Looks like it's the on-season

I'm back at the asthma clinic for weekly allergy shots, with three hours to kill ... always a good time to update the blog. Now that the Grand Canyon trip is over, I've committed to launching my winter training. Over the past few weeks, I've considered whether I should do this at all. Occasionally, I still struggle with relatively meager efforts. It's these times, when I stumble back home feeling beaten after a five-mile run, I think I should just withdraw from the ITI. Let it go. "Listen to my body" and become the couch potato I was clearly meant to be.

In the past, I remember having some level of high-end fitness that would allow me to run full-bore up a steep hill. Now the best I can do is a brisk walk before I become so winded that I begin hyperventilating, and everything goes downhill from there. But if I maintain a moderate pace, I rarely have issues — I can keep it up for ten hours, probably longer. I suppose I take comfort in this. My aim is to be strong and consistent, not fast. But I sure do miss that "fire." Where it went is still a mystery.

I cling to hope that one day I'll walk outside on a snowy afternoon, inhale a deep gulp of cold, sharp air, and feel it flow into the depths of my lungs. Then I will take off like a banshee, unhindered by any tightness in my chest or anxiety in my head. Someday, once again, I'll run so fast that my vision blurs and my quads burn and I can feel my pulse pumping in my feet. I'll run without fear of losing my breath, gasping and coughing and then feeling flattened for the rest of the day. Someday, even if only for few moments, I will sprint. I never thought I'd say this, but I miss that.

For now I'll continue to tread carefully, and work on becoming stronger. I don't need a lot of wind to lift heavy weights, go for long snowshoe slogs, or push a bike, so I'm going to work on that kind of stuff. I finally joined a small local gym today, after seven months without weight training. I only had a few minutes to try the machines, but I couldn't even do one rep of weights I was pumping at high volume back in February. Sad. I also can only do three or four full-body pushups before my right arm more or less fails. Sadder. Carpal tunnel syndrome definitely put me below even my usual base strength, but it's my intention to get that back.

I'm going to start tracking training weeks on my blog again, which in its own way helps keep me both motivated and honest. Breathing difficulties make outdoor play a lot less fun than it used to be. It's gotten to the point where I find myself making lame excuses to avoid working out. This is not what I want. So I'm fighting to get that back, too — that zeal. It goes along with fire and strength. All things I want. So I'll keep fighting.

It's true that the main thing I'm fighting for right now is the 2017 Iditarod adventure. Sometimes I wonder why I want to go back, yet again, to that cold, lonely, often brutal place. But then all of my memories rush in, with the squeak of wheels on cold snow, the soft chiming of subzero air, unbroken darkness, flares of Northern Lights, vast open space, and absolute solitude. I have to go back. Perhaps soon I'll feel differently, but for now, well — Mike Curiak said it best himself once, before he ultimately stopped returning to Alaska year after year. "If I wasn't here with a bike and a big bag of junk food at the end of February, the sun might not rise for me tomorrow. It's just that simple."

I suppose it can be that simple. Time to start training. 

Comments

  1. Question: Have you ever tried using your rescue inhaler before a hard run/ride? My allergist advised I do that before speed training to prevent an attack and it has helped enormously.

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    1. I do this as well. I'm not sure whether it helps or not. Taking a hit of the rescue inhaler once my breathing becomes shallow does help, but the effects seem short-lived. I'm still not entirely sure my issues are even asthma related, but once an attack happens, I can't slow down enough to get back to normal. I've tried stopping, sitting down, concentrating on exhaling slowly ... things like that work, but then I spend the rest of the outing feeling like I've ridden a hundred miles already. So I go out of my way to avoid over-exertion, which is ultimately unsatisfying. My abilities are just different than they have been in the past ... perhaps a "new normal" ... so I'm working on acceptance.

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  2. Looking forward to the workout logs, Jill - not that I judge! As someone who tracks (but doesn't have the courage to share) workouts, it's always interesting to see not just numbers but the thoughts invoked by someone reviewing their numbers/progress/goals/etc. Keep the stubborn motivation up! You'll get through this (sorry, I know you hear that too much, but really, you will)!

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    1. Thanks! I do enjoy tracking the numbers.

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  3. Let's see...just hiked rim to rim and back in 2 days.
    Stronger at endurance than 95-98% of people.
    Have you ever compared yourself against most people rather than the highly exclusive few that actually excel at ultraendurance?
    A (W)NBA basketball player is still freaking awesome, even if he/she doesn't make the all-star team...
    Ok , I've beaten this point to death.

