Radical Immersion

Ironman Training with Life, Marriage, Children & Work

Category: Injury & Recovery

Going Long — In IV Parts

I. Last weekend I ran 27 miles and followed it with 12.5 on Sunday.  It was a mixed bag.  I ran a marathon personal record for on the first day despite coming in decidedly slower than I started.  It is always nice to drop 10 minutes off of a time.  The next morning I watched tribe members at their cross country meet and then ran home, the long way, along the river to get in another two hours at an easy pace.  It was pretty ugly after the first half.  Around six miles, I got hungry.  Around eight to nine miles, I started to bonk.  At 11 miles, I was walk-running and totally cooked.

II. Yesterday I tackled the 27 mile loop again.  The first eight miles were effortless and my splits were within seconds of each other.  Miles nine and 10 incorporate the first hills.  I finished 10 miles in 1:20+ before hitting an eight mile section of hills.  Around mile 16-17, my abdomen melted down.  I had cramps from my hip all the way up my side and under my ribs.  I was short of breath, pained and annoyed.  A really good run was going down the drain.  Then the worst, I was walking.  I walked along for at least five minutes until I came to a bench with a fountain where I stretched.  I couldn’t fix the problem.

After some time, Kirby came along.  She had only a few miles left.  I ran along — the company made a bad situation tolerable.  The discomfort didn’t really go away, but I stopped thinking about it.  So much so, that I decided to finish the run with the “extra” four mile loop instead of turning for home where the path passed closest to our house.  It was a long, unhappy four miles.  In all, yesterday’s 27.25 miles took 20 minutes longer than last week’s 27 miles.

III. Last month I ran about 207 miles.  I think I’m hitting the limit of how much my body can handle.  Hamstrings are getting tight, then better, then tight again.  My glutes hurt — like an ache.  My feet are sore.

IV. I emailed the race director for the race around Key West.  Nothing back yet.  It is a 12.5 mile ocean swim — it could be a grand adventure next June!

Meltdown in the Mountains — 80 Minutes of Medical Attention

A list of the weird things my body did upon finishing Ironman Coeur d’Alene

  1. I became dizzy, disoriented and had narrow, tunnel vision.  I slurred my speech and repeated the same thing several times.
  2. I talked excessively to a guy I met at the finish line, Scott Rigsby, like I had known him for years.  It was very uncharacteristic behavior for me but he didn’t seem to mind and was the person who steered me into the medical tent to find someone to help my crazy-talking self.  I’ve known of him for years, but never met him.
  3. I did not recognize two friends who stood “bedside” shortly after I arrived.  According to their report hours later, at first I just stared blankly at them like we’d never met.  Sorry about that.
  4. There was a metallic taste in my mouth.
  5. My teeth and my feet became tingly and numb.
  6. My right calf seized up into a monstrous cramp the first time I shifted and tried to sit fully upright.
  7. Freezing cold towels were draped over my legs to help the cramp which made me start shivering and shaking so bad that I couldn’t talk and I crushed a paper cup full of soup because my hands clenched while they shook.  The cold towels were removed and I was given a space blanket.  We were in a massive tent, on asphalt, it was 105 degrees and I was happily bundled in a blanket.
  8. The vastus medialis muscle above my right knee went into a spasm that lasted approximately 30 minutes.
  9. I had a twitch in my left foot; for about five minutes it just kicked out an inch or two to the left every five seconds.
  10. I forgot Dana’s phone number.  Fortunately, the medical attendant who agreed to text her for me was able to look at my Road ID to get the number.  For some reason, during this conversation I developed a stutter.  It was amazingly frustrating because I felt like my brain was working at 80 percent normal speed but the messages — which I was thinking — were not coming out of my mouth.  She would say, “What would you like me to tell her?”  I could not get the words out to say something as simple as “I’m fine.  A little dizzy.”  This exchange with an extremely patient women trying to help me communicate made me cry.  She gave me a towel to wipe my face and it was still cold from the leg incident which caused an immediate headache.
  11. I became extremely emotional — nearly weepy several times like when they first took my vital signs, overjoyed at other points, and worried about details that were entirely insignificant like how tight the laces were on my shoes.  I apologized several times for taking up space when there were obviously people who needed help.  I was assured that I was in fact one of those people — only I couldn’t recognize it.
  12. Several times I called out to the guy in the chair opposite me.  I thought poor Kevin — only about eight feet away — was in terrible shape if he didn’t recognize his own name after the race.  Only about an hour later, when Kevin arrived in the medical tent and took the spot two chairs to my right did I realize the guy I’d been harassing was someone else, wearing entirely different colors in his kit, and with his name clearly visible on his bib — it wasn’t Kevin.  I was the mess, not the other guy.
  13. For the first half hour I was in the tent, my nose would not stop running.
  14. I became mildly paranoid about my heart rate and kept checking it even after they removed my watch to improve circulation to the extremities.  The watch had the heart rate on display so I had to count it out.  This would be no big deal but I was paranoid and doing it every few minutes.  Every time I checked it was within a few beats of when they came by and checked it which was in the low to mid 60s.  My blood pressure was also pretty stable around 110/70.
  15. I felt drunk.  We’re not talking buzzed or tipsy.  I was like that guy you’ve all seen who gets so loaded at the tailgate he never makes it into the stadium.  The only difference is he usually sleeps in the parking lot a mile from the game and I was awake, on a plastic lounge chair, totally falling apart in a parking lot only 10 yards from the finish line.

