Wednesday, January 27, 2016

ITI training, week 15

Monday: Trail run, 2:36, 13.5 miles, 2,155 feet climbing. I ran a variation of my "half marathon" loop at Rancho San Antonio — I had to change it up because recent mountain lion activity in Wildcat Canyon has resulted in trail closures (I'd love to catch sight of a lion at Rancho; there are so many deer there that it seems unlikely they'd be remotely interested in snacking on runners, although I could be wrong.) My muscles felt completely recovered from the Steep Ravine 50K, but I'm having issues with my "central governor" and any pace that threatens rough breathing. Walked a lot more of PG&E than usual.

Tuesday: Weight lifting at gym. Had a great session with my usual 12 exercises, 12 lifts, three sets. Finally back to "normal" with my highest weights. I still think the only thing lifting weights makes me better at is lifting weights. But at this point, four weeks out from the ITI, I just have to accept that what I have is what I get.

Wednesday: Road bike, 2:28, 31 miles, 3,224 feet climbing: Finally, a mostly dry day to ride my road bike! Oh, it was pure bliss. So fast, so smooth, so fun. I took on my go-to Highway 9 to Page Mill loop, but mixed it up with a climb up Redwood Gulch to challenge my balking central governor. Redwood Gulch gains 700 feet in one mile and has a section on the lower end with 20 percent grades. With my road bike gearing it's forced intensity — the slowest I can pedal still spikes my heart to ~180 beats per minute. At this intensity, my breathing becomes shallow and fast. It worries me — although it may be a recent bad habit I can fix with more focus.

Thursday: Mountain bike, 3:23, 32.7 miles, 4,139 feet climbing. Bohlman Road is like Redwood Gulch, times three. Beat basically won't ride it after some bad experiences while he was recovering from last year's Iditarod, and it's broken me a number of times, when I went out just that small percentage too hard. It's a good "breathing test" climb, although I admittedly soft-pedaled it about as much as it can be soft-pedaled. I managed to reel in the gasping, but still felt uneasy about my breathing and somewhat oxygen-deprived. The reward for climbing that mean road is descending El Serreno. For good measure I returned via Fremont Older.

Friday: Weight lifting at the gym. I only did two sets on this day because of "tapering." But I had some pre-race jitters that I took out on the seated row, and managed to pull a muscle in my left shoulder. It actually hurt a lot. I didn't tell Beat about this because he scolds me about my poor execution of weight training.

Saturday: Trail run, 5:54, 29.9 miles, 6,414 feet climbing. Crystal Springs 50K. This is my "PR" course, so I feel like I should be able to run it fast, and admittedly went out what was probably too hard for my current fitness (i.e. lack of top end/limited recoveries from long efforts.) I've gotten pretty good at managing these mid-range efforts on limited calories. Over six hours, I ate one package of Shot Bloks and two packs of fruit snacks, which is about 360 calories total, and only became hungry toward the end because it was lunch time. In my opinion this is a good adaptation for the Idiatrod, where bad weather can limit opportunities for food intake, and calorie sources can dwindle if sections take a lot longer than you're expecting. Breathing was mostly good, although the weather added its own challenge, with these bursts of drenching rain that set off a "drowning" reflex and prompted more gasping. Again I was able to reel it in and focus my breathing before it escalated to the attack level. I've now been on a maintenance inhaler for just over a week, and used an albuterol inhaler before harder workouts (i.e. Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday.) This may be helping. It's hard to say.

Sunday: Fat-ish bike, 2:07, 20.7 miles, 2,702 feet climbing. So Beat has decided he's definitely going to walk, not ride, to Nome during the Iditarod. This decision did not surprise me. I'll even admit that most of my snow rides since December 2014 have been slow, slow slogs that involved a lot of dragging around of this too-heavy anchor, and I've nearly lost sight of what I loved so much about this sport. (Yes! I'm admitting it.) But Beat being who he is, already acquired this amazing bike for the endeavor, and now that he no longer needs it, I am considering taking this to Alaska rather than Snoots or the YBB fat bike. Beat switched back to 29+ wheels because it's silly to ride studded tires in California. On Sunday I had a little bit of that tired-leg fatigue following Crystal Springs, but surprisingly wasn't that sore, so I took the Eriksen to the top of Black Mountain. It does ride great. Now I need to load it with a bunch of crap and push it up some steep hills, since I'm all but convinced that's how we're really going to spend most of our time together.

Total: 16:30, 84.4 miles ride, 43.4 miles run, 18,635 feet climbing

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Breathing easier

Beat at the semi-sunny start of the Crystal Springs 50K
On Wednesday I checked in with the asthma doctor who I first visited in October. We had a very long conversation (I was surprised she was willing to spend so much time with me. I'm used to medical professionals being in more of a rush) and she conducted a few tests. My resting lung function is now significantly better than it was in October, but the doctor said she could detect possible inflammation. She started me on a once-a-day cordicosteroid inhaler, along with advice to use my albuterol inhaler before every workout. She's of the opinion that I do experience exercise-induced asthma, and this condition was possibly first "activated" by engaging in intense activity while ill (this could be the case in both the 2015 Fat Pursuit and the Tour Divide), or a condition of my allergies that have worsened over the years. I have both genetic (my dad has adult-onset) and environmental (endurance/outdoor enthusiast with allergies) connections with asthma.

The doctor thinks stress and cold temperatures are a likely trigger, and urged me to engage in at least one more difficult cold-weather workout before I go to Alaska. I am supposed to check back in one month from now to see whether I've made any progress with the medication. Exercise-induced asthma can be a nebulous illness to diagnose and monitor, and I can't rule out other possibilities such as vocal cord dysfunction (which asthma medications do nothing for.) So ... there are still many question marks. But I feel optimistic. I'm glad to have found a doctor who's willing to listen and seems genuinely invested in finding a solution. She works with researchers at Stanford and has treated a number of elite athletes, but when I waved off my "little hobby" compared to the Olympians she's worked with, she responded, "it does matter!"

She seemed excited about the ITI, and told me there's no reason I can't participate if I feel my asthma is under control. I still see some glaring issues. First of all, I'm not sure how I can develop this confidence in one month. My breathing incidents are still limited and have only been triggered in more extreme cases that I probably won't be able to effectively test before Feb. 28. Also, it's difficult for anyone who hasn't been there (myself included) to really understand the isolation one is under on some sections of the Iditarod Trail. I'm thinking specifically of the 180-mile section between Takotna and the Yukon River that is truly a no-man's land, where Beat and others were effectively stranded for more than 10 days following a major snowstorm last year.

