Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Whitney Expedition

I'm finding I'm not that good at backstories. They take too long, they bore me to write. Anything that bores me to write, I've learned, bores you silly to read.

So I'll save you that. Let's just say we decided to summit Mt. Whitney a while ago. We got the required permit to do so, did some training hikes, and off we went to do this thing. Last weekend.

Mt. Whitney is the tallest peak in the contiguous US. It stands 14,497' tall. The portal/trailhead lies around 8,000', that's where we parked the car. We put everything that had a scent into a bag and stuck it in the bear locker provided, lest a bear smell something tasty, like my lip balm, and rip off the car door to get to it while we were away. Bears are a big problem in this area.

And then we headed up. The plan was to backpack 6 miles in and 4,000' feet up to Trail Camp, a campground that sits at 12,000'. There we'd spend the night. The next day we'd leave most of the gear in the tent and summit with only the essentials on our backs. Then we'd come back down, spend another night in Trail Camp, and have a leisurely walk back down to the car on the third day.

6 miles, 4,000' feet. I thought that would take me about 3 hours. I haven't been all that healthy, as you know, and I was not nearly as ready for this hike as I had wanted to be, but still. With all of the locals hikes I'd done to get ready for this summit attempt I thought 2 miles an hour was a very generous pace, taking into consideration the altitude and the steepness. I thought these 6 miles would be pretty easy.

Ha.

The climb up was a lot of switchbacks that weren't particularly steep, but they were relentless. My heart went into over-drive in no time. When my heartrate gets that high I can feel it in my ears and the back of my throat and there's nothing to do but stop and wait for it to recede. That meant I could go a switchback or two, maybe three or four, and then I'd have to stop. It didn't take long, only a few moments usually, and then I could carry on. But that made for a painfully slow pace.

Basta, being still Ironman-fit and all, had no trouble with this. He just walked at my pace, took a lot of pictures, and enjoyed the scenery.

It was really scenic, too. The trail followed a creek that cascaded down the mountain and it was quite lush and green. There were a couple of waterfalls and a few pretty little alpine lakes. I had expected it to be mostly scrabbley granite so this was a pleasant surprise. The air smelled fresh and clean and of pine and sage.

This helped as I struggled up the mountain. I felt weak and tired, like I had no energy. Part of this was my condition, part of it was my lack of fitness and training for it, but a huge part of it was the altitude. It just sucks away your energy and breath. My pack got heavier and heavier as I trudged on more wearily.

We made it to Outpost Camp, 4 miles in, and had lunch. Outpost Camp is around 10,000'. Here I asked Basta if he could handle any more weight because my pack was just too darn heavy. He said he could, so I handed over the bear canister. This is a hard, thick plastic bottle in which to store your food that bears haven't figured out how to open. Yet. It's heavy in and of itself, and much heavier packed with food. That lightened my load by a good 6 pounds. I felt much better about the whole thing after offing that and having some lunch. We carried on.

Only 2 miles to go. And 2,000 more feet to gain. Another hour? Ha. We walked and walked and walked, trudged and trudged and trudged. I had to stop even more frequently. Making it to the summit was starting to look unlikely at best. This was supposed to be the easy part! It wasn't supposed to get hard until tomorrow. But this was hard.

I ran out of water at around 11,000' and we stopped to filter some at a small creek crossing.

Finally, at long last, we reached Trail Camp. 12,000', 6 miles, and 5.5 hours later. That's right, five and a half hours to cover those 6 miles. That was unbelievable.

We'd arrived around 4pm, with plenty of light to get everything done that we needed to do. We found a good campsite, pitched the tent, then walked over to the nearby lake and filtered water for dinner. I started to get a headache at the base of my skull, the first sign of altitude sickness. It was mild but persistent. Basta said that he felt dizzy as we sat by the lake.

We cooked dinner, a lovely freeze-dried lasagna. As we were doing dishes afterwards the sun started to set and it got cold. We bundled up in our fleece but opted to hit the sleeping bags early. Warmest place on the mountain.

As I lay there, enjoying the excellent features of my new Big Agnes sleeping bag, I reflected on the summit. After having rested for a while and had a good meal I thought I could make it. Everything I read said to plan for 4 hours to make it the last 2 miles to the summit. They are the hardest miles of the trip. From camp I could see how the trail got much steeper from there on, plus the altitude only got worse and worse. It was already bad enough here at 12,000'. They say altitude sickness can affect people as low as 8,000', and here we were well above that. I had whole new respect for people who summit Everest.

Honestly, if I thought about the summit I didn't think I could do it. But I knew the route to the summit was a series of switchbacks, lots of them. I knew I could make it to the end of the next switchback. There I'd rest if I needed to, then I could make it to the next one. That way, I knew I'd eventually get to the summit. My altitude-headache went away as I lay there in the tent, and I felt pretty good about the summit attempt the next day. Optimistic, anyway.

