Tuesday, November 16, 2010

D-Day

Friday, December 3, 2010. That's the day that will determine a lot. On that day, I'll know which fork in the road I take. I recently talked with someone about how I will feel with either outcome, and they advised me not to think about it. It's impossible to anticipate my emotions, so I shouldn't waste mental energy toiling about the whole thing. But I can't help it. So here goes.


I'll start with the medical part of that day. In just two weeks, I'll travel to Boston to see my hematologist. She is one of 16 doctors in the US, UK and Canada who are part of a study looking at idiopathic clotting disorders- in other words, there's no good reason why the clotting occurred. As a population, there's a 10% chance of recurrence each year, and something like 40% over the subsequent five years. That's obviously way over acceptable. Honestly, given the choice of taking a drug the rest of my life or taking a substantial risk of another life-threatening clot in the lungs, it's a pretty easy choice.


Clotting happens in what is called a "cascade," or a series of events. One of the final steps has a byproduct called D-dimer. They can test for the presence of D-dimer. If negative, you're in the clear. If positive, there's a good chance (though less certain than a negative test) you are clotting. The study attempts to stratify patients into different risk levels using this test. In other words, they take this population of screwed up people, of which I am one, and use the test to identify those that can reasonably go off of blood thinners, and those who need to stay on medication.


So in a few weeks, I'll take this blood test and see the results on the spot. One of two things will happen. I obviously hope the test is negative. If so, I'll stop taking the medication right then and go back to Boston for another test in one month. That's because the medical community isn't sure if the medication suppresses D-dimer. If that second test is still negative, I'm good to go. I'll just go back to Boston every six months to check in. On the other hand, if either of the two test are positive, I'll be on medication for at least two years, if not the rest of my life.


So there you have it. Option A means I resume life and training as I choose. Option B means I keep taking medication, which prevents me from bike riding and therefore triathlons. Sounds pretty straightforward and obvious as to how I might react. But it isn't.

I really want Option A. It will allow me to bike, race, ski without concern, and otherwise put me in situations that are risky for someone on blood thinners. I've worked damn hard to get good at triathlon, and I think I have a couple more years of getting faster. Not just better in my AG (which is relative to others), but faster in an absolute sense. I have unfinished business in the sport. Someday I'd like to go to the World Championships and wear the USA uniform. Be a NOAD. New Zealand '12 might be a bit too far, especially for a sprint, but maybe it will be held closer to the US in 2013.

However I can make the argument that these athletic endeavors can be replaced if things don't work out. Although I qualified for Boston in 2003, I never did the race. It's on my bucket list. In hindsight, I think the perfect sport for me would have been rowing. I have the size, determination and enough athletic ability. There are masters boats in the Head of the Charles. That is also on my bucket list. And swimming is also an obvious choice, although I don't have a big goal in mind. I've spent enough time looking at the black line. There are other things I'd like to do that could satisfy my competitive desires.

But honestly, it isn't just about sports. In fact, while they are a big deal, they aren't biggest deal. It's all of the other life issues that come along with blood thinners that I don't want to live with. Currently, I have to be careful with how much Vitamin K I eat. That means monitoring my intake of green vegetables. I love a huge green salad. I can't have much alcohol. I have never been much of a drinker, but I do enjoy it now and then. I haven't had more than two drinks in one day in over six months. I have to wear a medic-alert bracelet. Every day, my watch alarm goes off at 6:00, reminding me to take my medicine. I have to get my blood drawn every month, if not more often. So there are all sorts of issues that come with the drug, many of which are in my face every single day.

To me, it's about being limited. I've always been a bit stubborn- I don't like to be told what I can and can't do. I want to be the one to decide. I don't like limitations. I want to do what I want to do. I don't like the concept of being "tied down" for somewhere between the next two years and the rest of my life. That's a long time.

So as I said earlier, it sounds pretty obvious. But let's consider the downside of Option A (and therefore the upside of Option B). Within days of going off of blood thinners, it's out of my system. My safety blanket is gone. I wonder if I'll forever be looking over my shoulder waiting for Mr. Clot to strike. And if he strikes, will it happen in the same way, or could it be more sudden? Is it possible that the clot makes it through my PFO (that tiny hole in my heart), travels to my brain and causes a stroke? I'm assured it's a very small risk, but that thought will be there. I'll be forever hypersensitive to chest pains. Given the choice of Option B or a life-threatening or altering clot, I'll go for Option B in a heartbeat. The docs don't have all of the answers. Hence the study. Like any study, their theory might work for some but not others. So there's a chance it doesn't work for me.

That's it. I go to Boston two weeks from today for a test I can't prepare for. I don't know how I will react to the result, whatever that is. We have all had deadlines and exams before that can have an impact on our futures. However I've always been able to do something to increase the chances of success. This test is not only out of my control, but is more serious.

Regardless of the result, I know this entire episode has taught me lessons I otherwise never would have learned. I appreciate life and those around me much more than before. I value what I have and my surroundings much more. And I also know I have friends and family that care a great deal for me and wish me the best. It's heartwarming. Those things won't change.


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You know the rules....keep yourself safe, put a little joy into your life and those around you who you think may merit it, and never ever- that's never ever- pass up an opportunity to kiss someone you love.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Running Naked

Since this summer, most of my training has been naked. I run naked and I bike in the garage naked. Swimming isn't quite naked, but I do my best. This naked training is liberating as I just go with what's presented and enjoy the surroundings.


In this case, I'm not equating naked to without clothes. I'm equating it to training without a plan and most importantly, without DATA. I haven't uploaded data to Training Peaks, planned workouts on trainingpeaks.com, or recorded workouts there. For a few years, I recorded nearly every pedal stroke, lap swum and stride strided. Power, cadence, heartrate, pace, speed, intervals- all of it went into the computer. I dissected all of it, analyzed it, compared it to other sessions, and used it to plan future efforts.


Last week I actually ran without any sort of watch on at all (gasp!). I have no idea what my time was. And I loved every minute of it. What I do know is that it was 6.2 miles, and was the same route I had so much trouble with back in June that I had to walk three times. Two days later I was in the ER.


The epitome of naked running is trail running. On trails, there are so many ups and downs, twists and turns, rocks, trees and puddles that the data would be meaningless anyway. Last week I took Bob T out to Bradbury. We simply headed out into the woods without any idea of where we were going. After 45 minutes, we miraculously found ourselves back at the start, so we crossed the road and ran around and up the "mountain." The total run was 1:15, and a great workout. At one point, I asked Bob how fast he thought we were running. His response, based on effort, was "about 7:30." My Garmin, which I was wearing just in case we got really lost, told me we were closer to 10:00. It's just completely different. I am hooked. It's an incredible feeling to run in the woods as opposed to pounding the pavement on the same roads I've done hundreds of times.

Most importantly, I'm finding this naked training is introducing FUN into the equation. Previously, my satisfaction came from the results, rather than the workout itself. I enjoyed pushing lots of watts up a hill and turning in good intervals on the track or road. But my focus on data gave me tunnel vision. It put me in a frame of mind where, even when I wasn't in the middle of a workout, I was (too) focused on it.

I believe a shift to include more fun can help me to be a more complete athlete. Will it help me go faster? I don't know. That will be discussed another day. But with running, I think it's very possible. Trail running is easier on the body due to the lack of pounding, and strengthens the legs and body due to the "3D" aspect compared to "2D" road running. Constant hills will also make me stronger. As for technique, I find it's better than ever when I do a bit of road running after a long run on the trails.

On Saturdays at 8AM, I've been running with the Trailmonsters, a great group of folks. So far, it's been either Bradbury or Pineland. There are a couple of different paces and distances. The first day I joined them, it was hot and humid, and I struggled to make 6 miles. Most recently, we went about 10 miles in 1:35. The website says where the next run is.

Come join us. And yes, come fully clothed.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Race Report: CELT Sprint Relay- and a Poetic Full Circle

Today was the CELT Sprint Triathlon, a local race that started in the pool that I spent many, many hours in in the 80's. Last year we entered a family relay. This year, Leah and I recruited Nate to take the bike leg. Like last week with Jeff, Nate's effort not only allowed me to participate, but he also gave it 100% knowing that for us, performance was taking a back seat to participation. That means a great deal to me.

Before the race, a woman came us to me and said, "You probably don't remember me, but...." I'm terrible with names, but I did recognize her face. I couldn't remember the context, however. "I was the CT scan technician when you came into Maine Medical." Bingo. Back on June 25, perhaps the worst day of my life, she was the one that ran the CT scan that showed I was in deep trouble with multiple and extensive pulmonary emobli, or clotting. I asked her what went on behind the scenes that day. Technicians aren't allowed to give evaluations to patients, but they do enough of them to know when to raise the red flag. Apparently, a great big red flag went up that day as they immediately called a radiologist in the hospital who was able to look at the scan, then ordered me to the ER. She was very pleasant, helpful, caring and professional on that day. The fact that we then bumped into each other today, at a race, seems incredibly poetic. That scan symbolized the end of my real season back in June, and here was the technician introducing herself as we prepped for a race.

