“I found some control with running. . . . That was the first important habit. From there, better habits were born, if you will: one beget another. The better eating so that I could be a better runner; the strength training so I could be a stronger runner and run up those hills in Central Park . . . And all of these habits grew out of my foundation habit, which is running. There’s no question about it: running changed my life.”
—Barbara Hannah Grufferman
As Barbara Hannah Grufferman approached her 50th birthday, she was feeling, as she describes it, the “umpies”: lumpy, grumpy, and frumpy. Her health wasn’t great: she’d spent her adult life putting the needs of everyone else ahead of herself: work, family, community. And now those choices were catching up to her. And, she’d just gone through menopause, which had had it’s own challenging impact. The spark and grit she’d had before seemed to be fading into the past.
Maybe this is what getting older and seeing the other side of menopause was all about? she thought.
And then, a pointed comment by her then young daughter and a well-timed Wall Street Journal article changed everything. Barbara, who’d never been a runner, set down a path of marathon running, health and wellness, and discovering how to age the very best she could.
Since that day, 15 years ago, Barbara has completed over a dozen marathons and one ultra, and there’s more to come. She also shares her wisdom and lived experience of achieving wellness and health after 50 with a growing number of woman in her work as an advocate for aging well. Barbara has written two books, writes a newsletter, has spoken in public on many occasions, and so much more. In a word, Barbara is vibrant.
Ways to follow Barbara and Strides Forward, plus resources for this episode
Barbara’s website: barbarahannahgrufferman.com
Subscribe to Barbara’s Menopause Cheat Sheet
Follow Barbara on Instagram: @barbarahannahgrufferman
Follow Barbara on Twitter: @BGrufferman
Strides Forward is on Facebook & now has a (private) Facebook group; please join us
Our Website is womensrunningstories.com
We have merch!
The Coach Parry Running Through Menopause Training Program
The Coach Parry webinar, where we first “met” Barbara
We recommend the podcast Hear Her Sports: hearhersports.com
Cherie Turner: Hello and welcome to Strides Forward, where we share the stories of women marathon and ultramarathon runners. I’m Cherie Louise Turner, a 51-year-old runner and also the host and creator of Strides Forward.
Each episode we tell the story of one runner and focus on one topic. This episode is part of our series “running in a woman’s body,” and we’re telling stories around RED-s, pregnancy, and also the topic of menopause, which is the focus this episode.
We started this series with a story about Sophie Speidel and her menopause journey, and while we’re returning to the same topic, you’re about to hear a very different story. Because while all menstruating people will experience this radical hormone shift somewhere roughly around their 50s, no two experiences are the same. But what is the same for me, in both cases, is that I’ve come away with an increasingly brighter outlook on aging and a better understanding of how to navigate menopause, which is something I’m doing right now. So let’s get into it.
This episode we’re featuring Barbara Hannah Grufferman, who grew up in Brooklyn, and calls Manhattan home. Today Barbara is a runner; author, speaker; running, bone health, and better aging advocate; and generally a radiantly upbeat human being. To describe Barbara in a word, I’d pick vibrant. Go back 15 years, however, when Barbara had just gone through menopause and was approaching her 50th birthday and her outlook on life was a whole lot different.
Barbara Hannah Grufferman: I really was at my lowest and you know, I’m not, you know, feeling low is just not my natural way. I’m one of those people that truly wakes up happy and it’s only takes something that’s going on to make me unhappy. However, I was at my lowest point at that time because I just really felt, I believed with every fiber in my being that this is how it’s now going to be, this is it. This is it. How I feel, how I look, how I’m feeling about myself, how I’m feeling about my future. Like, that’s it, this is what, this is what turning 50 is. And this is what aging is because I saw no other way.
Cherie: Seeing no other way, led Barbara down a very unpleasant spiral.
Barbara: I felt I had no control.
Cherie: It’s an awful place to be, feeling like you have no ability to change the bad situation you’re in; one thing Barbara knew is that what had worked in the past wasn’t working anymore.
Barbara: I was feeling not so good about myself. And I was starting to put on those post-menopausal pounds, which can happen, and I didn’t know quite what to do, and I hadn’t been doing really all of the good things for myself that we should be doing.
