Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Thanksgiving to Remember

On Tuesday I started to feel sick. I never get sick - but, I wasn't too surprised that my immune system might have been a little compromised from JFK. It started out as head congestion and a sore throat - so, I did all those things you're supposed to do at the first sign of a cold - gargle with warm salt water - take vitamin C etc.
The congestion started to make it into my chest on Wednesday, but I didn't feel too bad. Early Thursday though was a different story. I woke up around 4am with a bad cough and some significant wheezing. I took a theraflu - but, it didn't help too much. I finally took a few puffs from my wife's inhaler. It helped a little bit - I was at least able to go to sleep, but I knew I'd need to see the doctor.
Around 9:30am we got out the door to the urgent care to figure out what was going on - I was having even more difficulty breathing. It was not good. Having difficulty breathing is a really horrible feeling - and the emotional aspect of it makes it worse. As you feel more anxious things seem to close up even more. I had some episodes like this in the past, but much less serious. Because they seemed to happen just as I was going to bed I was diagnosed with acid reflux - basically as I lay flat the acid would get into my airway and cause me to cough and wheeze. I had taken some medication for it on and off for the last few years and I had actually just started back on it a week ago.
At the urgent care they gave me a chest x-ray to make sure it wasn't pneumonia. They also gave me a nebulizer treatment - it's basically a liquid which vaporizes into a plastic pipe thing that you breath in to your lungs. It's basically a more powerful version of an inhaler. Little did I know that I would need 4 more of these treatments over the next 24 hours.
They didn't see any proof of pneumonia in the chest x-rays - the doctor thought it might be some kind of asthmatic reaction caused by an infection. So, I got a prescription for antibiotics, an abuterol inhaler, and prednisone - an oral steroid to reduce inflammation in my lungs.
A few hours after we got home things got worse. I had a nasty coughing attack - I just couldn't stop. Kendra went out to get me something for my cough, but on the way she called the urgent care - they said I should go to the ER right away. So, she came back and we made the thankfully short drive two blocks to Mercy hospital.
I felt a little better just being at the hospital. What most worried me were a few stories I had heard lately about people who had respiratory issues (usually related to pneumonia) and ended up in serious trouble. Apparently once a problem gets advanced enough in your lungs you're pretty much screwed.
The first few hours were pretty much a repeat of the urgent care. A nebulizer treatment, chest x-ray - tons of questions. All this time my parents were on their way from Michigan for a planned trip to Baltimore. Of course we updated them as things got worse. By the time they got there I was hooked up to an IV and had oxygen tubes coming out of my nose. Seeing their 32 year old son in such a state was probably not what they had planned on for their Thanksgiving trip - but, we all tried to stay positive.
The doctor came in and told us that it was most likely something asthma related, which seemed odd to me since I had just run a 50 miler race less than a week ago. But, I guess there are a lot of different kinds of asthma - and mine might not be related to exercise, but rather could be triggered by allergies - or acid reflux - or something else. They were still worried because my oxygen levels in my blood were lower than normal (normal is 95% and above - I was 90-93% without oxygen). So, not only would they keep me until that was normalized, but they were also going to give me a CAT scan to make sure I didn't have a blood clot in my lungs.
The CAT scan was interesting. First - the two girls who wheeled me to the scanning room were entertaining - they felt the need to complain about how they weren't too happy about pushing people around and couldn't wait until they got their nursing degree. The scan itself was odd - to find blood clots they have to pump in iodine intravenously. They give you a lot of warnings of what can happen. Luckily I only had the regular reaction -which is an odd warming sensation that flows through your body. The worst is when it hits your nether region, it feels like you might have peed yourself.
So, after a few hours they said I didn't have a blood clot -but, I do have some kind of "node", which could be nothing - but, I need another CAT scan in six months to make sure it hasn't grown. Great. The oxygen levels still weren't doing too well - so, they decided I had to stay the night. This is the first time I have ever stayed overnight at a hospital since I was born - so, it was a little weird.
After a new doc scared Kendra and me with a few other rare but potentially serious diseases I might have, I got up to a more comfortable hospital bed on the seventh floor around midnight. In order to rule out all these rare issues I might have they had to draw a bunch of blood. Throughout the night they drew blood three separate times - along with two more nebulizer treatments and checking my vitals every once in awhile I didn't get much sleep.
Three more doctors checked in with me the next morning (the final total was six doctors and seven nurses). They seemed to agree that there was some chronic asthma issue going on along with the acid reflux. Finally around 11am they tested my oxygen levels while I was walking around the hall. I passed. Around 2pm they finally let me out - of course along with a few more prescriptions.
The plan is for me to get a pulmonary test in a few weeks to confirm that I have asthma - and then figure some kind of long term plan from there. I'm definitely feeling better -but, I still have a cough and my breathing isn't great. The good thing is that they didn't limit my activity at all - so, I'll probably be back to running by Monday. Obviously I'll be taking it easy for awhile - but, things could be worse.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

