Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Attack of the Killer Migraine, er, Virus

Yesterday was an unexpected downer.  After a fairly long, brick-filled weekend of training in Flagstaff, AZ, I was slated for an easy swim in the AM.  During the swim, I started to feel a little hungover (of course without cause, other than a long run the previous evening).  Drinking water didn't help.  I left the pool early due to a splitting headache with nausea.  I figured the obvious: dehydration.  Work today didn't start until 3pm, so I went home and hydrated like a fool (lessons of early college years gone by were not lost  ;)).  Hydration didn't help, and I was feeling pretty wretched every time I stood up, so by lunchtime, I called out of work.

Next guess was that I had a BAMF migraine.  So despite nausea, I threw down some Advil and caffeine, which eventually helped.  A head full of medical factoids leads one to contemplate all sorts of heinous possibilities, but I reined it in.  It was a migraine, plain and simple.  When you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras.  Unless you're in Africa.

Haven't had a migraine since late teens.  But it's suddenly time to figure out how to avoid 'em.  Realistically, I did a bunch of stressful things in the last 48 hours, and one of them, or some of them in combo, was/were the trigger:

--3 Hr. Mt. Bike race Saturday, followed by 20 minute run
--Long hypothermic bike ride on Sunday in Flagstaff, AZ: 4.25 hrs in 50 degrees and rain.
--Long, normothermic car ride back to Tucson.
--Long, sweaty 1hr 22 min run Sunday night right before bed with only water, and probably not enough. (Tucson was mid->high 80s, immediately post-rain, which is to say that it was so farking humid that I was growing armpit and crotch moss)
--Not enough fluid after run.
--Generally more physical stress with IM build (big surprise there)
--Not enough sleep lately (not sure that one's getting better until retirement)
--Just used Infinit for the first time.

Hopefully it wasn't that last one, as Infinit worked quite well in all other ways.  I think its ingredients are pretty simple, so I hope not.

Most of it was dehydration, I think coupled with opposite temp stresses (haven't really done alternating hypothermic and hyperthermic bricks). I think it's easy to forget that it takes more than a few glasses of water at night to rehydrate after a real sweatfest.  But there's no denying that some things trigger unpleasant headaches: diet soda; anything with nitrites; anything with MSG.  Dehydration may be the next item, or it may be something else.

A natural part of aging, I suppose: The dietary road grows narrower.  But the horizon grows broader. 

Edit--A coworker described exactly these symptoms a few days later.  His wife got it, too.  Seems that the most likely cause was a virus.  But I'd still say that the extreme training left me susceptible.

Monday, August 5, 2013

XTERRA Snow Valley, Part III: 21K Trail Run

. . .in American English, that's a Half Marathon. . .

The swan song for the XTERRA weekend was an  trail run, on hiking/cross-country trails across the street from the Snow Valley Ski Area.  It took some searching to find an elevation profile, but I found someone else's file from a race on Garmin connect.

Preparing for the race was mercifully simple compared to a triathlon: Shoes, shorts, shirt, ready to go.  Water bottle, holder, 310xt, iPhone and headphones, and HR strap were added as useful but unnecessary extras.  Karen and the kids dropped me off and headed for Big Bear Lake for a couple hours of fishing.  I was at the starting line with just a few minutes to spare.  Time for a quick limber-up, and then we were off. 

Doing some maneuvering at the start.
My legs were initially not so thrilled about the prospect of more hill climbing.  Even though I'd been drinking, eating, and replacing electrolytes religiously since the XTERRA Points tri yesterday, I still felt depleted and dehydrated.  It seems to take a fair bit more than 18 hours to completely restore and rebalance fluids and electrolytes in all body compartments.  No surprise there.

As intended, this was going to be a good opportunity to work on running in less than optimal conditions.  So I pretended it was an Ironman Marathon: focus on form; maintain a sustainable pace, and accept what my body had left without trying to force more out of it

It's not always easy on the ego to let people pass me.  But it is an essential lesson for racing in general, and far more so for Iron Distance racing, where going just a little too fast can lead to miles of walking during the marathon.  And to be blunt about it, I need work on it.  So I kept asking myself: Am I passing this person because there's some imaginary reason I think I should be in front of them, or because staying behind them is actually slowing me down? Unless it's come down to a sprint to the finish line, there's really no other good reason to pass.

Running efficiently downhill on trails is not unlike skiing the moguls.  It's important to stay balanced and centered, to land feet carefully and with the proper amount of force to guide one down the trail, and like with moguls, to keep one's vision 3 or so footfalls ahead in order to remain smooth.   Going too fast equals loss of control and a crash; going too slow and "overbraking" is actually more work than going the "right" speed.  There's a balance.  Luckily, I've spent most of my adult life running trails, so it was pretty much second nature. 