It is entirely possible to be all alone out there for 10 days (if the Iditarod Dog Sled Race moves to Fairbanks again. But even if it doesn't, mushers and volunteers are not in a position to provide assistance except in extreme emergencies.) If I start experiencing Tour Divide-level breathing difficulties, I will have nowhere to recover and may find myself in a state of becoming weaker until I need to curl up on the side of the trail for 10 or more minutes every hour, which is exactly how I hauled myself into Silverthorne during the Tour Divide.

It's one thing to risk this when it's 90 degrees outside and I can stick out my thumb if I truly feel desperate. It's quite another when it's potentially 40 below and I am a hundred miles from the nearest village. If I have any doubts about my fitness, I should *not* venture out there. I feel strongly about this. That won't necessarily stop me from trying if I've created assurances for myself, and that's something I also lie awake at night thinking about. The 350-mile effort to McGrath is, I think, doable. At least I'll probably know early in the race whether it's not. But I want — so much  — to go to Nome. I really need to draw that line, but it's hard.

So I am proceeding with my training with an admittedly disappointed eye on the 350-mile ride to McGrath ... still planning to ride, but keeping my running legs fit in case it's a huge push-fest, or in case the Iditarod Dog Sled Race does move north and I opt to bring a sled in order to hedge my bets on a big storm with nobody breaking trails behind it. On Wednesday and Thursday I did two tough bike rides, intentionally seeking out the steepest hills nearby. I did this because my "central governor" — that quiet, semi-subconscious switch in your brain that keeps you from pushing your body too hard — has been extremely conservative since the Fat Pursuit. I've been proudly clinging to this idea of self-restraint when it came to keeping my heart rate in zone 3, but during a Monday run, I realized I couldn't boost myself into zone 4 if I tried. I was too scared. Scared of losing my breath, and not getting it back.

 Zone 3 or lower is fine for multi-day endurance efforts — but now is the time to test my breathing capacity and potential asthma triggers. Situations during the Iditarod will certainly boost my heart rate to the top of the charts. It's unavoidable. Here, roads like Redwood Gulch and Bohlman Road with their 20-percent + grades will force me into the red zone — I can't pedal slow enough to stay out of it. Still, I didn't feel all that fantastic on these steep sections. My breathing was cautious and a little shallow, with my less-quiet central governor begging me to get off the bike and walk. I was perplexed. Here's a new mental limitation I need to address — is my lung capacity really that limited, or is it all in my head?

Today Beat and I ran the Crystal Springs 50K in Woodside. The sun peeked out for a very brief few minutes at the start, and it occurred to me I haven't seen all that much sun in 2016. El Nino is really cranking out some precipitation so far this year, and it's fantastic for the drought. But for Saturday, it meant another wet, slimy, slippery, and chilly run through the foggy mist. I wrote last week about basically floating on clouds through the Steep Ravine 50K, and that definitely did not happen this week. I worked for it, and I didn't feel great. All of my moving parts were fine, but I was low on energy and general oomph even after I gave myself permission to go at the hills a little harder. I guess there was a part of me that hoped I could run "fast" even though I have no reason to believe I could be fast right now (my once-a-week tempo run that I haven't really done since 2015 isn't going to cut it.)

We had several cloudbursts throughout the race, but around mile 20 the rain really started to come down. It was pouring, windy, and there were icy pellets falling from the sky. I was in a better mood at this point, as I'd given up my "run fast" dream and finally eaten a packet of fruit snacks (I'd been skipping snacks at the aid stations because the food was so soggy. I'm not kidding. The Oreos were practically floating in the standing water that collected in the paper bowl.) When I passed an acquaintance, Marissa, and asked how it was going, she replied, "oh, you know, just trying to get through this nightmare."

"What's the matter?" I said with genuine inquisitiveness. "It's only hailing!" (It was hailing.)

Marissa and another woman burst out laughing. "You can talk, you're used to the cold." After she said this, I realized that my fingers were actually quite numb, but it didn't really bother me before because it was 45 degrees and there was no real danger. But I did struggle to open the next packet of fruit snacks three miles later.

I tried for a little leg-pop to the finish, even risking a bit of slippery sliding in the slimy mud, but it wasn't enough to slide under six hours. I finished in 6:02. I was first in my age group, and actually the second woman to finish — just missed that mug! (Actually, I probably missed it by an insurmountable number of minutes, but the winner was still hanging around at the soggy finish area when I got there.)

Overall it went well, especially because I didn't place nearly the focus on my breathing that I did last week (I admittedly did not have the energy for this kind of fixed thinking. I was just tired.) Which is good to know, since I can't exactly meditate my way through a whole Iditarod. Optimism continues to regroup. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

ITI training, weeks 12 through 14

After the New Year I let my training journal fall by the wayside. Then I thought my training had been completely derailed, so why should I even bother? I decided to compile a catch-up post for the last three weeks because having the logs on record proved valuable in the past, and because I'm continuing to look for patterns that may shed more light on my breathing issues. 

Week 12: 


Dec. 28: Snow bike, 4:52, 32.3 miles, 3,295 feet climbing. Long ride around Old Murphy Dome outside of Fairbanks. This had a fair amount of climbing for a snow ride, and soft trails made for a tiring effort. Temperatures ranged from +8 to +25 degrees.

Dec. 29: Rest

Dec. 30: Snow bike, 5:41, 44.8 miles, 2,196 feet climbing. Easier pace than Monday, riding with friends on mushing trails and through the Goldstream Valley. One hard hike-a-bike early in the day. Temperatures were a balmy +15 to +32 degrees.

Dec. 31: Snow bike, 9:52, 39.5 miles, 2,599 feet climbing. The New Year's outing to Windy Gap cabin in the White Mountains while Beat pushed a bike with a broken bottom bracket. Rain and new snow made for soft trails. Even when I was pedaling, it was difficult to top 4mph. Beat walked nearly as fast. Didn't eat or drink enough, completely exhausted at the end of the long day.

