Sunday, October 23, 2016

First week of something

It's been one week since I committed to winter training and posting workouts on my blog, and I'm already regretting it. This week was a mixed bag of fantastic and cringeworthy outings, with a return to weight training thrown in. I'm still grappling with the uncertainty of whether I'm healthy enough to train for the Iditarod, and this week was not confidence-inspiring. I'm not throwing in the towel this soon, but I will continue to tread carefully.

Monday: Trail run, 1:19, 5.8 miles, 1,472 feet of climbing. I intended to go for a short ride on Monday, but the afternoon brought winds gusting 40 to 50 miles per hour. One gust was so strong that it nearly knocked me off my feet while I was wheeling the bike outside, so I went back inside and changed into running clothes. The wind stayed fierce, and for most of the run I had a buff pulled over my face amid a swirl of dust clouds. I was even hit in the cheek by a fairly large object, which I didn't see because I was squinting against a 50-mph blast of wind. But I felt great. One of the happier runs I've had in a while.

Tuesday: Trail run, 1:10, 5.4 miles, 895 feet climbing. Beat was working from home and joined my usual one-hour Tuesday run. For all of the amazingness I felt on Monday, my experience was the opposite on Tuesday. By mile four I felt tightness in my chest and throat, which tends to scare me into hyperventilating, and then I was dizzy and had to walk it in. Why? I don't know. There continues to be few patterns in my breathing reactions, and the unpredictability is almost more frustrating than the reaction itself. Long ride, short run, medium hike, windy day, beautiful day, spring, fall, 5,000 feet or 13,000 feet — none of that seems to matter.

Wednesday: Weight lifting at the gym, 0:40. I finally joined a gym after seven months away, in which I didn't miss gym workouts one bit. This first session was mostly about testing my limits. The results were unsurprising — I'm a lot weaker than I was in February. But they're also encouraging, because that means my efforts last winter worked. Wednesday is also the day I go into a clinic for allergy shots. This makes for a strange afternoon. Over the course of three hours I receive 15 injections, and each week the dose increases exponentially. For the second session I endured a 1:1,000 dose, and for the first few hours I felt great — perhaps a response to my suddenly amped up immune system? By the evening I experienced the crash that results in itchiness, congestion, and what I interpret as flu-like weakness for the next ~24 hours.

 Thursday: Mountain bike, 4:13, 40.3 miles, 4,002 feet climbing. I woke up with a headache and flu-like weakness, but still went out in the afternoon for a medium-length bike ride. It should have gone badly, right? It didn't! For inexplicable reasons, again, I felt good and had no issues throughout. I've been exploring different ways to ride from my house to town via trails or Nederland or both. This was more of a dirt and paved road ride, but it included my favorite descent yet, Sugarloaf Road. I love smooth paved descents, and this one screams toward the prairie at what feels like warp speed. It was actually pretty cold on this day — low 40s in Ned, with a dusting of snow in shady spots. I was wearing short-sleeves and shorts, so I froze on the descent. But I secretly (or maybe not so secretly) enjoy this in small doses. Awesome afternoon.

Friday: Weight lifting at the gym, 0:55. I got back into my normal routine of 12 exercises, 12 reps, 3 sets at embarrassingly low weights. I also started out by testing how many pushups I can do before collapsing ... (four), and this time finished with 20 minutes on a wobble board doing various exercises. Will this help improve my balance? I doubt it. I'm pretty pessimistic right now.

 Saturday: Trail run, 4:46, 20.8 miles, 2,301 feet climbing. Boulder is home to a seemingly endless array of group outdoor activities, and since I moved here I've managed to avoid them all. The main reason I've avoided group outings is fear that I'll have some issue and be humiliated in front of all these people. Well, on Saturday I put this fear aside and joined the Boulder Banditos for their group run from Lyons to north Boulder on a series of trails I've never explored. It started out great. We hit the trails in Heil Ranch, the group was relaxed and I was feeling strong. It was a warm day — 83 degrees — but after 90s in the Grand Canyon last weekend, the heat didn't feel too bad. Half of the group stopped at mile 11.5, and several more left at mile 17. The group leader informed the remaining three of us that there were two or three more miles to the cars. I felt as fresh as I did at the start, so I continued.

