Monday, December 18, 2017

Finally launched some training

Here I am on another Monday morning, face scrunched like child called upon to answer a math problem as I try to conjure article ideas for a proposal. When nothing comes, I migrate over to this blog, which is better than Twitter, right? 

"Your problem," I tell myself, "is that you don't think like a normal person. You have only a vague concept of what other people find interesting. I mean, you're still blissed out about dragging a sled over bare gravel. Who does that?" 

 On Sunday, Beat and I finally got out for our first sled-drag of the season after giving up on snow. Sure, it's been snowing in and around Boulder since September, but subsequent days of 60 degrees means it never sticks around long enough to plan an excursion. I'm still riding my regular mountain bike without studded tires because snow and ice is absent nearly all the way to the Continental Divide.

Below is a photo I took last Wednesday in Golden Gate State Park at 9,500 feet, when I was coasting along on my bike. I felt so strong that I became mildly suspicious about Beat installing an electric motor when I wasn't looking, to help me feel better about myself. (Several months ago, he made a similar move with a power meter. It's a fun data-collecting tool, I admit, but usually it makes me feel worse about myself.)

For this ride, though, I recorded my highest long-ride power reading yet, without applying even close to the usual perceived effort. Yes! Back on the upswing! Just like that, the daunting world takes on a notably brighter hue for no reason besides a better balance of hormones. This is another reason I believe my writing efforts have suffered in 2017, because I no longer trust what I feel or perceive. Whereas I used to ruminate on observations in nature and reach for connections to the wider human experience, now I just think, "Bah. Thyroid anxiety again."

Last Friday, out of curiosity more than anything, I paid for a blood test from one of those private online lab services. I'm nearing a point in treatment where my doctor will only request labs every two to three months, and I'll see her once a year. But, like a person who uses a power meter, I'm interested in the week-to-week fluctuations. I doubt I'll have these tests done often, as they're still $60 (as opposed to the $400(!) that my insurance company is billed and the $2.75 that I pay out of pocket.) But I may treat myself to an occasional blood test when I'm feeling particularly good or bad, or just different, to eventually piece together possible correlations.

Right now my numbers are quite good ... staying steady in the near-normal range despite having my medication dose cut in half. And I feel better, although I'm starting to have more of the symptoms that I tend to have when my T3 is on the low side — daytime sleepiness and feeling cold when I'm not moving, even when the wood stove is cranking and it's nearly 80 degrees in the house. But the other scary symptoms that I associated with times of fluctuation, such as hair loss and brain fog, are subsiding.

The lows definitely feel less intense and more infrequent, and I tell myself that my body is still undulating toward balance. Still, I can't help but draw patterns. Since I started treatment last February, there seems to be general two-month curves in my health:

February and March 2017: Bad.
April and May: Good!
June and July: Bad.
August and September: Good! Even better!
October and November: Bad. But perhaps not so bad.
December and ... January? Good! Perhaps this will be the best yet!
February and March 2018 ... Doh!

 An ongoing dream has reflected the nervousness I feel about February and March. In my dream, I'm about to set out on the Iditarod Trail. For strange reasons of the subconscious, I'm using a backpack (my old 50-liter Golite Jam to be specific) to carry my gear. But when I look inside my bag, it's nearly empty. Or a water bladder has burst and everything is wet. Or I've forgotten food. Actually, each time I have this dream, the gear faux pas is a little different. But every time, the conclusion I make — even while filled with real dread that follows me into the waking morning — is "Oh well. I'll make it work." Then I take off at a full sprint from the starting line, which is located at the Aurora Dog Mushers trail system in Big Lake, where I started the 2006 Susitna 100 (I just love this about dreams. So random.)

It's strange to have this same dream so many times, but it reflects the way I feel right now — I may or may not be physically prepared for upcoming winter races. I genuinely fear this potential two-month curve and the notion that even if there is no pattern, how I'll feel on race week is largely not in my control. But I'll show up anyway, and I'll hope for the best. 

 So Beat and I headed up Niwot Ridge for our first real training run of the season. The base dusting of snow that fell on Thursday had been mostly swept away, so we ground over sharp rocks, loose dirt, and roots. The scraping of plastic sounds terrible, but Beat designs sleds for this. Winter conditions in Alaska are so volatile these days that you go in assuming that the majority of your time might be spent on open tundra, scree, or glare ice, unless there's a big storm, in which case hip-deep snow isn't unthinkable. There's still enough snow that backpacks aren't practicable (despite my dream), but a sled needs to be robust enough to handle rough terrain.