JFK 50 miler

I ran 50 miles today. Believe me - I know how crazy that sounds.
The day didn't start out very promising. We only made the 6:20am cut-off for picking up my racing number because my sweet wife insisted that we get a wake-up call in case my watch alarm didn't work - or didn't wake us up (it didn't). Then after some dithering on my part as to what to do with my bag with my shirt - and waiting too long for a bathroom - I found myself 50 meters back from the start line when the gun sounded.

Luckily, a 50 miler is a different kind of beast than the races I normally run. First - I didn't have to do too much weaving to get the pace I wanted. Second - I could see the leaders not too far in front of me the entire time we climbed up the big hill to reach the Appalachian trail. As we first entered the AT - I found myself around 20th place. The course stays on the AT for only a few miles - it then deviates onto a hilly road that appears to be used by hunters (at least when I did a run there several weeks ago). This was good news for me. I was able to pass a few more people by the time we got back to the trail - and I could actually see the second place guy enter the woods for the second time (around 5.5 miles) - I was in about 12th place at this point.
While I was out on the AT today - I came up with a new term for my ankles - "wankles". They are weak. I've never been a good trail runner because I turn my ankles pretty easily. My senior year in college I even had to tape my ankles before every indoor race because my ankles couldn't take even the relatively sharp turns of a 200 meter indoor track. Because of this - I am very timid on rocky trails - maybe I'm weird, but there's something about the feeling of my ankle being bent at a 90 degree angle that isn't very appealing.
So, to make a long story short - I lost a LOT of time on the AT. People were BLOWING past me. I knew this was going to happen - so, I was somewhat prepared psychologically. But, when the dude with tights that looked like Bozo the clowns hairdo passed me I started to get worried. Then the first woman passed me. I say first, because by the time I got to the 15 mile mark when we mercifully joined the even and flat C&O canal path there were four women in front of me. I ran somewhere around 2 hours and 20 minutes for 15.5 miles, which is the time that I would run 20 miles on a easy long run. It was rocky. Picture a field of boulders bordered by trees that produce slippery leaves. This hellish scenario sometime when on for miles.
So, by the time I got to the C&O I was frustrated and a little mad. I was somewhere between 30-40th place - running even slower than I had anticipated. The only thing to do to feel better is start passing people. So, for the next 10 miles I put the hammer down - I had a few splits (if the canal mile markers are to be trusted) that were under 6 minute pace. As I reached handmade sign that said "If you were running a marathon you'd be done by now" I realized that there was no way I could keep this up - and I had passed enough people that I was back into the top 20. So, my pace slowed but I was still under 7 minute pace for most miles.

Even though I slowed a little I kept on passing people who had gone out too fast. Psychologically this was very important. I didn't dare start counting down the miles until I was at least past mile 30. At mile 30 I realized that I could break 6:20 - which was fine in my book because it meant I would cover the last 34.5 miles in 4 hours. Every 5 miles I would check my time - and I kept on pace. That is until the course left the canal path for the hilly roads just northwest of the Antietam battlefield. My sub seven minute pace went to over eight. To try and put some energy into my legs I started downing energy gels every 15 minutes instead of every half hour. The road was lonely. I passed only two people in the last 8.5 miles.
But, as I got to 6 miles to go I started to feel better. And although when I looked at a video my wife took, I seem to be only shuffling along - I felt "dynamic". The last five miles were actually somewhat fun. With four miles to go I saw Melissa, Arjun, Brennan, and Kendra (my wife, who did a great job supporting me by the way). They gave me that last burst of energy I needed. I was able to pass one more guy in with 2 miles to go to get 8th place. The field was pretty incredible (below is a picture of me with Scott Jurek, the 7-time champion of the Western States 100 miler) - and I felt pretty good to be in the top ten with some well known runners.

Will I do another 50 miler? I'm not sure - it's certainly difficult to think about sitting at my computer - dreading getting up because I can hardly walk. But, you never know. If I do I'm going to make sure it's not on a course where my "wankles" come into play.