Thing is, there wasn't actually a trail for two of what turned out to be four more miles. Instead, we schwacked through knee-high grass. Obviously not a problem for most people. But I am confirmed to be highly allergic to grass pollen, which I suspect extends to grass itself. Blades of grass were whipping against my legs and cutting my skin. My usual congestion worsened. After about a mile I started coughing and felt an unnerving tightness in my throat. To alleviate this sensation, I drank sips of water until all of my water was gone, and quickly felt desperately thirsty. We moved up a hill to parallel a fence, stumbling on uneven terrain. My throat became tighter, my coughing worse, and I was desperate to get out of the grass. The fence increased my anxiety, because even though I could see Highway 36, there was no quick escape. All I could think about was this epi-pen I now own, but didn't bring because it's not $%*! allergy season. But my doctor did warn me about increased sensitivity during allergy shots, and now I was going to suffocate out here on this grassy slope less than a mile from a highway.

Maybe it was the allergies and maybe it was anxiety, but I felt my throat close up and I launched into tearful, high-pitched gasping. Wendy, the woman who invited me to the run, sat me down and coached me through using my inhaler, because I was in full panic mode and not functioning well. The inhaler worked and she insisted on walking in with me. I'm very grateful for her help and patience. My nightmare about group runs had reared its ugly head. But if I had been alone in the wilderness and something like this happened, it would have been worse.

Sunday: Rest. I admit, I was despondent on Saturday afternoon. My limbs were quaking, I felt nauseated after rehydrating, and then had to rush off to a party at our neighbors,' where I was already late. The party was fun, but it was tough to meet new neighbors and describe past adventures while quietly thinking, "But I'll never be able to do that again." I'm not trying to be melodramatic, but this is the way it feels at times. Still, I woke up feeling much better on Sunday, and took a rest day anyway because this seemed best.

Total: 13:03, 32 miles run, 40.3 miles ride, 8,670 feet climbing. 

These training logs are about recording what I did and how I felt, so that's what I'll continue to do. I'll continue to tread lightly, and avoid grassy slopes like the poison I think they are. Although it was a discouraging week, I continue to hold onto optimism that I'll find a way to continue doing the things I love. And I know these reports aren't exactly upbeat. Earlier this week, a reader commented on the seeming self-destruction of all of this. I wanted to post the reply here:

"'Overtraining' is a possible diagnosis, but far from certain. I've seen two different specialists about my symptoms, described in depth my activities over the past 10 years, and suggested my own theory that over-taxing my body during the 2015 Tour Divide brought all of this on. Both doctors seem reasonably certain that my symptoms are more likely related to asthma than the nebulous overtraining syndrome.

Adults do occasionally have incidents that ramp up their allergies. The decisions I made during the Tour Divide may have sparked this, but I can't take that back now. There are still a lot of unknowns, of course. But I lack most of the other symptoms of overtraining — adrenal fatigue, injury, appetite changes, insomnia. My EKG, blood work, etc. is all normal. I'm still fine in my day to day life. Even my exercise symptoms come and go. They usually crop up during shorter efforts. I'd pretty much have to quit altogether, or take up non-cardio exercise.

I complain about breathing a lot here, because this is my outdoors/activity/endurance blog. Whatever issue I have is less of an obstruction in my daily life than I may make it seem. I'm going through a difficult round of allergy shots right now specifically so I can potentially be more comfortable and happy when I'm outdoors. I probably wouldn't choose this treatment otherwise.

"Rest for a few months" is an oft-cited solution, just like going gluten-free, dairy-free, drinking green tea every night, etc. There's just no concrete evidence that any of this will actually help. If it's asthma, it won't. Perhaps you can understand why I'm (as of yet) unwilling to make major lifestyle changes on a vague possibility. I'm not ruling out that my outdoor hobbies are all of the problem and quitting is all of the solution. Just explaining why I'm going this route for now."


  1. Hi Jill. Love your writing and wanted to pass on some good vibes for the physical battle you're fighting now. Reading about your Saturday experience reminded me of some scary times I had, and I can empathize.
    I moved to the front range and after a few yrs had crazy symptoms too. I was mid 30 active climber/trail runner. Was really crazy and one of the harder times in my life. But after slowing things down and cutting back activity I was able to build back up to full speed. Took almost 2 years and we eventually moved to sea level. In retrospect I think would have been fine in the front range too, but my body just had to go through that time.

    It changed me for the better, taught me lessons I use in ultras or adventures or everyday life.

    Best regards,

    1. Thanks for commenting, AJ. I have been considering whether a few months or a year of cutting way back might be something my body needs. I still have doctors and others insisting that my symptoms don't match "overtraining" and allergy shots will work. I suppose I'm clinging to hope that a "reset" will never be necessary. But if my issues continue well into winter, I will have to dial back regardless.