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    1. You make a good point, but I'm not comparing myself to other people. I'm comparing myself to myself, or more accurately, I'm comparing the way I feel to the way I remember feeling. Angst about breathing really has very little to do with being slower, and much more to do with, "why do I feel so bad?" and "what's wrong with me?" Either I'll figure it out, or I'll adjust.

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    2. Anonymous8:07 PM

      But that was a couple of years ago. We are never the same person, from one day to the next. I have been reading here for years, but less so in the past couple years, as it is just frustrating to be honest. Your body is trying to give you messages, and you are not respecting it, listening to it. Listen and care, as I hope you would if you were responsible to heal another person.

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    3. "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.

      This is something I've been meaning to expand on further, thus the long comment reply. 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.

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  4. I just finished your book "Into the North Wind" last night and I thoroughly enjoyed it cover to cover. Can't wait to read the sequel. :)

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    1. Thanks! I appreciate it. :)

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  5. Completely agree with you Jill. Environmental hypersensitivity or autoimmunity or whatever else are all things we can adjust to and continue our lifestyles. Human body is an unbelievably adaptable mechanism. Sometimes it needs a little help...if paraplegics can mountain bike and compete in olympics, then we can run or ride with asthma and allergies.

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  6. Jenny7:11 AM

    I'm excited to read your training logs! I've read a few articles online that say endurance athletes are more likely to develop asthma, presumably because of all of the time spent outdoors, so it may come with the territory of your years of activity. Whether it is true or not, I agree that working with what you've got and not accepting a couch-potato existence is a healthier (or at least more exciting) response to a setback. One of the side effects of living in the Boulder area is that your new comparison for "normal" fitness is very strange indeed.

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  7. Well, I miss a lot of stuff. I miss running fast and playing Ultimate, but both those things were bad for me so I stopped. I miss riding horses but that was bad for my bank account so that's gone too. It's fun to reminisce but I've moved on to other things that are just as good in their own way. You can lose a lot of time trying to recapture youth/the past/what things used to be like, when they just aren't that way anymore and that's that. If, ten years from now, you're still writing about this exact same thing, what will you feel about that? Just food for thought. Life goes by so fast. Letting go of things that aren't working anymore just makes room for new things.

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    1. You make good points. What I'm ruminating on giving up is everything encompassing "being active outside during most of the warm-weather months." It's true that this may not work for me anymore, but the issue is still fairly new for me, and I've only begun to try to combat it. If allergy shots and asthma treatments don't work, then I agree it's stupid to keep doing the same things with the same results.

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    2. I think there are lots of options for being active outside. They are just different than the ones you've been doing (maybe). The truth is that a lot of stuff is fun. There's no one way to enjoy the world. I realize that the current trendiness is not towards anything but superepiceverythingmaxheartratefordays, but who really cares what the trends are? I've dialed it back a bit and I don't enjoy a 20 mile biking day any less than a 50 mile biking day. Remember, this all started with Thoreau and Muir and I'm betting that neither one of those guys were driven by trying to keep up with the athletic joneses.

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    3. All true. The issue with allergies is, it doesn't matter how long or how little time you spend outdoors. A reaction can happen anytime. So I could have a typically fun 50-mile ride followed by a terrible 20-mile ride. The uncertainty is always there, which is a lot of what takes the fun out of being outside.

      I have been getting a lot of advice to dial it back, and this advice could be correct. My point is, if my problem is allergies, that won't help. So I'm going with an effort to fight the allergies first, and if that doesn't work, I will readjust from there. But it may never be as simple as cutting back, or even cutting out outdoor activity altogether.

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    4. So, question - if you go outside and just hang out all day...like just sit in the yard, do you ever get the same symptoms?

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    5. Actually yes, in the spring. I used to work outside during the day, but it would lead to congestion and wheezing at night. I haven't sat outside to work on my computer since late July.

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    6. Interesting! So if you go ride on the bike trainer in the house for hours (awful, I know) or for hard effort, do you have breathing issues? Might be worth an experiment if you haven't tried that.

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    7. That's a good idea. I don't have a trainer but I do belong to a gym now. I am going to try to hit 185 bpm on the treadmill.

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  8. I wish I could add this to my comment, but it disappears! Anyway, I wanted to add that sometimes when you say "for inexplicable reasons" the reasons don't seem that inexplicable to me, but I feel that it's input you don't want - maybe that's just my impression :)

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    1. "For inexplicable reasons" just means I haven't found a pattern, other than being outside. I had an asthma attack once while sleeping in a tent, in mid-July. But yes, all other episodes were related to exercise.

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