27 June 2015

Way Too Long with Morton's Neuroma

Goodbye, Morton's Neuroma. I have struggled with Morton's Neuroma for way too long, months, years. It's been one of the crappiest running injuries I've had, and it seems like it's in the distance now....kind of.

I'm a librarian, so I did tons of research on Morton's Neuromas. Tons. I read the Mayo Health Clinic's website a ton, and Jonathan Savage's page. I posted on my FB page (tons of friends there are runners) and on the Ultra list and another trail running group. Everyone said something different, everyone had their own cures (or not). I emailed Karl Meltzer (sigh....ultrarunning heartthrob!). Here's my story, what worked for you, and what may or may not work for you.

I felt a numbness on and off in my foot for a while. My podiatrist didn't specifically identify it as Morton's Neuroma, but said that I had inflammation and I needed to rest. Haha, very funny, Dr. Morgano. I took anti-inflammatories and stretched and kept going. I noticed that it got waaaay worse with my Altra Intuitions (sob sob because they def were comfy in other ways). It was better on trails, worse on roads. My doctor recommended I switch to Hokas; that helped for a while, but ended up being not enough.

I had a ton of pain from Morton's Neuroma during the Brooklyn Marathon, so much that I went straight home after instead of celebrating w food w Menachem. I didn't know what was going on. It kind of got better. I ran a 50k a few weeks later on trails with no foot pain. Hurrah. And then I did a half marathon in Central Park for NYC Runs and was pretty much limping towards the end. I finished with tears in my eyes. I went to my doctor, and this time, said I needed something more drastic. I was going to Ecuador for a month, and didn't want to deal with pain. He gave me an injection in my foot, during which I screamed and deafened the entire population of Tribecca. Sorry. 

I ran the next day, and yep, pain. Argh. I went away, packing a smaller pair of running sneakers, which was a massive mistake. I had pain a lot - while walking around different cities, on hikes, on the beach. On a trip of a lifetime, all I had was pain. It sucked really bad.

I went back to my doctor after I came back. He told me not to run, and I said I didn't want another injection. I tried venus fly trap extract and serrapeptase. Neither made any kind of significant difference (though I took each for at least a month or two). I said I was supposed to run the Miami Marathon; maybe I should drop to the half? He said the half was even pushing it.

I reduced. I changed shoes. And I ran the half and it sucked. I ran super slow, had tons of pain and went straight into medical when I was done.

I got another injection. I took off two weeks. It got better. But then, it would get worse.

The next five months became hell of experiments. Here are some things I learned that actually help:


  • There is no one panacea. Some people swore their neuroma disappeared when they started running in Hokas; others said the same of Altras. Neither worked miracles for me (and my Altras were minimalist so may have contributed to the issue).
  • Take time off if it hurts. There's no such things as "running through Morton's Neuroma." It will get worse. And you will be unhappy - and in pain. When it starts to hurt, stop running. Go home.
  • Contrast baths (5 min hot, 5 min cold, 5 min hot, 5 min cold) may or may not help.
  • Yogatoes really helped alleviate pressure and I find it necessary to wear them pretty much every day.
  • Foam cushioning helped tons. I got the super thick foam cushioning moleskin they sell at Rite-aid. I cut a big teardrop, and then before applying, put a layer of benzoin tincture on the foot (it helps things stick better). Then apply. Wrap in Ktape tape so it stays on (literally, for over a week). Your feet are gross when you finally take it off, but this helped me so much.
  • Throw out too-tight shoes. They will hurt your feet more. 
  • Heels and tight uncomfy dress shoes suck. I worked at home a bunch to take care of my shoes.
  • Build back up really slowly. Stick with lots of trails if you can (provided they're not too rocky).
  • Take up a new hobby. Keeps your mind off lack of running.

23 June 2015

100 Miles of Running Misery and (Mis)Adventure and Fun: The Great New York 100 Mile Running Exposition

Starting line of class of 2015 TGNY - photo by the amazing Oh Snapper

I kind of have wanted to stop doing so many 100 milers. But not TGNY - it's in my city, all my friends are either running, pacing, or staffing an aid station, and it's the most awesome way to see NYC!

You run through Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and again, Manhattan. The course isn't super hilly - there are a few small hills, and some bridges (some so horrendously terrible that I want to cry just thinking of them...). You have to deal with traffic lights and cars and I almost got hit by cars too many times, and there are some arrows on the ground, but it's hard to tell which are TGNY 100's and which are ConEd's, so you're flipping through a turn-by-turn directional sheet and I only got lost six times. (SIX TIMES. HA!) You run through tons of awesome parks, different beaches, and see a diversity of people like nowhere else. NYC is my favorite city in the world, and thus, I adore this race.

Phil McCarthy is the RD - yeah, that Phil McCarthy, American record holder for 48 hours. Also, musician, super-nice guy. The race has a really homey vibe, and the volunteers go all out, buying tons of food for runners, decorating aid stations (Wayne put up my surfboard with TGNY 100 on it in green el-wire and his big kite up.), and so much love. I want to cry thinking of it (of the love and the pain, hahah).

Jill encouraged me to try the low FODMAP diet the day before the race to eliminate stomach problems. Unfortunately, it seems like the gluten free flours do not agree with me (not the first time I've had this happen....I ate gluten-free cookies a few years ago at a race and dry heaved for hours...). I live, I learn, I experiment.

I felt good, running with friends in the beginning, chatting. The pace was fine, I felt good. I grabbed a coffee cake to go from Mary's aid station at mile 5 (which saved me later on) and then, before mile 10, saw my friends peeling off from me. I ducked into the bathroom twice. How the hell was my race over before mile 10?
Early in the miles. My stomach had already started bothering me. Photo (c) by Oh Snapper.