My swim went fine. They sent all of the relays in the first heat. In this race, it's common to get some fast high school swimmers doing relays. I had no idea how it would play out. I was somewhere between "get near the front from the start and hold on," to "stay under control so you don't fade at the end." For nearly the entire 425 yards, a high school swimmer in the next lane over was the only one in front of me, about two body lengths ahead. When I got out of the pool, however, I heard I was the first one out of the water. Huh? Apparently, he swam an extra 100 yards. Whoops. Here's the run to T1:




While Nate was out attacking the 14 mile bike course and riding in front, Leah and I got ready for the run. We ran the first part of the course, then she threw in some stretching:




3 miles is a good distance for a 10 year old. I warned her about the adrenaline rush that we all get at the start of a race and to keep it slow and steady. She didn't exactly remember. This is Leah heading out as the FIRST runner on the course:





The run was all on a great trail system, and included a "bridge":



She struggled with side stitches and a knee she hurt in ballet this week, but kept fighting the whole way. With about 1/3 of a mile to go, a 12 year old girl passed us. According to plan, Leah then told me to run ahead to get a picture of her at the finish. So I ran up to the other girl, passed her, and glanced back. Leah was much closer than I expected. So I ran harder. And looked. She was still there. With about 100 yards to go, I looked and saw Leah with a huge lead on the other girl. Unbelievable. There was no way I could get to the finish line and prepare for a picture, so this is what I got:



It wasn't an easy run for her. She fought pain and fatigue, walking when she needed to, and beat it all to have a strong finish. I'm very proud of her! Here's the team:



So that's it for the 2010 triathlon season. It sure didn't play out the way I expected, and I have no idea what to expect for next year. But I do have great memories from these last two races, and am very appreciative of the support shown by friends.

Let the offseason begin.


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You know the rules....keep yourself safe, put a little joy into your life and those around you who you think may merit it, and never ever- that's never ever- pass up an opportunity to kiss someone you love.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Race Report: Lobsterman

This RR should really be called a participation report. The goal wasn't to go fast, but to be there, see everyone again, and enjoy the whole experience. Check, check, CHECK.

To give a full story, I should back up a bit. Due to the coumadin (blood thinner to prevent clotting), I can't ride a bike on the road. If I crashed, I'd be in a heap of trouble because the bleeding wouldn't stop easily. So I decided to do a relay, and was fortunate to get Jeff Fisher to take the bike portion. We've gotten to know each other over the last couple of years, partly because we're very close in triathlon ability. He's a great biker. My swim and his bike cancel each other out, and we're similar runners.

Getting ready for the race was humorous. Everything was packed away from early June, so Friday night was occupied by digging all of it out. Later on, I discovered that I forgot a bunch of stuff, like my mixed water bottles in the fridge, etc. And that was without bike preparation which has the most stuff.

Driving to Freeport was filled with excitement and anticipation. The music was loud, the sun was dawning on a beautiful (and cold) morning, and I couldn't wait to get there. When I turned onto the access road, Rocky's Eye of the Tiger was playing and I could hardly hold it all in. I hadn't been a part of a race since early June- in other words, nearly all of the season.

The best part of the day was reconnecting with friends I hadn't seen for so long. I knew how they raced this summer, but that's weak. I wanted to really catch up. I was also touched by all of the concern ind interest people showed about my ordeal. The support makes a huge difference in how I deal with all of this uncertainty and change.

Going in, I told myself it was about participating, not racing. The docs have told me I won't have clotting issues, but warn me not to go to hard and get injured. It was also about a certain mindset. Call it a result of a new-found appreciation for the gift we have in being able to be a part of this great sport in the beautiful surroundings of Maine.

All of the relays and aquavelos started in the fourth wave. I figured it was better to try and stay wide of the crowds so I maintained the enjoyment factor. Normally I start in the front row and quickly get clear of the masses. This day I started in the second row and had to swim with my head up while the group got sorted out. Finally I was able to get to the right side and clear water. I maintained a comfortable pace, one I could stay at for a long time. I only accelerated around the buoys to get clear of the pile-ups. After the first leg, it seemed like everyone took each leg in a wide arc. While I could be wrong, I think I was fairly straight and in clear water the rest of the way. And I enjoyed every minute of it. As it turned out, my time, while not where it usually is, was better than I expected.

When I stood up at the end of the swim, my instincts took over. I started stripping my wetsuit off down to my waist while running up to T1. I know I didn't need to because I was just handing the timing chip off to Jeff, but it was reassuring that my instincts are still there.

As for Jeff and his bike.....whoa. Mr. Sandbagger had the fastest split of the day among all of the relays and triathletes. 25 miles (or so) in 1:00:19. He gave it everything he had, even though he knew that wasn't my objective. That's just the kind of guy he is. Thanks, Jeff!

I started the run nice and comfortable. Even though the first mile has a long uphill that I took my time on, I was very pleased to see my split of 7:35- about 35 seconds faster than I've been training. That pace held very steady for the first half. Finally, friends doing the triathlon started catching me. I sped up to run with them (6:45ish) for about half a mile, then would back off until the next one came along. This repeated three times, and I thoroughly enjoyed every single one. It felt great running shoulder to shoulder again. I was also really impressed with how hard Chris, Jared and Bob were working. They stayed strong, but there was nothing extra in their tanks. Now that I think about it, I saw that with many of the 800 athletes out there. They left everything out on the course. Very impressive. Hours after finishing (about 4 1/2 hours after the start), I saw a guy trying to finish the "run" and dealing with leg cramps. I stopped to talk with him, asked if he needed anything, and reassured him that he was close and there were no more uphills remaining. He worked just as hard as those who won.

If you can forgive a momentary detour from this feel-good report, I need to rant a bit about the drafting. As I was running out over the first two miles, I saw three different groups, each with 5-15 riders, tightly bunched together. Give me a break! They know damn well what the rules are, and blatantly break them. It's cheating. There's no other way to describe it, other than cheating. I'm not talking about a small bunch with a few folks passing others so there's a temporary overlap. These were two wide, eight long, a just feet between them. I was so pissed at them I yelled. I wondered if I was being a jerk, maybe I should just focus on the fun day and let it go....But I didn't. I've heard a few too many stories about races in Maine where this is happening. It isn't safe, and it's cheating. The other thing I don't understand is that as triathletes, we derive satisfaction from an inner feel of how we did on the day. How can they look at themselves in the mirror and give an honest assessment of their performance? Drafting is faster and easier. And it's cheating. I did see two official motorcycles out there, but not in the right place. Looking at the results, I see 11 athletes with penalties. The first male with a penalty finished in 107th. Sure, penalties will happen, and drafting sometimes happens. So my guess is these 11 fall into the category of what typically happens in a "clean" race. I'm not sure what needs to happen to stop this trend. More officials? Is there anything we as competitors can do? It's really frustrating.

Phew. Got that off my chest.

I finished the run in 47:46, a 7:42 average. I was thrilled with that. I know I can get back into good shape now. It was a great day, and I'm still filled with the great experience. We ended up 6th out of 62 teams. Given the objective, that's very satisfactory. It was also great to see so many teams entered.

Next week.......the CELT Sprint. I have Nate Smith biking and Leah is running. I'm not sure who else will be there, but I'm thinking there's an outside chance that Leah could start the run in first place. I can hold my own in the pool swim, and Nate's a strong biker. That would be fun!

Again, thanks for all of the good wishes!

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You know the rules....keep yourself safe, put a little joy into your life and those around you who you think may merit it, and never ever- that's never ever- pass up an opportunity to kiss someone you love.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Speed Golf: Two Sports Collide

A few weeks ago I launched into an uninformed, impromptu game of speed golf. I ran around the 9-hole Castine Golf Club with a full bag of clubs in about 47 minutes. The next day was 42 minutes. Upon returning home, I looked up the rules of speed golf, and was pleased at what I saw. The score is the sum of your time in minutes and shots taken, you play with between one and six clubs, and you don't pull the pin.

Last weekend we returned to Castine, and I couldn't wait to try again, this time using the real rules. I gave a great deal of thought as to how I should approach it. Sort of like a triathlon, the right equipment is critical. The first task was to choose a pair of shoes-


The golf shoes have a better grip while swinging and stay fairly dry, while the running shoes are the most comfortable and possibly the fastest. I went with the train running shoes, figuring they would stay drier than my road shoes. Good choice. Speed golf happens early in the morning when there is a nice layer of dew.
Club selection comes next. I wanted to take a minimalist approach, figuring 1-3 clubs would be easy to carry. A critical part of golf is choosing the right club for the distance required. That's why most golfers carry something like 14 clubs. Using only three obviously gives you far fewer options. I went with a 5-iron, pitching wedge and putter-


My 3-wood, an obvious candidate, just isn't reliable enough. Or better said, the guy using the damn club isn't consistent enough with it. If I ever get comfortable with it, I think that's the next addition. For some good golfers, they should be able to reach a par-4 with two 5-iron shots. The club is fairly versatile, working well in the fairway and slightly longer grass. Also, it's my club of choice on the par-3 second. The other par-3, the 4th, is a 7-iron for me, so I just hoped I could take something off of my swing to make it work. As it turns out, it worked well.
As for other equipment, I decided to carry 9 balls because I'm really not very good at the normally dumb game of golf. I can easily lose a bunch of balls in a round. I don't always lose them to the woods or water, either. Sometimes I just don't pay attention or lose sight of the ball on an otherwise good shot, and can't find it. As it turns out, because I was playing with a 5-iron as my longest club, the ball pretty much stayed in front of me, and I only lost four on day one and one on day two. For calories, I took a banana, which was completely smushed when I reached for it after the first nine holes. I included a small towel in the hopes it would cut down on the bouncing fanny pack. I think it probably made it worse, so I ditched it on day two.



