December 6, 2012

My Recent Medical Drama

For the past six weeks I've been dealing with a pretty scary medical situation. I didn't post about it because it was loaded with unknowns. It was one of those situations where one thing led to another and to another, and none of it would have been found at all if it weren't for an accidental discovery.

A couple weeks pre-marathon I was experiencing severe hip and groin pain that forced me to stop running. I had my monster peak week, then basically stopped. I slogged my way through the Army 10-Miler, then stopped again. I thought I had a femoral stress fracture and saw a sports med doctor to confirm or rule it out. He sent me for an immediate MRI and I got the results within days. I was relieved to hear I didn't have a stress fracture, but puzzled to hear something else. I had a growth in my hip socket that the MRI happened to pick up. He said it was likely nothing to worry about, but suggested I see a tumor specialist to be sure. I made an appointment with a leading orthopedic oncologist and waited a stressful week, only to be forced to wait another stressful week due to Hurricane Sandy.

More X-rays were taken and another MRI was ordered to determine what this lesion was. The results came back quickly and it was a benign intraosseous hemangioma, something we'd have to monitor for awhile, but nothing to be concerned about. But more tests were required to be sure everything was ok, this time a CT scan and full-body bone scan with radioactive contrast. The reports confirmed the hemangioma diagnosis, but discovered more abnormalities in my left leg - one in the tibia, and two in the femur. An old stress fracture was likely the cause of the tibial issue, but I had no idea what could be going on in my femur. I was sent for more MRIs, both with contrast and without, a test that would take more than two, miserably uncomfortable hours.

I've waited days for the results and thought of every possible scenario, including a battle with bone cancer. When your health is in question, it makes you look at life so differently. The thought of my leg failing me on such an epic level was ironic since I'm an athlete and I rely on my legs to carry me through the challenges I pursue. Suddenly running a slow marathon sounded like a gift, not something to complain about. Simple things felt more important. I think these were some of the most stressful and reflective days of my life.

But today I finally got the results and everything is just fine. I have what's called an enchondroma, another sort of benign tumor. I was likely born with both of these and had it not been for the running injury, I may not have known about them for years, or possibly never. Since I do know, the doctor can monitor them for any changes and stay one step ahead.

And the running injury? Simple hip flexor tendonitis. I think the moral of this story is listen to your body and if anything seems off, get it checked out. I'm so glad I did even if it led to stress overload. Now if I could just stick to a strength and stretching routine, I'll be back on my running feet in no time, appreciating every slow, magnificent mile.

December 2, 2012

Braised Short Ribs

Everyone should have a signature dish. Something you love to make and make so well that it becomes your standard for both entertaining and quiet nights at home. My signature dish is braised short ribs. I remember a time when I hated handling raw beef. I was intimidated by the preparation and feared I'd screw it up. Then I got a cookbook called "Bones" and decided to tackle short ribs. Braising is so incredibly easy and this recipe is perfect every time. I've made it countless times now, served it at dinner parties, for evenings with friends and on many chilly nights when comfort food is key.

Last night was one of those nights. We had some older Bordeaux to drink and it was a cold, dreary day. The perfect pairing.

You can modify this recipe and it will still be incredible. I've done it without the red wine in a pinch, but I like the acidity it provides. If you don't have wine (we know that wouldn't happen here...) you could use a broth instead. You can sub the fresh herbs for dried, but don't skip them. I almost never bother with the chopped fresh herbs for serving because I can't wait to eat these the moment they come out of the oven! I usually let them braise for longer than the recipe states - the longer the better. Just put the lid back on to keep the moisture in.

They are great with polenta or just by themselves. Last night I also roasted some Brussels sprouts. Give these a try and let me know if you love them as much as I do!


Braised Short Ribs (from Bones)
Serves 4-6

3.5 pounds cross-cut short ribs, cut into pieces (ask the butcher to cut them for you)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, diced
1.5 cups dry red wine
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
6 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 serrano chile, stem removed
One 14 ounce can whole tomatoes
3 flat-leaf parsley sprigs, plus 1/3 cup chopped parsley
1 large basil sprig, plus 1/3 cup slivered basil leaves
1 large thyme sprig
1 bay leaf

Preheat the oven to 300 F. Pat the ribs dry and season with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven or flameproof casserole, heat the oil over medium heat. Brown the ribs on all sides, in batches if necessary. Transfer the browned ribs to a plate.