Cherie: Barbara had spent a lifetime looking out for the people around her. Her priority, as she recounts, was being the caregiver, and after working her job which required a lot of travel, being a mom, wife, friend, and active community member, there just wasn’t much left for her. So, taking care of her own well-being wasn’t a skill she’d developed very well.
Barbara: I lost on this, like so many women and, you know, like eating well: I was feeding everybody else and like, not eating well, not eating regularly. I was eating too much fast food. I saw that, especially when I was traveling and then sleep, sleep was just like, no, by the time I got everybody settled and I had more business to take care of at night, it was just a mess.
Cherie: Barbara was feeling like a mess in every conceivable way.
Barbara: I physically just did not feel good. I really did feel lumpy and frumpy. I always felt like I was, you know, like a nice looking woman, like, I guess, you know, fairly attractive. Like I felt usually my whole life fairly okay about how I looked and the like. That wasn’t a big focal point of mine. And then I started to feel, no, I just like, I’m starting to look, I don’t know, old, you know, it was that word, old, but not in a good way, you know, not in a good way, in a way that was like frumpy maybe. And I just felt, this is like, it’s not good. So that was number one, but it wasn’t the most important thing, you know, how I looked. That always to me was secondary.
It was really how I, how I felt, but also let’s not forget, when you go through menopause, you do have mood swings. You do, you can feel, depressed. You can feel, like, lower than you usually do. No matter what your real nature is. As I mentioned, my nature is really very optimistic and upbeat. Estrogen does play that kind of havoc, wreak that havoc with you, on so many levels, not just, you know, physically in your body, but in your mind. And so that’s, that’s important. So it was a reality. This was not just because I was feeling like, ugh, umpy and frumpy and grumpy, but it’s also because I was going through menopause and it was wreaking havoc with, with my, with my brain. So I felt very alone. Of course, when we were going through something like this, it was only happening to me.
Cherie: Yea, so Barbara felt alone, like a mess, and she was feeling, as she calls it, the umpies: frumpy, lumpy, and grumpy. And that’s where she was at, just before her 50th birthday at a festive event with her family and friends near her home in Manhattan.
Barbara: I happen to live exactly mile 17 and a half of the New York City Marathon. Now we always know people who are running in the New York City Marathon; that year happened to have been a teacher of one of my daughters. I have two daughters and both now in their twenties, and they were much younger then, of course, and we were holding up a sign for this teacher, Go Ms. Smith, Go. And my youngest daughter, she turned to me very loudly and said, Mom, I want to hold up a sign that says, Go, Mom, Go.
Cherie: To make it abundantly clear, Barbara wasn’t a runner. She didn’t even really exercise. But in that moment, everything shifted.
Barbara: My husband looked at me. My neighbors looked at me, my other daughter looked at me. There were all kind of like, So what will you do with that? And I said to her, I don’t know when, and I don’t know how, but okay, I’m going to do it.
Cherie: Despite generally feeling low and out of control, and having no experience as a runner or athlete, Barbara committed in that moment to the huge challenge her daughter had very unwittingly just thrown down. Barbara let some notion overcome her, let’s say it was her intuition or gut instinct, and the words “Okay, I’m going to do it,” were out before she had time think too much about the fact that she had no idea how she was going to run a marathon. But sometimes the world steps in to help.
Barbara: The very next day in the Wall Street Journal was a Monday, there was an article, an interview with Jeff Galloway, and he started the run-walk-run program many, many years ago. He’s now in his seventies, a former Olympian. And the article was about how he believes that everybody, if you can walk, you can run. And it’s just a matter, that’s when it becomes mental; it’s just a matter of knowing that you can achieve this and to just get out there and get started and get started by walking. So literally that day I bought my very first pair of running shoes. I had never run before. I always like to say, the last time I ran before then was running after the good humor ice cream truck When I was growing up in Brooklyn, you know, running was just not something I did.
Cherie: So right, there was this reality that this wasn’t something Barbara did.
Barbara: So getting started, well, I had a number of people say to me, not surprisingly, Oh, no, you can’t start running. What, what are you crazy? You’ve never run. You’re over 50. You’re going to kill yourself. You’re going to get arthritis. You’re going to hurt yourself, blah, blah, blah. So I got a lot of that, which doesn’t help because it starts to put little seeds of doubt in your mind.
