My running over past few weeks has been a series of steady and deliberate efforts to get my "wind" back, through whatever biological mechanisms aid in this process. What it's felt like is a slow strengthening, from the early days of July with tight constrictions in my bronchi and a weak heart (resting at 90 bpm but too taxed at 130 bpm) to clearer breathing and a strong heart. (I did seek out medical tests during this process. Lung X-Rays were clear, and heart checked out fine. Peak expiratory flow was well below normal — which could be a sign of chronic asthma, although my doctor was dismissive of this, and I haven't been inclined to seek out further tests for asthma as my breathing continues to improve.)
My resting heart rate dropped back down to 60 bpm, I'm back to running comfortably at 160 bpm, but I still don't have the oomph for high intensity. I still feel breathing constrictions when I venture into zone 4. I haven't attempted a max effort. The jury's out about whether running is aiding in the recovery process, but it felt like it has — my chest really does feel more "open" after runs. I think at worst it had a neutral effect. I only had one asthma attack since the Tour Divide, during a mountain bike ride in mid-July.
The runs have been really enjoyable, although summer is just not my season. I do not get excited about venturing outdoors when temperatures are in the 90s or higher, and come up with plenty of excuses for rest days (so believe me, I mostly ran when it felt great and I was enjoying myself. There was no forced running on my agenda.)
Last weekend saw record highs and an atmosphere choked with smoke from wildfires in Northern California. Beat wanted to squeeze in one last long run before we head to Europe this weekend, but even our go-to "cool" escapes — Big Basin and Santa Cruz — registered a temperature of 101 degrees. Somehow, while avoiding going outside all day on Saturday, we decided to embark on on a night run in Henry Coe State Park. These inland hills are typically the hottest zone in the Bay Area — temperatures in the 90s in November are not out of the question. So why, oh why, oh why? Well, it's also the only trail system nearby where it's legal to be out after dark. Bah, California.
Thank goodness temperatures were only in the high 80s as we launched up the steep, dusty hill at 9 p.m. Fist-sized tarantulas skittered across the trail — over the course of the run, we counted at least 25 — and we also shared the night with a curious fox, mice, deer, and other creepy unidentified glowing eyes. The 89,000-acre state park is just remote enough to catch only slivers of city light from the highest ridges, and moonlight cast the grassy hillsides in silver and indigo hues. Coe is a former ranch, and occasionally we'd pass a creepy abandoned building or piles of twisted and rusting metal. It had a thrilling "haunted old Coe" factor that kept me invigorated even as I shed buckets of sweat over relentlessly steep, loose terrain for three and a half hours. We returned to the car well after midnight, absolutely saturated in sweat.
|Ten years, and still seeking the frosty sides of life.|
1. My knees are better than they were at 26. Of course I don't know the precise condition of the tissues in my joints, but I do know my knees feel a lot better than they did for most of my 20s. During a cross-country bicycle tour in 2003, I developed patellar pain in my right knee that persisted for years. I remember several of my friends were training for marathons in 2004, and I lamented that I could never aspire to be a runner, because I had "bad knees." The pain was manageable but more prevalent when I started endurance cycling in 2005. During the 2007 Susitna 100, I twisted my knee painfully near the start of the race and still finished, which put the nail in a massive overuse injury that was diagnosed as grade 3 chondromalacia. My doctor in Juneau, who was an Ironman triathlete and sympathetic to the whole endurance cause, said I'd probably battle osteoarthritis for the rest of my life. A physical therapist said my vastus medialis quad muscles were extremely underdeveloped (weird for a cyclist, right?) and suggested running to build muscle strength and bone density to support the joint. I started hiking more frequently that year, but the pain really started to subside after 2010 ... when I took up running.
2. I really do have an iron butt these days, evidenced by making it through 1,700 miles of the Tour Divide in 14 days with no chamois and my same old Terry Butterfly saddle, and no issues.
3. My feet are so much tougher than they used to be. Thank you, running.
4. My co-workers in Idaho Falls gave me the flattering nickname "Gimpy McStiff" because I'd always come back from weekend adventures completely hobbled. Actually training on a regular basis — even for recreational activities — really helps reduce the Monday rigor mortis.
5. My endurance continues to improve. My struggles in recent years have been linked mainly to injuries — specifically blunt force injuries, caused by falls — and illnesses. When everything goes right, even in an extremely taxing effort like sled-dragging 350 miles of the Iditarod Trail in seven days — I'm able to bounce back to normal quickly, in a matter of days.
6. I've got a better handle on my sleep, although I still have occasional bouts of insomnia. My sleep patterns were terrible through my early 20s, and became more consistent when I developed a regular outdoor exercise habit.
7. Anxiety is largely gone from my life. I still feel anxious when it's justified — such as clinging to precipitous mountain ledges. But I used to struggle with a more pathological anxiety, and occasional bouts of panic when such a response was not even remotely justified. I was actually a fairly fearful person in my early 20s, and I've never been particularly good at reacting to stressors. Newspaper journalism was a rewarding occupation, but it wasn't always great for my psychological health. And before I became (you guessed it) a regular exerciser, I had no coping mechanisms. This aspect of my personality is a large reason why I started and continue to participate in adventure sports — I extract immense satisfaction and ultimately peace in confronting my fears. Regular outdoor activity has been part of my lifestyle for long enough that I can't even fathom feeling the same disconnected anxiety, but I always wonder whether it would return if I were to lose my ability to stay active.
So there you go. Getting older rocks. Bring on 36.