Sunday, May 27, 2012

Two in One Day

Well, the last couple of months have been interesting here in my world.  I started a new job, which turned out to be more of an adjustment than I'd anticipated. Oh, and I decided to try coming off one of my medications again.  That worked really well until it didn't.  I am in fact still trying to get over that little mistake. Lesson learned I guess, which is a bit of a disappointment, but right now I'm just busy trying to get things back to normal.  That and trying not to feel fed up with being problematic.

Anyhow, on to other things.  Through everything one thing that has remained constant has been my running. I might be feeling way too heavy, I might be feeling slow, and I may have had some bad runs, but at least I've still been getting out there.  When I'm not in the right headspace for 5.30am starts and hardcore group training sessions it's good that I've been able to hang onto at least that.

A few weeks ago the squad ran up to Colonial Knob. My legs were shattered from the start and I crumbled on the stairs, eventually limping my way up to the Knob well behind everyone else, then running slowly back down with the stitch.  I got in the car and drove home trying not to snivel and feeling quite demoralised.  In that mindframe (and with my legs even more shattered) there was no way I was getting up to run even the short Xterra Woolshed run the next day.  The squad reported back that both options were hard and horrid, so staying in bed didn't seem such a bad thing.

Since then I've had both good runs and bad runs, but I've been finding my legs haven't been recovering that quickly and that I've had to take a bit more rest as a result.  I had a brilliant run up Transient, Highbury Fling and the Rollercoaster trails in Aro Valley, then had an ok run up Mt Victoria the next day.  I followed that with a brilliant run up around Wadestown on a perfect autumn evening (of which there's been rather a large number this year).  Unfortunately all those hills caught up with me when Duck had us running up nearly every flight of stairs in town on Wednesday night.

Thursday was a rest day, and my legs were exhausted.  Duck and I had a session on Friday morning - yet another beautiful autumn morning.  We mostly worked on my upper body - especially my shoulders, but there must have been just enough leg stuff to ensure that when I went out to run yesterday that I was still feeling tired. Oh well, nothing to be done and two runs to get under my belt.

8am Saturday morning saw the squad assembling at a calm, crisp Days Bay.

We ran a variation of Butterfly Creek, entering at the bus depot, and coming out at McKenzie Road.  We ran (and walked) straight up over 200 metres, then it was down into a lovely flat to undulating section of bush trail that was even under foot and quite blissful. Unfortunately the downhill meant one last climb up again, although easier than the initial climb.  From there it was down an at times steep trail down to McKenzie Rd, then a short road run back to Days Bay again and cups of hot tea.

The hills were hard, primarily due to my tired legs, but I had a blast running through the valley along the stream.  The trails were in an excellent state and I finished feeling quite invigorated.  Except of course that wasn't where things finished ...

Later that day I was on my way to Karori to take part in yet another Xterra run, this time the Starlight Run in the Makara mountain bike park. I was feeling quite nervous as this was my first nighttime trail run.

This year the Xterra crew were victims of their own success.  Nearly 300 runners turned up, with registration running overtime.  In the end those of us who had already registered walked up the road to the start, where we waited for stragglers.  The long course eventually left, looking quite impressive as they all streamed up the four wheel drive trail, and then a few minutes later we short course runners were let loose.

My feelings about this run are mixed.  Ulimtately, as a slow trail runner, I would not do this course again in this format.  The trails just aren't wide enough for that number of runners. We short coursers started off running the same route as the long coursers, but turned sooner to loop back around.  Unfortunately the long course was not sufficiently longer, and the gap between the two waves not long enough.  After we'd run up the four wheel drive track, followed by a bit of a downhill, we turned onto a narrow and twisty single track.  Almost immediately we were being passed by long course runners.  I added a good ten minutes or so just moving to one side and slowing to let runners through.  I was accompanied by a man with his young son and he was getting quite irate - almost to the point where if a passing runner had said the wrong thing I think he would have had a go at them.  He wasn't exactly being encouraging of his son either and I wouldn't blame the kid if he never wanted to run again, but that's another story.