The medical personnel said that I had acute hyponatremia and not to worry but to drink my fluids — chicken broth and Gatorade.  I knew enough about hyponatremia to get a little freaked out.  I kept thinking about the irony that I was going to drown, on dry land, when the thing I did best at these races was swim.  Later, before I was released, it was explained that if I had more serious symptoms or if I had vomited even one more time, I would have had an IV immediately and probably been shipped straight to the hospital.  Their prescription was salty drinks and time.  It worked.

I didn’t have it from drinking too much fluid but rather from too low of sodium concentration because I had been sweating out electrolytes faster than I could keep them down and absorb them.

I was also told that it was both helpful and a good sign that I was able to recount for the medical team my “history” which is to say I was able to detail my nutrition over the previous six hours — how much I drank, how many salt tablets I took, how many gels I ate, how many times I vomited and my estimate of how many gels I kept down.  It was helpful because it gave them a picture of how long I had effectively been running on empty and they didn’t have to guess or assume the worst.

It was a good sign because even though my mind was playing all sorts of games and working slowly, the ability to count a variety of items/activities and recount them was a good sign.  I knew how many salts I had taken and the intervals at which I had taken them going back ten hours but could not recognize friends who stood next to me or sat across an aisle.  I gave a detailed account of my Gu consumption but was dizzy enough that three people had to lower me into the chair.

Most of these symptoms that emerged in the medical tent, I’m told, were brought on as my systems tried to “turn themselves back on” as more electrolytes entered my bloodstream and the balance of water, sugar, salts etc. regained a semblance of normal.  It took almost a week for my stomach to get back to normal.  I’m going to lose one toenail to the race.  I felt mentally sluggish for several days after the race and had term memory problems — like when I called someone and had trouble with the voicemail because I couldn’t remember my own phone number or difficulty with my computer passwords.  All in all, it probably took about a week to get back to normal.

Thank you to the people of Coeur d’Alene who lined the run course with ice, hoses, sprinklers and good cheer.  I’m sure you kept many people out of the hospital.  The volunteers kept us all out of the hospital.  The medical volunteers were smart, attentive, patient and genuinely humane.  Thank you all.

Rah Rah Raleigh

Esme and I took a road trip to Raleigh this weekend.  She hung out with her lifelong pal Ava and I ran the half marathon.

Another post will have to do justice to the race details.  In sum, it was fantastic.

It is Wednesday and my post-race recovery is slow.  Last night I basically blew up 60 percent of the way through a track workout.  Legs felt like concrete.  Today my hamstrings and my ass feel like ground sausage.  These things are a small price to pay for having fun outdoors and running faster than I’ve ever run, but they are a price.

That is all.  My complaints about good things are finished for the day.

Opposites

I ran slow today.  E rode her bike and along the way I did my best to impart tips about the rules of the road such as how to anticipate what a car will do at an intersection, when to use the Idaho Stop, and how to safely cross railroad tracks.

My heartrate averaged 10-12 beats per minute below a tempo run.  I was able to talk whenever and for however long necessary.  It was nice, and hopefully, good for me too.  Over and over I read about how important it is to incorporate slow recovery runs — today was the day.

I was also a little tentative for the first 15 minutes because last night I injured the arch of my right foot.  Today there is a tiny scrape, a bruise, and a hard knot in the muscle of the arch  — about an inch in diameter — as a result of giving a wall a big kick.

