Friday, August 29, 2008

In for ankles, out with a blood disease

I hurt my ankles two weeks ago. I didn't tell anyone because at first I thought it was probably no big deal - starting a new exercise regimen usually hurts at least some, some of the time, and it was time for me to take two consecutive days off anyway. Also, there was no distinct accident that happened - I didn't turn an ankle or anything.

After several days had passed and my ankles were getting, if anything, worse, and I'd had to cancel some work, I went to see my doctor. He had me get an x-ray to see if I'd fractured something, and I also had him draw some blood to make sure I continue not to have hepatitis, and to check for hemachromatosis, a blood disorder that family history suggests I might have. That was pretty much an afterthought, but since it has some bearing on hepatitis, I thought I should find out sooner rather than later. It's not confirmed, but I found out today that I probably have it. D'oh!

The most common symptoms of hemachromatosis are joint pain and an enlarged liver. This is interesting to me because I've had both, although my liver's fine at the moment. The liver connection means that, especially with my recent hepatitis scare, I'm back off alcohol, at least until I can follow up on the hemachromatosis thing. I'm also supposed to cut down drastically on red meat. Which is annoying, because I really like red meat. And no organ meats (which is fine - I never liked them that much and they're expensive.) Hopefully Washington State has some good laws protecting health insurance subscribers and dealing with pre-existing conditions. If not, look for me to remove this post in the next two weeks and commit some fraud.

As far as the ankles go, I'm off running until they feel all the way better, and then I should run with a trainer for a while. So for someone with my budget and preferences in sports, that pretty much means that at least until next Spring, when I may want to start training to do some cycle racing again, I'm off running. The mechanism for hemachromatosis causing joint pain is unknown, according to uptodate.com, but the theory they post is that the iron attracts calcium, which crystalizes in the joint. It sounds to me like grit getting into a bearing, which is bad news. The hemachromatosis thing does have the possibility of unifying my joint problems and my liver problem under a common cause, so in a way that's kind of cool, although my ferratin levels are within normal range at the moment, so it seems a little unlikely. I'm just annoyed to keep finding out about wierd health problems.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Slowing to Smell the Roses

Every now and then, I decide I'm going to do some chill-out miles. Usually between my LeMond's ability to go very, very fast and my personality that lasts about two miles and then I push my average to something high and go hard for the rest of the ride. Every now and then, though, I actually soft-pedal for semi-significant distances and find that I have, yet again, forgotten that fast isn't the only speed bikes can go and it's not the only speed I can enjoy. Today was one of those days.

I think it helps that my LeMond is in Seattle already, so I only have my mountain bike and my commuter. The things the mountain bike is good for are stability and handling, but it doesn't have the need for speed that the racing bike does. When I'm on one of my bikes and I'm pushing myself, my world narrows to the road/trail/whatever in front of me and a scan along the sides to make sure that nobody's about to try to commit suicide by cyclist. Granted, I was going for it on the way out today, but after I stretched I decided that I was still feeling beat up from my running adventures and I soft-pedaled back. I got to look at the water, read the T-shirts of people coming in the opposite direction, listen to the knobs on my tires sing, enjoy the light, etc. etc. Nothing hurt, I barely sweated, and yet my speedometer somehow drifted as high as 19. I think I had a tailwind.

So now I have to figure out if and how I'm going to integrate this kind of thing into my training schedule, once I have one again. Most cycle training schedules call for six rides a week, with the sixth one being at an easy pace and distance. In the past I've thought that that was something I didn't get to do - I've always tried for consecutive off days. In the past I've also thought that my knees would prevent me from making running one of my regular activities, but it's my ankles that are limitting me now. If I can discipline myself to ride slowly, and not give in to the temptation to shift up a gear, push a little harder, and fill all that empty space in front of me, I can do one more ride a week.

There are a lot of reasons I enjoy riding bikes and, lately, running. One of the chief ones is that it gives me some privacy in the middle of a crowded city. Another is that I like to go fast, and a big one is that I like a challenge. Perhaps now I can add a fourth reason. A weekly slow ride might be the way I can do just enough not to get too jumpy to take some time to do nothing.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Trying running again

So my fast bike is in Seattle, my off-road bike is in the shop, and my commuter generally gets quite uncomfortable to ride after about five miles. I spent all of last week sitting on my butt and playing video games. A friend once told me that she didn't think I'd ever get fat because inactivity would start to bother me before my fitness level even started to go downhill. She's right and I decided to try running again. Shoes cost a lot less than a new bike.