My problems were exacerbated by equipment issues.  My headlamp wasn't bright enough and the torch I was supplementing it with wasn't much additional help.  To add to that about halfway through my headlamp started falling down my forehead and hitting my glasses.  I spent a few kilometres pushing it back up until I eventually just took it off and held it.

I can't be too hard on myself.  Given the vertigo issues I'm having at the moment, my poor eyesight, and my general clumsiness I did something amazing just being out there at all.  Even going over hard at one point didn't stop me.  There were runners coming up behind me so I just got up and kept on running. I ran as much as I could, even when my running pace wasn't much faster than a walk.  I tried not to let the constant sound of runners coming up behind me freak me out too much, and I tried not to freak out too much when I was running on my own with no one else around me.

By the time we got to Lazy Fern though I have to admit I was a little bit over it.  The run was supposed to be 5 to 6km, but in the end was 8, which meant I ran 18k all up yesterday. No wonder I was a bit tired!  I passed a couple of women with a young girl at a junction in the trail debating whether to take a shortcut back to the start.

I walked a fair bit of Lazy Fern, then in my eagerness to get back to the finish ran faster than I really should have back down the four wheel drive track to the finish.  At the end I grabbed a cup of sports drink then extracted myself from a conversation with another runner acquaintance. By the time I'd walked back down to the car I was freezing.  I cranked up the car heater and drove back to Brooklyn where I stopped for dinner.  The shop had a gas heater going so I stood inches from it thawing out.  By the time I got home it was raining fairly steadily.

So there it was, my first night run.  Today my right hip flexor hates me, and last night I had the worst charlie horse in my right calf.  Thankfully today's been horridly windy and wet, so hanging out on the sofa hasn't been a hardship.  If I'm going to do a run like that again I'm going to have to get a better lamp, and I need to practice!  Oh, and if I'm going to keep running up multiple big hills I'm going to have to lose some weight.

But first I have to hang on till the medication starts working properly again.  Only about another week with any luck!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A connection between my Addison's and Inflammation?

Ok, so this is talking about cortisol in the sense of the body becoming resistant to it, but I think there are interesting correlations. If the body's inability to use cortisol leads to inflammation then perhaps too low levels of cortisol could have a similar response. In other words, perhaps I need to up my medication when I'm injured after all.

Original post and podcast here.

Concrete evidence linking chronic stress to inflammation and modern disease

Chris Kresser: All right, so the first study is right in line with the April Best Your Stress Challenge, and if you haven’t heard of this, go check out my blog, You now, there are a lot of 30-day diet challenges. There’s the Whole30, and there’s the Personal Paleo Code, my program where we ask people to give the Paleo diet a try for 30 days and give it that chance to change their lives and make a big difference in their health. But I’ve talked a lot about the importance of stress management and improving stress tolerance and mitigating the impacts of the stress that we can’t get rid of on our life, so I thought it would be a good idea to spend April doing a 30-day Best Your Stress Challenge. So, the idea is to apply that same concept of a 30-day diet challenge to stress management, and I wrote a post about this a little while back, I think, on March 30 and offered some ideas for what people can do to manage their stress throughout the month of April and just to make a commitment and preferably a small, fairly manageable one because oftentimes we have a tendency to commit to more than we can do and then we don’t follow through, so just setting a small goal, like meditating for 10 minutes in the morning or doing a deep relaxation exercise every afternoon or taking a walk in the woods or on the beach — whatever it is that helps you manage your stress — and doing that throughout the whole month of April and seeing how that improves your health overall.