Jan. 1 and 2: Snow bike, 8:27, 39 miles, 2,577 feet climbing. Back from Windy Gap via Borealis cabin overnight. I found it tough to recover from the New Year's Eve ride, and didn't have much oomph. Snow biking is hard. Loaded snow biking on typical backcountry trails is tougher for me than any other sport I've tried. It demands a lot of brute strength, which I admittedly lack in sufficient amounts. I was already wondering if I had a thousand miles of snow biking in me, even before any breathing issues resurfaced.

Jan. 3: Rest. Flew home to California

Total: 28:52, 155.8 miles ride, 10,667 feet climbing

Week 13: 


Jan. 4: Fat bike, 1:06, 10.2 miles, 1,069 feet climbing. Beat mounted studded Dillinger 5 tires on the Moots YBB fat bike, so I took it for an hour-long test ride on pavement. I felt sluggish and fatigued on this ride — probably indicative of how spent I was following 30 hours of snow biking in Fairbanks. Big, tiring weeks are necessary when training for a multiday race, but my lack of recovery wasn't a good omen so close to the Fat Pursuit. I thought three days off the bike following this one would help reset my engine. Either didn't work or didn't help.

Jan. 5: Weight lifting at gym. Three sets, same weights as 10 days earlier, which was the last time I lifted. So sore!

Jan. 6: Rest. Drove to Salt Lake City.

Jan. 7: Rest. Drove to Island Park.

Jan. 8 and 9: Snow bike, 16:56, 90.3 miles, 3,636 feet climbing. The Fat Pursuit 200-mile race, stopped at mile 80 with breathing difficulties. The difficulties started during the third hour of the race, which negated my previous theory that only extended fatigue will bring on problems.

Jan. 10: Rest

Total: 18:03, 100.6 miles ride, 4,705 feet climbing. I suppose it's fitting that week 13 would be the meltdown week.


Week 14:


Jan. 11: Snow hike: 1:51, 5.3 miles, 2,126 feet climbing. Climbed the Broads Fork trail with Dad. My chest and throat were raw, and I was fighting a pounding headache and general fatigue, but was otherwise okay. I thought this would be a good opportunity to to test my breathing capacity in difficult conditions. Temperature was about 20 degrees, elevations 6,100 to 8,300 feet. I kept my heart rate in zone 2-3, and didn't have any feelings of tightness in my chest for the duration of the hike.

Jan. 12: Snowshoe: 1:38, 4.2 miles, 1,705 feet climbing. We went up Mill B and I felt notably worse on this day. Temperature 10-20 degrees, elevation 6,100 to 7,800 feet. We kept it short and slow, but I could sense that I didn't have a better effort in me. These two hikes, even more than the failed race, reduced my trust in my "long game" for something as demanding as the ride to Nome. In previous multi-day efforts, I recovered better from hard days, but I believe this possible oxygen deficiency brings the physical setbacks to a whole new level. I also remember my deterioration during the Tour Divide, and believe these breathing difficulties can only bring decline — possibly managed, but not recovered. Even though I felt okay hiking in the cold at high elevation in Utah, my confidence was further fractured.

Jan. 13: Rest. Drove to California.

Jan. 14: Trail run, 0:58, 5.4 miles, 677 feet climbing. I didn't run quite as slowly as I feared — 10:35 pace — but that's nearly two minutes per mile slower than I was able to run this loop in December, and I was actually going as hard as I could because I wanted to test a "tempo" effort. Even trying to keep my breathing controlled, I became winded and felt like my heart rate was higher than normal. Since I was back at sea level and temperatures were in the 50s, I figured my fitness was shot.

Jan. 15: Weight lifting at gym. Three sets. Again a long time had passed since I last lifted, and I was able to return to my old weights but just barely. Admittedly, I've lost faith that weight lifting is making a modicum of difference toward my goals. I didn't necessarily feel stronger with a loaded fat bike in Fairbanks (when I'd been at it twice a week for 10 weeks), and I've certainly been sucking on multiple levels ever since. But ... I'll stick with it. Hopefully more regularly for the next few weeks.

Jan. 16: Trail run, 6:51, 31.5 miles, 6,776 feet climbing. Steep Ravine 50K, described in previous blog post. I'm still not sure how to make sense of this experience. I'm completely baffled.

Jan. 17: Weight lifting at gym. Shoulders were sore from Friday's workout and aggressive trekking pole use at Steep Ravine, but it went relatively well. Back to regular lifting.

Total: 11:20, 46.5 miles run, 11,284 feet climbing. I sort of feel back on track now. We shall see!


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Busting out?

I spent a week Googling and brooding on breathing issues, only to become more and more perplexed. Not only do I feel more stupid and crazy, but aimless Internet research also strengthened that tinge of anxiety that my problem is terminal or something that requires a grain/dairy/fruit/sugar/cat/exercise/winter/outdoor-free existence that might feel terminal. I did reach a reluctant conclusion on three things: 1. Regardless of the cause, breathing difficulties are something I will probably experience again. 2. It will likely take some time to figure out which treatments/lifestyle changes (if any) will remedy the problem. 3. In the meantime, I need to figure out if and how I can cope.

My breathing felt limited during my hikes in Utah, and fully strained while running in California on Thursday. I thought about taking two weeks off from any cardio exercise. Taking a long break at this time would probably be my last gasp, so to speak, for any hope of participating in even a short-distance Iditarod this year, but I was starting to feel desperate. Meanwhile, I had signed up for this 50-kilometer trail run that started in Stinson Beach on Saturday. There was much quiet yo-yoing about the thing before my thought pattern ended on an upswing: Why don't I just go out there and see what happens? If it goes south and I'm still gasping, that will be the answer I need. That will mean I don't have the lung capacity for a long effort, at least anytime soon.

The Steep Ravine 50K started at 50 degrees under light drizzle, with a forecast that called for steady rain picking up throughout the day. The Marin Headlands received a healthy dose of precipitation in the preceding weeks, so the hills were vibrantly green and the trails were saturated with mud. The fog ceiling hovered only about 200 feet above the sea, and visibility above that altitude was reduced to a few feet at times — not the most appealing scenery for a course that boasts nearly 7,000 feet of climbing. Despite the foreboding weather, the race director announced that nearly 50 people had checked in for the 50K — not a bad turnout. I quite like running in cool, moody weather, but my heart was filled with dread. The parameters I'd set for Steep Ravine had harsh implications — if I failed, I not only had to withdraw from Iditarod, but also risk falling deeper into the rabbit hole of questioning and uncertainty.