So I got everything ready, warmed up with a bunch of swings, an teed off. Here's a view of the first fairway. Those white spots are seagulls hanging out. They actually posed a problem due the the feathers they shed here and there. Due to my aforementioned inability to follow a shot, little white puffs on the course look and awful lot like little white golf balls, so I ended up going around in circles a bunch of times trying to find my ball.



So I whacked the little white ball around the course, and actually played fairly well. Most importantly, I had a blast. Normally it takes over two hours to play just nine holes due to all of the waiting around for others to hit, etiquette, club selection and shot preparation. I finished 18 holes in 1:10. Day two was exactly the same. As I ran up to the ball, I looked at the pin, slope of the lie, etc, knew what club I needed, whether I needed to choke up, got my feet set, paused and took another whack. I'd watch the initial trajectory of the short, pick up my other two clubs, start running, and try to pick up where the ball was landing.
Sometimes I think all of the deliberate work golfers put in is counterproductive. They get psyched out. This way, there was no time for that. There was also no time to get really frustrated with my game. I wasn't dwelling on how lousy the last shot was because I was on to the next shot so quickly.
Many pure golfers think this whole thing is a load of crap. Something about the purity of the game. You need to think of speed golf as a completely new sport. A whole new paradigm. Then you can appreciate the fact that it's a great combination of aerobic activity, interval running, and calm, precise shot making. It's a lot like biathlon where they cross country ski and shoot rifles in the Olympics.
On Monday, day 2, I made a few adjustments. First, I was tired of fishing for tees in my pack during the round, so I loaded up my laces with what I thought would be enough. You can see here I started with six:


Unfortunately, I lost or forgot three tees in just the first five holes, so I had to start scrounging for leftover tees, most which were broken. As it turned out, I made it to the end without a problem.

Other adjustments included swapping the banana for a Powerbar, ditching the towel, and going with just six balls. My golf game was far worse on day 2 as I added a whopping 12 shots. When you look at the card below, you'll see I am obviously not much of a golfer. I just don't understand how people can play 18 holes, multiple times a week while doing everything else in life. Sure, triathlon takes some time, but it's generally just 1-2 hours. Anyway, I only play a couple of times per year. Having said that, I wonder how many shots I give up without a full bag of clubs.


The 37:47, 31:56, 34:40 and 33:51 are my times. The 178 and 189 are my speed golf scores.

So if anyone out there is interested, I'd love to do some more of this around here. Just let me know.
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You know the rules....keep yourself safe, put a little joy into your life and those around you who you think may merit it, and never ever- that's never ever- pass up an opportunity to kiss someone you love.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Clearance

Last week we had a great vacation on Peaks Island. The ocean has always been magical for me. I can just stare at the waves, currents, wind, boat and animals for hours on end. So the view from the house was great. For those of you that know Casco Bay, Cushing Is. is on the right, Ram and the Ram Is. light are on the left, and Cape Elizabeth is in the distance.




We loaded up the boat and launched it at Falmouth Town Landing. Now this is the way to go on vacation.....



We made rock towers of all sorts....



enjoyed sunsets looking back at Portland.......



and Nick made the jump off of the ferry pier.





Personally, I found time every day to nap, read, and play (occasionally too) ferocious games of spit with Leah. I also ran every day. That was six days in a row, starting with 4 miles, and ended with 5 miles on the last three days. The 5 mile race course is marked at intersections and mile markers, so it was easy to keep track of my pace. For a race that generally goes around the perimeter of an island, it's surprisingly hilly. Without too much straining, I got my pace down to 8:30, which is promising.



On Saturday afternoon, I got a pain in my ribs which made me a bit nervous. Was another clot lodging in my lungs? I took Sunday off from exercise, and the pain gradually went away. Today I went to see my doctor, as previously scheduled, and he said it's likely scar tissue in the sack around the lungs.




Importantly, I asked about activity levels. The message was pretty clear- he isn't concerned about further clotting as long as I'm on Coumadin. That means I can go hard. His only concern is doing too much, too fast, and ending up with some sort of injury. So I have clearance to get back at it! That's a great feeling.




I'm signed up for the Lobsterman relay, doing the swim and run, and Jeff F. will be my biker. He's a great guy, always friendly, and a fierce competitor. We've traded off "wins" for a few years now in triathlons. His strength is on the bike, and will go 100%. He also realizes I'm in the race to participate, not to race. I'm there to see friends, watch the race, enjoy the atmosphere, and thank volunteers.




On a more somber note....a friend recently had a serious medical issue. Like me, they were in great shape and very healthy. It's easy for some of us to feel invincible- we put ourselves under so much physical stress and break down mental barriers that we feel nothing can take us down. But that simply isn't true. We are all vulnerable. In the Portland area, I can think of four or five good athletes who have had serious to life threatening issues this summer. Pleeeease make sure your affairs are in order while you still have options available. Treasure what you have. And realize that we rely on many people in order to take on this sport.



I look forward to seeing many of you on Saturday, September 18th in Freeport. It'll be a blast!


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You remember the rules.....Keep yourself safe, put a little joy into your life and those around you who you think may merit it, and never ever- that's never ever- pass up an opportunity to kiss someone you love.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Still Wondering

Like life and a training season, I’ve had a bunch of ups and downs for the last few weeks. The head games continue as we try to figure out why I had pulmonary emboli in the first place. Everything has come back negative, which is good and bad. It’s good that I don’t have the scary stuff they’ve tested for, but it’s bad that I’m left hanging.

I’ve met all sorts of people who either had something related to PEs, are or were on Coumadin, or know someone who is. After each conversation, I try to apply it to my situation. I then extrapolate that out into the future and think about how it will affect me. Will I be able to ride a bike on the road? Will I be able to put in hard efforts in any sport? Will I be able to work out for more than 30 minutes?

One person, a father in perhaps the most intelligent family I’ve ever come across, was a professor of physiology. He suggested effort caused the problem. The thought of not going for a long run or ride, or not doing hard intervals, was depressing. I love that stuff. I use to go to the track early in the morning, descend intervals, set a goal for the last one, and when I reached it, have a little celebration. I badly want to do that again, but don’t know if it will be possible. After further consideration of his theory, it doesn’t add up, but that doubt still lingers.

Another person broke her hip after doing three marathons in a month (!!), was on Coumadin for a year, and likely won’t get back to that level of running. She did most of her running on trails, loving every moment of it, and could relate firsthand to the possibility that I won’t compete like I used to. She had good advice for me, saying I need to mourn the loss if that is indeed what happens.

I got up early one morning while on vacation last week. It was stunning outside. Clear sky, the sun was just coming up, it was nice and warm, and it was quiet- the world wasn’t up yet. I really wanted to go out for a few hours and run or ride, leaving everything on the road (figuratively speaking). But that isn’t in the cards yet. I have been doing some shorter runs, however. I’m going about 3.5 miles at a 9 minute pace. I generally feel fine. In the pool, I'm up to 2600 meters.

After three days in a row of running, however, I had some chest pain, so I figured I should take it easy the next day. I went for a walk, and when I got back, realized I had time for some golf. We stay about 200 yards from the first tee, so I grabbed my bag and headed over. I kept moving along, only taking one warm-up swing at a time, and finished nine holes in just 1:07. When I was done, I was told I just missed the record- 48 minutes by a 60 year old (that doesn’t sound like “just missed” to me). I had no idea there was a record. You can take the man out of the competition, but you can’t take the competition out of the man. I showed up the next day, ran with a full bag of clubs, a finished in 47 minutes. It’s actually a great workout. Although on a very different scale, I felt like a biathlete- they cross country ski really hard, then need to calm down enough to take an accurate rifle shot. Two days later, I finished in 42 minutes. Since then, I’ve learned the real “speed golf” rules (the most significant being that you carry between one and six clubs vs. a full bag), and will give it another shot over Labor Day weekend.

I head to Boston on September 10 for the next phase of doctor work. I feel really good about the doctor I decided on. She’s experienced and has very good credentials. Importantly, she has also been an athlete herself. So she can relate to my desire to get back out there. “Coumadin for life” won’t be the easy way out for her. It might be the ultimate answer, but not until the traditional and cutting edge work is exhausted.

I’ve been told it takes six to eight weeks for clots to clear. This Friday is eight weeks. Something tells me that deserves a bit of a celebration.

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You know the rules....keep yourself safe, put a little joy into your life and those around you who you think may merit it, and never ever- that's never ever- pass up an opportunity to kiss someone you love.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Looking for Help in the 21st Century

As I said in my last post, I'm headed to Boston for further analysis. The docs in Maine, while solid, just don't specialize enough. In Boston, I might end up with an academic-based doctor who can spend the time figuring me out. At this point, however, I don't know who I'm going to see. I have one recommendation from my hematologist, but I want to make sure we get this step right. As a result, I'm trying to leverage the internet. I'm calling on all readers and friends who know someone- or know someone who knows someone- to pass this along.