So, the other day, I saw a new study with the title Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk, and since I’ve been thinking a lot about stress and the effects of stress on disease, I thought it would be a good idea to talk a little bit about this study because it’s really interesting, and it takes our traditional concept of how stress contributes to disease and kinda turns it on its head. It’s some relatively new information. I’ve seen a few other studies with a similar theme, and if anything, it just reinforces what we’ve been talking about in terms of the connection between stress and disease and the importance of managing stress and either reducing the symptoms of a disease that we already have or helping to cure it entirely or preventing the risk of acquiring a new disease. So, stress is associated with just about every modern disease that you can name, from depression to cardiovascular disease to type 2 diabetes to autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis to upper respiratory infections and even the common cold. And up until pretty recently and still now, I think, most people think that stress causes disease by dysregulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, but this notion that stress acts simply by elevating cortisol levels is becoming less and less likely, at least in the current scientific literature. So, what this new paper and other recent papers suggest is that it’s actually the sensitivity of cells or the target tissue to cortisol, not absolute levels of cortisol that’s most important. So, glucocorticoid resistance, which is a decrease in sensitivity of immune cells to glucocorticoid hormones like cortisol, makes it more difficult to shut off the inflammatory response. So, let me break that down. When you’re insulin resistant, you’re producing enough insulin, but your cells are resistant to the effects of insulin, so it’s like insulin’s knocking on the door, but nobody’s inside or whoever’s inside isn’t listening, so the door doesn’t get open, and insulin can’t perform its function. The same is true with leptin resistance, and there’s even thyroid hormone resistance where thyroid hormone can’t activate the cellular receptors for thyroid hormone, so even though there’s plenty of thyroid hormone circulating around, you experience all the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism because thyroid hormone isn’t affecting the receptor.

So, this study and others like it suggest that there’s a similar phenomenon with cortisol resistance. So, it’s not high levels of cortisol, per se, that are contributing to an increased susceptibility of disease, but it’s instead the insensitivity of cellular receptors to cortisol that’s the problem, because one of cortisol’s jobs is to turn off the inflammatory response once it gets started. So, let’s say you catch a cold or you get a cut or you have some kind of injury or illness, and inflammation is the natural response to that. Inflammation is not all bad. In an acute setting, inflammation is what helps us to heal. The problem happens when inflammation doesn’t get turned off appropriately, and then it just kinda runs wild and you get chronic inflammation, and it’s that chronic inflammation that is a risk factor for disease, not the acute inflammation that helps us to heal. So, in a normal functioning person, what would happen is that you’d get a cold or you’d get some kind of injury or acute condition that causes inflammation, and then the glucocorticoids, like cortisol, are produced and they turn off the inflammatory response by activating the glucocorticoid receptors. So, what these researchers have found is that people who are under chronic stress, that doesn’t work right. The cortisol gets secreted, but it doesn’t activate the receptors, and then you get a runaway inflammatory response. And this has been shown in other studies. They’ve found that cortisol resistance is present in spouses of brain cancer patients, in parents of children with cancer, and in people that are very lonely, and all of those populations are known to be experiencing significant stress.

So, in this study, the researchers used, I think, a pretty ingenious model to demonstrate this effect. I mean, it’s well established that chronic stress increases the susceptibility to the common cold and upper respiratory infections, as I mentioned earlier. So, the researchers actually did two studies in one. The first one was meant to determine whether stress causes cortisol resistance and whether people with cortisol resistance are more likely to develop a common cold in the first place. And then the second one was meant to determine whether cortisol resistance could predict the amount of local inflammation in the nose, for example, in response to a viral infection. So what they did is they actually purposely infected people with a virus, a rhinovirus that causes the common cold and respiratory infection, and as expected in the first study, the results did show that exposure to stress increased cortisol resistance, and in the control group they found that exposure to an acute stressor was associated with white blood cell count, but in the group that was under chronic stress there was no association. So, in other words, what should happen is that when you’re exposed to a stressor, as I mentioned, cortisol should turn off the inflammatory response and reduce the white blood cell count, but that didn’t happen in people that were under chronic stress and had cortisol resistance.

In the second study, they found a correlation between cortisol resistance and the levels of various proinflammatory cytokines locally, like interleukin-6 and TNF-alpha. And then they also saw a decreased sensitivity of white blood cells to the inhibitory effects of cortisol, like we’ve been talking about. So, in other words, when you’re stressed out, the immune system cannot turn off the inflammatory response like it’s supposed to, and then you’re more likely not only to get sick in the first place, but you’re more likely to stay sick for longer because that inflammatory process doesn’t get inhibited. So, the interesting thing also about this study is that there was no correlation between actual cortisol levels, like circulating cortisol levels, and disease risk or inflammation. So, it seems like it’s the cellular receptivity to cortisol, the sensitivity of the receptors to the actions of cortisol, that’s the most important, rather than the circulating levels of cortisol themselves. So, I thought that was pretty interesting, and it may not change things from from an end-user perspective too much because the idea is still that you want to take steps to manage your stress, but for me, every study I see like this is just another affirmation of the importance of stress management, and I see it in my work with my patients, I see it in my own life and my own experience, and people might be getting tired of hearing me talk about it, but I’m gonna keep talking about it because I thinks it’s kinda the elephant in the room in a lot of cases. In my patient population, I think I can pretty safely say that people who are taking active steps to manage their stress have significantly better clinical outcomes than people who don’t, and I just think it’s a much bigger contributor to the whole disease process than most of us really realize.