My strategy for the run was to focus entirely on controlling my breathing: take deep, steady breaths, keep my heart rate in Zone 3 or lower, and slow down — or stop if necessary — the second I felt that "sharp edge" pressure in my chest that seems to precede an attack. I also brought my trekking poles because I realized that the steep, rooty, muddy trails would put me on my face more than once if I focused too heavily on my internal affairs, unless I had crutches to prop myself up. I've run three or four local 50Ks with trekking poles, and yes, I'm always the only one, and yes, the people I'm around usually express envy later in the race. Running crutches are awesome. I'm still waiting for them to catch on in the U.S.

So it went from the start — breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, which such focus that I almost forgot I was running. My Zone 3 — which is what I consider 145-160 beats per minute — doesn't afford a satisfyingly speedy pace, but it does make for a relaxing, meditative experience. Breathe in, breathe out, up Steep Ravine, over Cardiac Hill, down the endless switchbacks, slip-slide on the horse trail along Redwood Creek, up the Dipsea roots, down the Dipsea stairs. Repeat.

Rain continued to come down, and the trails deteriorated into channels for flowing runoff. It was slippery, often steep, and reasonably technical — conditions that would normally stress me out during a trail race. On this day, however, mindful breathing put me in a dreamy, Zen-like state, and I felt no fear. On the second ascent to Cardiac Hill, around mile 11, I splashed into a puddle and felt a sudden surge through my chest, as though my lungs had burst open. It's difficult to describe the sensation, but it was startlingly invigorating — almost alarming. At first I confused the sensation for the beginnings of an asthma attack, but as I slowed to a stop, I could feel all this warm, humid air moving in and out of my lungs. It genuinely felt like a higher volume of air — or perhaps a more oxygen-saturated version of the atmosphere. I commenced jogging and felt great. I could have sprinted up that hill, but I wouldn't let that happen. This little runner's high wasn't going to derail my commitment to Zone 3 and steady breathing. At this point, I was steadily floating.

Breathe in, breathe out, along the socked-in return to Stinson Beach, then once more along the raging creek in Steep Ravine. After I successfully descended the infuriatingly endless hairpin switchbacks and the shoe-sucking horse trail a second time, it occurred to me that I was something like 24 miles into this run, and felt no negative effects. Not only was I breathing normally, but I didn't have any foot or muscle pain, no tightness in my IT band or ache in my quads, not even chafing. I hadn't even tumbled or slipped onto my butt, not even once! I was actually having pretty much the perfect race.

On my last visit to Cardiac Hill, I stopped to eat a few handfuls of soggy Shot Bloks and savored the experience. I posted this photo from my friend Chuck so you can see the beauty of Cardiac Hill in this weather — it's exposed, windy, and very wet. This guy actually volunteered to hang out here for 8+ hours doling out much-appreciated but waterlogged snacks and drinks in disintegrating paper cups. This is why volunteers are lauded as the true heroes of any trail race. I stood here nibbling on Shot Bloks as though they were fine pieces of cheese, and marveled at how great I felt. "It's all this moisture and oxygen in the air," I thought. "It's like crack."

As I floated down the Dipsea Trail, I passed two women who pulled over to let me pass. "We can't keep up with you and those poles," one commented. "You're fast with those things."

"Thank you," I beamed, even though I wasn't sure they meant it as a complement. (I think trekking poles are to the ultrarunning scene today what Hokas were five years ago: For the frail and Europeans only.) But I felt unstoppable, clickity-clacking down the slimy wooden stairs, down the gray-washed trail to Stinson Beach where there's normally a spectacular ocean view, and across the finish line. After hanging out with friends, eating chili from a tiny paper cup, and gradually becoming wracked with shivering, I noticed a chart indicating I was the first woman to finish the race. Clearly this was a result of attrition, as a few women probably dropped down to the 25K after the first loop, and there weren't many to begin with (I was first out of eight to finish the 50K.) Still ... winning a coffee mug is a nice cherry on top of a perfect race.

I'm really not sure how to make sense of this experience, since this is probably the easiest finish I've ever had in a 50K, just one week after the exhausting aftermath of a failed snow bike race. I can't gauge my health on this, because conditions were dramatically different — sea level, warm, humid — compared to the cold, dry, and high-altitude air I struggled with last week. I'm seeing my doctor on Wednesday, and I now have another confusing variable to add to the equation. But I think there's something to be said about mindful breathing, as well as the power of positive thinking when there's an entire passion at stake. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Rusted wheel

Photo from Jamye Chrisman Photography
This is a photo of me and my friend Bill Martin at the start of the Fat Pursuit last weekend. We had a great time fretting during the pre-race hours and then riding together for all of five minutes before Bill and everyone else faded ahead of me, into the sunset. Seeing Bill was one of my favorite parts of the weekend. We first met shortly after I moved to Missoula in 2010, and bonded over our mutually oddball adventurelust. How many people will agree to leave from work on a cold October evening, ride bikes up a mountain until they hit snowline, keep on riding, get really chilled because it's October and 18 degrees outside, start pushing when the snow becomes too deep, reach the top, share lukewarm soup, and descend over fresh mountain lion tracks to return to town at midnight, on a work night? Bill was nearly always up for such nonsense, and at the time I didn't even realize how lucky I was to find such a kindred spirit in close proximity. He contributed to making 2010 one of the most memorable years of my life (meeting Beat also had a large influence on tipping the scales to "best year.")

Although I moved away five years ago, Bill and I still manage to reconnect about once a year at endurance races. It reminds me what I value most about this hobby of mine — the community.

This week I have been questioning my future in this realm. Endurance racing has been a struggle, and for the most part a failure, for the better part of a year now. Starting with my "altitude sickness" in the 2015 Fat Pursuit (same symptoms I had this past weekend, though slightly less obstructive), the "kennel cough" of my Alaska coast tour (It was a lung crud. I was coughing up gunk left and right), the Tour Divide pneumonia, more breathing attacks during UTMB, and finally the 2016 Fat Pursuit. It's an ongoing problem. But it's not exactly a typical medical problem. I'm faced with having to go to a doctor and say, "I'm having a lot of trouble with my breathing, but only when I engage in strenuous efforts for 12 hours or more."

"Um ... so don't do that."