I began slowing down. Eating was out of the question. I couldn't do this. In Van Cortlandt Park, Karen caught up to me and we began chatting. Then suddenly, I said, "I have to throw up." She said, "Do you--" "No." I was grateful she ran on, as I dry heaved, crying hysterically (I always cry when I throw up) into the bushes. I got up, walked a bit, and then began running slowly. Then I ducked into the bushes and was grateful I brought toilet paper.

Running sucks.

I ran on. I got slower. I would have to drop. There was no way I could finish this brutal thing. I texted my pacers something like, "Mile 16. My stomach sucks." And then I ran a bit, and then sat in a bench, holding my stomach. Shannon and his friend Chuck showed up. I got up and began running with them. Then we stopped so Chuck could get this few inch stick out of his shoe. 

Running with Shannon and Chuck was fun. They made me laugh a lot. Shannon told us abt showing up drunk at the start. I stopped and hula hooped with a bunch of fiftysomething ladies in the Bronx. It was fun.

We ended up getting separated in Orchard Beach. I was happy to reach Orchard Beach, and kind of wanted to take a photo, but didn't feel like taking my camera out. Anyway, cameras don't capture THE EMOTIONS which are the real thing, anyway.

And then, leaving the Orchard Beach Aid Station, I got lost for the first time. It took me probably around 15 minutes to figure out I was lost and to get back on track. I ended up running with a really nice 100k runner and her massive running posse. (She told me her name but I was a bit of a zombie and am lucky I remembered my own!) We ran through some more parks in the Bronx, and then, I lost them when I ran under the Deegan. You're running under the Deegan Expressway, with a highway on the right side of you and railyards on the left. Pretty ugly. I picked up the pace to get out of there.

And then - the Triboro bridge to Randall's Island. I ran across it, feeling okay. Randall's Island is mulberries and organized sports and quiet and green. It was really nice. But getting back on the Triboro Bridge to Queen was a different story. I began freaking out. 

Ever since I got my concussion two years ago, bridges have freaked me out. The morning after I got my concussion, I ran the Brooklyn Bridge and got the worst case of veritgo and was freaked out.  I removed the Brooklyn Bridge from my regular rotation. 

On the Triboro, I began okay, but once the side dropped lower I freaked out. I gripped onto the railing and said, "You can do this, Cherie. You know you can. C'mon..."

Two girls walked up behind me. "Are you okay?"

I realized they probably thought I was going to kill myself. "I'm really scared of this bridge. I don't know why. Can I walk w you?"

I walked with them, babbling nonsense; they were very lovely. Then, Jurgen ran up and grabbed my hand. "C'mon Cherie." We ran across, holding hands, me death-gripping his hand until I felt okay (aka off the scary bridge). Then we ran to the aid station where I saw my first pacer, Menachem.

Menachem watched me shovel in pretzels, a Girl Scout Cookie, and a half water-half red Gatorade drink. We took off, me babbling like I was on some sort of bizarre drug (which I wouldn't recommend this type of drug if it did exist...it would send people to insanity!) and then we began running. We quickly became lost, and again. Theme of the day.

My stomach was feeling better, and I ate some Hammer gels and Hammer solids. My calves hurt terribly and I told Menachem I wanted to stop. "No, you don't want to stop...Look at those bushes. I just love perfectly manicured bushes....Doesn't the sound of the highway next to us remind you of the ocean? It's lulling me..." and on. Menachem has a very soft, soothing voice, and I felt like I was going insane, so we were a great combination.

"I hate everything in the world."
"No, you do."
"Yes, I even hate Pistachio."
Menachem then texted my other pacers, "Cherie hates everything, even her cat." Haha.

We ran with Karen for a little bit. We ran, we walked, we talked, I babbled. I can't even tell you what we talked about. It might've been in German or Spanish. I'm not sure. I was pretty out of it.

Alley Pond Park was amazing. Soft, squishy path. It felt wonderful.

In Queens, you basically run from park to park to park to park. It's awesome. You probably didn't know there were so many parks in Queens. Then, finally, in one of the parks: MEG!!!!

Meg moved from LA back in September and has become one of my regular running partners. She's never done an ultra, but has a ton of great energy. I wanted to cry and somehow, she picked me up, emotionally threw me over her shoulder, and dragged me off. We began slogging ahead.

My calves were hurting so terribly. My stomach felt on and off. Everything sucked. I wanted to quit. Unfortunately, I sent Meg an email that told her to push me. She kept referencing this email. I'm glad I sent it, but oh, how I did want to quit.

Meg took this selfie of the two of us, and posted on FB, asking people to help motivate me


 We got to 100k and I was grateful. I ate a little and Trishul told me that I had 50% left when some girl tried to tell me I "only" had 38 miles. "The hardest part is the end." He also told me that he hear that I was struggling. Yes, I know. But not what I want to hear. Sigh.

We took off, Meg following the directions. Then we ran into another pace, Joe. I never met him before, but Facebook is a very wonderful thing sometimes. He ended up being totally awesome and an amazing pacer.

I got a strawberry Italian ice, which was wonderful. I went back and forth between wanting to quit and hating everything. Hey, that doesn't sound fun? Not really. I was a bit of a hot mess. Okay, I was a MASSIVE hot mess. Kind of embarrassing to be around a totally strange guy and a friend who had never seen me so low. Oops. They pushed me and Meg said, "You can make a decision to drop out when you get to Wayne." (Meg is a big liar, but I love her for that lie.)

At mile 66 or so, before the bridges, we got to Yuri's aid station. He gave me an intense massage which involved cracking my back and me screaming. Pedestrians called the police for torture. Kidding about that, but passerby peered out the windows of their cars to see what was going on. Apparently, several people were asking how much a massage was. Yuri told them the cost was running 66 miles.