A fellow competitor who was running in front of me for awhile made a video of the race.  It's a good overview of the race and the scenery.  Plus, I'm in it: 


Somebody's pet pig can be seen at 1:30.  The race itself starts at 1:44.  I'm running behind him at about 2:50 and I can't hear him because I'm taking acoustic inspiration from iTunes.  Then again at 4:30, and we chat briefly at 5:30.

During the last half of the race, I pushed the effort level up just a hair.  As with the IM marathon, this was not reflected in my pace.  But form stayed together.  I went 57 min for the first 11K, 63 for the last 10, for a total time of 2 hours and 54 seconds.  Just over 2 hrs.  :-\  Makes me wish I'd paid a little closer attention to the watch. . .

Overall, it was a scenic and fun run.  It was also a confidence booster in terms of how well I ran tired.  But the race awards suffered from the same logistical hassle as the XTERRA tri: I would've had to wait around for 1+ hours to get my little plaque for being 2nd in my AG.  I wanted to/couldn't/didn't.  It just seemed too selfish to make everyone sit around and wait again.  Our vacation had, up to that point, been all about the parents and what we wanted instead of the kids' fun.

But over the next week, we wound up doing OK in the kids of all ages fun department:  Speedboating around Big Bear Lake, hitting Huntington and Newport Beach, going to Disneyland, and checking out Street Skating and Freestlye Moto-X at the X-Games:

Mama's Driving the boat like a wild woman.  Family facepalm.
The teen is banking hard and fast, imitating mama.  Only 2 years and she can get a learner's permit!!  :-\

Huntington Beach on the iPhone panorama feature

. . .but that was last week.  Today was the first day of school for the older two, and today is the day that I officially start prep for Ironman Arizona in November.  We're right back into the full swing.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

XTERRA Snow Valley, Part II: Points Triathlon

Saturday was the Points triathlon, the longer of the two tri options.  Karen and I were both excited to do our first XTERRA tri.  Karen was particuarly thrilled that XTERRANS, if you will, seemed to share her contempt for mornings.  The race started not at 5:30, 6, or even 7 am, but at a mind-bogglingly late NINE AM.  She and her slacker night people mountain biker cohorts would just be hitting their strides as I started to look for somewhere quiet and out of the way to nap. . .

We arrived at 8am, set up T2 at the bottom of the hill, and rode/walked up the 2/3 mile climb to the teeny, tiny lake and T1.  Setup was a free-for-all, so I just grabbed an available slot in the first rack, between a couple of really fast looking people.  None of them seemed to be setting out their elbow and hip pads for the bike leg.  And they all had clipless (meaning the ones you clip into) pedals.  Not this rookie.  Platform pedals only.  And my Hokas.  I'm not that good.  Yet.  If ever.

I felt pretty casual about the whole thing: It would be a quick swim, a few trips up and down the ski hill on the bike, and then a hilly 6.2 mile run.  Not much to stress about, and a good chance to work on pacing, nutrition, and of course, mountain bike skills. 

The swim was off fairly quickly.  I started off at a comfortable speed and didn't really get going until the last lap.  The expected hypoxia for a 7,000 foot swim was mitigated by my easy start.  XTERRA tri swimmers have a reputation, and it seemed to me not unfounded.  They were both slower and more aggressive: noticeably more jostling; pulling; hitting, a fair bit of it clearly intentional as opposed to the almost universally incidental/accidental collisions I've had in road tri swims.  A fellow competitior who had a hard time keeping his hands off my backside (repetitively) got to experience some of my old water polo skills.  >;-}  Per my watch, the swim was done in 14:30, about 1:28/100 meters.  Blah.  Pretty much IM pace.  Maybe I should have warmed up.  Or pushed it like the short swim it was.

Given the official swim split time, T1 took me about 2 minutes, which wasn't bad given that I threw on elbow pads, hip pads, a backpack, and sunglasses, in addition to the usual shoes and helmet.

Conscious of the fact that we had to climb the ski hill three times, I set my effort level deliberately at tempo pace.  My new platform pedals with little grippy knobs were money: they gave almost as much traction as if I were clipped in, but with the ability to stop myself from falling over given the high likelihood I would lose balance and/or need to clip out quickly. 

Falling on dirt shouldn't scare me so much, but there was that whole femoral neck fracture thing just eight months ago.  And on this bike. 

