SO, this will kinda be my full follow up to my DNF posting after Miwok. It truly feels like everything came full circle today on my thirty minute hill climb session upon the local 'Mountain Highway'. I've now completed this climb in an all out fashion five times, with today being my most successful attempt to date.
To put that in perspective I was hitting this in the lead up to Miwok while I considered myself to be in prime shape for that race, and was running it with a buddy, which only served to push both of us harder. Two weeks ago was my first time back at it since then and I failed miserably in comparison to how high I'd made it in my previous attempts. However, I was just getting into the swing of things again and have since run for ten straight days, feeling better after each and every outing. Today was my last full go at this climb before the biggie unfolds down in Auburn in a few short weeks, and it couldn't have gone any better for me out there.
I was running solo, which should have only served to make things more difficult. I know in past attempts on the route I had my training partner to thank for bringing me near my puking point. Today was different though. The harder it got the better I felt. I wanted to suffer and felt great while pushing so hard. In the end I finished a full 1/3km farther than I'd ever made it before. I topped out at exactly 6km and 1500 feet of climbing when my timer went off. That's an average of 8min mile/5min km while climbing a significant grade...I'll take it!
This is all fine and dandy to read on its own, but what exactly has transpired over the last five and a half weeks to get me here? From my first running DNF to one of my best hill climbs of the season?
While flying back from San Fran I made a list of things to address. It mostly revolved around trying to finally fully solve all of my stomach issues, which have never been 100% figured out. I hit the tarmac at YVR and was dialing up appointments before I hit my front door.
The absolute number one best thing I've ever done for my running in the last few years was to leave a 'career' at Fairmont Hotels and pursue working at a running specialty store. I've now been with North Shore Athletics for 3.5 years and outside of loving what I do, I have full access to the absolute best sports medicine people within the province/country. I honestly wouldn't even know who to turn to, let alone have access to them without my current position. On top of that, you see it all first hand in a running store and more often than not we have more answers for customers than non sports specific doctors can come up with. Basically, when something goes wrong, I can usually find the answers faster and more effectively than if I had chosen another route over the last few years.
That said, by the end of the week I had 'donated' more blood than most road kill. Why? Because I knew deep down inside that something just wasn't right, and I needed to confirm that I wasn't imagining that. I saw my sports medicine doctor, my naturopath, and my coach. All had different insights and all were genuinely interested in helping me to figure out what was going on ASAP. After all, I knew I had but three weeks of available downtime before needing to slightly ramp it up again leading into WS. By the end of those 21 days, answers or not, I was getting back on my feet again!
I did my part in terms of not running. Not stressing my body, and generally just sleeping as much as humanely possible. I had pretty much zero energy for the first two weeks, capped off by sleeping a full 14hr uninterrupted one night, and keep in mind I was doing NOTHING to strain my body at all during this period! Slowly the blood work and test results starting to yield answers.
Here's where it pays off to be a Canadian. I'm not sure what my brethren south of the border might have to pay for these services, but up here they're free. In fact based on the great advice of my first ever coach back in 2006, Val Burke, I now have annual baseline blood work done religiously. THIS proved VITAL to the process of putting my/our fingers on everything.
The numbers on their own were nothing startling. Many were just below or just on the low side of the norm. However, when compared to the blood work on file it showed pretty conclusively that all major indicators had been on a steady downswing for four straight years. Some, like my ferritin (indicator of iron) had dropped as much as 50% annually! I was still within the normal range, but that range is huge, from 15-300 and I'd gone from the top end on down to the low. In terms of an athletic profile, my count is currently less than half of where it should be.
Other factors at play were a low white blood cell count and low neutrophils. Suggesting my system was fatigued and at risk of infection. Possible explaining my bronchial infection in February (first time sick in three years), and my Naturopaths belief that I was suffering on an adrenal level.
Also on the low side was my Free Testosterone count, which as Mike at Peak Centre puts it "is generally responsible for your desire to push hard and suffer out there".