We left. I did feel a ton better. I ran a bit, we walked less. Broad Channel is a strange place, but pretty beautiful. And then, somehow, we got to Wayne's aid station, mile 71. I was ecstatic. I began cheering before they got there, and Wayne and my friend Sherry both knew it was me and cheered for me.

I completely changed my outfit while eating pretzels. Okay, I ate a pretzel and a half, but I tried to convince Joe that was plenty.

Then we left. I was suffering. I was miserable. We ran. I whined. They put up w me. We stopped at some random bar to use the bathroom, and got yelled, "You don't speak English?" I really wanted to reply, "Hablo espanol solo."

I wanted to drop. But Joe was really mean and wanted to see the evil Marine Parkway Bridge. I got really freaked out and had to hold hands with Joe and Meg. My legs cramped up really bad and I just had a meltdown when I got off the bridge. I threw myself on the ground whining and moaning. At one point, I told Joe I would run if he could catch a nearby rabbit, which he tried, but rabbits being rabbits, are impossible to catch.

I slogged on. I felt like crap and was so negative, I know. I'm sorry Meg and Joe. You two were stars and I was sooooo miserable. 

We passed by more rabbits and I saw some lovely hallucinations, a la balloon strings like you see at Burning Man. 

I threw myself down on the ground and put my legs in the air because my calves Hurt. So. Freaking. Much. Then I put my legs down and was refusing to get up. Then I saw flashing lights. I sat up. It was a cop. 

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, I just ran 77 miles and I hurt."

"Do you want some water?"


"No, I have water," I told him.

"She's fine," Meg assured him.

And then I got the hell up and slogged on. Could it be called a run at this point? A walk? No, a slog. A suffering slog.

By Plumb Beach, where Wayne goes kitesurfing, we met up with a random super nice guy, Izzy. He was nonstop cheerful and I was a bit cranky. But I somehow dragged my ass to 80, where Meg said I could decide to quit.

AS IF I WOULD QUIT WITH JUST 20 MILES TO GO. (Meg is pretty smart.)

Joe and Meg said they'd come if I wanted, but it had already been a long day for both of them, so I told them to do whatever they wanted. 

They left, and I took off with Pete, who also paced me last year. He didn't get me lost at all, was cheerful, and a great pacer. Izzy was with us at the start. I had to go to the bathroom, as my stomach hated me again. Fun fact: the bathrooms in Coney Island at the boardwalk are open. Hurrah!

We trucked on. Pete and I stopped in a gas station so I could get an iced tea. I have to say - that's the most bizarre thing about this race. You're running 100 miles but suddenly you pop into a deli, and then you start reading labels to find an iced tea sans high fructose corn syrup. Pete was patient with me, as all my pacers were. (They are probably talking to my parents and Wayne about locking me up now...)

The caffeine perked me up, and made me have to pee. So now I was stopping to pee every 15 minutes. Or so it seemed.

At 85 - I made it to 85!!! - we now headed to the Shore Parkway. And it was raining. Raining hard at times. I was wearing shoes w the toes cut out (to accommodate for swelling) and my socks became wet. The tape on my neuroma caused blisters, so I took it off - but too late. My blisters grew worse. I tried not to cry. 

I ran until the blisters hurt, then walked. We talked about UTMB, friends in the ultrarunning community and how they were doing, I don't even know. I was kind of out of it. At two points in the race, I saw people I know very well and looked right through them, a la zombie. (Sorry, Deanna and Mary.)

Brooklyn.

And then THE BRIDGE. Of course I was freaked out. But then - then - we were getting up there....

I loved once we got into the numbers. As we climbed higher, I got more and more excited....and then I heard cheering and saw the finish line.

Finish line. Me, awesome RD Phil McCarthy, and my awesome pacer Pete Priolo. I don't even remember Mon Ferrer taking this photo.
Gratitude.

For being finished. 

For Phil for putting on the race.

For my amazing pacers.

For Menachem for making me feel like I was someplace else.

For Meg who refusing to let me quit.

For Joe who didn't back down when things got tough, even though he didn't know me.

For Pete, who led me straight into another finisher's medal and was an amazing rock.


For the parks of NYC and all their glory.


For all the other runners for being so fun and nice.

For Wayne and Sherry for being my rock to get to - and every other aid station.

All the aid stations were awesome. They were staffed by my friends, who bought great amazing treats to share and were smiling. It was wonderful seeing them.


21 June 2015

Happy Father's Day - the Gender Stereotypes Edition

Today is Father's Day. I bought my father a pair of binoculars and some aftershave and shampoos.

Growing up, I always struggled to find my dad good father's day cards and gifts. They were focused on ties, boating, fishing, meat (I'm a vegetarian, so no). My dad is not into these things (except meat) and I felt stupid buying another card that seemed to insinuate that my dad was a bumbling idiot. (He's really not.)

Groupon recently sent me emails for Father's Day gift ideas - I got a little frustrated.





Notice any differences? Sports, home and auto, spa - beauty vs grooming spa.

Why do we have to have gender stereotypes in even our Mother's and Father's Day gifts? Sure, easy gift ideas, but I'm pretty sure if I had given my mother a pair of binoculars, she'd also love them.

Birthday 50k!

Every June, I have a birthday. I find birthdays built up with hype, expectations, worry about getting older. Screw that.

Last year, I started a birthday tradition that I hope to be an annual affair. I'll run 50k around Manhattan. It's a fun way to get a good run in in my favorite city.


We met at 5am on 42nd and 1st Avenue in front of a playground. I was pretty excited, but also nervous to see how my foot helpd up - and it did. I encouraged people to wear pink, so we had a bunch of pink (three BRC 50k shirts!) shirts.

