Pre-empting the springtime slump
"Dunno," I reply. "I don't have anything planned right now."
I realized it's probably been nearly seven years since I finished one big event and didn't already have designs on another. (Only about a month passed after the 2009 Tour Divide before my friend Keith asked me to be the other half of his 2010 TransRockies team. So I'm not sure even that counts.) Sure, there will probably be another Iditarod. But that's a year away, and not set in stone. Summer is still wide open.
This was intentional, given my recent breathing issues. In just a couple of weeks I'll move from 300 feet to 7,100 feet elevation, where I'll face a host of new allergens to which I may already be susceptible (Recent history has shown me to be especially vulnerable to allergies in the Rocky Mountains.) Training through the transition could be downright terrible.
Although the Iditarod went well and I had no major issues during the month I was in Alaska, I'm still concerned about asthma. Allergy season is in full bloom here in California, and I can feel it when I'm running. Every time I venture outside, I turn into a snotty mess with sneezing and watery eyes. This is quite different than wheezing and constricted airways, but paranoia causes me to instantly dial back my effort the moment I feel remotely winded. I am still unwilling to approach that elusive red line. So I run more slowly and walk up the steeper hills. It's still enjoyable, and it's not like I'm training for anything.
I do wonder when — or if — I'll feel that fire again. That fire that burns in my throat when I've reached the edge of my abilities. That fire to charge up a hill without fear that the air will run out before I reach the top. To take on a summertime challenge with heat and dust and pollen, and not feel resigned to weakness and failure from the start. Today I first learned about and finally watched the short video about Lael Wilcox, "Fast Forward." The part that struck me most was the sound clip of Lael's labored breathing before she decides to call it during her Arizona Trail time trial. The sound ... the look on her face ... the emotions in her eyes. I had to hit pause and look away for a moment. It hit too close to home.
I've not spoken with Lael about her experiences with exercise-related breathing problems. (Sadly, we just missed crossing paths in Alaska last month.) I empathize with her because I suspect we caught the same germ in Banff, both developed lung issues during the Tour Divide, and experienced recurrences afterward. She is younger and fitter than I am, and can do some amazing things while wheezing, but I relate all the same. I know she's training for the Trans-Am, and am excited to watch her progress in the race. Secretly, selfishly, I tell myself that if Lael can get through the Trans-Am without issue, perhaps I'm in the clear as well.
The asthma doctor I am seeing has speculated that my symptoms have been caused by reactive airways following my bout with pneumonia last June and July. Given the depth of the infection, she said it could take months to recover, but she believed I would recover. She does not think I have chronic asthma, but I may be more susceptible to allergy-related asthma attacks, bronchitis, and asthmatic symptoms in the future ... because some of the choices I made as an endurance athlete shredded my lungs (okay, she didn't actually voice this last part.) She put me on a maintenance inhaler because I was heading into the middle of nowhere frozen Alaska with uncertain symptoms. I'm of the opinion the medication helped, but I suspect she won't renew it when I go in for my final appointment. I'm healthy right now. The Iditarod went well. Springtime allergies have not stopped me from running ... yet. I suppose it's all good news.
I consoled myself with a run around a park I'd never visited, Saint Joseph's Hill in Los Gatos. The lupine were out. I started down the hill at a brisk gallop, taking deep gulps of the pollinated air and trying to ignore the rash forming beneath my wrist brace. My heart was happy, but then my shins were sad. Time for a rest day.