I'm going to need to get over that one.  Some MTB skills would certainly help that.  ;-)

I almost made it all the way to the top without walking, but I pulled out into a more scree-covered track to pass and spun out.  Overall, I had to hike the bike three times, all due to poor route selection or biking technique.  But mostly climbing went well.  With my feet free to move around on the pedals, I found that putting the midfoot, instead of the forefoot, over the center/axle of the pedal made a substantial improvement in my ability to climb.  This shouldn't be a total surprise, as I use midfoot position cleats on my road shoes.  Except when I leave them at home and need to buy new shoes for a race. . .

I seemed to be able to lean forward with greater ease, which made a pretty big difference on climbs with grades in the 15-20+% range.  With the same level of effort, I climbed past people with whom I had been merely keeping pace before.  Granted, they shot right past me on the downhill. . . 

Haven't seen this on a road course.  Yet.
In keeping with my general lack of MTB skills and experience, I went downhill cautiously.  Halfway down the first hill, the bike started feeling wobbly.  The rear tire had flatted.  I got to do a MTB tire change commando style, and like everything else, it was slow.  For posterity's sake, I hung onto the unsubtle culprit, at right:

This was, pun definitely intended, the nail in the coffin of any lingering competitive notions for this race, putting me abruptly back with folks more my speed, including Karen.  Like pretty much everyone else, she whipped past me on the downhill, but I caught up with her on the uphills. 

I wasn't knocking the cover off the ball in terms of raw speed, but neither was I cramping nor hyperventilating with effort on the climbs.  There was definitely a range of knowledge of pacing and nutrition out there, and if nothing else, I knew my limits well in this area.  Total time was 1:52 for 13+ miles.  Running speed.  Ouchie.

Bike leg elevation, HR, and speed

Exiting T2.  The dude's probably all like, whoa, check out the helmet-hawk on him.  (Photo by Elissa)

Speaking of which, the run was every bit as hilly as the bike, and even a bit more so on the 24% grade of "Diablo Hill," which everyone walked on the way up, and skid-slid-walked on the way down.  There weren't any flats to speak of on the run course, just ups and downs.  I worked on staying loose, efficient, and sub-threshold, even on the climbs.  Maybe some day, my mountain bike skills will improve to the point that I get off the bike with people as fast or faster than me in the run, but next I got to do something fun that I hadn't done since my first few months in road triathlons: Run down a bunch of competitors.  :-)

Woohoo! Passing skinny people! (Photo by Elissa)

Doing a new type of race was a good opportunity for me to contemplate triathlon and my relationship to it.  I didn't start off competitive in triathlon, yet here I am.  It grew bit by bit: Outswimming and running a few people down in my first tri; beating a bunch of skinny people; beating a few more skinny people in the next one; hitting an average speed on the bike over 20 mph; and then, suddenly and unexpectedly, being two spots off the podium at a World Championship qualifying race, waiting around for a roll-down slot, and thinking that what was once a distant and farfetched pipedream--qualifying for Kona--might not be all that unrealistic, or far off.  For the last 18 months, I have been deliberately and rather thoroughly dedicated myself to that goal, embracing my own competitiveness, even when rehabbing a busted hip. . . 

So it was certainly different to do a race in which I had no hope of excelling.  And I quite enjoyed it, which I think is a good sign.  My involvement in triathlon doesn't seem excessive to me, despite what your average Joe or Jane likely thinks about roughly 12 hours/week of S-B-R, ramping up to as much as 20 for the 2-3 months preceding an Ironman.  How this impacts the kids is another question worthy of another post, or two, or three.  Soon.

Karen finishes! Better-than-professional photo by Josh.
In terms of race logistics/support, this was an exceptionally well run and organized race.  My only complaint was that the race organizers wouldn't simply hand out awards: If we wanted to collect it, we had to wait 1 1/2 hours after finishing so Karen could collect her 2nd place in age group plaque.  This may not seem like much of a problem for most, but we spent not only our time, but our kids' free time/parent time/vacation time waiting around for us to collect our little codpieces instead of getting back to more family-centered activity, which wore thin for all involved awfully quickly.  One single quanta of race director flexibility on this one would have made a big difference in our kids' schedules, and correspondingly, our levels of parent guilt.

On the whole, though, it was a good race, a great MTB adventure, and a do-over.  Not to mention the piece de resistance: I won a lottery prize! Yes, that's right, helmet cleaner and deodorizer! The mind truly boggles to think of all those years I'd been living without, toiling under a grimy helmet, in blissful, stinky ignorance of the solution to (one of) my aesthetic problem(s).  But no more.  Now we'll get to be the family with the shiny, great-smelling helmets! 

Unless you want it and send me an SASE.