We ran south around Manhattan, picking up Cortney at the Williamsburg Bridge and Beth on the west side in Tribecca. We ran north, laughing. I learned about the Kardashians (apparently, there is a lot to learn!), joked about upcoming races, and basically, hung out while running.

Slowly, people peeled off, to head to work, and towards the end, it was just me, Rich, and Karen. We sat at Twin Donut, relaxing for a few minutes before heading downtown.

Karen had to go to work, then Rich had a business call, and I was running alone. It began to rain suddenly, misting, then a bit harder, and I ran with Julia for a mile or two.

I thought about getting older. I thought about 36 and what it should be. I thought about was I doing the right thing with my life. As I was finishing alone, instead of heading over to the 7 train, where I figured I'd be cold and wet on the subway, I headed towards the 59th Street Bridge, and ran home.

Getting older doesn't have the answers. Answers just kind of figure themselves out after a while. I'm going to keep on living in the way I love, running and finding myself out in that way, and keeping open to the options.

36, let's be a better year than 35!!!!

03 June 2015

35

Tonight as I was walking across the Pulaski Bridge, I felt old.

Not elderly old, but no longer young. An attractive-looking woman, probably in her late 40s, passed me, laughing. That will be me soon, I thought, thinking wistfully of my 20s. You don't realize what you have until you've lost it.

In my 20s, NYC was a lot seedier, sketchier. Dudes hanging out at corner stores, cigarettes sliding around their lips, pants hung low. Drugs deals happening at the park - and when my best friend dated a guy who did H, she went there. I walked around in tiny little dresses - okay, let's be honest - they were nightgowns, little nightdreses - with platform sneakers. I stuffed my money in my bra, hoping no one would steal it. I wore glitter from the craft store as makeup. Life was somehow simpler. Gourmet delis were out of our reach, everyone was broke, we stayed at clubs until 11am, the after party was in our apartment, and I never, ever did drugs despite everyone falling apart around me. Maybe that's why I feel old - everyone around me has their sh*t together, people have babies, but we're all still wandering in our hearts. We feel like we're 20, but we're not. We have jobs and pensions/401ks and bills and in the corners of our eyes, we're starting to get wrinkles.

I still have dreams....publishing my book, maybe doing the AT, a RTW trip, hiking through the Amazon, doing the jungle multiday through the Amazon, running around different South Pacific Islands....

It's never too late to have a dream. Even though I came home, washed some dishes, prepped some muesli, took off my eye makeup with real remover, I know where I've come from. I don't know where I'm going, but really, the truth is, no one does. Everyone else just thinks they do, but we're all just doing a routine until stuff gets started - or until we remember our dreams.

We're all lost souls.

26 May 2015

What Burning Man Is Like

Everything. It's everything.


Burning from Dylan Jones on Vimeo.

That Bus Ride

Still won't forget it. That bus ride from Mindo to Quito. The blurring scenery. The last bus of the night. Knowing I was leaving Ecuador. Knowing that I was going home to my weak grandmother. Knowing that I'd likely never return.

Talked to an old man in Spanish. He told me about the restaurant he had opened. He used to live in Quito, but "no hay amor."

Dreamed out the window. Missed home. Missed my cats. Missed normalcy, but knew there's no such thing.

Watched a couple flirt, laugh. Looked at my reflection in the bus window. We drove on.

Highways at night to Quito...

Baby I was BORN TO RUN ULTRAMARATHON: 60 Mile Race Report

Born to Run was a lot of fun. It was a weekend of camping, running, drinking, sharing, laughing, making new friends, hanging out, being dirty, mariachi, and fun.

Oh, and my Morton's Neuroma behaved. So it was a very good weekend.

My friends have described Born to Run "kind of like Burning Man" but I always like to point out there already is an ultramarathon there, HELLO. But what it does remind me of is those early entry days of Burning Man...when no one is there...you're setting your stuff up, getting ready for stuff, hanging out, drinking, eating, talking, making new friends....it was fun. I made a ton of new friends, had great conversations, shared food and drink, chatted, laughed, enjoyed the day.

The day before there was both an archery mile (shoot three times, do a penalty mini lap for anything you miss, run 400 meters, repeat three more times....) and a beer mile. There were live bands, a bola race (the traditional Tarahumara ball game), a fire at night, sharing of food, buying food, shopping at booths, fun.

Race day was fun. Luis wakes everyone up with a shot guy and super load mariachi music. It was a pretty great way to wake up. I usually only take 20-30 minutes to get ready, so I had a long time to have multiple port-a-potty visits, stretched, eat, nap....

Luis basically told us all to smash our Garmins. He doesn't want another North Face type race with newbies knocking over each other to race race race - he wants to create community, something that I'm really into w ultras. He was so irreverent I couldn't help but love him - but I could see how certain personality types would loathe him.

We took off. I began chatting with everyone around me, feeling pretty confident I was going too fast. OH WELL. I'm always a fan of bad ideas, fast starts, and kissing without questioning. (Hey, that got me into a 4.5 year relationship that turned out to be awesome!)

The course is made up of two 10 mile loops - the pink loop which is okay, and the yellow loop, which sucks and I kind of hate, but it does have gorgeous views, so okay, I'll run it again. There are lots of rolling hills, a few steeper hills, a horrendous downhill that I could not do the last time without death-gripping onto Paul's arm.....

It's not a technical course, and I ended up running in road shoes due to a shoe malfunction. I got pretty dirty, I hated the world, and I felt like I was waaaay out of shape at the finish. (My training has jumped way up since then!)

My stomach was good - I tried the low fodmap diet the day before, and drank what Kelsey called "Smooth Operator" tea, and I only ate Hammer gels and Hammer solids. (Seriously, a food that is called a Solid? How can that be good? But really, they're not bad at all!!!)