Steve Wright: That’s pretty insightful, man. And I thinks it’s awesome that we’re getting more data on what the problem is because you do hear a lot about, well, you’re not totally stressed out or you can go do another CrossFit workout as long as your cortisol isn’t over 20 or something like that.

Chris Kresser: Yeah.

Steve Wright: So, this is cool to have a new model. Now, do you know if, for instance, because we’re a little bit better at measuring insulin resistance and leptin resistance, are the three correlated? So, if I’m insulin resistant, I’m likely leptin resistant or I am leptin resistant. Am I also cortisol resistant then?

Chris Kresser: I don’t know what the exact relationship between all of those would be, but I certainly think that HPA axis dysregulation can contribute in some way to leptin and insulin resistance and probably vice versa. I wish there was a way of testing for cortisol resistance in the commercial setting. I don’t think there is. I think it’s only available in research settings. But what’s interesting about this study is that I think, like you said, the idea that we can just run an adrenal stress index or any kind of hormone profile where we measure cortisol, and if the person has normal cortisol we say: OK, you’re clear to do, you know, five CrossFit workouts a week. We can’t really make that assumption because that test is not gonna show cortisol resistance in the white blood cells. I think ultimately just paying attention to symptoms is a pretty good guide because if you have this cortisol resistance pattern, you’re gonna have more difficulty recovering from workouts because that inflammatory response won’t get turned off. I mean, working out, especially lifting weights, but doing any kind of intense workout is basically like a controlled stimulation of inflammation. You’re breaking down tissue when you lift weights. You’re breaking down your muscle tissue, and the idea is that when it builds back, it builds back bigger and more able to deal with the next stressor, in that case, lifting weights. So, that works well if you give the body long enough to recover, if you give the body long enough to turn off that inflammation and then to start the anabolic process rather than the catabolic process of building the tissue back up. And if you’re a healthy person with no significant stress levels and you’re not dealing with any chronic inflammatory condition, that should happen fairly quickly and commensurately with the amount of exercise that you did. But if you’re dealing with chronic stress and you have cortisol resistance, here’s what’s gonna happen: You’ll do the intense workout, you break your tissue down, which is what happens and is the whole point, but the recovery process will be very, very slow, and the inflammation will persist. So, instead of taking one day or maybe two days to get back to baseline and then start building new tissue, stronger tissue, you’ll take several days to get back to baseline, or maybe you really never fully do get back to baseline. And then you do another intense workout, so then you break down more tissue and cause more inflammation, and then it’s a downhill slide from there. And I see this a lot in the CrossFit community, people who come to me who have been doing CrossFit. And this is not all people who do CrossFit. I’m talking about people who are under significant stress and who may be dealing with a chronic health challenge. But the fact is most of us in this modern world are under stress, and some of us are better at managing it than others, and some of us pay more attention to that than others, but I think this is a very real phenomenon and it’s not just affecting people who have kids with cancer or spouses with cancer or people who are socially isolated. It’s affecting all of us to some degree or another.

Steve Wright: Way to wrap that up. I think it’s important to keep learning about it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Easter Adventures and More Medical Pondering

Oriental Bay, March 2012. Not a breath of wind.