Add the onion to the pot and cook for 5 minutes, or until slightly softened. Pour in the red wine and bring to a boil, deglazing the pot by scraping up the browned bits from the bottom. Add the carrots, garlic, chile and tomatoes, with their juices. Bring to a boil, then add the ribs, with any juices, the parsley, basil and thyme sprigs, and the bay leaf.

Remove the pot from the heat and cover with a damp piece of parchment paper and then the lid. Transfer to the oven and cook covered for 1.5 hours.

Remove the lid and parchment paper and cook the ribs for another 1.5 hours or until very tender.

If making ahead, let the ribs cool, then refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove the layer of fat and discard the herbs sprigs and chile. Reheat, covered, in a 300 F oven for about an hour, or until heated through. Sprinkle with the chopped herbs, check the seasoning, and serve.

If serving the ribs immediately, tip the pan and skim off as much fat as possible. Remove the herb sprigs and chile pepper, sprinkle with the chopped herbs and check the seasoning.

November 29, 2012

Italy Hangover

It's been ages since my last post and it thrills me to say it's because I was vacationing (again) in Italy. First I was busy preparing, which included a recovery juice cleanse after a long weekend visit from some of my favorite swim/bike/run/eat/drink friends. To say we ate our way across NYC would be an understatement.

 With the lovely Laura

Then I was busy packing for another fabulous Thanksgiving in Italy. This year's trip still involved Piedmont, but also included a quick trip through Parma, the Northern Tuscan coast and a brief visit to the Cinque Terre in Liguria. It was so beautiful, definitely on the list of places to spend more time.

 The Cinque Terre

But when it comes to Thanksgiving in Italy, there is no place like Piedmont. We arrived just in time for lunch after a three-hour drive and went directly to Trattoria della Posta in Monforte d'Alba, the town we like to stay in. Lunch was divine including the seat by the fire, some Piemontese favorites and our first bottle of Barolo.

Carne Cruda with the cutest poached quail egg

And of course, our first truffles. This was the best egg in cocotte I've ever had.

I won't post the wine because I took about 50 photos of wine and could fill a post a mile long. Instead I'll share a link to the entire photo album once it's online. 

We checked into the gorgeous Villa Beccaris and immediately fell in love with the view. It was sunny, the weather was perfect and the location is the best in town.

 View from Villa Beccaris

The rest of the week was a whirlwind of wine estate visits, incredible lunches and dinners, good friends, more Barolo than you can imagine, copious amounts of Champagne and some really hilly, really fun running. And it goes without saying, more truffles. This is unfortunately not a great truffle season so we didn't have them as often, but the ones we had were spectacular.

Unfortunately I didn't get to eat all of these... just one
Sometimes I think a food hangover is worse than an alcohol hangover, and in the case of Italy, it may be the worst hangover I've ever had. At least every incredible morsel was worth it and it's nothing a month of salads won't cure.

November 4, 2012

Marathon of Kindness

It looked like another marathon Sunday in New York City. Thousands of runners flooded into the Staten Island Ferry Terminal proudly wearing their NYC Marathon shirts, ready to release energy built up and stored over 18 weeks of training.

But upon closer look you could see it wasn't just another marathon Sunday. The runners were carrying backpacks loaded with much-needed supplies, and the orange shirts worn by many represented a race that would never happen. Late Friday afternoon the New York City Marathon was canceled, leaving tens of thousands of runners across the city without plans for the day. Instead of reacting with anger and frustration, this group of roughly 1,300 runners, New York Runners in Support of Staten Island, decided to put months of training to use to help the hardest-hit residents of Staten Island, the borough that hosts the iconic start of the annual marathon.

We gathered into groups based on the distance we were willing to cover and set off on foot, running awkwardly through the streets with bags weighing up to 15 pounds or more. One runner in our group carried his own backpack along with two bags from another runner. There were no water stations or people cheering, it was a silent and more personal endeavor. People looked in awe as we passed, some honking horns and thanking us. There were a lot of "God bless you's" shared along the way.

