Sunday, November 20, 2016

Arcadia University Talk

The first week back from the Philippines as rough. I had a constant headache and my insides were in disorder. I went to bed with my son at 8 pm every night. My husband had to travel for work so I didn’t have help.

I got a text that week from my neighbor across the street. She was in Italy with a class she was co-leading. She asked if I would come speak to the class.

This all came about when we were having wine one night. We got into talking about our backgrounds. I surmised she had always been in contact in one way or another with undocumented immigrants. Me ending up as her neighbor was no exception. She showed me the book she was reading and I talked about Lives in Limbo, reviewed earlier in this blog. I don’t know how it even came up but I got brave with my wine. I told her I would be happy to talk to her class. The class was called “This Sea is Not My Home: Immigration, Migration and Social Justice in the Sicilian Context".  The instructor’s goal in inviting me was to help students realize that “even those who came willingly experience a sea of change in their lives". 

The class went to Sicily. They were visited by Gambian refugees from the camp. My friend was there the week I returned from the Philippines. She must have connected with Michelle while on the trip.

I agreed to come on Good Friday to speak at their last class. I mention the day since everything fell into place for me to be able to talk to this class, including work being closed and having childcare despite my son's school being closed. 

I prepared for it like I would host a meeting at work. I threw my agenda on a Power Point with my discussion points. I didn’t expect Michelle would throw it up on a projector but I didn’t want to lose my train of thought. I used them as cue cards. 

The class was at Arcadia’s library. After a brief introduction I was up. I never got deodorant commercials that talk about responding to your body chemistry. I broke out into a cold sweat while waiting. I finally got the deodorant commercial. 

First I talked about my educational background, my job, my hobbies and finally told them I had been undocumented for 20 years. I talked about the history of the Philippines and the economic factors that drove my family's migration.

I talked about what being undocumented allowed and didn't allow in my youth. I talked about my transition into illegality and what it had meant. There were educational, career and emotional costs. I finally talked about a writing hobby that materialized into me talking to them that day.

Looking that effaces of those students (freshman) the tension was all mine. There was a Q&A session after my discussion points. Some students were curious. Other students were probably happy to get on with the end of their semester. They probably looked like that because I had discussion points.

It was the most public I had come to discussing my former status and my writing.  The instructor was a knowledgeable and compassionate moderator.   I couldn't have asked for a better situation for such a disclosure.
selfie with the castle

Earlier this summer I wrote a post about my experience at Highland Presbyterian Church. It felt like another situation of things falling into place having talked with this class earlier this year. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016


I have been literally running around writing this particular post about my trip to the Philippines. I did the tourist thing with my Gemini twin. I did the history thing since my other relatives were kind enough to take me. I ran my first 25k trail race last weekend. This has also been a crazy ass election season. I have been addicted to political news. So danced around this post, my trigger point.  

I knew I would not come back the same person. It was a culmination of my work as a writer and immigrant rights advocate. After the years of self-loathing, self-doubt, and finally self-repair, I made the connection with my family. At first it felt transactional. Then it became something I did not think I could make after 30 years.

The first time I wanted to go my son was too little. I thought it was him that needed me but it was the other way around. It was the longest I had ever been away from him.   

So the morning after my sightseeing adventures I slept in. Later in the morning, my cousin whom I had never met beyond social media picked me up. I went to lunch with him and his girlfriend. Despite never having met before, we didn’t act like it.  We had churros (like I needed to be introduced to donuts in stick form) dipped in chocolate with coffee afterwards.
The they took me to visit the interment sites of my uncle at Libingan ng manga Bayani, translation Heroe’s Cemetery. In my youth, I didn’t understand why my uncle had a gun. I learned that he was a policeman in the narcotics division. Filipino soldiers from WWII were also laid to rest there. My cousin walked around a bit before we found my uncle. His grave was a simple white cross with his name etched in black. The black was fading. We left him flowers.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Rough Trail 25K - Race Report

As I write this post I am hobbling up and down stairs, aged about 20 years. I completed my first 25K “race” this past Saturday. I say “race” because there were many times there was nobody in front or behind me, which is the nature of trail racing. The longest “race” I had ever done before yesterday was 10 miles at Evansburg State Park in Pennsylvania about 10 years ago. I got back into trail running to heal the pain in my right arch. I also found a great group of women with whom to run. Lastly, I also learned trail running didn’t have to be so messy (I often fell).

I signed up for the Rough Trail in hopes I would find a similar group as we moved ourselves from the Northeast to the Bluegrass (and I did).

My partner Nancy was down with a migraine and stomach flu. I drove to Red River Gorge with another woman from the group. I met her at her hotel in Lexington and we were on the road at 6:30 am.

I learned Kelsey was recruited to do crew for the University of Louisville. She signed up for the race last minute never having run trails before. She signed up for a marathon in the spring and aspires to do cyclocross competitively. K stands a head taller than me. I think she could have been dropped in a military hot zone and would have been fine.

On the way we saw a wildfire smoldering. It looked like a barbecue grill right before you throw the meat on. It was the forest mid colon cleanse. It was both eerie and spectacular.