I had fun. It was gorgeous, the crowds were great, it was a party everywhere, even when the last lap totally sucked. I wish it had been a 50 miler. But when it was done, and I had Akabill's amulet around my neck, a burrito in my belly, and a cider in my hand....I had a huge smile on my face and was ecstatic that I had been part of such a great race, such a wonderful community, and such an amazing place on this earth.


I had wanted to drop down to the 30 miler, mainly to hang out with friends. Doing the 60 was something I kind of regret. When I mentioned my desire to Paul, he said, "No, please, you have to run the 60 with me!" Not knowing my pace or anything, but feeling bad because I pretty much talked him into running, I decided, yes, I'd run. And we ended up running together, having fun, singing The Sound of Music (though Paul really needs to work on the lyrics to "Doe a Deer")....so it worked out fine. But we missed the talent show, the wrestling, a lot of dancing, and when I finished, I was so cold and shot that I couldn't really enjoy the after party that much. It's a party. Go to run some, yes, but go to enjoy the awesome environment more.

I'm running the 30 next year.


you can see how lost paul and i were....how hardcore we were racing....





all photos by paul swanson

06 April 2015

Umstead 50 (!!!!!!!!!!!!) Race Report


good friends on a nice run in the park

Umstead was to be my comeback race.

Comeback from injury.

Comeback from grief.

I didn't run exceptionally well - but I finished. My morton's neuroma was not really bothering me, except when I felt a few flashes of numbness towards the end, and I simply took some walk breaks. My stomach was off. (Port-a-potty queen!) I ran my slowest Umstead first-50 mile split ever, but WHO CARES? My morton's neuroma was okay!

A few days before the race, Tony and Ray began trying to egg me on to do the 100. I crazily pondered it, but did not. A few reasons:
  1. I hadn't trained for a 100 miler. How much would it suck to run and recover if I hadn't trained? Bleh.
  2. It was going down to 26 degrees F at night. Ummmmmmm, no.
  3. I wanted to spend time with my sister and her family without being out-of-my-mind exhausted. 
  4. I was afraid that I could hurt myself. I was really nervous that 50 miles might be doable, but 100 could destroy me. I knew this could be the case, so I stopped at 50.

I began the race in good spirits - I had so many friends that I was chaotically running around like a maniac while saying hi while trying to find moleskin while arranging my stuff while catching up...

Umstead is a 12.5 mile loop course - rolling hills on carriage trails. The hills seem easy the first loop or two, and then, by the end, you are cursing the park. Unfortunately, the temperatures were the coldest I have ever experienced there, and this definitely impacted the runners. The aid stations are well-stocked and the volunteers super friendly.

And then we were off! I began running with Tony and immediately knew I was out of my league. I have only been running slow and short since, ohhhhhh December. And slow like, 10-12 min mile slow. Ha.

But I stuck with him. We had fun, chatting, gossiping, catching up.

On the 3rd lap, I began to feel dizzy and just crap. I told Tony to go ahead; I needed to walk. We were pretty close for a while, but I took my time, stopping to pee, and then, my stomach began to fall apart (I really need to figure this out). I spent some quality time in the port-a-potties over the next two laps.

My sister came around mile 44, and that was nice. I ate some animal crackers and chatted with her.
just behind tony through the chute

As I got closer to the finish, I could ALMOST feel the weirdness w my neuromas...and began walking more. No pain, but that *feeling* that's hard to describe. Walking was fine. I wasn't in a rush.

I finished. 9:38:38. My slowest Umstead, but my neuromas were okay. That was all that mattered! This was huge!

I hung out with some friends, drinking amazing hot cocoa that Brandi made for Bruce and I, and then began to cough. My asthma was not happy. I hopped in my car, and began the perilous drive on the course. I luckily hit no runners, and got to cheer on the friends I had wanted to stay to see in at 50 miles.

Then I got to my sister's, played with her kids, and spent the rest of the time eating, chilling, and snuggling. It was a different Umstead, and a fun one.

Grandma Blur

The past two months have been a blur. I have been better at keeping my head above water, and the grief is no longer as painful as it was.
after running the grandma 50k. grandma is wearing her beloved cahsmere sweater with a silk blouse underneath.

When my grandma was ill, I felt sick with worry. I called and texted my mom, who was with her in the hospital. No one realized it was as serious as it was; I think the one the most stunned was my father. He last saw her a month and a half before she died; he had dropped her off at the grocery store and she walked around and did her shopping by herself. Fast forward to the day she died - Dad arrived 20 minutes before she died, straight from the airport. She looked so terrible (She fell apart a lot in the last few weeks, and from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning was such a massive difference that I cried when I first saw her.) that my dad must have been in shock. I still don't know if he has processed it. 

Then grandma passed away. I spent my time crying. I rode the bike for hours. I listened to the same song on repeat for even more hours. I cried. I refused help from my friends, only finding solace with family. Poor Wayne had to deal with my mess. Nothing felt right. Nothing made sense. I hated everything. I felt horrendous.

I went back to work, and while my job is fairly good with giving us a week bereavement for a grandparent, I thought, "We should get a month." I was that much of a wreck after returning. Perhaps I could have asked for more time, but at the same time, it probably was good that I was "returning to normal." My coworkers understood my mind and I hid out, working at home in pajamas and crying.

Mexico was truly healing, and brought me back to a very different place. I talked a lot about my grandmother because she was so top of mind. I decided after Mexico, I'd run with her rosary beads in every single race - until Burning Man. And then I'll leave them in The Temple after the ultra, so they can become part of the universe, part of the playa, part of me forever.

I thought something was truly wrong with me; my sister and father and mother and cousins seemed fine. Instead, I was bawling on my runs and in the gym and during yoga class; I cried on the subway and in the shower. I sold my tickets to parties and concerts and thought about how my grandmother would never have my cookies again, and wondered what she looked like in the casket now, and it was so cold out and I hated that she was gone gone gone gone gone.