As we neared the South side of the island the scene drastically changed. Streets were deep with mud, some still flooded. Trees were down. Power was out and traffic was a mess due to the lack of stoplights and cars lined up for miles waiting for gas. People also stood in line with gas cans, patiently waiting their turns. When we arrived at our destination, 7.2 miles from the ferry, we were met with sights I cannot describe. It's one thing to see images in the news and quite another to be in the midst of it. These people truly lost everything and are desperately trying to pick up the pieces and start over.

We started by clearing several garbage bags full of roofing shingles, drywall and other materials pulled from the damaged homes. Then we walked up and down the streets offering help to anyone who needed. A few of us joined a group working to clear the yard of an elderly resident who evacuated, but wants to ultimately return to her home. There was a marsh across the street so the yard was filled 2-4 feet deep with wet reeds, twigs and mud. We used rakes, shovels and our hands to pull the debris out and cart it across the street in wheelbarrows, laundry baskets or anything that could hold it. Planks had been set up to offer safe passage into the dumping area. I looked down as I crossed and realized it was the door from someone's home.

As we shoveled and raked, little glimmers of the life that once was struck me with sadness. We uncovered bits of a garden, some flowers still clinging to life under the piles of wreckage. There were random household items and broken jars along with a basketball hoop turned upside down and buried. The shed was flipped onto it's side. Then as we lifted an enormous pile into the wheelbarrow I spotted a little green snake that had been buried. I picked him up and was looking for a safe place to leave him when one of the other volunteers decided to take him home. That one little snake brought a lot of smiles as the group paused to take photos.

After a couple hours the yard was completely cleaned out, a task that seemed insurmountable when we arrived.

We spent the next hour or so dropping off the supplies we carried out and delivering food to people working in their houses. Burger King donated huge bags of hamburgers that we happily passed out to hungry, tired workers. I was struck by the humility of these people. Many who were hungry had to be urged to take something because they worried that someone else may need it more. People offered food to us even though they didn't have any to spare. It was incredible that an act as simple as dropping off a hamburger could be so powerful.

As we walked back to the relief area we saw a group of people spreading wet photos out on the lawn to dry. People gathered to see if any of their precious memories were among the survivors. People lost so much more than just physical possessions.

As sunset neared we regrouped for the run back to the ferry with lighter backpacks and heavier hearts. I felt so grateful to have had the opportunity to help, even just for a day, but so much more help is needed. It will be months before these people can even begin to start again, and years before their lives feel normal.

Supporters of keeping the marathon as planned said the race and its participants represented the triumph of the human spirit, of what is possible if you put your mind to it. If you want to see triumph of the human spirit, get on the Staten Island ferry and go to the beach neighborhoods on the South side. And while you're there, grab a shovel and lend a hand. It will be the most rewarding thing you've ever done, more rewarding than any marathon could ever be.

Great news coverage of today's effort can be found on Time, NY1, NBC Nightly News, Runner's World, Yahoo!, Bloomberg, Huffington Post and NBC Today, among others. Please support Hurricane Sandy Relief efforts.

October 25, 2012

Army 10 Miler

Last weekend I went to DC for our annual tradition, the Army 10 Miler. I've been doing this with my sister and brother-in-law since 2008 and have only missed one year due to injury. In fact, every year one of us seems to be injured and this year it was my sister's turn to miss the race. So her husband, Phil, and I ran together. A more accurate description might be hobbled it together given I was barely walking all week, let alone running.

After my epic training week things went downhill very fast. A nagging upper thigh pain turned severe and thoughts of a femoral stress fracture clouded my head. I couldn't run without limping and couldn't bear the pain more than 3 miles so I rested all week and muddled through the Army 10 "just for fun." And fun it was. Here are some highlights from the weekend.

Sniper for a moment, Army 10 Expo

Sisters, Army 10 Expo
Black Hawk, Army 10 Expo
Afternoon pick-me-up, Union Market DC
Duck bratwurst, 8407 Kitchen Silver Spring
Fall colors, Virgina wine country
Mile 8.5, Army 10

Post-race pumpkin pancakes courtesy of my sister!

