’s how it’s served.
One of the more interesting restaurants we went to is Rossi’s (which is rich with history & had memorabilia like Joe DiMaggio’s jersey on the wall, that it felt nostalgic just being there). They serve their chicken parmigiana over a type of pasta called pencil points, which is apparently a Trenton thing (because that’s where the restaurant originated before it relocated to Hamilton). So I ordered sweet potato fries instead. Totally worth it!
But the pizza, or as they call it here, tomato pies, is simply divine! It really does taste different here. The crust is thin & crispy, yet pliable. Everyone here folds their slices like a taco and eats them like that. At first it felt weird to do that, but when in Rome (or in this case Jersey)…
So far, I enjoyed the tomato pie at Palermo’s the best. I ended up splurging and having 3 slices, which I never do! And that was after having the Palermo salad, which was the most decadent and savory salad I’ve ever had. It was romaine lettuce mixed with grilled zucchini and eggplant, artichoke hearts, and slices of mozzarella that looked like white medallions tossed with olive oil and vinegar.
Needless to say, I’ve had to run a little extra (ok a lot more actually) just to offset all of the incredible food I’ve been indulging in. That being said, time to get up and for a run!
Until next time y’all! ❤️

Disorderly Life: PTSD Recovery

Turning 30 was something I never expected to do. I assumed, as did most people who knew me, I would have killed myself or done something reckless that would have gotten me killed; considering I spent my late teens and 20’s spiraling out of control.

Living with undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) nearly destroyed me and destroyed most of the relationships in my life. It took a decade to repair the damage to my mind, body and soul caused from the trauma and the copious amounts of psychiatric drugs that I’d been prescribed over the years for treatment.

It took nearly 10 years to realize that the multiple medications my psychiatrist had prescribed, which included high doses of anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, benzodiazepines and sleeping pills, were doing more harm than good. I decided to try getting off of them. At that point in my life, it couldn’t get any worse, or so I thought. I was just existing and doing a terrible job of that. I was a shell of the person that I had once been and no longer recognized myself.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have quit the anti-psychotics, benzos and sleeping pills at the same time, cold-turkey, but I’d had enough of life like that and was ready for a drastic change. And that is exactly what I got. Although, it wasn’t good. It didn’t take long for me to go into full-blown withdrawals, which included extreme irritability, anger, sadness, insomnia, no appetite and even gran mal seizures. It was a terrifying process, physically, mentally and emotionally, but there was no going back.

Fortunately, about a month after I initiated the process I attended a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) meeting for the first and only time, which is where I met the therapist who helped save my life. I mentioned to her that I was looking for someone who was trained in a cognitive behavioral therapy technique called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing), because it had shown great promise in the research I had done. To my surprise, she was trained in EMDR and gave me her contact information so that we could set up a consultation.

It didn’t take long before we were meeting at least twice a week to get acquainted and establish a safe environment/relationship to begin what turned out to be a 3-year journey of identifying, working through and reprocessing the bulk of the trauma that was interfering with my daily life. As Charles Dickens said, “it was the best of times and it was the worst of times.” The process was physically and emotionally painful and exhausting, yet incredibly rewarding and liberating. I had finally found a viable treatment to minimize the debilitating symptoms of PTSD that had crippled me since my teens.

Unfortunately, I experienced a very bad setback in the 2nd year when I was assaulted and nearly raped by a stranger, but with the help of my therapist I was able to work through that as well, which included prosecuting my attacker.

After 3 years, I started seeing my therapist about once a week and started trying to integrate back into normal life, which was incredibly challenging. This took several years and lots of awkward and uncomfortable trial and error.

In the meantime, I began to slowly withdraw from multiple antidepressants and then eventually made it to the very last medication, which was Adderall. Out of all of the other meds, it was the hardest. It was even more challenging to go through withdrawals since I no longer had the ability to constantly isolate myself like I had in the beginning of my recovery.  And after 15 years of continuous use, I was so physically addicted that I couldn’t even perform minimal daily tasks without taking the maximum dose of 80 mg per day. It took 2 years to wean myself off of the Adderall and still be able to halfway function.

By the summer of 2014, 2 months after my 39th birthday, I was finally off of all psychiatric medications for the 1st time in 18 years. That summer I slept a lot and ate a lot. After 3 months I started coming out of the mental and physical fog. Started to feel like myself again, although just a fragment of who I used to be. It was still something. I was no longer completely numb and dumb from the meds.

I felt alive.

However, I had put on 20 lbs in the course of 3 months. I felt awkward and heavy. There just happened to be a promotion for a local fitness bootcamp, called Camp Gladiator that my sister worked out at. She tagged me in a Facebook post for it and at the last minute, I decided to try it out. I was so nervous and scared. My mind and body were so out of shape. There were parts of my body and brain that were still waking up. I felt random nerve tinglings in my body on a regular basis. I had no idea what I was going to be capable of.

On that first day, I brought my pink 3 lb weights, yoga mat and made sure that my sister would be there. I didn’t even get out of my SUV until she arrived. It was ugly and embarrassing. I couldn’t even run 100 yards during the warm-up lap. I felt like I was going to throw up at least 3 times and I took countless breaks during that 1-hour session.

Nevertheless, I pushed through the pain, discomfort, awkwardness and downright embarrassment and signed for a 12-month contract. It was the best, most life-changing decision I had made in a long time. Especially with winter approaching, I was concerned that I would do as I had always done: withdraw, isolate and battle depression, except it would be worse since I was no longer on meds that I had been told I would never be able to live without. But it turned out to be the first winter since my teens in which that didn’t happen.

After 2 months of bootcamp I decided to take up long distance running. I started walking/running 1 mile and then progressed to running more. I had never ran been a long distance runner even as a high school athlete. By February 14, 2015, I ran my first 5K and by the end of March, I completed my first half-marathon.

About the time I started running is when I started making nutritional changes. I ate a lot of grilled chicken breast, quinoa/rice and steamed vegetables. I gave up sodas completely and drank nothing but water , unsweet tea and coffee. After giving up soda, it seemed so much easier to give up the junk food that I still craved on a daily basis.

Looking back, for several years I had hit a plateau in my recovery. I wasn’t a complete mess anymore, but I still wasn’t fully functional and integrated into a normal life. It wasn’t until I really took control of my health through fitness and nutrition that I finally started to live and make real progress toward building and creating a new life.

This was never how I expected my life to turnout. I never thought I’d survive this long.

Recovery isn’t what I thought it was going to be. I didn’t just do the work to fix the parts of me that were broken and pick back up on some path that I was supposed to have been on. A new and improved path was forged while I was doing the work.