I slept off and on. The cool new Big Agnes sleeping bag was comfy and warm, the integrated pad system they use worked very well, but it still takes a night or two to get used to sleeping in a tent. Bears did not visit camp and the bear canister full of food lay undisturbed on a rock a few yards away.

Deep into the night Basta started thrashing around in his sleeping bag, waking me. He rolled from side to side, curled up, then flopped over onto his stomach. Then repeated that. Again and again. I put up with that for quite a while, then finally said something like, 'damn, pick a position and stick with it for a while.'

"I'm sick!!!!" he groaned.

??

"I'm sick. My head is pounding, I feel like I'm going to throw up, I'm dizzy . . . I've almost gotten up to barf a few times, but I'm fighting it. I don't want the whole camp to hear me. God my head hurts . . . It's pounding. . . ."

Well.

"That's altitude sickness," I sighed. Too bad. Mine had gone away in the night, his had gotten much worse.

"It's not Giardia or something else in the water?" he asked.

"No. It takes Giardia at least 2 days to show symptoms, usually longer," I explained. "It can't be that. What you have is classic altitude sickness."

"Are you sure?" he asked.

"Yeah, I'm sure. And there's nothing to do but go down."

He groaned and curled up into a ball as another wave of nausea hit him. "I feel horrible."

I looked at my watch. 3am. I unzipped the tent and stuck my head outside, seeing if the full moon was still out lighting the mountainside. It wasn't, so a gorgeous, crisp & clear black sky full of stars was out. I told Basta he should stick his head out and see that, but he just groaned again and didn't move.

"Can you make it another 3 hours?" I asked. It was too dark to set out now, we'd have to wait for dawn.

"I've made it this long." Poor Basta.

He asked if he was going to have any permanent damage from this, and I assured him no. As soon as we got him down a couple thousand feet or so he'd be good as new. He didn't believe he'd ever feel good again, but he agreed he couldn't go up any farther.

The next couple of hours were miserable. Neither of us slept. He actually rolled over and put his head on my lap, looking for some comfort. Believe me, he never does that. Never.

He continued to get worse. When it seemed like he couldn’t stand it any more, dawn spread her rosy tips across the wine-dark mountainside. At last, we could get up and move.

I put our backpacks on two nearby rocks and he sat on another next to them while I broke camp. I packed all of the camping bits into their respective little bags and set them out for him to load in the backpacks, then took down the tent. As I did so, he'd pack a few things, then put his head down on his pack and groan for a bit until he could raise his head again.

Amazingly enough, I felt damned good. My altitude symptoms had completely passed during the night. But still, I was not the least bit disappointed in not attempting the summit, knowing as I did how hard it would be for me. Better to leave that for another day when I was more prepared. I was at least able to break camp by myself and get us ready to go without trouble.

Basta broke out the trekking poles to help with the dizziness as he descended, and off we went. Down, down, down. The trail was just as steep as when we'd come up it, but that still meant a good mile per thousand feet. Even though I didn't have to stop and rest on the way down, it took about 20 minutes per mile.

At 11,000' I asked Basta how he felt and he said a little better. Headache a little better, nausea a little better, dizziness mostly gone.

At 10,000' we made it to Outpost Camp and stopped for breakfast. There Basta said his head just had a dull ache and the nausea was minor. He could eat. We had cold Clif bars and water. Basta said he wished we had the time and energy to boil water and make coffee and eggs, but by now the warm breakfast offerings at the Whitney Cafe in Lone Pine were calling our names and we were in a hurry to get down.

At 9,000', the symptoms were gone. He felt completely fine. He was amazed.

Another 1,000' and we finally made it to the car. This trip down wasn't exactly a piece of cake, either. It took a lot longer than I expected and my pack was HEAVY. I definitely need more training before I try this again.

And Basta needs more time to acclimate. Some people just do and no one knows why. We debated if it would have been better if we'd spent the night in the car at 8,000' instead of in the motel at 4,000'. Probably. Or if we should have camped at 10,000' and made the much longer summit hike the next day instead of going all the way to 12,000'. I couldn't have done that hike, I tell you that now. Too much for my weakened body right now.

Really, we just need more time. Basta, as it turns out, feels the altitude every time he skis in Colorado. He's just susceptible to it, and I didn't know it. We'll need to go up slowly, maybe taking it over the course of several days more, if we plan to try this again.

Maybe next year. In the meantime, we're looking forward to some lower-altitude hiking and backpacking in the mountains closer to home.

Pictures are here:
Whitney pics

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Painkillers

Research has vindicated my gut-feeling that pain-killers and anti-inflammatories before, during, and after exercise are bad. I'm pleased that my drug-free training advice holds water.