Next week I'm returning to see the allergist I visited in October. She's a highly recommended asthma doctor, but when I went to see her a few months ago, I was starting to come around from the Tour Divide crud and believed I was on the mend from illness. She listened to my assessment about having pneumonia during my summer "bike trip," being wheezy and weak from July through September, and feeling much better in October — which would be consistent for recovery from pneumonia. Then she tested me for allergens and determined I was highly allergic to grass pollen and cats. Since those allergens were absent from my life at the time, she recommended I return in April to start immunotherapy.

Clearly there's more to it than a one-time illness. Ahead of my visit next week, I wrote out the long saga of every breathing attack I can remember over the past year, the contexts, and my reason why I'd like to seek aggressive treatment as soon as possible. I'm only hoping this allergist takes me seriously, or can refer me to a pulmonologist who'd be willing to conduct more tests. Even if the tests reveal something, it's doubtful there's a quick cure-all. Asthma medications could be helpful, or not. My symptoms have many of the markers of exercise-induced asthma, but because they've only happened in extreme situations, a doctor might not be convinced there's anything wrong with me. To be honest, I'm still a slight skeptic that there's anything actually wrong with me. I'm a believer in placebos and I also believe in the power of psychosomatic symptoms. Maybe my primitive mind/subconscious finally found a way to stop me from engaging my oddball adventurelust — by making me feel like I'm trapped in my worst fear. My worst fear is drowning. I fear this so much that I would give up endurance activities permanently, without regret, if I believed breathing difficulties were an inevitable part of the landscape. Regardless of the physical dangers — and yes, of course those matter — the experience of this state is the biggest de-motivator of all.

I was wrecked after 92 miles and 18+ hours in the Fat Pursuit. Not in a tired, hungry, sore legs kind of way, but in a sleepy, raw throat and chest, pounding headache kind of way. Despite many doses of ibuprofen, caffeine, water, electrolytes, tea, etc., I could not shake that headache. It persisted through Tuesday night. Yes, this can be a symptom of spending time at moderately high altitudes. You know what else can cause a three-day headache? Being low on oxygen for 18+ hours because your airways are constricted.

I stayed with my parents in Salt Lake City through Wednesday morning, and then returned to California. On Monday and Tuesday I was able to get out for a couple of short hikes with my dad. Besides a desire to get out in the mountains, I also wanted to test my breathing in high-altitude, cold air. It wasn't too bad. At a moderate pace I did not become winded, although my top end has been lopped off entirely. Moderate paces are really the best I can do right now — I can sense there isn't enough oxygen to push any harder. This is what I experienced for weeks after the Tour Divide as well. As long as I kept my breathing and heart rate under control, I was fine. Any surges into Zone 4 quickly pushed me over the edge, into the gasping zone, and it tended to deteriorate from there. I feel that hard edge in my breathing again now.

This was reinforced today when I went out for a run at home in California, elevation 300, temperature 57 degrees. I tried my routine, hilly loop that I've been running each week at sub-9-minute pace. Today I felt winded at 11-minute pace. Just the way it is. This is how I unravel my fitness, one endurance race at a time.

But at least I went to some very nice places while hiking with my Dad:

 Returning to Big Cottonwood Canyon on the Broads Fork trail.

 Mill B North trail, early on a chilly Tuesday morning. Due to my work schedule, we had to leave at 7:30 a.m., when temperatures were still in the single digits.

 Dad still rallied even though cold temperatures are not his favorite. I believe his words on Sunday were "I hate the cold." He's probably plotting his snowbird move to the desert right now. He turned 63 on Wednesday!

Dad does love snow-hiking, though, because he can bound effortlessly down trails that are rooty and rocky during the summer, and not pound his joints. After hiking a mile in tracks on Mill B, we broke trail for about a half mile before we found newly broken trail — by a moose. The moose trampled all the way up the switchbacks, resulting in a postholed, ankle- and hip-twisting mess that we gave up on after another half mile. "Moose make the worst trails," I whined. Dad found it amusing.

I remain hopeful there's a better solution to my breathing problems than "Um ... so don't do that," and that I'll know more next week. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Still gasping

On Friday night, Beat and I started the Fat Pursuit 200-mile snow bike race in Island Park, Idaho. Our intent for this race was to test ourselves and our Nome gear in a more demanding environment than our typical training rides. I'll probably write more as I process my experience, but I ended up pulling the plug at checkpoint one (mile 80) because I'd had difficulty breathing for ten hours, there was no joy or benefit in the hypoxic struggle, and I'd already failed my personal test. For whatever the reasons or causes, I still experience respiratory distress during higher levels of exertion. In an endurance race setting, it's distressing and frustrating. In the Alaska backcountry, it could be extremely dangerous. This is something I need to address immediately, rather than grasp onto the fraying threads of optimism that "this is something I can control" or "this will get better" just to keep my Alaska dream alive.

I DNF'd another race, and I am disappointed about that, but that disappointment is far outshadowed by the idea of giving up the Iditarod. This is the dream I've been fighting for since the first signs of breathing difficulties developed during the 200K version of the Fat Pursuit in January 2015. But I'm not performing remotely well at this level, and the Tour Divide showed me that these issues just go from bad to worse over days and weeks. Also, when I'm experiencing breathing difficulties, every molecule of joy is sucked out of the endeavor. Beyond my personal safety and concerns about my health in the future, I won't abide the gray, disoriented, distressed and joyless state of oxygen deprivation just to prove I'm tougher than myself.

So, what happened? The shorter version — the race started at sunset and I immediately fell off the back of the field of 25 or so. Okay, that's fine, but I was already stressed about what I viewed as a tight cutoff, and realizing that I was starting out so slowly caused some anxiety. As darkness fell the course entered a series of rolling ski trails, and I surged to keep my momentum up short but steep hills. This necessitated hard breathing that soon triggered a feeling of pressure in my chest, and I remained completely winded for the next ten hours. If I pushed too hard, I could hear a chirpy wheezing in my throat after I stopped to catch my breath. I tried using my albuterol inhaler, but it was not spraying adequately in the 15-degree cold, and holding it in my hands for a few minutes didn't warm it up enough to work. Hiking up steeper inclines (and soon all inclines), I needed to stop and rest frequently. Before I reached the checkpoint, I was stopping every five minutes or so even on flat terrain. Trail conditions were relatively slow, with fresh grooming (which churns up the hardpack) and an inch of fresh snow, but I struggled to maintain 4 mph and I saw that as the minimum pace for making the final cutoff — if I could hold it together for another 34 hours. This seemed unlikely, needlessly punishing, and potentially reckless. Beat waited for me at the 80-mile tent checkpoint for nearly two hours, and convinced my still-foggy mind of the futility of pushing this limit. He was concerned enough about it to stop his race and ride the 12 miles back to Island Park with me. He did warm up my inhaler to a point where I could take a puff and feel much better, but the effect was short-lived when I started riding again.