How and why I found myself wedged against a wall, in six feet of water, with a boulder of a man doing all he could to get a ball away from me is not very interesting.  That I kicked with all my might and managed to both lose the ball and kick the wall would be comical if it didn’t hurt so much.  Suffice it to say that my water polo skills are worse than my running skills.

Ironman Maryland: The Mistakes Were Made Edition

Humans have a powerful ability to rationalize behavior.  Some rationalizations create their own positive feedback loops.  In this case, positive does not necessarily mean good.  It refers to self-reinforcing situations — new data points are created from the initial mistake which reinforce the rationalization made for that mistaken behavior.

All of this is well and good and may even help you understand self-defeating behaviors or why it is hard for people to accept responsibility for bad decisions.  More important for our discussion here, rationalization of mistakes is doubly, triply, super-duper more powerful in the middle of an endurance race.

My run at Ironman was not horrible.  In fact, it was only 4 minutes and 12 seconds slower than my best.  I didn’t have a total break that caused me to lose scores of minutes walking.  Nor did I run myself into the arms of the medical personnel who hovered all afternoon like morbid angels of the dreaded DNF.

Mistakes were made.

I got off to a good start.  After a too aggressive first mile in 7:32, I went 8:05, 8:01, 8:15, 8:17.

I got off to a good start. After a too aggressive first mile in 7:32, I went 8:05, 8:01, 8:15, 8:17.

I ran well, relatively steady and in the basic zone of my race plan for five miles.  Then I stopped to pee.  The all-knowing Garmin doesn’t lie.  I was roadside for about 60-75 seconds at an aid station.  My heart rate dropped and something got in my head.  It was at this point that I thought I couldn’t run the plan, I thought it was too aggressive.  For whatever reason, I had the idea firmly locked in mind that my run targets for heart rate and pace were too much just like on the bike.  Suddenly, I was back running but my heart rate had dropped from a consistent 144-145 to 140-141.  Within two miles I was running 30 seconds slower per mile and my heart rate dropped to where it would stay for the rest of the race in the 136-139 range.

Unwittingly — that is without conscious effort — I was creating the data points to reinforce my decision to lay off on the run.  It is a hard lesson to learn — to know when to go for it, when to keep pressing and when to back off to avoid catastrophic results.

Going slower didn’t make it any easier.  It was hot, largely unshaded and I’d already been out for more than six hours.  I had twenty-odd miles to go.  Going slower just made it take longer.

Reflecting on the charts and data, I can see that I definitely had at least seven to eight miles on track with my original plan and probably more like 15 available.  The first mistake was thinking that a stop to pee would only cost 45 seconds.  It robbed me of momentum, consistency of mind and confidence that I was on track as long as I focused on the mile in front of me.  In that cramped, plastic, hothouse of human waste I had time to think of how much course I had left, of the hours in front of me.  When that happens, it becomes game-over because the rationalizations are just around the corner.

The second mistake was what proved fatal to my goal of running a best time and staying competitive in my age-group on the run.  I turned to my Plan B too early.  A few hundred meters down the road from the toilet I was recalculating the afternoon.  I was rationalizing that I would walk every aid station from this point forward.  I gave credence to a low heart rate as okay because it meant I wouldn’t blow up.  These valid but unhelpful mental gymnastics also meant that I would add 15-30 seconds to every mile and that while I wouldn’t blow up, I would fail to ever press the pace.

I didn’t run fearless.  I didn’t run worried about my calf.  I didn’t think about how I was heavier than last year.  (Kent’s Ironman race weight history: 2012 — 183, 2013 — 175, 2014 — 184.)  I wasn’t thinking about running in the red zone of mid to high 150s heart rate.  I wasn’t worrying — but all of that was somewhere in the stew of subconscious and provided the compost necessary to fertilize passing thoughts into full grown rationalizations.  To run an Ironman successfully, I imagine the mind must be sterilized of these shadowy reservations.  Clinical, like an operating room, an athlete must be ready to demand the absurd from himself and to do it unselfconsciously.  I must learn to run without fear.

A few words on the course itself.  It is flat.  It is more flat than anywhere I’ve run excepting a track.  It is however somewhat “technical” in that there are many 90 degree turns and two 180 turnaround which each must be navigated multiple times.  The organizers took the course up and down High Street in Cambridge which is brick instead of asphalt.  High Street provided the only “hill” worth mentioning and it wasn’t hard so much as it surprised my dulled senses each time I came to it.  The hill is probably 800-1200 meters long with an aid station about 85 percent of the way to the top.  Upon reaching the top of the hill, the course turns left down a street lined with shops and restaurants for a few hundred meters.  This was the loudest, most boisterous and lively section of the course.  There was room on the sidewalks for spectators to line up near the course fences.  There was at least one if not more restaurants open with patio seating and it was near where the shuttle buses were running and made access easy for the fan base.  On the third lap, at the very end of this street is where athletes turn left for the final mile to the finish line instead of turning right and heading down the length of the entire course again.