Monday, November 16, 2009

"It's not your legs it's your stomach"

Next Saturday I will do something that on the face of it sounds foolish. I will run almost twice as far as I've ever run in one day - 50 miles. And who knows? It very well might be foolish. But, I have some reasons to be confident. I've gotten some good advice from Baltimore ultra/triathalon "cover girl" Alyssa. I'm pretty much going to follow her nutrition plan - which is 1) drink one bottle of fluid (water, gatorade, or combo) per hour 2) Eat an energy gel every half-hour 3) Take a sodium/potassium pill once an hour 4) Have my wife ready with some "comfort food" if I start feeling bad.
The other thing that makes me feel confident is the training I've done the last several weeks. The first weekend in November I ran 20 miles on Saturday and 20 miles on Sunday. I actually felt pretty good on my Sunday run until Arjun reminded me that I would be running all 40 plus another 10 in one day. I have to admit I was so sore the next day that I couldn't run - but, I didn't drink or eat much during that second 20 miler.
The very next week I ran a full marathon at Harrisburg. The plan was to run just under 3 hours - but, I was feeling strong and I kept seeing people who I didn't want to beat me (guy wearing headphones, guy with no shirt etc) - so, I ended up running a 2:47. This time I stuck with my nutrition plan as described above. The best thing is that I felt almost no soreness the next day - which showed how proper nutrition can be critically important for runs over two hours.
Also, I heard a man and woman near me at the start line before the marathon talking about the JFK 50 miler - so, I chimed in that was running my first one this year. The woman said that she concentrated so much on the trail section in the first 15 miles (it's rocky) that she didn't eat or drink enough - and felt awful later. The guy said that a lot of first timers make that mistake - they have the legs to go 50 miles - but, they don't have the stomach. They get tied up - can't eat - and then they completely bonk.
So, I feel pretty good since nutrition is going to be my focus. I probably won't even measure my progress in miles, but rather how much longer is it to my next energy gel? or have I sucked down enough water in the last 15 minutes?
I've also run or at least seen most of the course. I ran a 20 mile out and back run on the appalachian trail section - which showed me that I will get frustrated in certain areas where the rocks seem to go on for miles, but at least I know what to expect. Yesterday I drove the last 8.5 miles that's on roads and ran 12 miles on the C&O canal path. The canal path has pretty good footing - and I think I can get going pretty well if I'm not too beat up.
When I first signed up for JFK I had no thoughts about competing - just surviving. But, I'm not sure I can run a race and not "compete". I don't know what that exactly means over a 50 mile race. I know I can't go too nuts over the trail section - because if I fall or twist an ankle it could be all over before it's started. I've even resigned myself that I'll probably get passed by some folks on the trail section. But, there's a LOT of running to go after we descend to the C&O canal path - and I figure that's where I can get in a rhythm and pick some people off. While running on the canal path yesterday I visualized hawking someone down or pushing the pace around the turns to hold someone off.
Whatever happens I'm sure it will be an adventure!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"Have an Adventure!"

Our fearless leader Ryan often yells this commandment. He is just as likely to say this before a normal Monday night run as before an epic event like "Hubs of Fury". Although not true of all runners - I would say that this need for adventure is what drives many of us. I started running competitively in seventh grade - already by my eighth grade year I wanted to run a half-marathon. It wasn't just any half-marathon - it was the Dexter-Ann Arbor half-marathon. It started in the smaller town of Dexter, MI and ran along the Huron River finishing in downtown Ann Arbor. I felt pretty awful afterwards, but I could say one thing - I had an adventure.
I've thought a few times through the years about running an ultra-marathon, but I didn't sign up for one until last spring. It is the JFK 50 miler - starting in Boonsboro, MD climbing to the Appalachian trail - descending to the C & O canal path near Harpers Ferry, WV - and finishing on roads just west of the Antietem battlefield.
My goal race this fall was the Army 10 miler - so, I haven't done much 50 miler specific training other than the last two weekends. Last weekend I ran ~20 miles on both Saturday and Sunday. For some reason I thought I would be able to run on Monday - but, I was so sore I decided against it. Today I ran a full marathon in Harrisburg. I feel much more comfortable with the distance then even a year ago. It is just a distance - there's nothing too magical about it - just be prepared for it.
It's hard to believe that I haven't written anything on here for over a month. That's by far the longest I've gone since I started this blog a year ago. I'll be posting the next few weeks about JFK - but, I'll probably give it a break again until the New Year. I've done more running in 2009 since college probably - and I have to say that this blog has been a big part of that. It's forced me to make commitments and hold to them. It's also made me think about my training a little more because I know people will be reading - so, thanks for reading!