There turns out to be a running specialty store right next to World Trade, which puts it a very short walk from my apartment. When I decided last night to try running again, I also decided to give it a real chance. Rather than repurposing a pair of trail shoes I got on Steep and Cheap because they were cheap and running shoes are comfortable, I went and bought a pair of running shoes to address my foot type and gait and I even paid retail. Whether or not I can resume running is something I'll have a better idea of tomorrow and an even better idea on Wednesday, but it's important for me to wear something that supports my foot and ankle so they don't collapse inward when I weight the foot and my knee doesn't travel laterally. Once that happens, the floodgates of pain open wide.

I was pretty hungry, so I had a little more lunch than was perhaps wise, and then went for three miles. Three seems like a tiny number to me. Three on a bike, assuming I'm riding somewhere where I can be continuous, takes me about eight minutes. I probably haven't even figured out how I'm feeling that day, and I'm definitely not ready to stretch yet. To be honest, I didn't do three miles continuously today. One of the things that I never used to worry about when I didn't know my knees were flaky was stretching. I'd do it - I was doing dance and I wanted higher extensions and more stable balances - but it was only because it served a goal. I didn't think I really needed to in order to continue my chosen activities. So let's talk about one and a half on foot.

I ran the West Side Highway from Vesey St. to W. 11th Ave, stretched, and ran back. According to Google Earth, that's one and a half miles each way. It also terminates in a nice little plaza thing. The first thing that happened was my hip flexors got sore. I'm not surprised. I do most of my cycling on a road bike, riding either the hoods or, frequently, the drops. Riding in a tuck means that even when I extend my legs, I really don't extend that muscle. I don't even unfold it. Doing something that involved being forward of my foot didn't make that muscle happy today. Masochistic reason #1 for me to think I'm doing something I should be doing. This happened less than a quarter of a mile into the run. Next, my right IT band started getting tight. That, to me, is a little more worrisome. Not that worrisome - it's not a problem until it pulls my patella out of its track. But definitely something to watch. At around a half mile, my quads started to hurt. It was inevitable, really, that the other three heads should follow their early-adopter partner in protesting this unaccustomed activity. Apparently running is harder than cycling. About a mile in, my hamstrings decided to join the fun. That actually surprised me a little. I use them on my bike and my brother has commented that his hamstrings hurting is something that typically happens when he's getting back into shape after a period of inactivity. I didn't think I'd be strong enough to do that to myself.

When I knew I was near my mile and a half mark, it got really hard to continue. I knew that I was going to stop and stretch soon. I typically wait until I've been doing something for fifteen minutes before I break, but I didn't think it would take me thirty minutes to do three miles, so I figured I'd stop at my halfway point. I occasionally do this for really short bike rides too. Now I know what the landmark for a mile and a half is, so I won't have the excuse to slow down and look at street signs in future.

Running the mile and a half back to Vesey street was easier than the first leg. I read something about distance training that recomended loops because you can't just decide that you don't like cycling that much after all and turn around, and once you hit halfway, it gets easier. I can see where the writer was coming from when he wrote that. On my bike, I have inertia. Once I get going, I want to continue. Running, I have the ability to stop at any time. Today took some determination - it was difficult.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A Big Mountain I Kinda Saw

After the initial weekend of messing around in Seattle, I picked up Action Mom at the airport and we drove to Mt. Rainier. Our hotel was the National Park Inn at Longmire, which is south of the mountain. Due to my sheep-like instinct for following directions to places posted on signs, we ended up driving to the hotel the long way, entering the park in the northwest corner and driving all the way around the east side. It was actually quite a beautiful, if very long drive. Rainier is a really big mountain. It's a 14er, but unlike many such mountains, the range it's in is quite low, so the prominence is huge. The drive within the park boundaries is mainly on two-lane blacktop with a fair amount of frost damage and a lot of exposure, and when they advise five or ten mph around a turn, they mean it. I'm bothered by the idea of driving to a place, driving around there for a while, and then saying you've seen it, but I definitely enjoyed driving those roads.