The article is here: NYTIMES

And I will post it in its entirety so I have it after it rolls off the New York Times archives:

Phys Ed: Does Ibuprofen Help or Hurt During Exercise?
By Gretchen Reynolds

Dan Saelinger/Getty Images
Several years ago, David Nieman set out to study racers at the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile test of human stamina held annually in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. The race directors had asked Nieman, a well-regarded physiologist and director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the North Carolina Research Campus, to look at the stresses that the race places on the bodies of participants. Nieman and the race authorities had anticipated that the rigorous distance and altitude would affect runners’ immune systems and muscles, and they did. But one of Nieman’s other findings surprised everyone.

After looking at racers’ blood work, he determined that some of the ultramarathoners were supplying their own physiological stress, in tablet form. Those runners who’d popped over-the-counter ibuprofen pills before and during the race displayed significantly more inflammation and other markers of high immune system response afterward than the runners who hadn’t taken anti-inflammatories. The ibuprofen users also showed signs of mild kidney impairment and, both before and after the race, of low-level endotoxemia, a condition in which bacteria leak from the colon into the bloodstream.

These findings were “disturbing,” Nieman says, especially since “this wasn’t a minority of the racers.” Seven out of ten of the runners were using ibuprofen before and, in most cases, at regular intervals throughout the race, he says. “There was widespread use and very little understanding of the consequences.”

Athletes at all levels and in a wide variety of sports swear by their painkillers. A study published earlier this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that, at the 2008 Ironman Triathlon in Brazil, almost 60 percent of the racers reported using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers (or NSAIDs, which include ibuprofen) at some point in the three months before the event, with almost half downing pills during the race itself. In another study, about 13 percent of participants in a 2002 marathon in New Zealand had popped NSAIDs before the race. A study of professional Italian soccer players found that 86 percent used anti-inflammatories during the 2002-2003 season.

A wider-ranging look at all of the legal substances prescribed to players during the 2002 and 2006 Men’s World Cup tournaments worldwide found that more than half of these elite players were taking NSAIDS at least once during the tournament, with more than 10 percent using them before every match.

“For a lot of athletes, taking painkillers has become a ritual,” says Stuart Warden, an assistant professor and director of physical therapy research at Indiana University, who has extensively studied the physiological impacts of the drugs. “They put on their uniform” or pull on their running shoes and pop a few Advil. “It’s like candy” or Vitamin I, as some athletes refer to ibuprofen.

Why are so many active people swallowing so many painkillers?

One of the most common reasons cited by the triathletes in Brazil was “pain prevention.” Similarly, when the Western States runners were polled, most told the researchers that “they thought ibuprofen would get them through the pain and discomfort of the race,” Nieman says, “and would prevent soreness afterward.” But the latest research into the physiological effects of ibuprofen and other NSAIDs suggests that the drugs in fact, have the opposite effect. In a number of studies conducted both in the field and in human performance laboratories in recent years, NSAIDs did not lessen people’s perception of pain during activity or decrease muscle soreness later. “We had researchers at water stops” during the Western States event, Nieman says, asking the racers how the hours of exertion felt to them. “There was no difference between the runners using ibuprofen and those who weren’t. So the painkillers were not useful for reducing pain” during the long race, he says, and afterward, the runners using ibuprofen reported having legs that were just as sore as those who hadn’t used the drugs.

Moreover, Warden and other researchers have found that, in laboratory experiments on animal tissues, NSAIDs actually slowed the healing of injured muscles, tendons, ligament, and bones. “NSAIDs work by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins,”substances that are involved in pain and also in the creation of collagen, Warden says. Collagen is the building block of most tissues. So fewer prostaglandins mean less collagen, “which inhibits the healing of tissue and bone injuries,” Warden says, including the micro-tears and other trauma to muscles and tissues that can occur after any strenuous workout or race.

The painkillers also blunt the body’s response to exercise at a deeper level. Normally, the stresses of exercise activate a particular molecular pathway that increases collagen, and leads, eventually, to creating denser bones and stronger tissues. If “you’re taking ibuprofen before every workout, you lessen this training response,” Warden says. Your bones don’t thicken and your tissues don’t strengthen as they should. They may be less able to withstand the next workout. In essence, the pills athletes take to reduce the chances that they’ll feel sore may increase the odds that they’ll wind up injured — and sore.

All of which has researchers concerned. Warden wrote in an editorial this year on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine that “there is no indication or rationale for the current prophylactic use of NSAIDs by athletes, and such ritual use represents misuse.”

When, then, are ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory painkillers justified? “When you have inflammation and pain from an acute injury,” Warden says. “In that situation, NSAIDs are very effective.” But to take them “before every workout or match is a mistake.”