Cherie: Seeds of doubt were being planted by the people Barbara knew, and she had been absorbing the discouraging messaging about aging women that are fed from most of the rest of the world, too.
Barbara: There were other things going on too that are very external. Meaning when you look around and you see, and things are better now, by the way, than they were 14 years ago, I have to tell you, it hasn’t been a sea change, but there have been changes, but it’s how society looks at women who are aging. I mean, in, in movies and in life and in photos and in ads, commercials, magazines, um, you know, it’s, they’re unsexy and, um, invisible, all those words that we hear, I mean, this is a reality too. It’s not just physically what’s happening to us.
Cherie: While these very overt and very unhelpful messages were getting through, there was one important part of Barbara’s aging journey that she quite literally stumbled on by accident not long after that fateful day when she’d committed to somehow, some day running the New York City Marathon.
Barbara: At that same time, it could have been a week or two later; I’d have to think back really. But I was taking my dog for a walk and tripped on my own two feet, you know, really nothing. I looked back. Was there a crack and nothing just tripped and fell, not very far and not very hard, but broke my arm. So when to the ER, you know, the urgent care place and diagnose broken arm. Okay. Wrapped it up.
Cherie: It was all wrapped up, or so Barbara thought. That fact that she didn’t fall very hard but ended up with a broken bone was a big warning sign that came close to being overlooked. And here, I’m just going to step out to say, I see a bigger issue at play: women get a lot of negative messaging about aging and to do all we can to deny it’s actually happening. And what’s getting drown out are the important messaging about how to actually age healthy and well. Like what it means when you break a bone so easily in your 50s; the fact that none of the people involved in Barbara’s treatment clued into what this meant is frustrating as well. It was just a broken bone, so everyone thought, and it healed.
Barbara: I kind of let it go, and life went on and maybe a few months later, I went for my annual physical and my wonderful doctor did say, What? when I told him what happened: What do you mean you broke your arm? You shouldn’t have broke, why would you, that’s crazy. I’m sending you for your first bone density test. I never would have thought, let me go get a bone density test. We don’t think about that because no one is telling us that. But when you are a post-menopausal around, if you’re 50 and break an arm and you’re post-menopausal, you must get a bone density test because something’s not right with your bones. Well, sure enough, it showed, I didn’t have, thank God, osteoporosis, but it was, something called osteopenia, low bone density.
Cherie: Barbara’s jarring diagnosis served to strengthen her resolve to improve her health, and now she had a particular interest in bone health. And at the core of that journey was her commitment to fulfilling this marathon promise she’d made to her youngest daughter. She had those new pair of running shoes and the “if you can walk, you can run” wisdom of Jeff Galloway she’d learned from that Wall Street Journal article. But that was about it. So she decided the best next step was to learn more about Galloway’s approach.
Barbara: I thought, okay, let me try his program. I bought his book. I started the program, started walking and then little by little added in running, more walking, more running; my running got longer than my walks. My, my, the length of time I was out there doing both got longer. And before I knew it, I was running, I was a runner. And then, I found that when I started running that my whole relationship with my body and with eating and nutrition, and how I feel about myself changed, Now, not overnight, of course, because nothing happens overnight.
Cherie: The progress happened literally step by step, over time, and Barbara continually kept her eye on the prize.
Barbara: I was a runner, and then I signed up for the New York City Marathon. And it was really just like a, uh, almost two years; it wasn’t the next one, but it was two after that, that I ran my first New York City Marathon.
Cherie: Barbara had fulfilled her promise, and she’d met her goal of running the New York City Marathon. But that event which happened over a decade ago now, would turn out to be just the beginning.
Barbara: It wasn’t like, okay, let me, let me run this, let me train for this marathon. Okay. Been there, done that. Did it. Check it off my list, I’m over, it’s over. No, no, no, no. I became a regular runner. That is my form of moving my body. That is my pref, my preferred form of moving my body. And I found that as I became more serious about running and started to want to do more races, you know, big and small, that I started to one, um, one dot connected to the next, the next dot that connected was eating.