The inn itself is a beautiful old-fashioned hotel. The rooms aren't very big, there are no TVs, and the bathrooms are down the hall, but I'd choose it over a Motel 6 any day. It has character, and that character isn't mildew or a parking lot. They also have an excellent kitchen. Because Rainier is a national park, nothing served there actually comes from there, although the dishes are designed to reflect their environment. I found that amusing, although it seems like it would be logistically a little awkward, especially in the winter, to try to source the principal ingredients for things locally. They also have an afternoon tea service, which is very civilized and of which I'm now a fan.

It was pretty cloudy when we arrived, and Mt. Rainier itself was hidden. While Action Mom and I were sitting outside and having tea, the clouds parted for a little while and we actually saw Rainier. This is in contrast to Grand Targhee, where we never actually saw the Grand Titons, and Whistler, where we rarely saw anything, including moguls the size of Volkswagens. The mountain is huge - most mountains I've seen, I've been able to look at and say, "Yeah... That's pretty big." Mt. Rainier has such a large prominence that I actually had to look up. It's a fairly perfectly shaped cone from a distance, with a glacier cap. We tried twice over the next few days to get closer, and met with limited success.

The first trip we planned was going to be a loop around the Sunrise area. Due to some theories involving heavy traffic and parking issues, we decided to go to the White River campground, three miles away by foot, and start from there. The route from White River to Sunrise turns out to be 2.6 miles climbing about 2200' and then another half mile that would be pretty easy if it wasn't under snow.

Near the top of all the climbing, we found a stream crossing that had washed out. I couldn't tell if it was supposed to have a bridge or not, because there was no sign of one. The point where the crossing used to be was about a foot away from a waterfall that was going pretty hard, and crossing at that point didn't seem like a good idea. Upstream was at least 20' straight up a rock face, so that didn't seem like a great idea. We ended up scrambling down a pretty steep bank to a point where the stream narrowed, the snow bank on the other side didn't have any cornicing, and there were some rocks big enough to sit out of the water and offer some stability. After that, we had to scramble back up the bank on the other side to get back onto the trail. Whining and moaning aside, I actually find that sort of hiking much more engaging than walking around on some ridiculously well-maintained trail with little handrails and stuff. Not too long after that, we reached the elevation where the trees started to thin out significantly, and could see all the way down to the White River. It looked really far away, and the sense of having traveled that kind of distance on foot was kind of cool.

Around that time, the water falling from the sky turned from being a fairly gentle mist into rain. Northern California has similarly unpredictable weather, especially in the foothills of the Bay Area and in the Sierras, so Action Mom and I weren't unprepared - we just took our shells out of our bags and continued. When we got to the top, where the snow started to be more of a snowpack rather than random banks of snow hiding in sheltered spots like stream beds, it was still raining and we figured that we didn't have anything to prove and hung out inside the lodge for a while. It continued raining and didn't look like stopping, so we got a ride with a church group back to the intersection with the road to the campground where we left the rental car and called it a day.

The next day, we planned to hike the Wonderland trail from Longmire to Paradise. Due to multiple bridges being out, with no alternative routes, we bagged that plan and did a ridge trail near the inn. That trail was another one that went straight up the hillside - 1.8 miles of switchbacks, with about 1300' of gain. After that, we took the bus to Paradise, had lunch, and tried to find a loop in that area. It turned out to be fully buried under snow, and after a short hike that went the wrong place, we found the right line of flags but the weather got nasty again. We decided that neither of us really considered walking several miles in the rain over snow fun if we couldn't see the mountain anyway and we weren't going to be skiing down, so we hung out in the lodge for a while, had dinner, and headed back to Longmire.

Unfortunately the way mountains create some of their own weather makes it difficult to catch them on a good day. At least this mountain we got to see, and of course the weather turned nice on Sunday when we were leaving, so we could see it all the way from Seattle. On another day, I saw Mt. Baker from Seattle. It's pretty cool to be a place where, on clear days, it's possible to see mountains as far away as Rainer, Baker and the Olympics. I've also come to the conclusion that hiking is kind of okay, as long as it goes places that are inaccessible by other means. Part of the reward has to be that I won't arrive at a destination and have people there who drove their cars and RVs, or worse yet rode their mountain bikes - then I'd be really envious.