Somewhere around the 9:50 mark I figured out that I wouldn’t break 10 hours.  I had not been aiming for it, nor had I been thinking about it during the race.  But when the realization hit me, it was a bit of a letdown.  The minute it takes to go 9:59 versus 10:00:00 is no longer nor is it harder earned than the one that moves you from 10:04 to 10:03.  Still, there is a huge psychological effect and if this post is about anything, it is about the power of the mind to control the body.

I had a very good day.  I had a solid, respectable run.  If I were to rationalize today, I’d say that the run was strong considering the training leading up to it.  Enough with the rationalizations though, I know that I’ve run about a third less than last year and didn’t start running until Memorial Day.  I was physically strong enough to handle the distance and that is the only fact of import.  Arguably my legs didn’t have enough miles in them to show the resilience necessary to fight through the really hard miles of 15-20.   But we won’t know, because I didn’t go there.

Most importantly, my mind didn’t have the miles in it to be unbreakable, strong and focused in the face of distraction, discomfort and false signals telling it that I ought to slow down.  That is the mistake, the failing, of the day.

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Finish line photos often capture joy, triumph, elation.  On the spectrum of emotion, each has its counterpart in full measure.  There is disbelief that the whole escapade is ending.  Triumph in the heart is but a thin patina for the hurt way down deep in your bones, joints and muscles.  My experience, n=3, is of a profound exhaustion that nearly transforms elation into a jellylike collapse the moment I cross the line.  Yin and yang — paired, balanced and available only after having overcome the obstacles presented by the day.

This is my favorite photo of the day.  It includes subtle virtues — it is rare for anyone to get a shot of the finish arch with the time matching their actual time but I started within seconds of the gun and there was no pro field.  It has a solitary protagonist and as much as it is true — so very, very true — that no one does one of these races alone but always through the sacrifice of family, friends, co-workers, volunteers, organizers, first responders, law enforcement, deep down I think we all like to be a little bit of our own hero.  Ironman lets you play hero for the day.  It has interesting light, colors and shapes.

Most of all, after a day of keeping my head up when my swim split was far slower than I expected, when I could not reliably come close to my targets on the bike, when I had taken the easy path and rationalized my way through Plan B on the run, I still got through it.  I made it.  The race was not won, but it was done.  I finished and though weary, I was worthy.

As in life, we all finish alone.  If we are blessed, the shadows will be long, the regrets few and the joy of our experiences will lift up the heaviest of feet for the final step across the threshold to the next adventure.

As in life, we all finish alone. If we are blessed, the shadows will be long, the regrets few and the joy of our experiences will lift up the heaviest of feet for the final step across the threshold to the next adventure.  Also, there won’t be ponderous comparisons of a life well-lived to an athletic competition.

Injury Report

It is Tuesday, mid-day, and I’m still a bit tender but overall doing well after Saturday’s big race in Maryland.  Quick reminders to my future self:

  • Four toenails took a beating.  One of them was already in a death spiral from the last long training run and it is doing the best today.  I drained the space under the nail bed of the other three last night using a sterilized pin.  The pressure let up considerably, rose colored fluid squirted out and the tribe was totally non-plussed with my medical prowess.  Two of them drained some more today.  Prediction: I’ll lose two of the three.
  • My RoadId cut into the back of my right Achilles.  I’ve been wearing the same model for years and never had this problem.  I’ve never even had chafing.  It looks like a blister in the shape of a 3/4 inch stripe.  Assessment: I must have put it on too tight and combined with the brackish water the skin broke down.  I have two of them and will continue to wear them for all manner of activities.
  • At the top of the zipper in the front of my tri kit I got a bit of an abrasion.  I’ve raced in this kit five times and this is the first skin irritation I’ve had anywhere.  I attribute it to the river water and the length of the time I was out.  All the other races were much shorter.  It had no negative effect on the race but I did start to notice it about a third of the way through the run because as I dumped ice down my shirt I would get a quick stinger where the skin was reddened and raw.  Prediction: The scratches will be gone before the weekend.
  • I have a very light, very small snakebite rash on the left side of my neck where the wetsuit closes.  Again, no big deal and smaller than usual.  It will be gone by tomorrow or Thursday.
  • I wore my favorite race socks unlike in Raleigh where I tried sockless for the first time with rotten results.  I had two tiny blisters on toes that took care of themselves within 36 hours and a third, monstrous blood blister on the side of the left big toe that looked like a ripe angry cherry.  Within 24 hours the blood blister had deflated and was no longer tender.  Now it just looks like discolored skin.
  • Of all the muscle soreness, my left calf is the only place that feels “more” than the others.  It is a bit knotted and I’m trying to work it with a lacrosse ball as much as possible.