So nearly snowless Colorado mountains provided realistic training conditions, although not exactly the traditional kind of "fun." My sled was considerably lighter than Beat's (he threw in 25 pounds of dumbbells for good measure.) But it was still 35-40 pounds, dragging like an anvil on high-friction dirt. This type of effort pulls hard on hamstrings and hips, which is why it's best to actually train with a sled — and start sooner than 10 weeks before the race. Still, I felt fantastic. I was working so hard that my mind was the tranquil surface of a sea, a blue slate masking the turbulent depths of an ocean. My breathing was steady and desperation was absent. Nothing could break my reverie, even as Beat occasionally turned around to remind me that we weren't actually having fun.

"When are we going to stop this charade?" he asked, standing on bone-dry, rocky doubletrack.

"Just a little farther," I panted.

Despite the terrible conditions, and agreeing from the start we wouldn't go all that far, we ended up at the research station on the ridge, 2,500 feet higher. The final mile was utterly brutal — tracing the punchy tongues of snow drifts into a frigid, blasting wind. A later check of the numbers revealed 55 mph wind gusts and an air temperature of 15 degrees, for a windchill of -10F. I didn't apply any more layers, but still felt mostly comfortable (except for my face, which a buff did little to protect from being pummeled by ice shards.) Waves of sastrugi were so wind-hardened that we barely left footprints, unless we were punching into knee-deep powder as sharp and fine as shattered glass.

At the research station, we ducked into a shack where a plywood bunk and a metal folding chair provided luxurious accommodations for lunch. Wind continued to rattle the thin walls as Beat told stories of all of the worst places he's walked in Alaska, where he huddled in the collapsed shell of a tent on Yukon ice just to get out of the wind. Even the most basic shelter has unmeasurable value when it matters.

Returning to the gale felt like imminent death, for a minute or two, until we donned our sleds and commenced rushing downhill. Our bodies adjusted, and contentedness returned. Humans are amazingly adaptable, even as we resist change at every turn. This gives me hope that, regardless of "patterns," I'll fare just fine with whatever comes my way. 


  1. Ha ha, "when are we going to stop this charade"? I love it! I too think things are interesting that other people don't (witness the dearth of comments on my blog for things like winter slogs). As for thyroid stuff..ugh. I had a bad patch for a few weeks there. TMI so won't go into all of it but I absolutely believe in the fluctuations. Also, you pay so little for your tests! I need to get into the private sector. Mine are ridiculous. The insurance is miniscule and I pay most of it. Oh well no more whining. Come up here, we have snow, not a ton, but more than you do.

    1. If you're paying more than $60, I'd recommend checking out You can probably get tested at the same lab that you use now, and they provide an array of tests that you can take to your doctor. The fact that my insurance company is charged so much for tests is why health care is so ridiculous in this country. Hope you feel better soon.

  2. I'm glad that you got out for some training and felt good! Since I was banned from most snow sports (except fat biking), I've stopped being such a big fan of snow.... except when I realize what next summer will be like if this drought doesn't end soon. Let's all hope that it does or next summer might be very tense!

    I, too, have an autoimmune disease, and I have tended to see yearly cycles (i.e., certain months are bad every year and others are good every year). I think that, with your particular disease, you might be able to head off the bad phases by getting your blood tested and getting to your doc asap when you see things going in a bad direction. I like the idea of getting your blood tested on your own! I, for one, am rooting for you to feel good for the ITI!

    1. I agree. The fact that wildfire danger is high *now* does not bode well for July. Well, at least it looks like there will be snow this weekend.

      Gaging patterns is my goal with more frequent blood testing. What my doctor will do with that info is another thing, though. Right now I'm looking for a new primary care provider, and hoping to find someone open-minded who will listen to my concerns.

  3. Can you ride those sleds, toboggan-style, on the descents?

    1. You can ... some do. I'm not that brave. Most of the Iditarod Trail descents are either short and steep, or gradual, narrow corridors winding through the trees. In both cases the risks seem higher than the reward.

  4. Do you have an eating disorder? I know a handful of female runner friends who have ED's and their thyroid is always out of whack.

    1. Graves is an autoimmune disease that causes *overactive* thyroid. Your statement is akin to blaming multiple sclerosis or type 1 diabetes on an eating disorder.


Feedback is always appreciated!