So what's a girl to do when Easter throws up perfect weather here in Wellington? Don't forget, it's autumn in New Zealand, and Welly's not exactly known for its climate at the best of times. It was a very lacklustre summer, so it's been pleasant to be gifted an ideal autumn Easter break.
Devil's Gate, Southern Coast of Wellington

My next event is a trail half marathon this Saturday. It's a fairly flat course and mostly on forestry tracks, so not too technical. On Saturday I went out on my last long training run - two hours around the flat, gravelly and sandy trail out past Red Rocks. The first four or so kilometres are fairly straightforward, but then the trail deteriorates and is interspersed with big banks of gravelly rocks which have to be gingerly traversed, or deep sand which has to be waded through.

After Devil's Gate I was almost completely on my own. It was just me, the hills to my right, and the sea to my left. So incredibly beautiful and so remote-feeling despite being so close to my country's capital city. After about eight and a half kilometres the hills turned into a huge sand dune which begs for a repeat visit for some sliding. The road became deep sand. I turned around and plodded slowly back to the car park. On the way back I sort of lost interest and energy and it was not a negative split by any means.

Cooling my legs in the sea at the end of my run.

The lacklustre nature of this run concerned me in that it followed a week of absolute exhaustion. I had become a fan of the afternoon nap, and was cultivating a close relationship with the sofa. Even with the beautiful weather and free time I had lost my mojo and just wanted to sit around.

Was I prepared to let myself do that? Well, no. I decided to let the housework and gardening slide instead!

Looking from Red Rocks car park towards Pencarrow

On Sunday I went out for a road ride with a friend, Karen, and a new women's riding pack. We were scheduled to do an easy ride of the Bays here in Wellington - about two hours and mostly flat. I should have known I was in trouble. My friend and her riding partner have been training seriously for some big cycling events lately. Another girl has just come off Ironman training, and a couple of the others just looked very fit in general.

I coped easily while we were on the flat but got owned when we climbed the five kilometres to the top of Brooklyn Hill. Karen even came back looking for me. So embarrassing. I guess my legs were more tired from the day before than I'd thought, and I really need some more bike time!

The lower of the two Pencarrow lighthouses.

After yet another afternoon nap on Sunday I was up again for a mountainbike ride with my friend Julia. I was really feeling quite worn out by this stage, but I knew I was a faster rider than Julia so figured I could take it easy. We started from the car park at the end of Eastborne, on the opposite side of the harbour from the car park I'd run from on the Saturday.

This wasn't exactly hard core cycling. For the most part it's an easy ride on a four wheel drive track. It's only the last four or so kilometres which get a bit more technical as the track slowly peeters out. We finished up in gravelly sand at Baring Head, a popular rock climbing site. The land around Baring Head has recently been purchased from private ownership to be turned into public reserve. I'm planning to return to explore the trails inland, and the historic lighthouse and farm buildings. Such an amazing asset for the city.

We'd had what seemed like beautifully calm conditions on the way out, but it only seemed that way because of the stonking Northerly headwind we turned into on the way back. It was a total slog back to the car and I was really quite shattered by the time we finished. It was all I could do to get my bike into my car and drive home. I spent the afternoon getting off the sofa in short bursts to tick chores off my to-do list. All the same, I was feeling so lucky and grateful to be able to spend my weekend outdoors doing what I love.

Through the whole weekend (and most of last week) I'd had a headache, and by yesterday I was starting to worry that my surgery might have failed and that I'd soon be back in hospital again. I'd lost my appetite and all motivation, and last night's squad run was a non-event.

Then I looked at my calendar and realised it had been four months since my last B12 shot. Guess what I had this afternoon? Guess who feels a lot better already? Yes. I'm an idiot. Don't let me make that mistake again!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

So - about that injury

Ok, so you may have picked up that I have just gotten over a shoulder injury. You may have even read that I didn't really do anything much to obtain that injury, but that it led to excruciating pain, much expenditure on physio and osteo treatment, and a recovery time that was perplexingly long. Now I've been running for what, six years? During that time I've had the full stable of runner injuries - ankles, knees, ITB issues, hip problems .... I've worked through them all. During that time I've also had the occasional neck or shoulder issue.

I won't pretend that my biomechanics are great. One of the benefits of my recent break from training has been the opportunity to have the osteo really work on my alignment. He's managed to get my hip and pelvis straightened up, with the odd result that I now stand with my left leg slightly bent. Go figure .... However even with all the manipulation there is a deeper issue that I've been dealing with for as long as I can remember, and that I had hints of even before I became a runner.