Specifically, I'm looking for a doctor who specializes in blood clotting disorders in otherwise healthy subjects- even better, someone who includes strong endurance athletes in their work- especially those who have no other freakin' symptoms.


Here's a rundown of what we know:


First, the short story. No other symptoms or risk factors- other than the clotting itself. In other words, a total mystery.


Now the long story. I'm a successful endurance athlete (triathlons), training 10-11 hours per week. Before the ER, had chest pain and felt like I was training at altitude. I occasionally spit up a small amount of bright red blood, generally after exercise. No family history or other typical risk factors (flights, dehydration, etc.). No DVTs. Lower right lung adalectisis. Both pulmonary arteries about 90% blocked, additional clotting, especially on the right side. Cardiac echos were fine. Mildly prominent prostate. Otherwise clear abdominal contrast CT scan. Pleural-based opacities within lower lobes. Upon arrival to the ER, thrombotic risk profile all within normal, including Factor 5 Leiden. Tested for PNH and to determine PSA, waiting for results, very doubtful. Currently on 12.5 mg. warfarin with an INR of 3.1. I'm happy to provide more details or doctors' files.


So for those reading this post who know a doctor who might have a suggestions, please pass this along. My future athletics may rely on finding the right person.


There's also a bigger picture here. First, if I have a genetic disorder, a day will come when my kids should know about it. Second, if this is a result of some sort of confluence of events or factors, there's a good chance other endurance athletes should know about it. Their lives may depend upon it.


Thank you in advance for your help.

Christmas Eve In July

I think it's about time for some good news- which started coming in about the time I wrote my last post, and hasn't let up since then.

I'll start with the medical stuff. First, the abdominal CT scan, looking for tumors, came back negative. That was a major relief. Even though two doctors told me they seriously doubted I'd be positive, it was still nerve-wracking. Next came the latest INR reading, which was a robust 3.1. To put this in perspective, 3.5 is about as extreme as they go, which is for those who have mechanical heart valves. Now I get to have two weeks between blood tests instead of one.

The downside to all of this is that we still don't know what caused the clots. That's important because it can determine how long I'm on Coumadin. I know it will be at least six months. But if we don't find a cause, it could be a lifetime. That means no more bike riding on the road, which means no triathlons, and other activities could be eliminated such as skiing, ocean sailing and trail running. Needless to say, we still want to find the cause. As a result, I'll go to Boston for some far more advanced analysis. The search for the most appropriate doctor will be the subject of my next post.

When I saw the pulmonologist last week, I asked again about activity limitations. He said I could start back on the path to recovery, keeping my heartrate to no more than 60-80% of max. Excitement building. So I can go for a run? Yes. Great! "But I wouldn't do a road race until you've been on Coumadin for 3 months." Wahoo!!! I burst out laughing. Are you joking? The suggestion that I could do a road race two months from now gave me a huge lift. Not that I have anything planned, or will even feel ready for one by that point, but just having the prospect of being able to handle that kind of activity was a great moment. I decided then and there I'd go for a run on Thursday morning.

On Monday, I returned to the pool for the first time. It was great to see everyone, even though I received a few worried glances- Are you sure you can do this? Are you going to start bleeding all over the place? During the summer, we swim at an outdoor 25m pool in Portland. The water is crisp, clear and clean. I hopped in, swam down to the other end, turned, and pushed off. The feeling of streamlining off the wall was great. I only went 600m, but it felt incredible to be back in the pool. On Tuesday, I did a light spin on the bike, and on Wednesday returned to the pool for 1400m. The increase was after the doc said I could safely pick things up.

That night, we were hit by a series of huge thunderstorms. Leah freaked out, so she took my place in bed and I ended upstairs in the guestroom. Between the storm, stuffy air, allowing the dog to take shelter in the room, and sleeping in a twin bed (not great for someone who is 6' 2"), I didn't sleep very well. But the real reason for the lack of sleep was the anticipation for the run. It was like Christmas Eve as a kid. I finally got up around 4 and watched a bit of a movie. Then at 5, I headed out. I decided to alternate half miles walk/run, times three. It's a flat out-and-back, and I know the mileage markers. Those first running strides made my day. Sure, the legs felt heavy, slow and unstable. But I was running. I didn't care about the speed, and in fact kept it slow to keep my heartrate down. I had an ear-to-ear grin the entire way. The sun came up through the morning mist. The temperature was a perfect 70 degrees. U2's It's a Beautiful Day played. And I was running down the road. It's hard to accurately describe the feeling. I was on top of the world. It was the best Christmas in July.

Since then, I've had a few more runs and swims. It still feels great.

....................................

“You remember the rules. Keep yourself safe. Put a little joy into your life and those around you who you think may merit it. And never ever- that’s never ever- pass up an opportunity to kiss someone you love.”

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"You Were Very, Very Fortunate"

On July 4, 1939, at Yankee Stadium, Lou Gherig’s stepped to the microphone. Disabled by ALS, a disease that would claim his life two years later, he proclaimed, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. That I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.” Here’s a baseball and sports icon, thinking he’s lucky. He was giving up the game he loved, and knew his days were numbered. I’m beginning to understand.

Now don’t jump to any conclusions. At this point in time, I expect to be healthy and competing again. I don’t believe my life is in danger. However I’m beginning to understand just how close I did come to death. (It’s hard to write that word.) And this is helping me to look at my life in a different light, to appreciate and treasure and value that which is really most important.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been busy with medical appointments and plenty of blood draws. The major task has been to get my INR up to an acceptable level. The International Normalization Ratio shows how easily your blood clots. Most people are under 1. By taking Coumadin, my target is somewhere around 2.5, which should prevent further clotting. Given the extensive clotting and blockages, in particular in both pulmonary arteries, a further clot on top of what I already have could easily be fatal. The pulmonary artery takes blood from the heart to the lungs, splitting in two, one for each lung. Then the blood vessels keep splitting and branching out until they are tiny capillaries, at which point the blood absorbs oxygen, goes back to the heart, then out to the entire body. If blood can’t get through the lungs, no oxygen gets to the body and all of the organs- including the brain and heart. That isn’t good. My INR was taking its sweet time getting up to an acceptable level. It was only 1.2 when I got out of the hospital, then 1.6 around July 4th, 1.7, then it actually dropped to 1.6. Throughout, we kept increasing the Coumadin dosage. The dosing is taken very seriously- the drug is also used as rat poison. Take too much, and you bleed out.

All of the testing for genetic blood clotting disorders came back negative. That’s good, however the cause remains a mystery. As a result, my doctor referred me to a hematologist. In doing so, he warned me that outside of major metro areas that allow for medical specialization, hematologists are also oncologists, and the office I would be visiting was at the Maine Center for Cancer Medicine. He doesn’t think I have cancer, and didn’t want me to panic when I saw where I was going. I thanked him- without fully appreciating his warning.

When we returned from a weekend in Castine, I had mail waiting for me. It was a welcome package and forms to fill in before my appointment. I sat down. Wow. I’m filling in forms for a visit to a cancer office. Cancer. Cancer. What am I getting into? To make matters worse, I started Googling “cancer and blood clots.” I went from bad to worse. Then Christine started doing the same. Now two of us were in a tailspin. Then Nick walked in the room and saw the brochure from the Cancer Center. He paused, looked up and essentially asked if I had cancer. We explained that that’s just where the office was, and we’re just checking anyway. I’m not sure how affected he was- as a typical 14 year old, he doesn’t show excessive emotion.

So on Wednesday, I went to the hematologist. Walking in was tough. Here’s the sign that greeted me:



Checking in and going through the normal procedures was depressing. I prayed that I wasn’t going to become a long-term visitor of this office. They even took a picture of me for the computer file. I asked why, and she said, “we have a lot of people with the same name, so this helps.” Now that I think about it, I don’t buy it. That’s what birthdates, addresses and social security numbers are for. I wonder if it’s so they can see how patients’ appearances change over time- while they’re going through treatment. Not exactly a comforting thought.

To make a long story short, I’m going for another CT scan this week, this time for my lower abdomen- to look for tumors. As the doc in the hospital said, clots come from the legs and malignancies. I don’t have anything in my legs, so….. The hematologist really doesn’t think we’re going to find anything. At that point, we will probably do much more specific genetic blood work. My primary care doc completely agrees. Neither covers things up, so I trust their opinions. If I had a type of blood cancer, some of the earlier blood tests would have raised a red flag. And I still have zero additional symptoms. We just have to look for cancer so we can eliminate it as a possibility.

As we reviewed my CT scan from three weeks ago that showed the clots, the hematologist said to me, “you were very, very fortunate,” and explained that it’s very easy to die from what I had. That comment stuck with me. First, I began to realize how close I really came- something like 1.5 millimeters. That isn’t much. Second, and most importantly, I’ve turned around what he said. Instead of “were,” I say “are.” Or in the first person, “I am very, very fortunate.”

Being hit with significant bilateral pulmonary embolisms could prove to be one of the most influential experiences of my life. It has caused me to refocus back on my core values- my family, my health, and my work. In Christine, I have the best and most loving wife in the world. I have two great kids who are healthy. As a family, we are fortunate to live where we do and do the things we do. Nick and Leah will grow up and be great contributors to this world in some still to be determined way. By “great,” I don’t mean famous or monumental. I mean they will be positive contributors, even if it’s in a very localized way. And after all, isn’t that the most important thing we can leave behind?