But everyone's different. I realize part of it is that I had the closest best relationship with her. My grandmother adored my father, but they had a very complicated relationship - and my grandma had a similar difficult relationship with my uncle. She was not appreciative of all that my mother and aunt did for her. My other siblings/cousins did not talk to her as much as I did. Family was everything; she pushed aside other things. 

I would visit her whenever I could. In summers, I'd bike to the beach and then bike up to her house. I'd run to her house in what I dubbed the "Grandma 50k" (because I ran the long 50k way there). I would call her once or twice a week. I'd send her little notes every week or so - and inexplicably, I found a few of these unopened in her house.

Her life was sad at the end - very alone, not much passion for things. It is a little scary.

I've had trouble keeping it together. I've been writing articles and running and going to work and doing my laundry and plucking my eyebrows and all that. But on the inside, I felt very shaky.

It's spring now. New things. Biking weather has begun, and I took my heavy blankets off the bed. My grandma always loved spring; I'd get her nice plants every year on Mother's Day. She loved them.


So even though she's gone, I must let my heart fill with joy again. I'm going to get a plant - the purple little flowers she liked - for my fire escape. I'm going to bake her strawberry shortcake for Wayne's birthday, maybe. I won't ever forget her, and even though my heart is still heavy, I have so much joy knowing how much she gave me.

05 March 2015

Why I Didn't Run the Ultra Caballo Blanco


I'm going to write a longer blog post about the UCB and traveling to the Copper Canyon for one of the most unique experiences ever......but this post is dedicated to why I didn't run it.

In the days preceding the race, drug cartel violence erupted. I have read multiple news articles in Spanish and in English, and all of them say slightly different things. Basically, we don't know exactly what happened, but some people were murdered. Some were kidnapped. People heard gunfire.

The race directors chose to cancel the race. It was for a variety of reasons: security issues (obviously), course changes, and this was a race of love and community and peace, and would it not be run like this if it occurred. There might be other reasons too, that I don't know about, but these were the main reasons.

I flew to run the race because it was to be a pilgrimage. I love to travel, and the idea of this race has intrigued me since I read Born to Run many years ago. To run with the legendary Raramuri....wow. The trails were gorgeous, and I love running in pretty places. I also was excited about this race as a come-back race from my injury. Most importantly, it was to be a race to honor my Grandma Ann, who died at the age of 93 what would be exactly three weeks before the race.

But it was not to be. Some people chose to run anyway: "I came down here to run with the Raramuri, and I'm going to!" I did not. Here's why.


  1. Safety. This was not "I might turn my ankle on this course" - it was, "I might die." I spent four days in Mexico City prior to come, some of my time which I spent talking with all my friends there about the drug cartels. (I also wrote a report about Mexico for work, and am quite familiar with the drug cartels and the horrific violence they exact on their opponents and innocent people.) My friends educated me about the government's link with the cartels, about the violence, about what has been going on. It scares the crap out of me. My friend Wendy explained that innocent people had been getting kidnapped (for ransom), express kidnapped, arrested, worse. I could potentially be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get in between cartel cross-fire, or, blonde gringa, could be seen as a nice person for a ransom kidnapping or express kidnapping. I want to live. No race is worth the cost of dying.
  2. Lack of power in numbers. Most people were leaving the canyon. Why would I stay here when most people were leaving? The course would be more isolated, less people would be leaving when I'd be leaving....no. Leaving was the right decision. While there were Raramuri and Mexicans who stayed and ran, the number was definitely smaller than it was supposed to be.
  3. Respect. I respect the RDs Maria and Josue. I am an RD myself, and it's always frustrating when someone is blatantly disrespectful. It's Burning Man for my race, so I try to be chill, but I do call out people who are cutting the course, dropping without telling volunteers, acting like a jerk. I want to show Maria and Josue the same respect given to me - and if that means following their directions and rules, yes, that is what I will do. And that is what any participant should do.

We still don't know the full story of what happened. We probably never will. I like to take risks and travel to foreign countries and go all over with my backpack and some books, but running a race where I was warned of safety issues is not something I'm willing to risk.

Further Reading:

08 February 2015

Goodbye, Grandma

My Grandma Ann died today. She was 93.

Grandma has always been a bit sickly, and also a bit of a hypochondriac. Sometimes it was difficult to see what was what, and to get the truth of the situation. She had a rocky relationship with her two sons, and wasn't always the kindest to my mother, but we got along well. I always sent her notes and letters and postcards, would bring her pastries whenever I stopped by, called her a few times a week. As she grew older, her hearing became more and more terrible, and we couldn't talk on the phone quite as much.

This story begins back in December, the story I'm about to share about the end of her life.
our last photo together

I invited my parents to come over to dinner - Wayne and I would make manicotti, garlic bread, veggies, some cranberry cake. We had some wine. I asked them to bring my grandparents. It could be stressful when my grandma came, because she struggled with my stairs, she complained it was such a long drive (30-60 minutes, depending upon traffic), and she drove my father crazy at times. She came. We had a nice time, and Grandma missed a lot of the conversation. She seemed to enjoy the food (She's Italian, so she appreciated the manicotti.) and seemed like she had a nice night. She really struggled going up the stairs, and I had a feeling it would be the last time she would be coming over. I noticed how she struggled when she got up to the furniture, grabbing onto pieces of furniture, using her walker. I said to Wayne, "She's gotten a lot worse."

I called my mother about our plans that Friday, and said I wanted to incorporate a visit to grandma's. She said okay. The morning of, while I was working at home, I received a text that she fell but seemed okay and that my mom was going to take her to the doctor. I was worried. When I arrived, my mom and my grandma were in the car at the train station. Grandma seemed very out of it and was not holding a conversation very well. She had a bandage.