October 13, 2012

Huge Training Week

I'll admit that taking an exotic vacation right in the midst of marathon training might not have been the wisest move, but you have to live, right? My trip to Egypt created a 10 day hiatus from running and a full two week break between long runs. I went from logging 30-35 miles a week to zero for a week, then only 11 miles the week I returned. The jet lag was brutal and my legs were so swollen from the 16 hours of flying that 3 miles was all I could manage at first. I did a handful of short runs, all of which made me ache terribly, and I realized I couldn't go long that first weekend. I just wasn't ready. So Monday of this week kicked off my biggest volume training week yet.

Monday: 18 miles, relatively slow and easy. I expected this to be far worse than it ended up being. It was slower than my 20 miler, but not bad at 3:11:53 considering the time off. I was pretty comfortable until Mile 15, after which every move hurt like hell.

Tuesday: Rest, and boy did I need it. I was so sore I felt like I'd done the actual marathon!

Wednesday: Eased back in with 3.85 miles. It was meant to be a 4-miler, but it was raining and cold so I did 3 at the gym and it was supposed to be a mile home, but I took a slightly different route. Good enough. Interestingly I was still very sore from the long run, but the pain and stiffness went away after this.

Thursday: I flew to Minneapolis for a client event and decided to take another day off running in anticipation of a big miles weekend. I did an elliptical workout instead in the hotel gym.

Friday: Flew back to New York and ran 4.75 miles to and from packet pick-up for the Rock n' Roll 10K, one of my weekend races. I was so tired from the travel and my groin/femur has been bothering me a lot so it wasn't a great run, but I needed the miles.

Saturday: After a fun night out with friends, too many bottles of wine, and another night with less than 6 hours of sleep, I dragged myself out of bed for the Rock n' Roll 10K in Brooklyn. I love the Rn'R races and it was in my backyard so no excuses. It was 38 degrees and I wasn't in my finest race form, plus I have my second long run of the week on tap tomorrow, so I ran an easy pace. I had a lot of fun and enjoyed the course, plus the huge breakfast in the VIP tent afterward brought me back to life.

I'll wrap up the week tomorrow with Grete's Gallop, a half-marathon in Central Park. I'm adding an extra couple miles to make it 14-15 depending on how I feel. By the end of the week I will have logged more than 45 miles, my biggest week yet. I'm already looking forward to taper and post-marathon rest!

October 9, 2012

Egypt: Part II

My last post left off on Day 4 of the incredible, but challenging trip to Egypt. I'm thankful to say that the challenges subsided and the rest of the trip was smooth sailing... quite literally, actually, since we spent the final days adrift on the Nile.

We arrived in Luxor late and they wisked us off to the Karnak Temple Sound and Light Show. I'm not the biggest fan of such shows, but it was a goodwill gesture for the travel hell we had encountered. Unfortunately a good portion of the show is set on a lake, which was mosquito heaven. I must be a delicious snack for mosquitos because I got at least 20 more bites. Nevertheless, the temple was beautiful at night.

Day 5 - We had a huge morning with a lot of ground to cover so we departed at 6am. Another reason for starting at 6am is the scorching heat in this part of Egypt, called Upper Egypt even though it's in the south. By mid-morning it was nearly 100 degrees! We went to the Valley of the Kings, an area of mountains that house the tombs of the great Pharaohs. Unfortunately no photos were allowed and I didn't even snap one of the outside because it simply looked like mountains, but believe me when I say it was beyond spectacular. Ancient Egyptians strongly believed in the afterlife and the tombs reflected the journey. Much of the art is relatively intact, even vibrant. I really enjoyed the various scenes depicting the journey through death and ultimately to the new life beyond. We paid the extra $20 or so to see King Tutankhamun's tomb even though we knew there wasn't much to see (all of the treasures are in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo), but the tomb still holds his mummy. We had yet to see a mummy on the trip so it was worth the extra few bucks. Pretty incredible.