I am incredibly fortunate to have done the physical things I have done. I love sports and competitions. Some of my clearest positive memories come from high school and college swimming. I don’t remember many times, but I do remember those moments- the great personal breakthrough races where I helped my team. As for triathlon, how many people even get to participate, much less achieve what I’ve done? Two Ironmans, tons of shorter races, all resulting in a spot earned on Team USA. I am incredibly fortunate to have progressed without injury. But honestly, if I had to choose between those accomplishments and all of the people I’ve met through the sport, there’s no doubt I’d take the latter. This is a group that wants to go faster than the next guy given every opportunity in the water or on the road- but when it’s over, helps each other out in any and every way possible. It’s a striking dichotomy and a great tribute to the sport. Triathlon can be a very lonely sport, and one that tests each individual almost daily during solo training sessions. It’s the unending support and camaraderie that gets us through to the next workout and race.

Again, don’t get me wrong- I have every intention of working hard and being competitive again. It will be done in a new light and in a new context, however. Greetings and conversations will be a bit longer and more sincere. There will be better balance in my life. I will look across the lake and view the road ahead with greater appreciation for how fortunate I am to be able to swim, bike and run at that moment and in that location.

And for my family, hugs last a little longer. I’m a better listener, especially for the meaning behind the words. And my life balance is better. I am incredibly fortunate to have had this scare, to have survived, and to have learned from it.
....................................

“You remember the rules. Keep yourself safe. Put a little joy into your life and those around you who you think may merit it. And never ever- that’s never ever- pass up an opportunity to kiss someone you love.”

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Head Games

First things first. In general, I feel better. I've been on blood thinners for almost a week now, and am told the risk of a further clot forming is extremely low.

That space between my ears, however, is messed up. I know it's normal, but that doesn't make it easier. I've become a hypochondriac, sensing every little sensation, wondering if something is going to go wrong. When I walked out of the hospital on Sunday, I felt like a ticking time bomb. Since then, I've begun to educate myself on what happened. Most clots come from the legs, and can first present themselves as tight or swollen calf muscles. What's that twinge in my calf? Is a clot about to dislodge, travel to my lungs and plant itself on top of my 85% blocked artery and kill me? I've learned that getting a massage, a perfectly normal solution, can help release them. Why is my chest tight? Airplane rides right after a race can also increase the chances of a problem. Why do my ribs hurt? I feel fine, I'd love to go for a run. I hope I don't drop dead. I can't wait to get back in the pool. I'm told this is much like post-traumatic stress disorder and is normal. Which in a strange way, is comforting.

I'm discovering that there are enough endurance athletes out there that have clotting issues and PEs that some work is being done on the topic. It's incredible how with several "life challenges/tragedies" we find they are more common than we ever imagined. I've made contact with two other triathletes- a 59 yr old male in VT who is still on coumadin but is back competing, and a 29 year old woman in CA who is currently in the hospital. Marit just had a few great workouts, went to the doctor, and landed in the ER with PEs and DVTs (deep venous thrombosis, or clots in the legs). Misery loves company. And given the lack of knowledge among many doctors, more awareness of the issues is a good thing.

A few seemingly small lifestyle changes serve as reminders of what happened and how things will be different. Two days ago I ordered medical alert bracelets. If I'm in some sort of accident, medics need to know I'm on coumadin. I'm not who I (thought I) was. Yesterday I walked to CVS to buy an electric razor. While a small cut won't be life treatening, it likely won't stop easily. I'm not who I (thought I) was. I can't ride a bike on the road as long as I'm on coumadin. A fall could either be life threatening (head) or a major problem (an other internal bruising or bleeding). I'm not who I (thought I) was. I need to really think twice before I go sailing, and certainly racing. Cuts and bruises can certainly occur, and it might not be easy to get to shore. I'm not who I (thought I) was.

Without a doubt, all of this has certainly helped put things in perspective. Family is number one. At the height of the crisis, I thought I might never be with Christine again or that I would see my kids again. Those are terrifying thoughts. Last night I acted, in a small way, on this new perspective. We went to a Winterkids fundraiser that had a silent auction and one item in the live auction- two hours of snowboarding with 2-time gold medalist Seth Wescott at Sugarloaf, followed by diner at his restaurant. It made zero economic sense, but I bought/won it with friends. Telling Nick he was going to ride with Seth and seeing his expression was worth every nickle. This will be an experience he will never forget.

As for workouts, I've walked about 2 miles every day. I can't go harder because my lungs can't absorb oxygen, and therefore my organs can't get the oxygen they need. As the clots start to dissolve, I'll be able to do more. I don't know how long it will take, but it will get better.

As for Budapest, the race is off. In fact, as I said, I can't take my bike out on the road for a while- at least until I get off of the coumadin. While crashes are very rare, they do happen. We've all seen them or been part of one. It became a very easy decision to make when I understood the risks. I don't have to like it, but it was easy. I worked damn hard to make the team, and badly wanted to wear the uniform and compete at that level. But living is more important.

Finally, I'd like to share with you something that I hear at 4:00 most days. I never get tired of it. Our head of operations on the floor of the NYSE, who talks to us every two hours (if we listen in), is a great man. He has had several family tragedies in his life, losing his wife and daughter. 9/11 also hit him very hard. Since then, he closes each day with the following. I suggest you take his suggestion:

"And you know the rules- keep yourslf safe, put a little joy into your life and those around you who you think may merit it, and never ever- that's never ever- pass up an opportunity to kiss someone you love."

Monday, June 28, 2010

I am either a freak or a post-menopausal, overweight woman who smokes and just returned from Australia

There were moments when I feared for my life. That I wouldn't every see my kids again or live out all of my shared dreams with Christine.

So much has happened since my last post . At that point, I thought I would just live with the discomfort, see how things go, and gradually build up my training. But after this weekend, I'm grateful to be alive, see how things go, and look forward to taking a walk.

After encouraging training over the weekend, I took Monday off to go to Boston for work. On Tuesday I biked in the AM and swam at noon. Even did some good fly. On Wednesday morning, I went for an easy 6 mile run. The effort felt like a 7:15 pace, but Mr. Garmin said it was abut 8:40. I also had to walk three times. Walk. I walked not because of paid, but because I was gassed. [As a side story, near the end, I passed a guy who I see on the road many times a week. A little while ago we saw each other at an event, and realized we both know Angela. He was aware of her great achievements in triathlons. That morning, he said, "I saw you almost got Angela in that race (Pirate Tri). Nice work!" Sure, rub it in.] Wednesday noon brought a slow swim workout. All of these efforts made me feel like I was at altitude- I just couldn't get enough air in.

That afternoon, I had some sudden chest pain to the right of my sternum. Since it was to the right, I figured it wasn't a heart issue, so soldier on. I went out to dinner with my business partners. When I got home, it hurt too much to bend over to untie my shoes or even take a half breath. In addition, I have been spitting up more blood than last week. The next day I did a very easy bike on my trainer, being careful not to breathe so hard that I would cause pain in my chest. In the afternoon, Christine and I went to see our doctor, Jim. He was still thoroughly confused, but said he talked with a pulmonologist, who threw out the wild idea of a PE, or pulmonary embolism, or clot in my lungs. Jim said it didn't make sense, but was willing to try anything. He also said that in case it is, my exercise was now limited to tying my shoes until I got clearance to do more.

On Friday afternoon, we went to see the lung doc, who checked me out, performed some lung function tests, then sent me to another location for a contrast CT scan and more blood work. Last week's CT was to look for tumors. For this one, they injected a dye in my arm, at which point they had about 60 seconds to take pictures. It would allow them to see clots that wouldn't have shown up on last week's test. We did the test, and I returned to the waiting room. Minutes later, my world came crashing down.

The technician and radiologist came out and said they saw multiple clots in my lungs (I later learned 20+), and some were large. They had called an ambulance and were taking me to the Maine Medical Center ER. My brain immediately went to....clot, stroke, dead. My kids aren't with me, and I'll never see them again. This could be the end. I'll never be with Christine again. I can't be too dramatic here. Tears flowed.

There were times when I tried to stay calm. Panic wouldn't help anything. I remember the ambulance guy coming in and asking how I was doing. My response? "Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?"

As for the CT scan, both the lung doc and Jim were shocked by what they saw. It just doesn't fit. I have ZERO risk factors. The most common candidate for a PE? A post-menopausal, overweight woman who smokes and was just on a long flight. Yeah, that's me. I can't tell you how many times I was asked the same list of 20 questions in an attempt to find something that makes sense. Nothing fits. They drew a gallon of blood, some of which went to testing. We'll get results in a few days that might help figure this all out.