We got to my grandma's house. I was shocked at the amount of blood EVERYWHERE. All of the living room floor, kitchen floor, paper towels in the sink covered with blood, in the bathroom. I couldn't believe it. My grandma's hands shook a lot, so I could see why there was such a huge mess. I was shaking and seeing how fragile my grandma was, I felt ill. She kept trying to get me to eat, and I couldn't. I felt like I was going to throw up.

I made my grandma a grilled cheese sandwich. I kind of burnt it, and grandma pronounced it delicious anyway. I had brought over some of my chocolate mint brownies, and she ate them, saying how good they were. Considering how picky she is, and how good of a baker she is, I was grateful for the compliment.

My mom cleaned up. I tried to cheer my grandma up.

After my mom and I left, I went back to my mom's house nearly in tears. My mom made me a grilled cheese sandwich, same as what I had made my grandma. I tried to explain that I couldn't eat there. All the blood....

My grandma spent that night at my mom's house. My parents spent Christmas with her (I was in the Galapagos.). I was worried about my grandma. I didn't call her because I had terrible internet connections all over Ecuador. When I got back, after hibernating for a day, I took a car2go and went out to visit my grandma. She was pleased I was visiting her, asked about the car. I brought her pastries from the best bakery, Fortunato Brothers. She loved the pastries. We ate the dough bows and creamy pastries with flaky crusts. She offered to get me tea; I told her I was okay. She told me she fell again that morning, even with her new part-time aide there. She was scared of falling. I gave her a magnet from Ecuador - she loved the magnets I brought her.

I left after two hours, because I paid for the car by the hour and I didn't want to get home too late. She was glad I came, and gave me money to take Wayne out to lunch (as she said) and kissed me and told me she loved me.

Two weeks later, she went into the hospital. She wasn't eating, and she felt weak and tired. It seemed like a bit of hypochrondria with how she was talking ("I must have tumors because I fell.") but my mom took her to the hospital. They tested her and my mom and I talked about how she wanted her to go to rehab before anything else. After a day in the hospital, my grandma began begging to go home, asked the nurse to call her a cab, asked my dad to take her home, called her friends to pick her up. She got mad and nasty at people.

I heard about it and wanted to go. "Don't. She'll yell at you. She's not right."

My mom left on Thursday, to go visit my sister. I decided I would go visit her on Friday. She was awful. I mean, I've never seen her looking quite so terribly. Her skin had some weird dark marks, and the skin in her face was puffy and saggy in a way it had never been. She was slurring her speech. She said she wanted to die. She said no one should have to live like that. She said that no one loved her, that no one cared about her, except me. I told her that wasn't true, that mommy just spent 5 days with her in the hospital. She said why was my father in Florida. She said that my father and his brother wanted her to die. I told her that wasn't true. I was crying. I kept telling her we all loved her, that I loved her. I told her a little about going to Panama, but she didn't seem interested. I tried to give her cake. She literally ate a crumb. She spit up the second crumb I tried to give her. I told her to eat it, that I baked it for her. She begged for ice water. I brought a Styrofoam cup (Who still uses Styrofoam cups?) of ice water with a straw to her lips and she drank greedily. "Why am I so thirsty?" She asked me to get the nurse and get a bedpan. The nurse and I chatted; she didn't give any horribly terrible news. My grandma kept saying, "They say you don't get out of her alive." I told her that wasn't true; she had been in St. Francis Hospital several times before. She said she wanted to go home. I said she needed to get better, go to rehab. She didn't care. "I just want to go home." I pointed out that she couldn't walk to go to the bathroom or get food, so she couldn't go on like this. She needed to get stronger first. I held her hand, kissed her cheek, told her I loved her. She asked when my daddy was coming. I showed her photos of the kitties, but she wasn't that interested. She seemed lethargic and unable to engage in a way I hadn't seen before.

Saturday my aunt, a nurse, visited her. She is my mom's sister, so not related to my grandma. She talked to the doctor. My grandma had elevated levels of one of her heart medications in her blood - that was making her lethargic. Once she was stabilized, she would be stronger. "On Monday, she'll go to a rehab center." The plan was for my mom to fly up on Monday and help her move, and my dad to come on Tuesday or Wednesday.

I was relieved. It was going to get better. She was suffering, but we could figure it out.

I went over to my friend Beth's. I was in a bit of a distracted mood, upset. We went to another party. I drank cocktails and was distracted and tried to have conversations with people, but pretty much failed. My sister called. I figured I'd call her when I left. When I got out of there, distracted and upset around 11, I texted my sister in the cab. She immediately wrote back, "Grandma is doing worse. She went to the cardiac care unit."

I called her and began bawling as soon as she began sharing information. Grandma's blood pressure suddenly dropped. The doctor was concerned because of her age; she might not be able to bounce back. My parents were flying back the following morning. That told me it was really bad. I called Wayne after I got off and asked if he'd take me to the hospital in the morning. My cabbie offered his condolences, and we chatted as I bawled. Nice guy. He told me about his grandmother giving me couscous and goat milk when he was younger. He said he still misses her and she died 20 years ago.

I called the hospital and they said I could come after 10 a.m. I figured I wouldn't set an alarm because I'd wake up on time. I put out a nice outfit - a cashmere sweater (Grandma loves cashmere.), a nice pleated skirts, cute tights, boots. We went to bed.

I woke up at 9a.m. Wow. Late for me. I went into the kitchen, and began making pancakes. Wayne and I ate and chatted.

As I was about to hop into the shower, my mom called. "The hospital called your uncle. They think it might only be a few hours."

I jumped into speedy mode. I took a 3 minute shower, threw on clothes, and dragged Wayne out the door. He was looking for his gloves, and I was like, "USE MINE WE NEED TO GO."

