A good week in Boulder
Although I was excited to return to Colorado after five weeks of roaming around Alaska, there was a bit of apprehension as well. Home meant a more structured work routine, with attempts to write when my thoughts still resembled oatmeal tossed into a ceiling fan. Home meant living at 7,100 feet, when science showed that five weeks at low altitudes had been long enough to lose most of my mountain acclimation. Home also meant a return to a regular exercise routine. While I had no intention of launching into any kind of training, even the usual runs and rides at the easiest pace possible seemed overwhelming.
During the autumn and winter, I'd been in a lot of denial about my fitness. Such was my desire to return to the Iditarod Trail. Although I did complain about feeling off, I wasn't honest with even myself about how unfit I'd become. Most runs were a gasping mess. In January, I told my friend Corrine — before she helped diagnose my thyroid issue — that I was looking forward to the Iditarod being over so I could become a couch potato.
"I'm just tired of feeling bad every time I go outside."
"Running! I love running! It feels amazing."
I returned home after 7.5 miles, bemused by the experience. That run really shouldn't have been so easy. I'd become convinced that six weeks on an aggressive dose of anti-thyroid medication had finally pushed me into hypothyroid territory, given how difficult it had been to simply stay awake earlier in the week. Now this — running well during my first day back at high altitude. What does it mean? No matter, I'll take it.
Beat, in turn, had been quite ill since we returned to Colorado, and had to languish in bed. He finally went to the doctor and tested positive for strep throat. This is generally highly contagious, and since I hadn't been careful around him at all, I assumed I'd wake up one day with a throat on fire. But I never did. This reminded me of an interesting conversation with a friend in Alaska, who also has autoimmune diseases, and almost never becomes conventionally sick (cold, flu, etc.) Her reasoning was that because her immune system is constantly attacking her body, it manages to kill all the invaders as well. I'm not sure what science says about this, but it would be interesting to research.
Sunday and Monday brought pleasant temperatures in the 50s and 60s, along with intense April sunshine to make quick work of the snow. On Sunday I climbed up Bear Peak and again felt strong, which brought memories of many dizzy ascents in the recent past. It wasn't that long ago that I pushed myself hard enough to become unnervingly lightheaded, my vision flickered, my throat burned, and I'd gasp for air until I had no choice but to stop and rest. Steep hiking ascents are the only aspect of mountain "running" where I consider myself reasonably proficient, so this is the area where I always strived most to improve. I began to wonder how fast I could push this climb ... but no ... easy pace, steady breathing. I'm not going to overdo it right now.
So I went into a Monday Mount Sanitas loop with every intention just to saunter along at a conversational pace. The first mile ascends 1,300 rocky feet, and then there's a buffed-out runnable descent for four miles — the best of all worlds, in my book. The whole stress-free run seemed to go fairly fast, so later that day I caved and uploaded my stats to Strava.
See, I sort of "quit" Strava a month ago, recognizing that the self-comparisons were an unnecessary source of angst. In truth I lost an old GPS watch during the first week in Alaska, but it was an opportune loss, and I didn't miss it. I swore that I wouldn't go back on Strava until my health was better and I was actually training for something again. Still, old habits don't go away easily. I guess I'm back for now.
Strava indicated I'd actually set a PR for the one-mile climb, even though my previous Sanitas runs were gasping efforts of striving for exactly that. This effort had been nothing more than a brisk hike, with calm breathing and a clear head. I looked back at the other recent Strava stats — more PRs or near-PRs on segments that I worked hard at during the winter. It was interesting to compare the actual numbers to perceived effort — as though suddenly, after a month of not running and being all over the map in terms of energy, I'd become considerably more fit. In reality, I think my thyroid levels are closer to normal. I'll know more about this next week.
Okay, it wasn't even close to a run. The trail had only been "broken" by one person wearing snowshoes, which I did not have, nor did I have trekking poles or gloves. I went anyway, trudging through four laborious miles and sweating profusely even after I wrapped my puffy jacket around my waist. Four miles in 1:45. I didn't care. I love a good slog.
A visit to my endocrinologist next week should reveal how much of this (relatively) high-flying fitness is thyroid-related. It's interesting how many aspects of myself I question now — my moods, my thought patterns, my attention span, my fitness, some of my more extreme emotions. How much of this is "me" and how much is "Graves Disease?" Could I really be on a fast road to normalcy, or was this week just another spike on the long rollercoaster of recovery? The latter is much more likely, but it's encouraging all the same.