Back to the CT scan waiting room. They assured me that there was no risk of a clot going to my brain. You need a hole in your heart, between the left and right atriums for that to happen, and I had a clean echo last week. Fast forward to the ER. A very good friend, Ed, a cardiologist, was on site. It's normal for PE patients in the ER to get an echo, so the technician came in. As she was almost done, Ed arrived, and she pointed to one possible abnormality. He wasn't sure, but agreed to do a "bubble test" where they inject small bubbles in my IV. We watched on the screen as they filled one side of the heart, and sure enough, leaked through to the other side. A PFO is something that between 15 and 25% of the population has, most without every knowing it. When in utero, the lungs don't function, and there's a hole in the heart. That hole is closed by two overlapping flaps after birth, but not for me. PFOs are nothing to get worried about.....unless you have clots. Great. To make a long story short, it was another scare, makes me nervous, but intellectually is not a concern.

They moved me from the ER up to a room at 11PM. The next day, I saw Jim. He was incredibly relieved that we now know what's going on. I was, in turn, relieved to see his relief. I asked a bunch of questions and tried to remember the answers. The subject of Budapest came up. There are two primary risks with the trip. First is the flight- both the air pressure and the long inactivity. Second, a bike crash while on coumadin would not be good. Time has to go by for us to get a handle on this. At this point, I'd be thrilled to still go on the trip, put the uniform on, and just finish. It's funny to think I've had trouble coming up with a goal for this race. Now it's just to finish in one piece. As an aside, I dropped out of Urban Epic last week and Bethel last night. I'm leaving Fireman on the list in the event that we are able to go to Budapest.

On Saturday night, I had an echo on my legs. It was around 9PM, and my family had all gone home. As I lay there, she seemed to keep working on certain areas, pushing lots of buttons, etc. Given my recent track record, I was sure there was more bad news on its way. Fortunately, I tested negative for Deep Vein Thrombosis, or clots in the legs. While that's good, we're left wondering where they came from since 85% of clots come from the legs.

Most of my time in the hospital was spent in the waiting room or walking the loop around the floor. It was kind of funny how the nurses and doctors had to keep chasing me down to draw blood, take vitals, whatever. The whole time I had five leads taped to my front and a bulky wireless transmitter. This made sleeping rather difficult, in addition to the "just in case" IV sticking in my arm. At one point I was walking circles, carrying my transmitter and iPhone in the same hand. That caused some panic with my nurse as the phone caused my HR to read too high, setting off alarms.

Which reminds me of another funny story. While in the ER, I had all sorts of wires attached, and a monitor above my head that I could read. One of the numbers and graphs showed my respiratory rate. I found I could control the shape of the white line with my breath. So I slowed my breathing to 7 (per minute?), which would set off an alarm. I got a kick out of it during a pretty stressful time. Whatever works.

On Sunday morning, I learned I would go home that day. While talking with the doctor, I asked to see the CT scan from Friday. I wanted to visualize what was going on. Most of us have two lungs, and each has a pulmonary artery feeding it blood. My guess is they are about 2 cm. wide. Both of mine were/are about 85% blocked. Holy shit. That isn't far from 100% (not good). That visual will stick with me for a long time. So why was I able to function so well before, even on the day they took me to the ER? It's all about my training. To over-simplify, a "normal" person might use 30% of their lung capacity to walk down the road. If you take away 85%, they're in a deficit. I might need 10% to do the same. Take away 85%, and I still have room to operate. Training, however, also made things worse. We train ourselves to push beyond discomfort and previous limits. If we don't hurt, we aren't working hard enough. We feel something, and assume it will pass or we need to work though it. As a result, I didn't take all of this seriously enough. Now I know what it feels like, and I will not make that same mistake again.

Walking out of the hospital was tough. I felt incredibly vulnerable. The cord was being cut. What if? What if? Apparently, these feelings are very normal, and subside with time and as confidence rebuilds. I already feel better today. I can take a huge breath without pain, the first time in over two weeks. Physically, I know things will get better. Mentally, this is all pretty heavy now. It's life changing, but I realize it's too soon to know exactly how.

One final thing. Through the iPhone and Facebook, many good wishes were received. They were not only a great distraction, but also very comforting and greatly appreciated. Thank you all.

Friday, June 18, 2010

One Hell of a Week

Whoa. My last race was one to forget, and this week was one that I hope to never repeat. It was scary, reflective, and painful. And frankly, I feel odd throwing it out there for all to read about. But given that it will likely have an impact on my season and partially explains last Sunday's race, it needs to be told. I won't include every detail, but you'll get the picture.

As I mentioned in my last post, I had to quit Saturday's brick run because of the widespread and intense pain/cramping all around my torso. Sunday's sprint tri was a lousy effort, but free of pain. On Monday night, I was feeling uncomfortable in my torso, and asked Christine for a short massage. It felt good when she was doing it, but caused considerable pain and discomfort during the night. It was hard to breathe- I certainly couldn't take a deep breath- and my ribs hurt all around.

So that got me to my doctor, a great D.O., who I've been with for a long time. He poked and prodded front and back, all around my ribs, and tried to see if he could trigger the pain- without success. He drew blood, then sent me for a chest x-ray and said I'd also get an echocardiogram.

That night was the worst of my life. The only position without serious pain was my left side, but my shoulder became very uncomfortable. I took Tylenol or Advil every two hours. At about 2 AM, I tried to roll over, and got stuck. I couldn't move and could only take short, shallow breaths. It was frightening to think of all of the things that could be wrong and what they would mean. While irrational, I kept picturing Lance Armstrong's chest x-ray with all of the golf ball tumors. And triathlon, while on my mind, was WAAAAY down on the list. Sitting or standing was tolerable, so I messed around on the computer for 90 minutes. At that point, I was able to get another hour of sleep.

Wednesday night was a little better, and Thursday was much better. The further away I get from the massage or prodding, the better. Today I had a CT scan in the beautiful new Mercy facility on the Fore River. (By the way, I was in the waiting room for just 2 minutes- I was amazed by the efficiency).

So after blood tests and three diagnostic tests, what's going on? No idea. With only a couple of very minor exceptions, everything looks great. As my doc said, "The good news is we don't know what's going on. The bad news is we don't know what's going on." I have another blood test next week to see how one particular reading has changed. Other than that, his orders are to be my own judge of effort. After taking Mon-Wed off completely as planned, I swam a really slow 1,000 yards yesterday and ran a really slow 2.3 miles today. Both times it took a while to be able to breathe normally. Tomorrow I'll sit on my trainer in the garage (I'm SO excited!) and go for as long as I can tolerate it mentally.

As for Urban Epic, I'll make a judgement at the end of next week. At that point, I'll have two weeks to go and I'll know if I can train up to the level I need to. I don't want to do the race if I'm not in good form- I'd rather wait for Bethel.

In the very remote chance something is really wrong, I don't want to be one of those black swans who is incredibly healthy and keels over. And if this is just going to take some time, that's OK. The big race is in September, and my base is so strong that I can afford to go through this down time.

I look forward to getting past this week.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Race Report: Pirate Tri- One to Forget

It bothers me to write this report, but it needs to be done. I learned something today, but it had nothing to do with the race. It has to do with training and rest.

Today was my sixth race in four weeks. Week one had two tough bike time trials. Week two had a TT and then a 4 mi road race one hour later. Week three was Mooseman, which turned into a 17 mi bike and 10k run. I've done a descent job sticking with my mid-week training, but the races did have an influence, especially this week. I just didn't have the speed or power that I'm used to. At the same time, I've been sleeping very little for several weeks, partially a result of racing (tough to turn the brain off), partially due to training (early mornings), and partially due to stress at work (wondering what the headlines would be when I wake up).

Then this past Friday, I went for a massage to help with recovery and injury prevention. My mistake was going to my #2 LMT because #1 wasn't available. He beat the crap out of me. That night, I was tossing and turning all night long, unable to get comfortable or even take a really deep breath. The next morning, I was sore getting out of bed. I went out on my scheduled 90 minute ride, which was fine- not great, it seemed a bit tough, but good enough. Then I attempted a 4.2 mile run. I wanted to hit the first 1.5 at race pace because that was my focus for today's race. After just a few strides, my entire torso was cramping up. I made it about 200 yards and had to stop. Hands on knees, deep breaths, try again, this time slower. After 50 yards, I stopped, made a 180, and walked home. I quit. I can't remember the last time I did that. I've cut workouts short, gone slower than planned, but I always did something. I could not have even run 8 min miles, so I bagged the run. Due to a forgiving family schedule, I was able to lie down for about 2 1/2 hours, including an hour of sleep and some World Cup soccer. I felt a little better at that point.

Last night, it still bothered me to take a deep breath. Getting out of bed this morning was better, but I still felt it. I got to the race early so I could get in a short bike and run and probe my body to see what was going on. It was certainly better than yesterday, but my overall energy wasn't there. As the time wore on, my torso felt better.

I swam the course for warmup and felt OK. Then we had the prerace meeting on the beach. As I was wallowing in self pity, a mother and daughter from Camp Sunshine addressed the crowd. The little girl, age 7, was diagnosed with something that sounded like cancer in the retina of her eye when she was 3 months old. She's been through so much in her young life, including having her eye removed. It was a heart wrenching story to begin with, but here's the kicker- her name was Leah, the same as my 8 year old. Life isn't fair, and that easily could be my little girl up there. We are so fortunate to have two healthy kids. That was a big wake up call for me. Who am I to complain about being tired and sore when she's been through so much more?!