This year was the second time the RT was held. The event was small. Parking was a premium since it was a campground. We were encouraged to carpool. We warmed ourselves over a campfire next to a tent where they handed out the race packets.

Trail Runner's bff

K’s hydration pack was missing a buckle for the chest strap. She did a lap to see what it felt like, while I shed layers begrudgingly. I ran back to my car a couple of times while we were waiting for the morning meeting to start. First to get my trail map and the second time to make sure the car was locked (neurosis).

Pre Race
The morning meeting was the race director telling us the first stretch of the course was marked with caution tape and the rest was with pink and black checkered ribbons.  Then we found ourselves at the start and counting down our own start. My Garmin never found a satellite signal. We did a lap around the camp ground and we were off into the trails. I lost K early on since my feet were cold. I took it easy until I warmed up. I am glad I went back for my map. I focused on getting to the first aid station. It looked like 5 miles away. It seemed like a really long 5 miles. I stopped an hour and a half into the race to take my cold pill. At some point I asked what mile we were on and someone told me around 6. 

My favorite pic

2nd favorite pic

I ate Kirkland kettle cooked potato chips and shot blocks at the first aid station. I was checked in by someone from the race. I also refilled one of my water bottles before going on.

I stubbed my toe on a root shortly after. One of three ladies in pink behind fell hard over the same root. The trail was covered in leaves.

The course itself was beautiful. We were running over plateaus, up steep inclines, beside rock walls, up and down stairs, skipping over streams and inside ravines. The paths were 2.5 feet wide (just like JMF). Other times I walked up and down that was not runnable. I did not laugh out loud at the lack of runnability of the terrain (I have done that before).  My only incident was sliding down a rock face at hip height while trying to get down. I might have been on my bottom briefly.

All this being said, I felt shitty going into this race. I OD-ed on water, sleep, Benadryl and Alka Seltzer. The only reason why I bought Tylenol cold pills was to be able to take it during the run. I also pulled over a few times to blow my nose. One woman commented she was in the midst of drowning in her own snot. Gross but true for me as well.

The miles to the second aid station were long. I walked up a lot of hills and even on flats at the top because my thighs hurt so much. I craved those potato chips. I think I ate a Lara Bar at some point.

I definitely wondered what I had done signing up for this thing. My right knee and ankle hurt. K said she probably favored that leg since the same things hurt for her afterwards. I didn’t see her until the end. I was alone for most of it. I had hoped to run into Dannielle doing the 50K. The backwards part is that I got annoyed when people came up behind me or I saw someone up ahead. Must be the kind of things cats go through.

The most interesting part was the creek crossing to the second aid station. People skipped rocks but I choose to walk over a log. I didn't want to get wet. The upwards climb afterwards was slow. I walked most of it. I wondered how and why the organizers made a race course out of such terrain. It was probably the miles talking.

When I arrived at the aid station, I ate ½ a peanut butter and jelly on white, which would normally not choose, and those glorious kettle cooked potato chips.  I hung out for a while. The race directors required us to check in at each aid station.

The downhill back to the creek crossing was much better. The path after the crossing toward the finish was also much more runnable. I had my map handy and would match up the trail signs with my location on the course.

I was heartened when I started to recognize the way we entered. I had no idea how many miles I had left, which was a total mind fuck.

I was talking to my legs to pick up the feet and keep moving. I told myself even if my run was at a walking pace, the race would end sooner.

I passed a few people that told me I was almost done. I passed some guys that were fighting cramps in their calves. I passed another guy that was upright and advancing but seemed to be in some kind of all systems failing mode.

I was aware I was no longer making eye contact with hikers passing by. I did not wear a smile for being on such beautiful terrain. I was sort of aware that the continued slow churn of my legs decreased the overall pain. I was happy (in a grumpy sort of way) to make the last right and see the finish.

I guess it was a good thing I wanted to eat rather than not. I found K and we commiserated over the pain. Her prize growler confirmed for me this woman was a badass. We hugged each other and agreed it was hell. We didn’t see any other MRTT members. I did see some guy cross the finish with his arm in a sling. 

After I ate my bean soup, cookie, brownie and drank my Sword, we left. We were eager to change into dry clothes, get warm and sit. This was when we talked and got to know each other a bit. We talked about the limitations of the older Garmin watches, cycling, and the election. It was a blessed four hours that did not think about this past week while in my pain quagmire. K and I laughed that she was in a mom’s running group. I came away thinking she a powerful athlete and that she really had her shit together.

I never thought these hard races were about pushing your limits, although it was that. It was about seeing terrain I might not see otherwise, making new friends and throwing myself into something so fully that I forgot the rug had been pulled from under me.  Despite my pain, my feet were still on the ground and would always carry me forward.

Note: Later on that night when I was back in Louisville, I woke up from fetal position feeling my legs moving back and forth like I was still running. 

I had this in my head most of the time, which seemed appropriate.

Lessons Learned:

In terms of running while sick, I did everything right. I hydrated, slept, took my decongestant and cough medicine every 4 hours in the days leading up to the race, during the race and afterwards. I also ensured proper hydration during the race. That being said, I am still feeling rundown a week later. Running for 4 hours doesn't help being sick. The best way to avoid sickness was not to have run. I chose my poison.