The Fat Pursuit feels like my "Come to Jesus" moment. My problem is probably not just allergies, high-altitude, anxiety, over-exertion, pneumonia, cold weather, or any single-cause incident. It's a complicated pattern. Endurance racing is the constant. Exercise-induced asthma would be one possible explanation. But my pattern doesn't fit the classic profile of asthma or even exercise-induced asthma, since I've only experienced breathing difficulties and congestion in the more extreme situations I put myself in, and during the recovery/aftermath.

I spent some time reading reviews of relevant scientific studies. I'm not trying to diagnose myself via Dr. Google, assume I understand all the factors of these studies, or even assume they relate to me (most of those studied were professional athletes, not amateurs.) But the articles did provide some interesting observations. From what I can gather, in a nutshell: People who spend large amounts of time breathing heavily outdoors — especially when exposed to allergens, pollutants, high altitudes, or cold — appear to have a higher incidence of respiratory disorders than the general population. Among the findings:

"Chronic physical training might arouse a faulty adaptation of the main lung components, at the alveolar–capillary interface or at the airway level, particularly when exertion is carried on in particular environmental locations, as in cold or in hypoxic conditions at even moderately high altitude. The result is that the negative influences of these respiratory system limitations will be greatly intensified during exercise performance, especially in highly fit individuals."

 "With all of the preceding discussion relating to exercise triggering, can exercise really cause asthma? The answer turns out to be yes: there does appear to be an asthma variant caused by extremes of exercise and cold air exposure. In this syndrome, elite athletes, especially those who train in cold climates, may experience non-atopic airway inflammation and subsequent airway hyperactivity. The best understanding of this process has come from studies on Alaskan sled dogs competing in the Iditarod race. Compared with nontrekking dogs, race participants demonstrated a dehydration injury of their airways leading to an inflammatory process associated with airway hyperactivity."

 "The available literature indicates that participation in high-intensity exercise in certain environmental situations is implicated in the development of airway pathophysiology. Thus, whilst the benefit of regular physical activity for health and well-being is widely recognized, there is legitimate concern that the intensity of hyperpnoea necessitated by elite-level exercise may be detrimental for respiratory health."

"Possible mechanisms involved in the development of asthma in athletes are still uncertain; however, the content and physical characteristics of the inhaled air seem to be important factors, while immune and neurohumoral influences could play a modulatory role."

I intend to see a pulmonary specialist as soon as possible, in hopes there may be some physical evidence that I can address and treat. But I recognize I might not find readily available answers, and that I may need to take a prolonged period away from endurance activities to improve, and that it may never get better.

A number of people have reached out to share their own experiences with respiratory distress. Some manage their exercise-induced asthma with medications, some had to readjust their training or move to a different location. One woman who had breathing difficulties and multiple bouts of pneumonia for years finally got a CT scan, which revealed a cyst that, once removed, cleared up all her issues. So ... there's hope, too. But this is where I'm at right now. Uncertain, disappointed, but grateful I still have good overall health that I intend to maintain. 

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Pushing through another year

There we were, pedaling along a snow-covered ridge to spend New Year's Eve the traditional way — in a primitive one-room cabin 40 miles from the nearest road — when I noticed Beat was really mashing his pedals.

"Oi, this is tough," he announced. 

"Yeah, the trail is super soft," I agreed. A stiff wind whisked across the spine of Wickersham Dome, where the temperature was 37 degrees above zero. The warm weather was a result of a fierce Chinook storm that was raging across southern Alaska, pushing high temperatures so far north that the Geographic North Pole registered a temperature above freezing for only the second time during winter in recorded history. These aren't welcome conditions for snow bikers, who depend on below-freezing temperatures to harden compacted snow into a rideable surface. Thaws break up the surface layer, which traffic whips up into thick grains of loose snow, resulting in rides that feel very much like slogging through the soft part of a sandy beach. My GPS registered speeds in the 4 mph range, when I was pedaling about as hard as I could. 

Beat, however, wasn't struggling with the soft trail as much as the bike itself. The cranks turned more slowly until they seized up altogether. The bottom bracket was shot.

Unless you just happen to be carrying a spare bottom bracket and a crank removal tool, there isn't much you can do about this type of mechanical. You have a bike that still rolls but can't do anything else. We were five miles from the trailhead, so defeatedly, we turned around and started hiking back to the car. I was deeply disappointed — Alaska's White Mountains are one of my favorite places of all, and I knew I wouldn't be returning in 2016 — but took consolation in the fact we had another, closer cabin reserved on Jan. 1, and we could still hike out with our sleds the following day.

After about ten minutes, Beat turned around again. "You know, a mechanical like this can easily happen in the ITI. There are almost certainly going to be multiple sections where we have to push bikes for 40 or more miles at a time. Let's go out anyway."

"And push our bikes the whole way?" I shook my head. Sure, pushing a bike is good training, and in good to marginal conditions, isn't more difficult than pulling a sled (poor conditions are another story altogether.) Still, pushing a bike is, for whatever reasons, a much more mentally taxing endeavor. You always want to ride the bike. Even if you can only ride a hundred feet at a time, you'll get off and get back on and get off, again and again, just to avoid pushing. Beat's bike could coast, but in these soft conditions, it only rolled on the steepest descents. We were faced with taking these bikes for a 35-mile walk today, then 40 miles back over the next two days.

"You can still ride some, and wait for me, or turn around," Beat suggested. "We'll switch."

I shrugged, suddenly excited about the prospect of still being able to spend the rest of our holiday in the Whites. "Sure," I said. "If we're lucky, maybe we'll even get there before next year."

We agreed on the tactic that I would ride for one mile, stop and wait for Beat, and then we'd switch bikes for another mile. Initially my plan was to ride back toward him to avoid getting chilled. But as we descended into the Wickersham Creek drainage, trail conditions did not improve and I did not succeed in increasing my 4mph average. With a determined effort, Beat can walk 3.5mph in these conditions, even pushing a loaded bike. The comparison started to feel a little disheartening. I would pedal as hard as I could, until my quads were throbbing and I was venting swirls of steam off my back. One mile would buzz on my watch, and I'd stop to grab a quick sip of water and a snack before I turned around, only to look back and see Beat right there. He was never more than three or four minutes behind me. Meanwhile, I'd be so fatigued from my pedaling efforts that it was usually a relief to take my turn pushing. I thought Beat would feel the same about riding, since he was walking so quickly. But he often only went about a half mile as I fell further behind, then relinquished his pedaling shifts early or altogether.