There was one test I insisted on that wasn't tied specifically to the athletic side of things. Having recently watched 'The Cove', beyond the appalling footage one thing that really struck a cord with me was when the discussed mercury levels in fish. When they followed that up with brain scans showing how a high mercury level can affect memory capacity and overall brain function I cringed inside. The most prevalent source of protein in my diet for many years now has without a doubt been tuna. Whether out of a can, served in a sushi roll, or straight up as sashimi, bar none I love the stuff. Not only could I live on it, I pretty much was. The day after seeing this film I discarded every bit of tuna I still had available to me in my home and completely removed it from my diet. It was over a month between that film and these blood results.
Normal mercury levels for the test I had conducted should be below 29, which is the equivalent of 75 nmol/L. (I actually have no idea what that actually means) My results...90! Over THREE TIMES the acceptable limits of blood mercury count AND this was after being completely off the stuff for a full month. Toxic effects of mercury poisoning can include damage to the brain, kidney, and lungs. Thank God I saw that documentary when I did. The pivotal moment for me was when they were speaking of how mercury poisoning can affect memory capacity and I had forgotten what they were even talking about in the first place (that's a joke in case you missed it). Seriously though, I had joked with my mother over the last few years that running must kill brain cells cause my memory just wasn't what is used to be. It was that noticeable to me.
I finally had answers to the questions at hand. The bigger question still remained though, how to fix all this?
The short answer, by spending half my pay cheque on supplements (yes that's how we spell cheque in Canada eh!).
What has been prescribed and seems to be working for me is:
An iron supplement. Floradix Formula filled the bill for me. Easily available, gluten free, but not cheap. $50 a bottle, which might last a month
Glutamine: Ray Zahab was kind enough during this process to contact me and offer advice and assistance. This was his number one suggestion. Though I currently get a decent amount of glutamine through my Recover supplement, athletes can benefit from a significant increase in this as it will help expedite recovery. I added a cheap powder mix for $30 and this should last about a month
ZMA: Zinc, magnesium, B-6. Recommended by Mike as a proven way to help boost free testosterone levels. $25 per month
IP-6: An immunity booster and possible cancer fighting agent, again recommended by coach Mike. $20 for about 1.5 months
For My Stomach Issues, via my Naturopath:
All in, another $90 a month, but they seem to be helping with my digestive issues. I also have an appointment with a leading Gastroenteroligist in one weeks time. Hopefully this will help to completely pin point what's going on in there. Though that had no direct implications towards my DNF and subsequent energy issues, it's a constant frustration that would be really nice to finally nail down and put to rest forever.
(a worthy side note here is that I guess I'll be doing my supplement shopping online from now on as every single link search turned up cheaper purchasing options!)
Have I found all the answers? Absolutely not! Am I feeling substantially better than I was on all levels just five short weeks ago? Absolutely YES!!
I've run for the last ten days straight and only took two days off before that because I couldn't quite walk for a few days following my 14,000 foot training day. Each day I have felt better and my legs finally seemed like they came back to life in the last 72hr or so. There's nothing left to do now but rest up and put in as much sauna time as my wandering mind will allow. I think I hate the process of just sitting there doing nothing more than the heat itself!
My total running mileage for May was a whooping 98 miles! Yup, the majority of the runners hitting the line down in Squaw Valley on June 26th will have put in more miles in a seven day span than I did in the entire 31 days of May, and some (Anton) put in twice that amount in just seven days...and I'm not the least bit worried about it!
THIS was my path to Western States. What transpires from here remains to be seen. All I currently know is that everything really has worked out for the best in the last five weeks for me. I still have a ways to go on ensuring this never happens again, and I plan on taking significant rest after WS. However, had this not all happened EXACTLY like it did, I know one thing for sure, I would never have survived Western this year. At least right now I know I have a fighting chance. My honest goal is just to run smart and to hopefully have a positive experience that I can carry forward with me into 2011. If I can achieve that fairly simplistic goal, it will bar none end up being one of the absolute sweetest victories of the year for me at this point.