      Having these issues worsen after moving to altitude is interesting to consider as well. I'm not sure if there's anything I can do about this short of moving back to a low-pollen-count, sea-level area like Southeast Alaska. For now, I'm willing to adjust however I need to Front Range living. I like it here.

  2. I'd keep doing what you love like you're doing. It seems to me like a very reasonable approach - taking medical steps to try to improve your breathing while also carefully returning to training for the ITI. My impression from reading your blog over the past years is that a lot of your breathing issues disappear when you go to Alaska. So, why not train for it and then see what you can do? Of course, keep in mind that these words are from a person who currently riding through the healing of fractured rib... I very rarely do a "reset" unless a doctor orders it.

    1. I'm hoping my breathing issues will be better here once there's snow on the ground. It will be interesting to see what winter brings.

      I knew going into the allergy treatment that it was going to be a tough five weeks. My doctor warned me about increased sensitivity and told me I should carry my epi-pen. It was dumb not to bring it on the my run. I didn't actually need it on Saturday, but it brings a certain level of comfort that could prevent the anxiety reaction.

      I love that you're still riding with a fractured rib,since there's not much you can do about it ... although I would be nervous about falling. Contrary to some impressions people have of me, I don't have high pain tolerance and will avoid pain whenever I can. There's a reason I complained so much about carpal tunnel syndrome while recognizing that I still had it pretty good compared to many people.

      Even my doctors have told me that my activity level is reasonable. I'm not the only one doubtful that a "reset" will help, but this remains on my list of things to try if my post-allergy-shot winter condition doesn't improve.

    2. Jill, i would also suggest that is not a negative but a positive first week. At most 1.5 compromised sessions out of 6 is hardly a bad starting average considering some of your previous posts of more like a 60:40 or 50:50 ratio. I'd also count Saturday's run more positive than negative. Yes you need to develop better response mechanisms to the events BUT you were one of very few (< 20%?) to cover the full distance and felt no issues going into that last segment. The grass impact was unplanned and a known issue. The only negative therefore is your rather unmanaged response. Physically I'd suggest the week was a good baseline and a positive start. Just my 2c without having to face the uncertainty first hand.

    3. My average isn't actually that bad. I tend to post about the negative events. I'd say that one in ten outings since May has resulted in true breathing difficulties. There are many (most) others where I've held back because of fear that hard breathing would trigger this.

      I have friends with asthma who have become good at not panicking. I'm not sure I'm capable of this. I've always wanted to get over my fear of water as well, but nothing I've tried has worked. But I will try, believe me. ;)

  3. Jill, two things on wobbleboard exercises I recently picked up from my physio which have changed my understanding of how I use them and what to expect. First, to improve balance look at your feet/ankles during the exercise - the brains faster visual recognition speeds its compensation / muscle adjustment to increase or prolong balance. Second, the exercises themselves are more about developing muscle adaption / strength to promote support and stability for the target joint (knee, ankle etc) than they are about developing balance. Obviously to be done barefoot, not with the support of shoes.

    1. I wear socks – public wobble board and all. I'll try your suggestions. I took some exercises from online that felt entirely too easy. I need to challenge myself more, but I still suspect by frequent tripping and falling has less to do with muscles and strength than perception and poor technique.

  4. Epi-pen should be only used in case of life threatening anaphylaxis. The symptoms you describe (and what I saw when we ride together last summer) would fall into "mild asthma " category. Side effects of epinephrine injection would probably not allow you to walk down the hill on trail. One turns into a trembling mess for hours, did you try it at home?

  5. Jan — No, I wouldn't have used it. I just meant that I was looking for a psychological crutch, to temper the anxiety. Anyway, I'm clearly still learning to cope.

  6. life need some adventure needs some fun, when you get a free time. relax doing what you like mostly not for money for only pleasure and fun.

  7. Saturday was such a clear cause and effect--fine before the grass, quickly bad during--that I'd consider that a positive for info and support for your allergy treatments likely helping.


  8. Hey Jill, just wanted to add my [written] voice here: the way that you write is perfect for what you're doing. It's an honest and emotional assessment about an important [and *emotional*] aspect of your life (not to mention the whole point of your blog!). When you're in your lows, it shows, and it's unfortunate, but when you're in your highs (admit it, there have been plenty of highs!) it's emotional on the opposite side of the spectrum. It's a very thorough blog that takes into account the emotions and self-critiques that all of us have in our personal lives, whether we're endurance athletes, hobbyist musicians, artists, etc. - where passion is, emotion is as well. Thank you for sharing this unaltered and honest blog with us, Jill. Keep charging through it!


Feedback is always appreciated!