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Coach Ana Update

Some of you have been asking how I'm doing, and I finally have some answers to give. Before it's always just been, "neh, good days, bad days."

It's been a learning process, I tell you. For some background to those of you who aren't up on the whole story, it started with the mysterious symptoms -- the rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, shortness of breathe, muscle pain, aching joints, erupting skin, inflamed mouth, weariness, constantly itching skin, etc, etc that forced me out of my Oceanside event and sent me on the long quest to find out what was wrong with me.

My Western Medicine-style doctor sent my blood off for tests and took a chest x-ray. Everything came back fine. She was baffled and asked if I wanted to go on blood pressure medication, but I declined.

There was a cause for all of this. Suppressing the symptoms wasn't going to cure me.

Eventually I sent my blood in for the Alcat test. From that I learned that I had a huge collection of food intolerances. My body reacting to these foods was causing all of my symptoms. Sure enough, when I eliminated all of the foods I have a problem with, I felt good. The symptoms faded and then disappeared. I thought I had found the problem.

But why had my body suddenly started to reject these foods that I've never had a problem with before? Why so many so quickly? I started digging deeper.

Something was causing me to react to these foods. The start of the answer lie in the Alcat test, too. It said I had severe candidiasis. That alone, I learned, can cause all of the symptoms I have been experiencing. I set out to kill the candida in my intestines. I started taking coconut oil and Threelac probiotics. I stopped consuming sugar in all of its various forms, fruits, and all simple starches, too.

I also started to focus on my liver. If it wasn't functioning as well as it could, my whole system is sluggish and I'm not able to clear out the toxins and wastes as quickly as possible. This allows candida to thrive. At my age, with my history of regular wine consumption and enjoyment of gourmet foods, chances were that I had at least some level of fatty liver disease. A huge percentage of Americans do, after all. So I started on liver-cleansing supplements, namely Milk Thistle and B-Complex. I eschewed alcohol in all forms. I strive to eat clean, organic, stress-free foods most of the time to give the liver the best chance to heal and perform well.

So I started to feel better. A lot of the symptoms diminished. The heart rate and blood pressure went down to normal most of the time. The breathing slowed and I could usually climb stairs without dizziness again. My mouth felt better, the pain in my legs subsided, and my joints ached less.

But still, I didn't feel great. I had good days and bad days. I still itched, a lot. Almost every meal resulted in a stomach ache and itchy arms, legs, and face that lasted for hours. I added probiotics and digestive enzymes to the mix.

I figured my candida just wasn't dying, so I kept searching for more ways to kill it off. In doing so, I came across the theory that candida causes leaky gut syndrome. I'd never heard of that before. But it explained a lot.

Basically, the small intestines are permeable, allowing nutrients into the bloodstream as they are extracted from foods. When candida grows, it can put down roots into the intestinal walls that create more and bigger holes there than would be naturally. Larger, not fully-digested food particles can now pass through those holes and get into the bloodstream before they are processed and broken down. The body sees these large, foreign bodies in the bloodstream and reacts as it does to any foreign intruder. It sets off the immune system to attack them.

This was the smoking gun. This is the actual cause of what was wrong with me. I have Leaky Gut Syndrome. While most Western doctors are taught that leaky gut syndrome doesn't exist, the evidence is mounting that it indeed does. It is the likely cause of a whole host of auto-immune diseases. An article in this month's Scientific American discusses it at length. The author, a doctor, expresses his surprise in learning through his research that the intestine isn't a solid pipe after all and that a leaky gut is a very real and very common problem.

Now that I had a cause, I needed a cure. Turns out the gut will heal itself if the things damaging it are removed. Those most damaging things in my life are wine, coffee, and candida.

I'd been off the wine and coffee for a while, so it was time to attack the candida differently. What I was doing obviously wasn't working as well as I'd like. I had not experienced a die-off reaction from any of the cures I had tried.

I came across a yeast, saccharomyces boulardii,that reportedly kills candida albicans in the intestines and does not populate the intestines itself. Perfect. The same day I learned of L-Glutamine, an amino acid that is essential to growth of new intestinal wall tissues. It is big in the bodybuilding community because it is essential to cell growth throughout the body, too. It is readily available. The killer yeast was harder to find but I got it at Mother's Market in the refrigerated supplements section.

I took those two things before I went to bed. The next day, I felt like utter crap. Weak, weary, achy. I felt like I was coming down with the flu. My skin also erupted, getting red spots like adult acne in odd place, like my neck, back, and legs. But this was a good thing. These were die-off symptoms. When candida dies it gives off a massive load of toxins more quickly than the body can eliminate. It takes a while to catch up and clear them all out.

After taking this killer yeast each night for 5 nights, I feel tremendousy better. I know I'm healing.