I took advantage of the complimentary massage after the race.  Sunday I used the foam roller on my legs for about 15 minutes.  (I forgot last night.  We were busy with the 6U Soccer practice.)  Today I hope to go swim easy for about 35 minutes.  All in all, I’m very surprised and happy with the injury report.  In January I was seeing a physical therapist because my hamstrings were so tight I couldn’t walk without discomfort.  He helped and recommended changes to my running stride.  A couple months later I tore my left calf muscle and after a cast, crutches and months of therapy I started training for Ironman Maryland about 3.5 months “late.”  Eight days before the race my lower back started to tighten up and got to the point that I wasn’t standing up straight.  I went to the chiropractor three times in a week — he diagnosed an overuse issue, released the muscles and sent me off to Cambridge.  During the race, my hamstrings, calf and back were not ever on my mind.  Today, they are all doing fine.

I’ll take that.

 

I don’t want to get ahead of things, but I may be getting my hearing back.  At the very least, the dullness in my left ear is starting to wane.

Shifty Hip Pain — Pigeon

For the last several years, as my running volume would increase so would the frequency and intensity of a soreness, a sharp pain actually, on the right side of my lower back.  It would come in at about the level of my belt and about 45 degrees around my body from the spine to the point of my hip.

I haven’t had this pain since springtime when I’ve been so focused on improving my run form.  This change of course was prompted by nagging hamstring tenderness and the big blowout of my calf.

However, in the past week the volume of work has definitely started to go up.   The old familiar pain has not come around but a new, substitute pain has crept into my life.  Also found in the right hip, but it is broader and covers a larger area about the size of a fist.  The area is closer to the side of my body and lower — practically where my butt muscles attach to the hip.  It is also more of a soreness and a dull ache than the sharp pain that would jab at me from my lower back in the past.

Either way, it is annoying.  This morning I got on the floor and used the roller.  It is a devious little bit of foam.  Hopefully it will help me sort this out in the near term.  In the long term, I must figure out what it is about my bike form or running style that is out of balance and causing this problem.

As I was flopping about the floor this morning, it made me think that I really ought to try harder to practice pigeon pose.  It is a yoga pose that I have absolutely no success with and it is a hip opener.

Shaved and Dangerous

I’ve been convinced for years, these guys went looking for data.

Approximately 70 seconds per 40 kilometers.

A Month With Hearing Loss

Don’t get kicked in the head.  That is my free Internet medical advice of the day.

It has been one month since the episode at the Ironman Raleigh 70.3 and I have still not healed up properly.  However, I’m on the right track.  After ten days of medications and several visits to the ENT, I was diagnosed with pretty significant hearing loss, a broken eardrum and likely a hairline fracture to the jaw.  Yesterday I went back for a check up.  I have regained much of the hearing loss although it takes 23 decibels for me to hear something in my left ear and only five in my right ear.  The hole in the eardrum is not healed yet and the volume inside my ear is 5.5 something or other which means the test is also measuring some of the space behind the eardrum.  For comparison sake, it should be between 1.0 and 1.5 and my right ear volume measured at 1.1.

The prognosis is still good.  There is still a probability — because I’m healthy and there has been some progress in the past four weeks — that the eardrum will heal on its own and full hearing will return.  I’m next due back in six weeks for another checkup.  In the meantime, I have a custom fit, molded silicon earplug to use during any water activity including showers.  I have a constant annoyance with my ear and hearing — mainly because it is different or not balanced with my right ear.  Occasionally I have a ringing but it never lasts more than about 20 minutes.

It is frustrating and I’ve learned a lot of sympathy for others with genuine long-term physical problems.

What else?  I turned 40, did a sprint triathlon for only the second time ever, registered for an Ironman in 2015 and have recommitted to good, clean eating for the month of July.  Starting today — at 191 pounds — I’m forgoing added sugars and grains for the next many weeks.  Likely as not, I’ll get some posts put together on each of these topics.