Cherie: Because before Barbara started running, her ideas around eating looked a lot different than they do now.
Barbara: I had gone through menopause, so I was putting on some pounds, so yea, dieting, you know what, oh, what’s the latest diet? The South Beach diet, the Atkins diet. I was trying all of them.
Cherie: But over time, Barbara began to see food in a new context.
Barbara: Oh, I started to research, How should I be eating? What are the best foods for me now? So I started to eat better. Another result of all of this then was I, well, I became a stronger runner because I changed my, how I was eating and my nutrition; I no longer needed to think about my weight. It just was a non thing to think about. My, I do not weigh myself. I know if like I’m a little off it’s because maybe, you know, I was, I don’t know, I was sick for a week and couldn’t run, although things don’t change that much. I feel like I never have to even think about it because I eat well for, you know, for my age and, and, um, you know, what my goals are for myself and I move my body so much that it’s just no longer an issue for me.
Cherie: Barbara’s shift in her relationship with food is something that really stands out for me and that I think about a lot. It doesn’t necessarily follow that just because you start moving more, you’ll start eating better, or for that matter that you’ll never be concerned about your weight. I get that. But back to the eating part: I’ve been an athlete my entire life, and it’s only been in the last few years that I feel like I’ve truly developed this sort of healthy relationship with food: understanding the connection between my body’s well-being and how I nourish it. But like Barbara, I’m so much better for it, and it only makes me want to continue to listen to my body more and fuel it with what makes it feel and perform best. For Barbara, eating better wasn’t the only part of life that improved because of running.
Barbara: Another dot that was connected to all of this was like so many women who go through menopause, sleep was becoming a really big issue for me. And this is very, very common, you know, as sleep is disrupted several times a night, of course, a lot of times it’s because we’re having those sweaty nights and that is really very common. But even after that symptom, you know, it’s no longer an issue, we just find sleep is difficult. And I find that the more I move, the better I sleep, and that’s something else that’s been a real benefit for me.
Cherie: Over the last 15 years, Barbara has developed a better relationship with her body through running; this led her to healthier eating and better sleeping. She’s also added strength training to the mix, and started working with the online coaching program aimed at menopausal runners. All of these many changes in Barbara’s life have also shifted how she views herself.
Barbara: Like I still kind of can’t believe I go out and run because I never viewed myself in that way. It’s really interesting. It’s a, like how you view yourself and then what the reality is. And sometimes it’s very hard for me to accept the fact that I’m a runner because I do take the walk breaks, I have to say. Not as many as I used to be because I’ve become a stronger runner, over the years, with proper strength training, you know, bone health is incredibly important, um, another motivator for me. But sometimes I, I just say, well, gee, am I really a runner? I mean, yes I am, yes, I am a runner.
Cherie: Barbara is most definitely a runner, as well as an advocate and living example for healthy, vibrant aging. She does her advocacy work through speaking, outreach, and writing, which now includes two books. And in the process of her journey, she’s picked up a tip or two that she’s incorporated into her own life, like a little advice she got from one of the biggest names in fashion.
Barbara: And when I interviewed Diane Von Furstenberg for my first book, she said to me something I will never forget and share whenever I can: She goes, Oh, I love my, you know, she has grandkids, too: Oh, I love my grandkids so much. They’re so spoiled. I love my kids. I love my husband, so, so, so much. They like the focus of my life. She goes, But I have to tell you, Barbara, I love myself more. That may sound selfish, but it isn’t. It’s smart. Because I know that if I don’t take care of myself, I won’t be there to take care of them the way they should be taken care of. And that’s just the fact too; we can’t do everything we want to do and sometimes need to do, if we’re not taking care of ourselves.
Cherie: Where Barbara used to put everyone else first, she’s changed to embrace the importance of taking care of herself, and running has been at the core of her evolution. It’s been the catalyst for a lot of change. But while so much of Barbara’s journey is about what’s now different, it’s also very importantly about how she’s re-established some critical parts of herself that she feared she’d lost.