I'm not fully cured yet. This is a long process. Even when my guts heal and get back to normal my blood will still have the markers to react to the food I'm eating for a good 4 weeks before they fade away. And while my candida is dying, it is a persistent growth. It will take dietary dedication and a long series of supplements before I can stop being so vigilant about it. But I'm thrilled that I think I've found my problem and the cure.

I start my mornings with a tablespoon of coconut oil (kills yeast) and Manuka Honey ( heals wounds, might kill candida) mixed in hot water with a pinch of cayenne pepper and ginger (digestive healing) and lemon juice (liver cleansing). I drink that in lieu of coffee. I also mix an ounce of aloe vera juice (digestive healing) with a packet of Threelac (yeast-killing probiotic) and wash down a Milk Thistle tablet (liver healing) and Zinc (to try to make my hair stop falling out) with that.

Throughout the day I avoid the foods on my bad list as much as possible, especially sugar. I lean towards veggies and eschew grains without going too militant about it. I also have at least one glass of water mixed with Vega powder, a powerhouse of nutritional support including vitamins and probiotics.

At night, I have another dose of aloe vera juice mixed with L-Glutamine powder and take the saccharomyces boulardii yeast pill.

It's not so bad. It's not so hard. And it's working. Slowly I am healing. I can feel it. I'm excited about it.

I'm working out on good days. I still can't run very far without pain, but I can ride slowly and I can swim. I can also walk. Not sure what it is about running that makes it hurt so much, but I'm looking forward to that passing.

Instead I've been hiking. We set our sights on summiting Mt. Whitney and we've been doing training hikes every weekend. Our summit bid is next weekend. I'm not ready for it, I can't march right up it as I'd like, but I think I'll make it if I take it slowly and rest as needed. We're camping halfway up so I'll be able to take the mountain in stages. Sometimes I have really good, strong workout days, too, so I'm hoping summit weekend will be that. I'm going to be very strict on the foods and nutrients all this week to give my body the best chance at being as strong as it can be.

Wish me luck.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ironman Brazil 2009


Ok, let's cut to the chase. I've started this a few times and got lost in the boring details that made up our trip that no one cares about. So rather than do my usual "fall into the trip and be with us" style of race report, I've just written the bits that I think some of you may be interested in, all of you triathletes and non-triathletes both.

For starters, it took us 18 hours to get there. We flew LAX to Miami, then to Sao Paolo. We got our bags and cleared customs in Sao Paolo, then flew one last time to the island of Florianopolis where the event is held.

Florianopolis lies at the same latitude as San Diego but on the other side of the world. Hence the weather there is very similar. Late May is their late Fall, similar to San Diego's November. That means cool but not cold, some rain but nothing serious, with the potential for some warm sunny days here and there, too. Humidity felt the same as home, which means it's a non-issue, neither too wet nor too dry. It was perfect weather for an athletic event.

We booked this trip through Endurance Sports Travel, a company that specializes in triathlon travel. It was founded by Ken Glah, a man who won Ironman Brazil something like 8 times when he was a pro. He thought this was the best Ironman in the world but most Americans weren't doing it because of the hassle of logistics with language, travel, visas, etc. So he started this company to help facilitate the trip. The company has flourished and now does triathlons around the world, but Brazil is still the biggest and the one they do best.

For the less than the cost of booking just the flight and the hotel myself, EST:
1. Booked the flights. And no, there is no easier way to get there than the four airports. I looked. At length.
2. Provided vouchers for the bike on all air travel (airlines charge $100 per flight, on average, to carry a bike box).
3. Picked us up at the airport and transported us and the bike box to our hotel.
4. Provided shuttle service to and from the expo every 20 minutes all week long.
5. Had CO2 cartridges for all athletes on race day. Those cartridges are needed to inflate your tire if you get a flat, but they are banned on airplanes. If you buy them on site you pay a major premium and then just have to throw them away if you don't use them during the event since you can't fly them home. Having them on hand for athletes is a small but very nice touch.
6. Had a bike mechanic at the hotel to help re-assemble your bike out of the box and give it a once-over to make sure nothing was jostled out of place in transit.
7. Provided dinner tickets for non-competing spouses to get into the Ironman pre-party dinner.
8. Rented a house on the run course near transition where non-competing EST clients could hang out during the long day. They provided munchies throughout the day and dinner in the evening.
9. Threw a dinner party the day after the event for all clients.
10. Provided transportation to the airport for the flight to the next leg of our adventure.
11. Made arrangements with other tour operators to facilitate our Amazon, Rio, and Iguacu adventures after Ironman.
12. Plus they had a person in the lobby at the hotel who was generally helpful, arranging day trips if you got there early, translation services, money exchange, everything.