After the Valley of the Kings we visited the temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Egypt's only female Pharoah, even if not fully acknowledged. Her story is quite scandalous and fascinating. She essentially shipped her son off to military school so she could rule the country. When he returned, he chiseled her face off nearly every statue and scene in her temple so you can still see the family rivalry thousands of years later.

I really enjoyed this temple and the mountain setting. My favorite part by far was this vibrant falcon on the ceiling in one part. It looks like it could have been painted just recently.

After we stopped to see two very big statues remaining from another temple. I try to imagine what this area must have looked like 3,000 years ago, literally dotted with temples and statues.

We ended the morning at the Luxor Temple, which was most fascinating for its grand Avenue of Sphinxes that once stretched from Karnak Temple to Luxor Temple. There is also a mosque built above a portion of the temple so while there we were surrounded by the midday call to prayer. It was incredible. And in the back of this temple there is an area where you can see three layers of history on the walls - the original Ancient Egyptians, then the Romans, then the Christians. Each one defaced the history of the other and tried to make it their own.

The moment we stepped on the boat we set sail to Edfu, which would take around 9 hours. We spent the afternoon on the sun deck watching the small villages and rural landscape pass by. It was beautiful.

We also went through the Esna Lock around sunset, where an 8 meter water level adjustment was made.

And even though we were in an industrial area, the sunset was magnificent.

Upon arrival in Edfu our guide graciously escorted us off the boat to a local shisha cafe. This was a real cafe, unlike the fancy hotel bars we'd been to. It was really great to have a chance to see a bit of a small town, mix with locals, and witness a very lively wedding celebration driving up and down the street.

To avoid making this the longest post ever, I'll wrap up the trip in the next entry!

September 27, 2012

TIA - This is Africa

We're halfway through our Egypt trip and overall it's been amazing. But as all exotic travels go, it hasn't been without its share of challenges. There's a saying mostly used in East Africa in reaction to the pitfalls: TIA, or this is Africa. It feels applicable to our situation here as well:

Day 1 - After arriving at 3am and falling asleep (passing out) at 4am, we decided to be troopers and visit the Pyramids at Giza. And I'm so glad we did.

Afterward we went to the Egyptian Museum. It was incredible but I was in such a jet lagged haze at the end I felt like climbing into a sarcophagus with a mummy. But we rallied and stopped at the Khalili Bazaar where men said colorful things to us such as, "for you, I'd kill my wife." I guess it was a compliment!

That night we sat on the hotel terrace where I had my first shisha experience. Shisha is a flavored tobacco smoked from a hookah. We had apple and I was hooked. We also sampled some Egyptian wine.

Day 2 - We had to fly to Sharm el Sheik, but stopped at a papyrus institute on the way. Papyrus is a paper-like substance made from the stems of a plant. We each bought three depicting traditional Egyptian stories. Then we flew to Sharm and spent the evening relaxing at the shisha cafe at our resort. It was a nice hotel, but the other bars were typical resort places with a bad lounge singer and horrible drinks. We preferred the outdoor Bedouin style set up, but paid with hundreds of mosquito bites.

Then our first challenge occurred. When we got back to our room it had been invaded by small bugs. Literally everywhere. We had to be moved, which took forever, and we had the creepy crawlies so the day didn't end until 2am.

Day 3 - After a bug-free night we slept late and spent the day on the Red Sea. It was so beautiful, the entire shore is lined with coral reefs.

We snorkeled, relaxed and drank the local beer. It was a pretty great day.

Then challenge #2 happened...

Day 3 - Day 3 actually began at 9pm on Day 2 for the long journey to Mount Sinai. We were picked up in a tiny van holding 15 people and filled with horrible fumes. We drove to a gas station with wild dogs roaming the parking lot and were told our cars would get us there and take us in the armed convoy due to recent kidnappings on the Sinai. We were relieved that a different mode of transport was coming until the same tiny van, minus the fumes at least, pulled up. We ended up crammed in the backseat where a man was half sitting on me. We stopped after 40 minutes at another gas station and were stuck there for an hour because they ran out of gas. Yes, completely out of gas. We waited as a truck with a huge hose pumped gas into the ground while everyone stood around smoking cigarettes.

