Thursday, July 18, 2013

Optimism

The knee issue was puzzling. When it comes to injury therapy, I can be skeptic. I don't believe in miracle cures. But there was no denying that I'd been struggling with limited mobility for three weeks; then I took an accidental and painful fall, and suddenly everything felt a whole lot better. I wasn't sure what to think; I called my doctor to possibly schedule an appointment, but he is out of the office until July 20. Because of lingering concern about stability, I went for a run on Monday to test things out. The joint felt markedly more stable than pervious weeks. There was no pain when I tried the higher kicks that are typical of a full run (rather than the ultra shuffle that I admittedly prefer.) With this new boost of confidence, I even increased my pace on the descent. Nothing. No pain, no wobbliness.

Today I went to see a massage therapist in Los Altos that Beat and I really like, Angelo, who works with a system of orthopedic therapy called the Hendrickson method. As much as I don't believe in miracle cures, he's helped me work out some nagging pains I've had in the past. Angelo worked around my joint and said he could detect thickened tissue that would indicate scarring on the side of the knee cap. I explained the fall I took on Twin Peak — my right foot slid out but my left foot remained anchored against a rock, resulting in considerable pressure on my left knee as it was forced into a hard bend. Angelo explained that similar motions are common therapy for breaking up scar tissue — a physical therapist applies torque to manually range the knee. He speculated that my limited range of motion was likely a result of scar tissue, which tightens up as it develops. Feelings of instability can be a symptom of a medial collateral ligament tear — which can result from a direct blow to the knee.

I am still considering consulting my doctor, but I can't say I even have any complaints to relay to him. Angelo said he couldn't detect any inflammation, and I don't have any points of pain. Even the superficial soreness has diminished. Although I resolved to take it easy for a few more days, I couldn't resist an urge to go for another run on Tuesday, just to relish in this new freedom of motion. Eight miles went flawlessly — it felt like my best run of the summer.

I could still have issues with this knee. If there is scar tissue as Angelo speculated, that means there was some initial tearing, which can be easy to re-injure, especially if I take another jarring fall. I plan to get re-acquainted with a more aggressively supportive (even if chafing and ouchy) knee brace for my long hauls.


But for now, I am embracing an optimistic outlook. Which means I can finally start looking to my two big summer events as though they're not going to be complete disasters. Finally, the scale between stress and excitement is tipping in the right direction.

In early August, we leave for Reykjavik to participate in Racing the Planet Iceland. This is a semi-supported stage race on foot, traveling 250 kilometers over six stages in seven days. The race organization supplies water drops, hot water at camp, and group tents. We're required to carry everything else we want over those seven days, including food. I like to look at it as a fun group backpacking trek in a beautiful northern region that I have wanted to visit for most of my life — with the added bonus of big miles. I love big miles. There are two 25-mile stages, two 28-mile stages, one 42-mile stage, and a final six-mile easy day. If I'm feeling good and my knee is strong, I want to put a good effort into this race — meaning I do plan to run within reason. But it is possible to be deathly ill and hike it out and still finish. That's effectively what I did during the 2011 Racing the Planet event in Nepal, when I came down with the worst stomach bug I've ever had during the night before stage one. I couldn't keep any calories down for the first two days, ate minimally for the remaining five, and still eked out a mid-pack finish. I suspect it will take a lot for me to feel worse in Iceland than I did in Nepal.

The weather in Iceland is likely to be ... Juneau-like. It could be beautiful, or it could rain non-stop for the entire week. Temperatures in the daytime will probably range from 45 to 65 degrees, with nighttime temperatures near freezing. Snow is possible. Sleet, likely. Rain — seven straight days without rain in that region is almost unfathomable. We are preparing to be cold and wet. I used to be really good at these conditions, but I am woefully out of practice.

Beat and I are both using Go-Lite Jam 50-liter packs. The capacity will sound enormous to most stage-race enthusiasts, but what can I say? We wanted our packs to be fully versatile for non-racing backpacking, and we also don't like to tightly condense our stuff. Our packs look big but they're not *that* heavy. Part of the required gear is a 35-liter drybag for clothing and sleeping gear.

Without going into too boring of a gear list, some of the notable things I'm packing are a RAB Quantum Endurance 25-degree down bag, RidgeRest, synthetic puffy pull-over, fuzzy fleece hat and mittens, mitten shells, extra shirt and tights (dry layer for camp), extra Drymax socks, warm wool socks, and Frogg Toggs rain jacket and pants. Why Frogg Toggs? They're cheap (given the nature of this race — running with large packs in wet and muddy conditions — our outer layers are likely to be semi-destroyed by the end). They're light. And they provide excellent rain and wind protection even if they don't breathe. (When it comes to rain gear, hard efforts, and long hours in heavy precipitation, I do not believe in waterproof breathable. I think it's better to bolster wind protection and accept that sweat will happen. There are several manifestoes about this in my blog archives from my days in Juneau.) I will have a spare down coat for camp.

I plan to wear a long-sleeve synthetic shirt, wind-proof tights, Drymax socks, hiking gaiters, a buff, and my beloved Hoka Mafate shoes. Actually my "new" pair is about as worn out as the pair I replaced in January, so it will be a challenge to squeeze 155 more miles out of them. But I plan to do so because I have a feeling this race is going to a shoe destroyer, and I don't want to take a brand new pair (which I'll need for bigger and badder terrain at the end of August.) To save my "race" Hokas, I've actually been training with my old shoes (which I made fun of back in January) since mid-June.

And I can't forget the Black Diamond Ultra-Distance Z-Poles. Effectively my favorite piece of long-distance trekking gear. I would probably give up Hokas before I gave up these poles. I've gotten pretty good at running at a good clip while using them. They help me manage my balance and footing on technical downhills, and help me "pull" on the climbs. Call them crutches, I need them. As a runner I secretly wish I was a four-legged animal, and these are as close as I'll ever get.

Food we're keeping fairly simple. Each night is a bland but filling Mountain House dehydrated meal and a hot chocolate, with packets of Lipton soup as appetizers. After Nepal, I wasn't even able to look at any form of dehydrated meals for about a year, but I've come around on about three or four varieties — the more bland the better. I like Chicken and Noodles, Chicken and Rice, Mac and Cheese, and if I'm feeling zesty, the Veggie Lasagna. Breakfast is coffee with creamer, a granola bar, and peanut butter. Daytime is a variety of granola bars, energy bars, trail mix, and gummy candy. After Nepal, I learned that trail food really is the most versatile form of calories to have during endurance events — bars or candy are the one thing I can usually force down even if I'm feeling considerably crappy. One week is not enough time to become woefully malnourished from lack of fresh foods. The calories will probably amount to about 2,600 a day. (The spreadsheet adds up to 18,500 calories. But we will not need many for the final day, so it's actually more along the lines of 2,850 a day.) It seems minimal for the effort we'll be expending, but I've learned that I'm unlikely to eat more. I do expect the cold weather to demand additional energy. We'll have to see how it goes. We'll be hungry. It will kind of suck, but I really don't want to overpack food. Again, I carried at least 5 pounds of food that I never ate in Nepal. I probably managed an average of about 1,200 calories a day. My digestive system was so angry, but beyond that, I was fine. My performance did suffer. ;-)

The packs with two liters of water will probably be in the range of 25 pounds. I might pack it up this weekend and actually weigh it, and I'll post if I do.