It was all hard work. Twilight came and the hours wore on. Beat ran out of water. I still had a liter and a half, so I shared mine. We had all the supplies to camp and melt snow, but it was still fairly early in the day, and we had no good reason not to keep moving. Almost imperceptibly, the cloud ceiling dropped and a light drizzle began to fall. Winds intensified and the drizzle picked up intensity, morphing into a driving rain.

"Ugh, it's raining," I moaned. I spent several years in Southeast Alaska and still shudder at memories of rides in 35-degree rain, of which there were many. I don't have many experiences in 30 or 40 below, but I still consider near-freezing hard precipitation to be the worst weather, especially when combined with wind.

Gale-force winds drove hard at our backs while the precipitation deteriorated into sleet, and then thick, flaky snain. The tailwind boosted Beat's walking speed but didn't really help my pedaling pace, as I was now plowing through veritable Juneau powder (slush). We were both soaked and exhausted by the time temperatures finally fell below 32 degrees, and headlamps illuminated a blinding wall of snow. At times the blizzard was so intense that I had to close my eyes for several seconds at a time amid the crosswinds, because I had neglected to bring goggles (lesson learned. Never forget goggles, even when it's "warm.") My riding pace dropped to the same speed as Beat's tired walking pace, and his headlamp was nearly always in view. It was nice to travel this way together until five miles from the cabin, when enough new snow had accumulated that I wasn't able to ride at all. Unfortunately I'm even slower on foot.

We guessed we were only five miles from the cabin, but in the state of fatigue we'd worked ourselves into, it felt like an impossibly far distance. We were both out of water, but the wind and heavy snow made stopping to melt snow a formidable task that we wanted to put off as long as possible. My fuzzy fleece jacket looked like a wet dog, and I became chilled whenever I paused for more than a few seconds. On we slogged for another hour and a half — less than four miles — when we reached open water on Fossil Creek. Since we couldn't discern the depth from the shore, we took the time to pull on our lightweight waders. I'm glad we did, as cold water surged around my knees while I wrestled my bike through broken sheets of ice and slush. I greedily eyed the creek water but decided to refrain from risking giardia. After all, the cabin couldn't be more than a mile away at this point.

It was two more miles. The final mile of trail had filled in to a point where it was difficult to locate on top of the frozen creek, and I was stressed that we'd miss the turn-off to the cabin and keep slogging up the divide. But at 9:20 p.m. it finally appeared, twelve hours after we left the Wickersham Dome. There was no kindling or wood inside the cabin, so Beat commenced chopping logs that some generous cabin uses left on the porch while I gathered snow and melted liter after liter of water, drinking the spruce-flavored liquid almost as fast as it melted (I was so thirsty. I didn't even realize the depth of my thirst.)

Cabin chores always add up, and by the time we'd warmed the cabin, chopped more wood, spread out our soaked gear, cooked a freeze-dried dinner and apple crumble, and guzzled hot chocolates, we missed New Year's altogether. Beat noticed the time at 12:16 a.m. "Happy New Year!" I said hoarsely, and we shared a kiss.

Sometime overnight, the weather cleared. The storm had dropped about five inches of wet, heavy snow, and I was grateful it hadn't turned to a foot or more. I slept on the upper bunk of the cabin, where heat from the wood stove woke me up in a feverish frenzy sometime around 3 a.m. Even sleeping on top of my bag, I was drenched in sweat and alarmed, ripping off my shirt and rushing outside to the newly frosty air. The temperature had dropped to 10 degrees. I stood outside in my underwear and booties, watching faint auroras ripple across the star-filled sky. The half moon illuminated limestone cliffs in shades of indigo and silver. It was stunningly beautiful, and I stood mesmerized for a full 15 minutes as my nearly naked body slowly cooled down to the point of discomfort.

On New Year's Day we got a reasonably early start, anticipating that we'd both need to hike most of the 18 miles to Borealis cabin. While packing up, we discovered the bikes were encased in ice — we were both so shattered the previous evening that we neglected to wipe them off after dragging them through open water in Fossil Creek and several inches of wet snow, which froze into a blocks of solid ice. Luckily we had a way to thaw the bikes, or they may have needed carrying (the brakes and rims were so ice-caked that the wheels wouldn't roll.) Another important lesson, re-learned.

Sometime before dawn, two dog teams came through on this remote section of trail, laying a smooth track that the colder weather hardened to a nicely rideable trail. Temperatures had dropped to -5 on the creek. The knee-deep water we crossed the previous night had frozen enough to hold our weight. We put the waders on just in case, but didn't break through.

It was still hard work, but the riding was a lot more fun on this day. I wasn't overheated and I wasn't wet — I decided that perhaps 0 degrees is the perfect temperature for winter cycling. Beat still did about 90 percent of the pushing. I dare say he enjoyed it. He spoke often about walking to Nome instead of biking, and I can't say I'm surprised nor do I blame him. I still don't know what he'll decide, but I will say that as much as I enjoyed riding on Friday, I also fantasized about a long journey where I wasn't stressed out all the time about subtle changes in trail conditions or mechanicals or finding the perfect line. I still don't think I can walk the thousand miles. Certainly not at Beat's pace. But it makes for a peaceful daydream.

Still, bikes are pretty wonderful. When they work.

Three friends were planning to meet us that evening at Borealis. Through our cryptic texts, they were able to discern our need for a bottom bracket, and Eric (who owns this bike) acquired the part and tools and carried them all the way to the cabin on his kick sled. (A kick sled is similar to a small wooden dog-mushing sled that a person stands behind and rides like a scooter, kicking for momentum. It weighs a fair amount more than a pulk and needs to be pulled uphill, but it can coast downhill. I see it as a somewhat humorous mix of hiking, skiing, and mushing. Eric is planning to ride it in the White Mountains 100.) Anyway, Eric saved the day. Beat was able to fix the bike, although I think he was disappointed that he couldn't claim the feat of pushing the whole way. Friends Joel and Kevin also joined for a great night of laughs and race strategy discussions.