I am, to put it bluntly, tight. By that I mean that no matter where you touch me - be it my shoulder blade or my shin or my ankle - you will find a muscle in spasm. It doesn't matter how often I get a massage, how much yoga or how much stretching I do. For some reason my body insists on holding itself tense. In fact my osteo commented more than once when he was treating my shoulder that it was like my body was suffering some kind of reaction to traumatic stress. For the record - nothing more stressful than a little bit of weight gain has occurred around here of late.

In the midst of all the shoulder issues I decided I really needed to deal with the underlying problem. Herein lies my dilemma - my body doesn't function like most normal bodies. My adrenal glands don't work - or at least the outer cortex doesn't. I replace the cortisol, the aldosterone and the DHEA, but what else am I lacking that my body might need? Add in a hypoactive thyroid and pernicious anaemia, and who knows what my screwy hormones are doing, or not doing to me. I've increasingly come to believe that if I had a functioning endocrine system I wouldn't have half the problems I do have.

I have tried other solutions as well - for example I started taking Omega 3 supplements, because I don't eat fish so figured I'm probably lacking. They made no perceivable difference though. So what about my medications? I take a low dose of cortisol, but I don't think that's it. Well, perhaps it could be. Perhaps I could have tried upping my dose by 5mg or so a day just to see. I know I'm going to get nagged for this, but I couldn't bring myself to do so. It seems there's still a lingering nervousness about being on a higher dose than I 'might' need. Unfortunately I don't have ready access to a doctor to draw blood for me at regular intervals during the day, so I will never know for certain. What harm could trying an extra pill a day for a few weeks really do?

In my defence, I'm MUCH more likely to slip in an extra dose or two during my more intense workouts. I THINK it helps me recover, but there's that darn placebo effect to think of.

In the meantime I guess I'll keep doing what I do. It must be nearly time for my annual Endo consult, but the problem is that there's so little known about Addison's and endurance sports, and about the other hormones the adrenal glands produce that we don't bother about right now.

I just continue to hope that medical science continues in its current vein so that in a few years I'll be able to grow new glands and then I guess I'll know for sure!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tussock Traverse - the Reprise

So I kinda left you hanging huh? Is anyone out there even still reading? The truth is, I messed my shoulder up really well back in January, and it's taken till now for me to be able to get back into my usual running/cycling/group training/yoga routine. Things got pretty dark there. Whole weeks went past when a simple flat mountain bike ride was too much, when I couldn't run and couldn't even imagine getting back on my road bike. Those were days when I would sit at my desk trying not to cry from the pain.

Let me remind you - I slept on my shoulder oddly in December, then did an upper body workout in mid-January. That was it. It took three months of weekly osteo and physio appointments, some dry needling and the occasional massage, to get things to where I am today - around 95% of normal. Between Tussock and now there's been a lot of mental anguish and several kilos of unwanted comfort eating and general sedentariness. I just couldn't face posting anything about my race.

But anyway - here is where I left you - early on the morning of the Tussock Traverse. As you can see, it was stunningly beautiful and rather cold.

(Sorry for the sideways photo - I couldn't figure out how to turn it around. This photo doesn't look steep but was in fact near the top of a killer two kilometre climb on a 4WD track).

After a long bath the night before the race, an early night and a sleeping pill, I woke, ate a fairly solid breakfast, and drove down to the village for a bus to the start. Of course, as is typical, I was there rather early, and got on the first bus. I sat next to a woman who wanted to chat, but I really just wanted to sit there quietly and collect my thoughts. To add to my discomfort, the bus was freezing cold. I had my merino jacket and a polyprop on over my running gear, but I was still shivering.

It wasn't much warmer when we finally got to the start line. I put my bag at the drop off and took my merino jacket off. Unfortunately we go there just as the walkers were leaving - half an hour late. That meant we got delayed by half an hour as well. Cue some major dithering. I put food in my hydration pack, took it out, put it back in again. I was lucky to have some fruit and a power bar in my drop bag, and that kept me from starving. Finally, right before we started, it got warm enough that I felt I could take my polyprop off.