They definitely have Brazil nailed. We couldn't have had a better experience with them there. Several pros book their trips to this Ironman through EST, too.

One of my big fears before we left was that the bike wouldn't make it. With each transfer the odds of an airline leaving the bike behind because it is bulky becomes greater. This many flight legs had me really worried. Our bike box is a double-wide, bought with the idea that I may take my bike and do a destination event someday, too. Since he had extra room Basta loaded it up with a bunch of his gear. He put his wetsuit, shoes, attire, nutrition, and spare parts in there along with his bike. If that box didn't make it, his event was never going to happen.

So it was a big relief when I saw it roll down the chute in Sao Paolo, and then again when it arrived with us in Florianopolis (known as Floripa there).

Another guy at our hotel wasn’t so lucky. He is a New Zealander who had arrived the day before us but his bike did not. He is an Ironman junkie by all accounts. He said he'd done 5 Ironmans in 9 weeks, this would be his 6th. He flew to Brazil straight from Ironman Lanzarote. Nice guy, very calm, especially about losing his bike, but everyone thought he was crazy to do so many in such a short time.

He called the airlines every few hours throughout the days prior to the event and they told him each time that it was at a different airport someplace around the world. The afternoon the day before the event they told him it was in Basilone, France. He didn't believe them as they had told him Rio de Janeiro, Sydney Australia, Phuket Thailand, and Paris on previous calls. He'd decided they were just making up locations since they had no idea where it was. In any case, it was obvious his bike would not make it to Florianopolis in time for the event. So Ken Glah called a friend, a serious triathlete who lives in Floripa but wasn't doing the event due to injury, and talked her into letting this guy she didn't know borrow her bike. She brought her ultra-expensive tri-bike over, the mechanic adjusted it to fit the New Zealand guy, and he was set. He obviously didn't pack all of his other tri-gear into his bike box.

Speaking of the bike mechanic, this guy was great. Manuel, a young guy of Asian descent who lives in Floripa and speaks Portuguese, of course. Not English. Every time Basta takes his handlebars off for packing into the box he's had trouble re-attaching them. There ends up being too much play in the head tube. This time, same thing. Same odd 3-4 cm of play that shouldn't be there. He took the bike down to Manuel, who had a big stack of bikes waiting for his attention. We left it there with him for a day and a half while he worked through all of these bikes that needed their final assembly and once-over. One bike had been damaged in transit and he spent a great deal of time getting it fixed and functional. It was starting to look like he might not be able to get to the bikes that only needed the once-over in time. Basta might have to ride his with the odd play yet again.

But no, by late evening Manuel had powered through all of the bikes and gotten them done. Basta's handlebars were fixed. Manuel was concerned that Basta was attaching them wrong and set out to teach him how to do it properly. No small task, given we don't speak each other's language. With a very good picture that he drew and a smattering of English he showed us how it needed to be put together next time. The bike was tight and sound for race day, and now I know how to do it right for next time.

The day before the event Basta wanted to swim part of the course, so we went down to where they were building the Swim start arch. Small, gentle waves rolled up onto the soft white sand. A light breeze slowly swayed the palm fronds. An occasional dolphin pod showed their backs as they cruised around the bay. A few small islands decorated the ocean just offshore. Idyllic. A lovely place for a swim. The tepid water was made nice and warm with the wetsuit. Basta swam for about 30 minutes in the pool-like water and felt much better about the swim after that.

Later that afternoon he took his bike and various bags to check into transition. There they assign a volunteer to you to help you take your bike to its spot, explain how everything will work on race day, and answer all of your questions.

Basta came through with his must-be-a-local-no-matter-what-county-we're-in coloring. The guy assigning volunteers to athletes assumed he was Brazilian and said, "Portuguese?" as a formality. He was surprised when Basta said, 'no.'

"Español?"

"No," Basta said. "Un poquito español."

"Ah. Italiano?"

"No," Basta said. "Dutch!"

"Dutch?" The guy was taken aback. He looked over his group of available volunteers to see if maybe there was one who might speak Dutch. But no.

"English?" he asked hopefully.

"Oh, ok. English," Basta agreed. Everybody laughed. Basta got a very helpful English-speaking volunteer to help him get situated.

Back at the room, the night before the event, Basta did not appear to be nervous. He said he felt great and that he wasn't nervous at all, just excited to have the day actually come. He didn't even spend much time checking and rechecking his morning preparations as he sometimes does. I wouldn't have been so easy, that's for sure. I really need to work on my own pre-race nerves. Relax and enjoy the day. Basta seems to have learned this concept and embraced it fully.

I didn't sleep very well that night, but I think he did. He sounded asleep most of the time. He said he woke a few times but felt rested.