The waves went off every three minutes, with the women 30 seconds behind the men. There were a bunch of people I wanted to be competitive with (beat), including Bob (my wave) and Ange (30 seconds back). I hit the first half of the swim pretty well, not seeing any of the lovely pink caps that our wave wore, which frankly, I expected. I got into the prior wave before the first turn and made it through them. At the second turn, heading back to the beach, it was far more crowded, so I took a wide berth. It added distance, but allowed me to swim without dodging nearly as many swimmers. At one point, I passed someone and basically caught their head in my armpit as I recovered my left arm, pushing them underwater. I felt terrible, but there wasn't much I could do about it. The entire return trip, the lower half of my body (which shouldn't be working), was incredibly tired and uncomfortable. I badly wanted to just take it easy getting back, but knew I couldn't. I finally finished in a long 7:53, which I'll take.

Out on the bike, the power just wasn't there. Going into the race, I wanted a more controlled effort so I could leave something for the run. My recent races have had very hard efforts, and I learned at Mooseman I need to control it better. But I couldn't even get respectable numbers. My breathing was very heavy and my HR was through the roof. My power numbers confirm the lousy results- normalized power was just 258w, compared to 274 at Polarbear and 281 at Mooseman. Bob finally caught me as we hit the access road and we had a little fun on the way back in. He ended up with a gap of 10+ seconds at the end, which I was able to make up in T2.

Out on the run, Bob put a quick 10 yard gap on me and then very slowly extended it to about 20 yards over the next 2 miles. Then at the water stop, he grabbed a cup, slowed a bit, and the gap was cut in half. I thought for a bit I'd be able to get him, but that didn't last long. Soon after, I hear someone behind be yell, "Go Ange!" Damn. There she was. Our wave started 30 seconds ahead of hers, so I knew she was going to be inside that gap. That took what little life I had left out of me, and she passed me with about 1/2 mile left to the finish.

For a small local race, the field had some great competition. Many did a 70.3 last Sunday, and to go fast for this race is impressive. I ended up 12th OA, and 2/41 in my AG. Looking at the splits, my bike should have been about 2 minutes faster, and the run at least 30 seconds better.

Those of us that are interested in training schedules know that periodization is a cornerstone. And it's a concept I've ignored. You need to rest and cut back on training every 4 weeks or so. In general, since I got back in the pool in February, I've been around 10-11 hrs/wk. Low weeks are 8 hours, and generally due to scheduling issues. There also haven't been many of those.

As a result, I'm going to take the next three days completely off. No training at all. To put that in perspective, I've taken three days off over the last four weeks. On Thursday and Friday, I'll do some light training, then go long and easy on the weekend. I get caught in the same trap that many do- we start good training in December, get to peak form for early May, and then expect to perform well through September. It just isn't realistic. My big race is September 12, so taking a few days won't hurt that- in fact, it could help. I'd like to have a really good showing at Urban Epic on July 10 to atone for today. It's a more competitive race and fun venue. So this little break will allow for a 3 week, logical, thoughtful training period.

Congratulations to all of those who are putting up some great results in local races as well as races that attract huge international talent. It's great to see Mainers doing so well. I still hope we can get a strong contingent at the USAT National Championships next year in Burlington, VT. Qualifying for the Oly race isn't too tough, and I don't think there's a standard for the sprint. Put on your schedule!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Race Report: Mooseman Olympic Tri..errr...Duathlon

As the title suggests, we had a curveball thrown at us. Thunderstorms rolled through at about 4 in the morning, then again at 7. Had they started with a swim at 9, as opposed to the scheduled 7:30, people would have been out on the bike course too late, so they cancelled the swim and started at 9. They also shortened the bike, I think due to an unconfirmed washout situation.

I looked at this weekend as opening day for the regular season. The one sprint tri, three bike TTs and one road race were all in preparation for this. Last year I was 13th, so I hoped for a top 10. However when you take away my normally strong segment, that becomes a tall order.

It took a little while to get over the disappointment of a cancelled swim and shortened bike leg (17 vs. 27). The whole reason for making the trip was washed out, and I don't have another Oly race on the schedule. Then I heard how this duathlon was going to start- one person at a time, every THREE seconds. Are they joking? Don't they realize how congested it will be out there? I figured the only approach was to be aggressive and pass as many people as possible in the first five miles. At that point, the course hits the BIG hill and I figured people would start to get spread out. Between that strategy and my recent TT events, I hit it hard right out of the gate. I was actually surprised it wasn't more congested, but I was passing people hand over fist. Twice I had to deal with cars on the course travelling in the same direction. I passed one to the left and one to the right, nervous both times. They slowed me down, as did the few times when I had to yell at folks who were slowly "passing" other riders. I don't think it's illegal to go three abreast, as I learned at nationals last year.

I continued to work hard the whole way, with little regard for what followed. My normalized power was 281w, 18 higher than last year. Speed went from 22.3 to 23.7 this year. And my peak 5 minutes showed how aggressive I was at times- 285w vs. 315w this year. I probably wasn't as consistent as I should have been, but that was tough with all of the traffic out there. Liking to dissect results, I found there's a guy in my AG who has beaten me now three years in a row at Mooseman and the '08 and '09 nationals. Last year he beat me on the bike by 1:44. This year I beat him by :05. Good stuff. In fact, I ws tied for first in my AG. OA, I was 18th on the bike last year, and 10th this year. I consider this a huge accomplishment, and am thrilled. The hard work and racing has paid off......

.....but at a price. My run wasn't so good. I started out feeling pretty sapped, and it took forever to get to mile 1. I didn't wear a watch, so I had no idea what my splits were. At that point, I was in a groove that seemed like a fair pace, leaving a bit for the return trip. However I never got out of the groove. The speed just wasn't there. I also didn't have someone I knew, in my AG, who was trying to run me down like last year. I ended up with a disappointing 44:51, far slower than I should be.

So does that mean I biked too hard, or that I need more work on my run, or both? My hunch is it's a bit of both. If I went too hard on the bike, I'm willing to accept that. You can't find where your limits and targets are until you go past them.

As for the transition, I nailed it at 0:55. Only one person OA was under :50, and a handful under 1:00. It was funny, actually. I was out of my shoes at the dismount, and ran to my rack which was close to the bike entrance. I racked it, took my helmet off, pulled on my shoes, and then actually thought to myself, "that was too easy- what am I forgetting?" Turns out nothing. The best transitions are simple.

I ended up 30th OA with about 700 competing, and 5th of 86 in my AG. With a swim, I think I would have picked up at least one spot, and perhaps get as high as 2nd in AG. So while it isn't what I signed up for, I'm pleased with the results.

Pirate Tri (sprint) next Sunday, then I can get back to a more regular training schedule.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Race ReportS: Cape TT (Disaster Averted), FCP 4 mi., and Overeating

Today started with my third time trial in two weeks (and last for the season). After the Freeport TT last week, I suspected that my threshold might be higher than I thought. So I decided to cover up the Powertap display and just go hard. My friend and friendly rival Bob started right behind me, just 30 seconds back. We both had solid training days yesterday (I biked 2 hrs. and ran 45 min), so I think we entered equally fatigued. He can reach levels in training I can only dream about, especially on the hills. Last week, however, we saw our TT efforts are fairly even- I out touched him by 10 seconds. I knew he wanted to take me down, and by starting behind me, I was afraid I would be a rabbit for him.

A couple of days ago, I said I would ride harder than normal and risk blowing up today. It's funny how easily those words come in front of a keyboard- when it's time to do it, even though there isn't much on the line, it's tough to look into that abyss.

Most of the course was flat with really long, gentle rollers. It consisted of a small 5 mile loop, then you repeat the first 3 miles of the loop as you start a larger 9 mile loop. The backside had three good hills, but they were short enough that I was in the big ring the whole way. There were also very few corners and intersections, so overall, it was pretty fast.

At the start, I jumped out and went for it. Within a mile, it felt like my heart was going to jump through my chest and I could barely take in enough air. At the same time, I realized I hadn't started my Powertap, so hit the button to wake it up and swore at the operator. What an idiot. I don't think I let off the pace much, but things seemed to get under control fairly soon after that.

Here I am on the first loop. Notice the slow shirt and race number holding me back. I need to change those for next year.



Here I am the second time through, obviously struggling.


I stayed consistent the whole way, even working the downhills. I was afraid to look, but expected Bob to come flying by the entire time. The race went by fairly quickly, and at the finish, figured I had done well. I waited for Bob, hoping it would be more than the 30 second gap- it turns out I beat him by 22 seconds, which is a victory in my book. He's a very solid competitor.
I finished 9th OA. As for the data gathering, the numbers were good. Compared to Freeport, my cadence was identical (89), VI went from 105 to 102, speed from 23.6 to 24.4, and average power went from 279 to 286. What's incredible is that my normalized power was identical- 293w. I guess I know where my threshold is.