(Not the start - this was near the end)
Tussock notoriously starts with a big climb up a 4WD track. Uphill is not my strength, but I'd spent plenty of time running Wellington's Tip Track, so I was confident I could handle it. As i was I still ended up near the back of the pack as we climbed. My goal was simply not to reach the top last. Mission accomplished, so far so good.

At the top of the climb we were directed down a steep rock scramble. I managed to regain a little ground here as I passed some women who were less confident on the downhill. From there the next 8 or so kilometres were rocky, and we were warned that most injuries occurred on this section of the trail. Once we reached the bottom of the hill we ran through a large valley. This section of the track was indeed a little more technical, but not as bad as some of the rooty trail I've run in Wellington. There wasn't really a defined trail here - instead we ran from marker post to post. There was a real trick to selecting the best path through the volcanic rock, and I could really appreciate how a course in rock hopping could be an advantage. In the end I thought I did quite well. I only came close to twisting my ankle once, about four kilometres in, but after a few metres it eased up and stopped hurting.

I really enjoyed that first ten kilometres. I found myself tagging along behind an older gentleman who had run the course several times before. He set a good pace and knew where he was going so I was happy to follow, particularly when the track became more sandy and started to wind through deep trenches. My friend was able to lead us either over or through these. He also led me down the side of some river valleys and up some steep sand dunes. However there was one problem with my new friend - he was wearing full length compression tights, and they were sitting halfway down his butt. So I was faced with the choice of leaving him behind or sitting behind and trying to avert my gaze.

In the end we reached a long sandy stretch - similar to running along a beach, and I left my friend behind. I kept expecting him to catch me up, but he never did. Kilometres 6ish to 10ish were beautiful. We were running through something like a Japanese garden - rock, sand and little clusters of alpine tussock and shrubs. I was feeling good at this point, took in a gel, and kept hydrated.
(Flashback - the view from our rental accommodation)
At the race briefing we were told that the 10k marshall point was pretty much our only chance to pull out. I don't know whether that stuck in my head or what, but it caused me some significant mental anguish later in the course. There was nothing to say we were at 10k, just a marshall sitting in her tent and an injured running standing in a stream icing his ankle. I don't know what I expected - perhaps some medics? Anyhow, at about 11k the wheels majorly fell off. I found myself walking a lot and I felt hideous.

At around 12k I actually stopped, regrouped, sucked down another gel and drank a heap of fluid. I'm sad in some ways that I lost it here because the next 10k were probably the best for running. The trail became gently undulating, with gravel underfoot and boardwalks to carry us through the boggy bits.

I had never really set a goal other than to not come last, and I was aware that I was undertrained, so I let myself set a pace I was comfortable with. I alternated walking and running for the rest of the course. In other circumstances I would have been able to run the whole thing, but for whatever reason I was feeling a need to pace myself, so I wasn't going to beat myself up.

(The villa I booked for us to stay in - fabulous)
I ended up running the flat and the downhill, and walking the uphills. I started overtaking walkers! After about 15 or so kilometres I lost the dead feeling I'd had at 10k and started to feel good again. I felt good again to go chasing some of the other tail end runners. The relief of knowing I wasn't last on the course was immense.

(The startline)
In the race reports I'd read I remembered reading about seeing the Chateau then having to run away from it for another 6k. I don't know whether I was delirious or what, but I never saw the Chateau. Instead I got overtaken on a big climb onto a ridge by the runner I'd seen icing his ankle. He was strapped up and flying.

At the top of the ridge he was gone, and I was on my own. It appeared that I was supposed to turn left, but at this point the arrows started pointing in conflicting directions, and the distance markers started to read screwy as well. In the end it turned out I was reading the distance markers for the shorter run as well as the 26k. All the same, it was a relief to come across two marshalls directing me down a step set of steps to a river.

(Desert plateau - taken from the start line)
The last 5 to 6 kilometres were tantalisingly close to the start, and some of the most beautiful of the trail. We ran along the side of the river, past a waterfall and swimming hole, and past supportive tourist walkers. Some of the best marshalls were here - calling out enthusiastic support. I should have blitzed this seciton, but any time I got to anything remotely technical (rocky or rooty) I slowed right down. I was definitely having fun though.