Barbara: I’ve always viewed myself as somebody who had grit, so this is also important. I started to lose my grit when I was at that low point. And that really, really bothered me. I felt that I must have peaked in my grit, and now it’s going to start to go downhill. And then I found it again, you know, I found my grit again, when I started running.
Cherie: Grit. The ability to dig deep when faced with a prolonged challenge. It’s a quality you feel in your gut, at least I do. The idea of going after something difficult and knowing that, when the chips are down, you’re going to give it more, you’re not going to back away. This internal fire is something aging can really start to chip away at. And for women, aging is definitely marked with menopause, with it’s wild hormone fluctuations that causes chaos large and small to your body, mind, emotions, and general outlook on life, which can linger long after your hormones level out. It is tough! It is uncertain. And, like Barbara lamented back those 15 years ago, as she approached her 50th birthday, all of this upheaval weaved together with the generally crappy way we’ve been taught to think about aging, can leave you feeling unenthused about the future and helpless to do anything to change that. It can make you feel, like Barbara did at the beginning of her journey, out of control, unless you find a way to change that.
Barbara: So I found some control with running. That is what running is my foundation habit. That’s my foundation habit. That was the first important habit and from there, better habits were born, if you will, you know, one beget, another. The better eating so that I could be a better runner; the strength training, so I could be a stronger runner and run up those hills in Central Park, which is where I run when I’m in New York City, you know, where I live. And all of these habits grew out of my foundation habit, which is running. There’s no question about it: running changed my life.
Cherie: To date, Barbara has run over a dozen marathons and one ultra: the New York City 60km, which takes place each year in Central Park and used to be called the Knickerbocker Race. Barbara ran it a few years ago to, appropriately enough, commemorate being 60. Her series of small, simple steps over time shifted a glum-looking outlook on aging into a vibrant today, which is where we conclude our story about Barbara Hannah Grufferman. Barbara’s story does continue of course, and I encourage you to check out all that she’s up to. You’ll find it all on her website, barbarahannahgrufferman.com, that’s Hannah with an “H” at the end. There are links to the uplifting work she’s doing around aging well, including her free newsletter the Menopause Cheat Sheet. You can also learn about her two books, Love Your Age, The Best of Everything After 50. And you can follow her on all the regular social media channels: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and more. She’s got a lot going on! A big thank you to Barbara for being a part of Strides Forward. I first encountered Barbara and learned about her story in an online panel discussion called “Running Through Menopause,” hosted by the Coach Parry team. This is the same organization that created the menopause-specific running program that Barbara follows.
I loved Barbara’s journey and was so excited that she was willing to share it on the podcast. I continue to draw strength and hope from her experiences as I’ve been going through my own ups and downs with menopause. At times it really does feel like a storm, and the low points do sneak up and spiral and feel pretty overwhelming. And then I remember that I’m not alone. I have resources, and this is the time of great change, so let’s get to navigating. Thank you Barbara for being a bright light. Because here’s the other side that I remind myself in any gloomy moments, age comes with the upsides of experience and wisdom, and emotional and mental strength, and these qualities are very helpful when you’re gritting out long miles, which is exactly what I’ll be doing mid-May, because I just signed up for a 50km in Vermont, and I’m super excited.
For this episode, please look to the show notes for links Barbara’s work, Strides Forward, and all things Coach Parry. And please stay in touch. What exciting challenges or goals do you have coming up? I’d love to hear about them.
As always, I’m very thankful to you for listening. We love making these stories, but they are made to be heard, so you being here is a critical part of the equation. And, if you want to support the show in other ways, we have made to order merch, with serval different designs to choose from. You can order mugs, T-shirts, tanks, stickers, all sorts of fun stuff. Just go to womensrunningstories.com and find the merch link on our home page. A portion of what we make goes to charity and the rest goes to covering the costs of the show.
The Strides Forward team includes me, Cherie Turner, your host and producer. Cormac O’Regan creates and places all of the music you hear. And he does it from his studio in Cork, Ireland. April Marriner of Bonfire Collaborative does all of the design work for the show, including the website, merch, and logo. She comes to you from Truckee, California. You can find April at bonfirecollaborative.com.
Strides Forward will be back in a couple of weeks with another episode about running in the women’s body. Until then, this is Cherie wishing you many gritty strides forward.