From the finish, I made my way to the end of the first loop to see Nick and ride with him. That's where we nearly had the worst family disaster you can imagine. For those of you that know Cape Elizabeth, the course turned right (more than 90 degrees) from Fowler Rd. back onto Route 77. We both rode the first loop as warm up, and I explained he was to turn right at that point. He rode the course last year as part of the CELT sprint tri. This time, however, he shot out through the intersection and crossed both lanes as if he were turning left. When I realized what he was doing, I yelled, at which point, right around the double yellow line, still in aero bars, he turned back to the right, going up Rt. 77 on the wrong side of the road. He then crossed safely and proceeded onto the second loop.
This could have been a complete disaster. There were no officials slowing traffic coming in the other lane. And the one marshall directing racers was less than obvious. She was also handling traffic, for both cars and bikes, coming from two different directions. What many race organizers don't realize is that marshalls have no idea how hard we're working and what that does to our ability to think. Subtle waving isn't enough. They need to be out there with big orange flags that are impossible to miss (like the Freeport TT), and be LOUD. I've been to many other races where they fall short. I've even made wrong turns myself. We need to accept partial blame here for our mistake. No question about it. However we're talking about a life and death situation, and there need to be additional safeguards. I could go on and on with my frustrations. I just hope the organizers can learn something from this and improve for next year. Fortunately, we're all in one piece.
Anyway, Nick had a good race and upped his average speed to about 18. Here he is:


After the race, I drove back to Falmouth for a 4 mile road race hosted by Community Programs. I'm on the town advisory committee, so I wanted to support them. I ran around the field a few times for warm up. At the start, I was on the shoulder of the leader for a few hundred yards, and thought, "Uh oh. If I'm near the lead, I have to work hard. And I'm not sure I want to do that." After a couple hundred yards, Mr. Garmin said I was going at a 5:56 pace. Not good. Thankfully, another guy came along, and they left me. It was a great sight to see the leaders move away from me. The last thing I wanted to do was empty an already depleted tank. At about mile 3, I fell to 5th place, which was fine. The course was flat and slight uphill to a turnaround. I split 6:39, 7:00, 6:43 and 6:39 for a total time of 27:10 (or so). I'm very satisfied with the effort.
To cap the day off, my 9 year old Leah and I went to the Sea Dogs game, sat 7 rows behind home plate, and had a great time. We also ate way too much- sausage roll, french fries, chicken nuggets, Sea Dogs biscuit and fried dough (my favorite).
Now I need to recover and fine tune for Saturday. Mooseman is a big deal, my only "B" olympic distance race of the year beside Worlds. I obviously feel good about my bike. The swim could be marginal, but I need to remember that that's pretty good. The run should be fine, but I have some questions about it. This is the race that starts the serious part of the season. I'm looking forward to it. Good luck to those doing the Sunday 1/2 Mooseman and also those going to CT for Rev 3. It's a big weekend all around.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Blind and Fast

I had two good races last weekend. Saturday in NH was a hard uninterrupted effort for 1:12 that produced some of by best power numbers ever. Sunday in Freeport was a surprise. I had a poor warmup, was tired from Saturday, but let it fly when they said "Go." A switch was flipped- racing = fast. Someone says go, I go. Early in the race, I was surprised at my power output. It required looking for small sections to rest, but overall, I beat some career efforts.

I'm really curious about something. I think there are times when we can be held hostage by our data. Powertaps and Garmins are great tools, help regulate efforts over long races, but maybe...just maybe...they act as a cap. Mary had a good post a while ago that defended the use of these toys, as opposed to those who say they we should race and train by feel. I agree with what she wrote, but Sunday showed me that maybe my ceiling is higher than I thought.

I'll use my Powertap in every other race this season. But as an experiment, I'm going to put tape over the computer for the Cape TT. I don't care too much about the place or time (again, other than vs. a few select individuals ;-)), I care about the data. This race is to 1) do something with Nick, and 2) get better for triathlons.

So I'm going to ride blind. No data at all. No power, no speed, no cadence. I know the roads, so I don't even need to see the distance. I'm going to blast out of the start, go hard up Route 77, Fowler, 77, Spurwink, and 77 to the finish. Everything will be all out. If I blow up, big deal. That might actually be a good thing- you can't really know where your limit is until you go past it. We're only talking about 14 miles and 36 minutes in a "C" race.

This should be interesting....and painful....and valuable.........and fast.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Race ReportS: Crank the Kanc TT and Freeport TT

Yesterday started a string of four consecutive weekends of racing- three bike TTs, one 4 mi. road race (all of those in 8 days), the Mooseman Oly and Pirate Sprint Tri. It wasn't my intention to cram so many races into a short period, it's just how it worked out. I also threw in two of the time trials so Nick could join me. He loves riding my former TT bike, and let's face it- any time you can get a nearly-14 year old to do something with you, you jump at the chance. He did the bike portion of a sprint tri last fall and did great despite the pouring rain.


Crank the Kanc is clearly the best test of bike fitness each year. There isn't a swim before or run after to muddy the waters and affect the effort, and it's length really sets it apart from other TTs. Yesterday was the third year in a row for me. I didn't care about my place- there are many more biker-only types there who are faster. I didn't care about my time- weather conditions make a huge difference. For example, the entire race travels approximately west, so even a slight breeze can make a big difference. The only thing about time and place I cared about was how I did relative to the many folks from this area that raced. It's an ego thing, you know. We all know how prior years went, and we're all looking for improvement. What I really cared about was DATA. It's hard to come up with a more pure test of fitness. There are no corners, intersections, or meaningful downhills. It's point the bike west, start pedaling, and go hard for more than an hour. Find the red line, and try to stay right there, especially when it hurts.


The course is rolling for about 16.6 mi, slightly up, all big ring, with only a couple of downhills that you can glide- but really shouldn't. Yesterday I only stopped pedaling once, and for about 10 yards. I also stood up a couple of times to loosen up my back. Then the road turns up for 4.9 mi, all small ring. There are a few spots where you can shift out of the easiest gear, but in general it's a long hard grind.


Last year I made great improvements over 2008. My average power went from 262w to 276w, and I was consistent- I was just 3w higher on the hill compared to the lead-in (as opposed to a 12w difference in '08). I didn't feel my bike conditioning was up to last year's level, but I decided to target the same power- 275w. At the start, I easily pedaled at 300w+, constantly telling myself to back off and searching for the right power / cadence / feel combination. The first 20 minutes flew by. I knew I'd hit the hill around 45-47 minutes. The second half of the lead-in was uncomfortable, especially in my lower back and crotch. In a strange sort of way, I was looking forward to the hill just so I could sit up and change positions. Again, this is a straight shot, so there's no opportunity to change positions or stretch out. Last year I averaged 275w for this portion. this time when I hit the hill, I looked at my average power and saw 279w. Great!


There isn't much to tell about the hill, other than it's tough. I averaged 283w, so again it was consistent with the first part and an improvement (5w) over last year. At the end I let it all out, crossed the line, was able to get my shoes out of the pedals, but couldn't move. Luckily Mark B was there to help me dismount- thanks Mark! In the two prior years, the ride back down was torture. My ass hurt the whole way, and the last thing I wanted to do was sit on my bike. This year it didn't hurt at all, and actually had a pleasant ride back down. I knew it would be important to have a good recovery so I could race the next day.

The results still haven't been posted online, but I have analyzed the data. My peak 60 min. was 281w, and 20 min was 291w. When I compare those numbers to all rides and races over the last 12 months starting June 2009 (248w and 283w), I'm thrilled. In fact, I have NEVER put up numbers like that.

Turn the page to today. Nick and I got up early for the Freeport TT (18 mi). I had everything timed out just right. We went out for a warmup, and about 2 miles from the start Nick got a nice piece of glass in the rear tire. I called Christine, who was just arriving to watch, and she came and picked Nick and the bike up. I pretty much sprinted back to the start because we had about 15 min to our starting time. Luckily, I had my training wheels with us. I put on the rear, telling Nick that it's a 9-speed bike and a 10-speed wheel, so the gears might not be smooth. We then went over to the start line and had about 2 min to spare. That isn't what you'd call an ideal warmup period. I had figured, well, given yesterday's race and what just happened, the pressure's off. Don't worry about the results.

Yeah, right. When I started, I just let it all out. I attacked the course, and the adrenaline kept up a strong effort (normalized power of 303w) for the first 5 miles. That seemed fine so I figured I would keep it up and see what happened. There were a few downhills where I coasted to recover, which made a huge difference. At mile 14, I figured there were only 4 miles to go, not too long to suffer, so I kept up the pace. I ended with an average power of 279w and normalized 293. My peak 10 minutes was 298w, compared to 295 on Saturday. For a race that was a very low priority, and on a day that didn't start well, I feel great about the numbers.

As for Nick, he started 30 seconds behind me. Soon after the start, the road makes a 90 degree bend to the left, crosses RR tracks, and goes up a steep, short hill. He threw his chain at that point, and had to stop to fix it. He then had trouble clipping back into the pedals on the hill- also, yesterday was the first day he had ever used proper bike shoes.

After I finished, I rode the course backwards until I found him. As we made our way up the final hill before the finish, he said "THIS SUCKS." Music to my ears, as long as he felt good about the race after the finish- which he does. TTs, or most any race, is supposed to suck. If it didn't, you didn't go hard enough. His time was 1:05, had an average power of 180w, and speed of 17.0. That's for someone who, while athletic, does zero sustained effort training and hasn't been on a TT bike in 8 months. He finished in 2nd place in the under-18, and walked away with a $30 gift card for Beans! That's more than I can say! As for next week, he definitely still wants to do the Cape TT. That's good news.

Very proud Papa here.