I learned never to write a race report post a heartbreak of a Presidential election. I should be good for another 4 years. 

I learned I need to get strong. I need to focus on strength in my quads, glutes, ankles and calves to be able to withstand the rigorous climbs. 

Also, I would do this race again. I told my MRTT crew that I would probably call it "fun" after a week or so. It was fun and I did recover.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

15 Mile Thriller at Jefferson Memorial Forrest

Every time I get to talking with the MRTT ladies about marathon war stories, at some point I always say something like, “I wish I had had a voice during the hardest part of the run, telling me, ‘you got this’”, so I don’t break down and start weeping like a child (which has happened). Last Saturday morning, I had that voice, albeit in my head, her name is Marian.

It was two weeks away from my Rough Trail 25K . I had planned on the longest run 2 weeks before my race, so I could spend the weekend before on a less long run and have a chance to recover. My training plan has become a hybrid of marathon, a 25k trail, UpLift, triathlon and cycling.  (Note to self: Read a book on endurance trail running because this reads like I can’t decide).  Fellow MRTT-er Marian, the one outside my head,  would have led us but has been down with pneumonia for a few weeks.  I became the default front woman having run it before.

Motivates ME to run big miles in the woods!

Nancy and I met at the donut shop so we could drive down to Jefferson Memorial Forest together. We were thrilled that the restroom at the welcome center was open before 6:30 am. Once we strapped on our headlamps and hydration packs, we were off.  Marian, in my head, reminded me to take it slow, which we did. We averaged about 20 mm for the first 3 miles. Much of the trail in the beginning were switch backs and up hills. In the times I had run before with my partner, who is much faster than me on the road, we hadn’t spoken much. On the trail, she was at my heels as we made our ascent together. I watched for the white markers on trees since the path was covered in leaves.

At one point on the way up we heard what could have been a small cow, small bear, large dog or zombie (as my 4 year old offered up). We opted not to talk about what it might have been or look in that direction. I remembered Marian reminding me not to think of scary things. Instead she said we were a couple of badasses for being out there in the pitch black. So my partner became an extension of my senses as we made it through the dark into a spectacular sunrise.

Maybe it was around mile 4 that my partner and I started talking about what happens to runners during long runs, the crying at marathons, breakfast, the GI tract situation, our hardships, did I overdress for this run and why compression socks were wonderful.

At mile 5 we met up with a beagle who ran with us for a few miles. We gave him our boiled salted potatoes. Nancy tried calling the number on his collar but we had was no cell service. The pup followed us out of Siltstone and into Scott’s Gap, where we did get a signal.

We waited for a few minutes until a red truck came by to pick up the pup. We ate our protein bars. The beagle’s owner explained that the dog had gotten out in the middle of the night since they had altered the wood surrounding his pen. It was great to rescue a dog from his home. We saw them pull into their driveway about 100 feet away.

We ran about another ¾ miles through Scott’s gap before we headed back at the 7.5 mile mark. This path was marked in red. It was even more littered in leaves.  This trail was marked by red spots.

The first uphill back on Siltstone were the hardest for me. My partner said maybe we had lost our groove having stopped for the dog. I even knew there was a plateau at the top of the hill. They still felt like lonely miles. Maybe it was knowing my boys had gone to Glasgow for the night. It made me think 25k was my limit and what the heck had I gotten myself into? Runner’s bipolar at its best.

I didn’t feel better until the uphill was over and I recognized the trail again. One of the trees dropped a nut on my head. It was probably the size of a golf ball but felt like an apple. My GPS died at this point, which I found hard not knowing how far we had gone and how much we had left. Nancy said it may have been working hard to find a signal, which was scarce in those woods.

Scott's Gap
Those last few miles were the longest. I definitely overdressed wanting a thin layer on my skin in case I fell. It unseasonably hot so I drank my water sooner than planned.

We were amazed at the terrain we climbed in the dark, seeing it in the light on our way back. JMF is not easy due to the ruggedness and elevation. Running towards those donuts took forever. We passed a woman with a big dog. She smelled fresh and perfumed, unlike us.

We were so thirsty when we got back that we had water with our donuts instead of coffee.  We laughed about a random guy that shared our donuts. We laughed about the silly Krispy Kreme hats we had on. We laughed about the dog that snubbed my cliff shot block and preferred the potatoes. It was the best state of exhaustion, dehydration and post-15-miles-of-hard-terrain delirium, just like Marian said it would be. 

Note: All kidding aside, there was a lot of preparation that went into this run. 

I went into it with a partner. My pack contained a small first aid kit, tissues, hand sanitizer, wipes, albuterol and a whistle. 

We had ample water and nutrition (Cliff Shot blocks, Rx Bar, Mocha Cliff shot, boiled salted potatoes) since we were out there for about 4 hours. 

Lastly, as runners in 2016, our new fangled tech was charged: headlamps, phones and GPS watches (which I have found fully charged doesn't always hold up when its always searching for a signal). 

All Trails rates Siltstone as hard.