Of course what went down eventually had to go back up, and I found myself climbing more stairs. I even overtook a male runner! The last 500 metres to a kilometre were back on an open gravel path, and uphill to the Chateau. I was convinced my Squad crew were going to be right there cheering me on, so I made myself stand upright, run and smile, as if I was fresh and feeling great.

In the end I ran across the finishline to see my supporters sitting around drinking beer and chatting, oblivious to my anticlimactic finish. I berated them a little then sat to gossip before Duck noticed I was cold and shivering again and we headed back home.

I ended up finishing right on the time that I thought I would. I wasn't even last! I'm confident that I can easily knock half an hour off that time, so I will be heading back again to do just that next year. In the end though I was just full of disbelief that I'd just gone out there and run (ok, run/walked) a fairly intense and remote 26k trail run. I was so incredibly proud of myself at that point! From someone who in 2004 was diagnosed with a potential lethal autoimmune disorder, someone who, two years earlier had had brain surgery which had left me with vision and balance issues, I'd become a true hard core adventurer. My achievement was just as noteworthy as that of the race leaders.

The aftermath, well, I later discovered I'd probably only drunk around one litre of liquids, and I'd only had a couple of gels. I went back to the villa, ate too many carbs, and drank a little too much cider. I developed a major migraine and was in bed by 8.30. I slept for over ten hours. I woke incredibly, uncomfortably sunburned, and still have a great 3/4 length tights tanline on the back of my calves. I also had a wicked bit of chafing on my neck from the hydration pack and a bright red forehead.

The next morning the weather had closed in so I was glad I hadn't brought my mountain bike with me after all. The cloud was dropping, the rain steady. Abandoning plans of a touristy slow trip home I was in my car and away by 9.30. My shoulder had felt fine while I was running, but the next day's drive home sent it into spasms which, as I noted above, took months to come right.

So yes, it's now March and I'm back discovering the trails, and realising that although I'm heavier again from what I was when I ran Tussock, I'm still thankfully quite fit. I've just signed up for the Xterra trail run series and the first is here on my home turf - Red Rocks. My goal now is to run all of the series, and the upcoming Waitarere half marathon. On top of that I also want to get out on my new old mountain bike regularly and start road riding with a mission again. By November I want to be near race weight (being able to do my morning small group training sessions again will help with that) and in prime bike fitness to have as good a chance as possible of going sub-six round Lake Taupo.

All that and I haven't even mentioned my new role at work or any of the other amazing things which have been going on around here. Guess I should really start posting more regularly huh?

Monday, January 30, 2012

I'm Back

Yes, I did one month in Europe. I ran the Budapest marathon (with a cold, in 30 degree temperatures). After two more glorious and indulgent weeks in Italy I came back home and I started training hard. Before Christmas I was doing three morning group training sessions a week, plus a PT session and evening runs and spin classes. On the weekend I was out running the trails and/or out on my bike. When Christmas came I kept running and cycling. The morning workouts at the gym stopped, but I was looking forward to starting up again when ....

About a month ago I injured my shoulder. It was silly. I slept on it funny, then I did a PT session, and then woke up the next morning in agony. All running and cycling and workouts in general stopped. I'd just completed an 18k trail run and was supposed to get in 22k in the lead up to a 26k run in National Park. It was all I could do not to burst into tears at my desk - the pain was so pervasive. There was no way I was running 22k.

I managed to fit in two more runs, and then it was race week. What to do - drop down to the 13k, which I knew I could complete comfortably, or be awesome and run 26? Everyone else in our group had dropped back to 13k. Would I feel happy if I did the same, or like I'd cheated myself?

Right up to the Wednesday before the race I was still second guessing myself, and then a few conversations with fellow runners got me thinking. Perhaps after all these years it was time to just throw my hat in the ring and trust myself that I had the physical and mental strength to do this thing. Perhaps it was time to take a chance. What was life without some risk?

I drove north, I walked into registration, and without even thinking about what I was doing I picked up my race packet for the 26k. It was on.