The Event
The wake-up call rang at 3am and Basta bounded out of bed to answer it. Then he went straight to the kitchen and started downing his pre-race calories. A few bars and his usual morning shake gave him around 1,500. I looked out the window while he ate and saw palm trees whipping in the wind. What was this? Yes, the wind had really picked up through the night and was now howling.

Since the entire hotel was full of EST guests, the breakfast area had opened at 3am for us. When we went down around 3:30 the breakfast room was already full of triathletes. Some were talking nervously, some were very much into their own thoughts, and some looked completely normal like this was the same as any other day. Basta had bread, eggs, potatoes, various fruits, and some coffee to finish off his calorie requirements.

Then on to the bus. A tense and sleepy bus full of we competitors and spouses trundled off to the expo in the dark of 4:30 am.

Once into transition, Basta checked out his bike, making sure it had survived overnight all alone and in the rain. He loaded it up with his nutrition for the first half of the ride, which consisted of Power Bars cut into bite-sized pieces. He'd tried many things for nutrition during his training and learned that this worked best for him. He had Fluid in his bottles and Speedfil, a mix that has some protein in it as well as electrolytes. He's trained with that for many miles, too, and likes it. No salt tablets since this was going to be a cool day and he's not a particularly salty sweater, anyway.

Wetsuit on, two Gu packets at hand for the swim, one for right before and one for the halfway point, and he was ready to go. Soon people started to clear out of transition and head down to the beach. We joined them.

And saw the water. Our gentle little ripples were gone, replaced by crashing waves. The wind had stirred up the ocean and it was not a calm pool any longer. The wind wasn't howling quite so badly any more but the water would take a while to settle down. The tide was coming up and by my estimate had at least another half hour to go before it reached its full height. That meant the swimmer would be pushed towards the shore.

But the conditions are what they are. You take them as they come on race day. We had a few goodbye/good luck kisses, a brief rush of anxiety, and then he trotted away down the beach to toe the line, sucking his first Gu as he went. There was some music, some speaking on the microphone, and then with the boom of a cannon they were off!

The Swim
They were to swim out to the first buoy, across to a second one, then in to the beach for the first mile. They trot down a railed off path along the beach, across a timing mat, then out to another buoy, across to the final buoy, then in to the swim finish. The course is a big, flat-topped M.

Everyone seemed to be swimming far to the right of the first buoy. Was it the swell making it hard to sight or was there current out there, too? Eventually the pros rounded the first buoy and headed towards the second, a long line of swimmers behind them. Soon it became clear -- there was current out there, probably tidal flow. Everyone was being pushed towards shore and had to fight to make it back out to come level with the second buoy. As the line of swimmers stretched out there was a distinct sag in what would have been the direct line between the two buoys.

The pros made it to the second mark, turned and headed to shore. There was a big white marker on the beach showing where they were to go. But it was on the right side of the actual spot where they needed to start their run up the beach. With the current pushing everyone right anyway, people ended up waaaayy down the beach from where they should have been. They had to run quite a while in the wash to get into the chute that guided them across the timing mat and down to the next leg of the swim.

Race officials realized what was happening and moved the marker buoy up the beach to the left side of the chute, but it was too late. Everyone was just playing follow the leader since sighting was so difficult, and everyone ended up far to the right of where they needed to be. Volunteers in kayaks tried to steer people left towards where they needed to go, but it didn't seem to help. Follow the leader plus current prevailed.

Many people came through before Basta, as expected, but there were many more behind him, too. He's still a middle of the pack swimmer. He pulled the Gu out of the sleeve of his wetsuit, sucked it down as he trotted, and then he was off on the second leg of his swim.

Shortly after he finished his first lap a woman came out of the water, desperately asking volunteers for goggles. Her eyes were squinted practically shut and were watering from the sting of the salt water. Her goggles had been knocked off by another swimmer or the strap had broken, something. The volunteers were no help, they didn't have spare goggles for her. But I did. I had a backpack and inside were Basta's extra goggles. I started digging for them and called to her, "I have goggles, over here!" and she trotted over to me. She was an older woman, probably in her late 40's. I handed the goggles over the rail to her and she said, 'gracias! gracias!' over and over again. She called her race number to me in Spanish, several times over, as she ran to start the second lap. I guess so I could get the goggles back from her when she finished. "No, no, son tuyos", I called after her. They are yours, keep them.

I headed over to see what I could see at the Swim Out area, so I didn't see much of the second leg, but Basta said it was just as difficult to get to the second lateral buoy as it was on the first leg. The current was still pushing. He said the swells were so high that only if you got lucky and looked up at the top of one and caught a glimpse of your buoy could you tell where you were going. Most of the time it was just following feet.

But he did it. He finished the swim in 1:36:24. He had estimated a 1:20 - 1:30 swim, but conditions obviously took that away. Still, he finished without losing the rest of his race.

