Thursday, August 11, 2016

Forcing my way through August

I was 1.5 miles into a bike ride on Wednesday when I stopped to take a couple of puffs from my inhaler and pull a buff over my mouth. It was 89 degrees with a strong wind. Dust was swirling through the air, which has become such a trigger that I've learned to viscerally react to it as though it were poison gas.

"I should probably turn around," I thought. But it was a rare occasion when I finally talked myself into getting on the bike. The previous days, there had been excuses. "I have too much work to do. I need to go to town today, so I should just run Sanitas. I did so well running up Bear Peak yesterday, so I should do that again."

As I lingered on the gravel road pullout debating how I could justify cutting this ride short at mile 1.5, another insidious thought popped into my mind:

"What if I'm becoming someone who just doesn't like riding bikes anymore?"

Yeah, so, that ... my fitness right now is poor for several reasons, and getting back into cycling after four months off has been tough. I know how lame it is to avoid something just because it's tough, but for so long the effort of cycling has felt so natural. Now that it's not, I've become bewildered and frustrated. I'm not having fun so why should I bother? It's interesting to observe these knee-jerk emotions through the scope of my wider experience.

With my current breathing issues, I have good days and bad. Over the weekend I did two runs up Bear Peak that went quite well. I've been monitoring heart rate to assess exertion levels versus shortness of breath symptoms, and both times on Bear Peak my heart rate hit the high 170s before I felt winded. On Sunday, I joined Beat for a two-hour ride that started horribly but improved toward the end — strangely, on the steepest pitch of Flagstaff Road, where my lungs opened up and my speed actually improved over flatter sections. On Monday I ran a five-mile loop over Mount Sanitas — which starts 2,000 feet lower than my Bear route — and became wheezy when my heart rate hit 151. I took a few inhaler hits and managed the rest of the run okay, but never saw anything near 178. During the Wednesday bike ride, I was also in the low 150s when I felt overly winded and needed to stop just two minutes into a climb.

So, it's been a little all over the place and I can't really blame biking. It's just disappointing to have such low motivation levels and find myself making all kinds of excuses for activities I used to love, in beautiful and exciting new places where I'm lucky to live — just because I don't feel great when I'm doing them.

For that reason I forced myself farther into the Wednesday afternoon ride, climbing and descending seemingly endless steep dirt roads while gasping through snot and tears. Oozy face is another reaction I have to allergies. Really, my sneezing, watery eyes and congestion were never this bad in California, even ignoring more recent asthma issues that also affected me there. Something here in Colorado just really doesn't like me. And I assuredly don't like it. I wasn't having fun on this ride, and wanted to quit. But that question — "What if I'm becoming someone who just doesn't like riding bikes anymore?" — was more disturbing than my symptoms, and propelled me forward.

I dropped toward Gross Reservoir as thunder rumbled overhead. This storm moved in quickly — just a half hour earlier the sky was blue. Clouds opened up and for five minutes it rained hard, tamping down the dust and cooling the air. It continued to sprinkle, and for the rest of the ride I felt considerably better. Drawing cool, moist air deep into my lungs felt incredible — I could actually feel a substantial difference between breathing deeply, and whatever it is I do the rest of the time. It's as though I subconsciously stifle my breathing when there's "poison gas" in the air, taking shallow little breaths that leave me feeling oxygen-deprived.

Anyway, between monitoring the pollen forecast and my heart rate, detecting absolutely no difference when altitude changes, and the considerable positive effect of rain — I'm now 95 percent convinced that my breathing issues are allergy related. Either that, or there's a strong placebo effect in believing they're allergy related. I'm now 14 days into my new allergy treatments, which need time to take effect.

I also only have one more week to endure August in Colorado. Beat and I leave a week from Friday for our annual trip to Europe. It will be quite interesting to test my fitness there. Beat is again racing both PTL and TDG, but I don't have anything planned this year. It will be the first time since 2011 that I don't have some crazy mountain race on my calendar (I have finally for the most part conceded that crazy mountain racing isn't really my thing, even if I were healthy and fit.) I was going to join an English acquaintance for a fast-packing-type hike around last year's Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc course. He recently sustained a serious knee injury, so we had to cancel the trip. I have been quite disappointed about it, even though I'm not sure I'm fit enough to attempt this 104-mile route in three to four days (the UTMB limit is 46 hours, which I discovered is a tight cutoff for me on this steep and often technical route. 72 hours when you're planning to sleep is not much more.) Still, it was the endurance element of this trip that really had me looking forward to it. Admittedly my friend did most of the planning and I don't have much to go on if I decide to head out solo. I'm still considering it — just download my GPS track and maps from last year's race, bring a sleeping bag and bivy sack in case all of the refuges are booked up, and hope for the best. After three years of trying (2012 finish on a shortened UTMB course, 2013 DNF in the PTL, and 2015 DNF at UTMB) I have yet to make a full loop around Mont Blanc, and I swear this will haunt me until I finally do it. But my odds aren't great this year either so ... we'll see.