The following morning, I was jazzed for consecutive riding on firm trails at 0 degrees, but the temperature shot back up to 32. Boo. As we climbed out of Beaver Creek, Beat got so overheated he had to strip down to shirtless for a little while.

It was a great morning for riding, even if I was faintly exhausted from the start. Man, this trip took a lot out of me. I think neglecting calories and hydration on the first day did us both in. My feverish heat-panic on Thursday night was one indicator of how depleted I became during that 12-hour push. Such efforts are more than doable with good self-care, but once a hole has formed, it's difficult to climb out.

Eric took this photo of me riding out. I wanted to ride in a base layer, but there was still a stiff breeze, so Beat's ultra-thin Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite jacket served a nice purpose. Even when there's no precip, it's hard to dress for cycling in temperatures near freezing. You can't go with much in the way of exposed skin, but it's easy to overheat your legs and torso. Personally I think I prefer 10 degrees for pedaling. Or a nice California 55.

Mid-day light on the Whites. I sure do love this time of year at Latitude 65.

We'd fly south early the following morning, but I was thrilled to squeeze in as many adventures as we did during our holiday in Fairbanks. Despite a decent week-plus of training, I feel even less confidence for the Iditarod than I did before. The gear testing went very well, but I sure do feel like a weakling after ten days of struggles in the snow, not to mention the fact that I was fully worked by an 80-mile, three-day trip. My confidence in my physical readiness is nearing new lows, and I don't even want to think about what might go down at the Fat Pursuit this coming weekend. Still, I need to remind myself Alaska does this to me every year. It's an incredible place, but it's a hard place. It's all too easy to become complacent, and forget. 

Sunday, January 03, 2016

2015 in numbers

On Dec. 27, while uploading yet another track to Strava, I glanced at the sidebar, which noted that I'd ridden 4,899 miles in 2015. "Only 101 more to 5,000!" I thought. And I had four days to do it! Four days where I had one full day of work (rest day), the first day of a three-day trip to the White Mountains, and two other days in Fairbanks, where all miles require a significantly higher investment of both time and energy than they do at home. But the number seemed doable. It's fun to have goals — I sometimes guiltily refer to them as excuses. Now I have to go outside and ride bikes! Oh, darn.

I announced this goal to Beat and Corrine, who is recovering from knee surgery and graciously leant me her 9:Zero:7 Whiteout while casually mentioning that between holiday visits this year and last, I've probably put more miles on her fat bike than she has (more guilt. Please come visit us after we move to Boulder, and we'll abuse my bikes on Colorado singletrack.) Once the goal was public, I had to go for it.


On Dec. 28, I set out to follow a friend's GPS track as it meandered through a maze of neighborhood connector trails, mushing routes, and power lines. A massive Chinook (wind storm) was already moving across Alaska, nudging Interior temperatures to a pleasant 10 degrees in the valleys and slightly uncomfortable 25 on the ridges (ah, it does not take long to acclimate to the cold, even for us Californians.) I'd stripped down to a base layer and was still sweating up my own personal sauna. The route I followed proved extra challenging — plenty of steep (pusher) hills, little-used soft trails, and more climbing. I was aiming for 30 miles that day and they were happening the hard way, slowly.

"Why didn't I just ride some loops down in the Goldstream Valley?" I thought. "Ten miles per hour without evening trying."

But as I gazed down the ridge, flanked by the eerie skeletons of burnt black spruce and illuminated by the 2 p.m. sunset, I knew the answer. The miles don't matter. They never did. I ride bikes so I can visit places such as this, and I "train" so I can seek them out at every possible opportunity, and have the fitness to derive more energy from my efforts rather than become depleted. These days, I see life as a series of experiences rather than a checklist of accomplishments. Yet, I do appreciate statistics, which, like words, give shape to the more abstract aspects of experience. I've been dutifully recording the numbers from nearly every activity to Strava since late 2013, and the stats begin to write their own narrative. These are my totals for 2015:

Cycling:

Distance: 5,015 miles
Time: 592 hours, 38 minutes
Elevation gain: 499,928 feet
Rides: 118
Highest mileage week: June 15-21 — 812 miles (Tour Divide)
Most time spent pedaling in a week: June 15-21 — 95 hours, 50 minutes (Tour Divide)
Most climby cycling week: June 15-21 — 51,066 feet (Tour Divide)
Best non-race week: April 27 to May 3 — 30 hours 28 minutes, 293 miles, 32,933 feet climbing

Running: 

Distance: 1,701 miles
Time: 412 hours, 38 minutes
Elevation gain: 351,132 feet
Runs: 166
Highest mileage week: March 23-29 — 96 miles (White Mountains 100)
Most time spent running in a week: March 23-29 — 26 hours, 38 minutes (WM100)
Most climby running week: August 24-30 — 25,531 feet (UTMB)
Best non-race week: August 3 to 9 — 23 hours, 36 minutes, 70.5 miles, 17,625 feet climbing

Cumulative distance: 6,716 miles
Cumulative elevation gain: 851,060 feet
Total moving time: 41.8 days

My favorite number is the final one. I'm also pretty proud of the 850,000 feet of climbing. I'd love to log a million feet of climbing one of these years — presumably quite doable in Colorado. But the final stat — nearly 42 days on the move — is a hearty helping of experience. It's 11.5 percent of the year, entirely in motion — Strava records actual moving time, so it doesn't even count the seconds I stop to eat a snack, gaze across a horizon, or sleep under the stars. Pure outdoors time is a fair amount higher. I recognize that I am fortunate to have such an abundance of spare time to spend playing outside. Yet, I don't necessarily see this as spare time, or down time. This is my life. I would happily carve out all the sacrifices necessary to afford these moments under the low winter sun.

The final 39.5 miles of 2015 came in about the most difficult way possible (which I'll recount in a subsequent post.) But they made for a wonderful if arduous adventure that even I might have been more eager to back away from, had there not been an arbitrary milestone on the line. Numbers are fun. Records of numbers are motivating. I'd even encourage the freewheeling outdoor enthusiasts who claim they don't care to give it a try. A cheap GPS watch and free software can go a long way.

I don't have any goal numbers for 2016. I expect this to be a lower-mileage year with less focused training once I get through (if I get through) the ITI. But I'll continue to relish every moment I can spend in motion; in my book, those moments count the most.