After we finally fueled up without blowing up (thankfully) we had another hour plus on the road with a crazy driver before arriving at the mountain around 12:30am. This is when challenge #3 struck. My stomach was not feeling well and I was sure I had eaten something bad. Sharm is notorious for stomach woes. And I had a mountain to climb. I hoped for the best and we set out in the dark at 1:15am for the climb to the top.

Walking up in the dark was surreal. Thousands of people make this trip so there are flashlights everywhere but it's still in total darkness. You can rent a camel and a Bedouin will lead you up but we wanted to walk. There are little areas to rest and buy snacks along the way so our group would stop and wait for the slower people before pressing on. The final stretch to the top is 790 "steps" made of layered stones. With all the breaks it took more than 4 hours. Without a group we could have done it in 3, but we were still in time to see the sunrise.

The journey was definitely worth the hassle. The views were incredible and the mountain has so much history as the site where Moses received the Ten Commandments. The landscape looks like something from another planet, just reddish rock and no vegetation. We were tired from being up all night but energized by the experience.

I decided to get a camel for the descent, not because I was feeling lazy, but because I didn't want to regret not doing it. When am I ever going to have the chance to ride a camel down a famous mountain? So I hopped on for the 1.5 hour ride and loved every bumpy minute of it.

After a tour of St. Catherine's monastery we had another bumpy, crazy 2-hour ride back to the hotel. By then we were both definitely sick and had to buy the local medicine. We napped and managed to stay up until about 10 after being awake nearly 30 hours. Not sleeping for 30 hours seems to be a trend on this trip!

Day 4, Today - This whole day has been challenge #4. Our stomachs were improving but still not 100% and we had a morning flight to Luxor connecting through Cairo. The flight was delayed and we should have missed the connection, but that flight was also delayed so we thought it was our lucky day until an Egypt Air agent stopped us and made us wait so long that we were unable to make it. They claimed we weren't confirmed even though we had a printed confirmation and ultimately asked us to buy new tickets. We repeatedly refused and they finally issued new tickets for the next flight - at 4:45 and it was only 12:30. Not only was the delay incredibly boring, but we missed our Valley of the Kings tour and wasted a full day of vacation.

We're just now boarding the flight to Luxor to start our Nile cruise and hopefully this is the last challenge of the day. Our stomachs are feeling better and the boat deck bar is mere hours away!

September 22, 2012

30 Hours to Cairo

Yesterday, which really seems like today since I've been awake more than 30 hours, was a blur. I woke up early and went into final packing mode for my trip to Cairo. I took a brief jog break in an attempt to recover from the 20-miler the other day. It was a struggle, but I enjoyed my last glimpse of the NYC skyline for awhile.

Then I treated myself to a ridiculously good $4 coffee.

Then at 3pm I left my apartment to start my roughly 30 hour journey to Cairo. I landed in Amsterdam, my first destination, at 12:46am EST - talk about not being rested. I think I napped two fitful hours.

I pulled myself together in the KLM lounge and hopped on the train for Amsterdam Centraal. It's been four years since my last visit and I've really missed it.

It was sunny. Then cold. Then pouring rain. Then sunny. Then raining. Then warm. Then cold. I LOVE The Netherlands! I wandered until my feet would have no more. Unfortunately I was all gimped up from the flight and barely able to move. I stopped for lunch and a little pick-me-up in the charming 9 Streets area.

Then I went in search of shoes. Any shoes would be better than my flip flops with horrible foot pain and 55 degree temps. Thank you, Sketchers.

Then the highlight of my day: stopping by my favorite beer bar in the world, Bierproeflokaal In De Wildeman. I first went there in 1996 with my dad and have been back many times over the years. It's always the same and I love that.

I sat there for nearly three hours sipping beer, nibbling smoked beef sausage and reading. I also got to catch up with a couple old friends.

In the meantime, my friend Keely has already arrived in Cairo and sent me a photo of our hotel.

I've got nearly seven more hours to go before I'll arrive there myself but as they say, it's about the journey, not the destination. I haven't slept and I'm running on fumes, but I've really loved today's long journey.


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