Of course I'm still excited for this trip, even if I just dawdle around on day hikes. I'm hoping that by having no crazy mountain races in which to horribly fail, I will be stronger and more stoked when I return to Colorado in September. At that point, I need to really focus on winter training if I want to have any hope for my hardest endeavor yet — the Southern Route of the Iditarod Trail.

First, I need to get farther than 1.5 miles into a bike ride without feeling like crap. I remain uncertain, but cautiously optimistic.

15 comments:

  1. Yes, be cautiously optimistic! It does sound like allergies. Ha! You must be the only one who is happy to have it raining while biking! Have fun in Europe and wish Beat good luck and fun racing. I know you will have a great time no matter what you decide to do. I bet you will do the 3-4 day quick backpacking option of UMTB.

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    1. We'll see! The TMB isn't really a backpacking route in the traditional sense, so the plan would be to stealth camp. The bivy sack would be more for this purpose than keeping my pack light. If there weather is bad it will require hiking through the night and may be more suffering than I'm willing to put myself through right now. But ... maybe. :)

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  2. I have dropped activities I used to love, and I feel Ok about it because I have picked up others I do love. That being said, I bet you will feel better about biking when the pollen and dust go away.

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    1. Yeah, my main problem right now is not loving any activities that have to be done outdoors. We'll see what winter brings. Otherwise ... maybe go back to being a gym rat (actually that thought is terrifying.)

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  3. "What if I'm becoming someone who just doesn't like riding bikes anymore?"

    Clearly, the lack of oxygen to your brain is making you delusional. I highly recommend aggressive acupuncture with by-products found at Rising Tide Tattoo Emporium. I think their open until 8 PM tonight. It is sure to cure all ills or something.

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  4. "they're" not "their" Now I'm the delusional one!

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  5. Don't underestimate psychosomatic triggers of asthma. Thinking too much about it or fearing dust or pollen is almost guaranteed to make it worse. You know, denial, acceptance, the next thing is getting over it ... Also, multiple puffs from an emergency inhaler is waaaay too many in one exercise! Calm down and DESENSITIZE. Sorry, I won't give any more unsolicited advices. It will get better.

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    1. I don't underestimate the psychosomatic effects at all. I think about that often, and wonder if that's the reason it's so out of control and whether I need therapy more than anything. But ... the plan is to start immunotherapy in October. I just need to clear it with my insurance. This doctor discussed an expedited process but I need to inquire further just how much month-long absences will affect this. If the treatment precludes going back to Alaska in March, I will probably delay it further. Allergy shots sound fairly horrible on their own, and I'm not thrilled about taking them through a season when I might otherwise feel good.

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  6. Yes, the air after a storm is fantastic. For years I timed myself riding up an 8 mile, 2,000 ft vertical climb behind our house - my fastest times were always in the aftermath of a rain storm when the roads were still drying and the air was cool and fresh (negative ions?).

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  7. Dude! I feel your pain. We lived there for years but never felt quite right. Now live in a wet cool place with glacier peaks all around...

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  8. Jill, I have been thinking about your health concerns for some time, now. I hope you can get to the bottom of it. My worst allergies in NM were to juniper...true for most sufferers. I got so much better when I moved to a higher altitude where the ponderosas live....I hope you can get through all this and get back to what you love... one way or another. You always make me nervous when you say, "I should have turned back, but..." Nothing says you need to keep doing what you have already done so well (your recent jaunt to Nome comes to mind). Hang in there and keep after it. As we age and cope with past injuries, current infirmities and the like, nothing is so glorious as a joyful life well lived, no matter what.

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    1. Thank you. I fully agree with your conclusion. And I still have hope that immunotherapy will help and I can adapt to enjoy summer in Colorado, because there is so much beauty here.

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  9. It's totally fine to move on from activities you don't find fun anymore. You'll find a new one that IS fun, why beat your head against the wall?

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  10. Jill, really sorry at the turn of events. After 32 years of running in the mountains things finally caught up with me in grand style. I hope you salvage something from the trip and whatever, please photograph your days out and write about them in the way that only you can. And maybe there will be another chance.......Morgan

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    1. I just hope you're healing. 32 years of mountain running isn't a bad track record, but hopefully you have many more to come. Maybe we can make the trip next year. :)

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