In the hospital, my parents weren't yet there. I saw the nurse and thought maybe she already died. Her room looked empty. The nurse said she was in there. She was so small I didn't notice the lumps on the blankets. She said to go in. She was honest. "We are treating this as aggressively as we can, but she's doing terrible. We're doing everything we can."  I asked if I could go in. "Yes. She's not responsive, but I believe she will hear you. You can talk to her."

I went in and I stopped. I began immediately crying. "She didn't look like this on Friday. Oh my god. Grandma..."

The nurse nodded. She knew what had happened.

I went in. With tears in my throat, with Wayne behind me, I touched her shoulder. Her eyes were closed. There was blood rimming her nose, around her lips. A tear was stuck to the side of her face. Her hair was flat and smaller. Her skin was darker; splotches. She seemed struggling. I held her shoulder. The nurse said, "Her hands are so cold," and gently put mittens around her hands. Tears streamed down. I talked about Wayne, about the cats, about my sister, about her babies, about anything and everything. I was desperately hoping she'd respond.

Someone came in to test the pacemaker. We chatted a little, but I tried to keep talking to Grandma. I cried a lot. My parents came in. I immediately ran into the arms, crying. I told them to talk to grandma, that she could hear, and I gave all the information that the nurse had given me. My dad went over. "Hi, ma, it's me. Kenny. I came from Florida to visit you."

As my father began stammering as tears poured out of his eyes, I could see something change in my grandma. Relaxing. She knew he was there. She was at peace. I tried to continue to talking to her, and the nurse and my mom talked. My mom came back in, and gestured wildly to my dad and I and my brother. The nurse had asked her if she wanted DNR, that it was the humane thing to do. I knew what my grandma wanted, but I let my dad answer. He agreed. But then the machines began beeping, and someone said, "She's coding." I didn't know what it meant, but I did. The doctor came running in. Somehow we were talking with him, and my uncle was put on speaker phone. My uncle said, "She hasn't been eating. She's anorexic, that's why she's here--" and my mom interrupted him, "Yeah, but right now. Right now." My dad and my uncle agreed.

We said goodbye. We told her we loved her. I thanked her. We said goodbye from the animals, and my sister and her kids and Brian, and told her we all loved her. I squeezed her shoulder, and then went into the hallway. 

We all hugged each other. We were crying. I called my sister and told her the sad news. I texted a few people. I cried. My knees grew weak. I cried. I cried. I cried.

The doctors and nurses were so nice and compassionate. 

My dad and brother and Wayne left; my mom and I would talk to the nurses. The nurse was like, "Do you want to see her?" I shook my head and cried. "Am I a bad person if I don't?" My mother said, "Of course not," and went in. Then she came out. "Cher, I think you should see her. She looks much better." 

I went in. She did. She looked at peace. I was glad I saw her like this. I wasn't aware of how much she was struggling and how she was in pain.

I'm glad she's not in pain, but I'm not glad she is gone. It hurts so bad. I miss her so terribly. She never did eat the cakes I brought her. I'm sad that she'll never try another dessert of mine, or give me a kiss, or listen to a story, or anything. She had a sharp decline. She lived alone, her entire life. I'm happy she has as good of a life as she could. I miss you, grandma.

quick stop in panama















a short weekend.
beach. 
chaos cooking.
kitties.
friendship.
cocktails.
clubs.
skyline.
warth.

30 January 2015

Traveling Epiphany

As I stare out the window at the Panama City skyline, at a bird soaring high close to the tall buildings, I realize that I have quiet. Time to think. It's a bit sad, because there are so many things to think about, often painful things to think about. There are unresolved thoughts and ideas. Everything is happening at once. When you realize how many things are happening in the world at one - hammering a nail, someone crying, entering data into a spreadsheet mindlessly, people having sex, a woman having a baby, someone dying, someone breaking a bone, dinner being scorched, a snowstorm, lightning striking a person, a car crash, a nap, a fight, crying - it makes you realize that this world is about way more much than you.

21 January 2015

Mindo: Lovely, Lush Jungle












Mindo was the end. 

I ended up my trip in Mindo, and it ended up being one of my favorite places. I felt like I got a good chance to say goodbye to Ecuador, to traveling, to freedom in Mindo.

A cab driver drove like a maniac between bus terminals (Quito has approximately a million bus terminals and they're all pretty far from each other - but it was only a $5.80 cab ride despite being over an hour! Go Ecuador!) and we only narrowly made the bus. Randomly, my seatmate ended up being another backpacker. We ended up chatting, and then spent all of our time in Mindo together. We stayed at Cecila's, which is right on the river and gorgeous, if a little rustic. My private room was $10 a night and totally fine; Jason's was $8 because half of the wall was missing. Though it was closer access to nature and very pretty, I worried about large numbers of bugs entering. We both did have mosquito nets, though.

Jason and I ended up spending all our time together. It was a quiet town, the hostel was nice, but definitely wasn't a party house when we were there. We went to a chocolate tour and tasting, which was pretty awesome. Crystalized ginger in chocolate, HEAVEN. We visited hummingbird gardens and couldn't stop taking photos. We went to butterfly gardens, and Jason told me about the amazing butterfly gardens he volunteered at in Peru. I took approximately 600,000 photos, but I'm resisting posting them all here. We went to orchid gardens, and I translated the Spanish tour to English for Jason. We took this tiny metal box 55 meters above the floor of the forest, and hiked to see waterfalls. We played Jenga, Scrabble, cards. We ate terrible pizza, terrible grilled cheese, terrible salad, but it was okay. We were in a hot tropical gorgeous jungle that wasn't over-touristy. 

I was getting my goodbye. We ate chocolate lava cake and complained about the bad service, but really, we weren't in a rush, so it was fine. We laughed and talked about what was next.