He nearly ran past the strippers and they had to shout and wave to get him to come over and sit down. Once they had him they got his wetsuit off in short order and sent him on his way.

The Bike
The bike course is two loops. Though it is billed as a flat course there are some hills. The course wound through streets protected by large buildings and open stretches on the highway along the beach. With plenty of turns they had either headwind, tailwind, crosswind, or protection from the wind such that the wind wasn't really a factor in the ride. The wind continued to fade as the day wore on, too.

Most other spectators who have an athlete out on the course say they worry during the swim and feel much better after their beloved gets out on the bike. Not me. I worry most about the bike. While there have been tragedies where someone drowns during a triathlon swim, it is very rare. I don't worry about Basta in the swim. The bike, though, another story. I worry. So much can happen on the bike. It troubles me with my own riding and very much when he's out there on training rides or in events.

I took up residence at the special needs bike hand-off spot, halfway through the bike course. This turned out to be an amazing place to spectate. I learned that unless you are a pro and know how to grab a bag at top speed, you shouldn't do it. You also really need to get a volunteer who knows how to hand off a bag at high-speed, too, because a bad one can cause you much trouble. I saw a volunteer take down two separate riders because he held onto the bag too long and knocked them off balance. Down they went, elbows, shoulders, and knees bloody, the volunteer looking sheepish but not knowing what he'd done wrong to cause this.

After the pros and super-fast age-groupers came through it settled down to people who stopped, got their bag from the volunteer, fished through it and took what they wanted out of it, maybe let the volunteer hold their bike while they used the porta-potty, and then were off on their way again.

Basta was amongst this group.

He got his special needs bag, pulled the second half of his Power-Bars out of it and loaded them into his Bento Box, then saw me on the curb and came over. He said he felt great and was having a good ride. No flats, no wrecks, no blood, no broken bones. Good.

Except that he had gone over a speed bump and launched both of his bottles and his gel flask very early on in the ride. He uses his Speedfil on the bike and the bottles were just for refills. He could refill with the Gatorade at the aid stations as needed. He had plenty of nutrition aboard and could do without the gel flask, too. So he didn't stop to get them. But a guy rode up to him and offered a bottle to him. In choppy English he said, 'I saw what happened, here, I have an extra. You will need it, take it.' Basta said, 'No, no, you need it too, I'll be ok' but the guy insisted. Basta took the bottle mainly to acknowledge the man's kind gesture and make him feel good.

56 miles down in 3 hours, 15 minutes. 56 miles to go.

A lot of the guys he does his weekend rides with have done Ironmans before and a lot of them have hired coaches to help them. Pretty much all of them said he wasn't riding enough long distance rides leading up to this and predicted that he'd struggle making it the whole way on the bike.

To that I say this: The goal of every professional coach that you hire, either in person or on the internet, is to make you as fast as you can be. That involves pushing you and pushing you hard. My goal with Basta, with his complete concurrence, is to get him to these events very physically ready and injury-free. He wants to be doing triathlon and to keep this level of fitness into his 70's, and he won't be able to do that if he's chronically injured. Pushing yourself hard and an abundance of super-long workouts leads inevitably to injury and burnout.

His program for the bike training was in each month do one century ride, two 60-80 mile rides, and a 30-40 mile sprint. These are the long weekend rides. During the week he'd ride the Computrainer twice a week. I believe, and still do, that this is ample distance on the bike to prepare for an Ironman. Not to win it, no. But to finish strongly, yes. He was plenty ready for this bike.

And it showed. He finished the second lap with no trouble. It rained briefly during this lap, but still no flats, no wrecks, no blood. He did see an ambulance racing past once and saw a woman down with many people around her, but he made it unscathed. Total bike time 6:24:02. He actually negative-split the bike, doing the second half in 3:09. He didn't lose any steam at all in the long miles. He took it a little bit easy to save some leg for the run.

The Run

Volunteers took his bike and he trotted off to the changing tent. He took off his helmet, put on his running shoes, and headed out the tent, then realized he still had his bike shorts on. Oops. In all other triathlons he wears the same outfit throughout, but for this Ironman he had on full bike shorts and then intended to change into tri-shorts that don't have the big crotch pad for the run. Fortunately he noticed that before he left transition so he went back and changed. Then it was off on the run for real.
The run is a mostly-flat course with two big hills. One hill is long and steep, the other is shorter but incredibly steep. These hills come on the first lap, you go up them and then get to go down them on the way back. This first lap is 20 kilometers. The wind had settled down long ago and was no longer a factor.

The EST house was on this course near transition. I had come back to this house during the bike, had a little nap in the hammock by the pool in the back, ate some of the munchies they had for us, and chatted with other spectators. Mostly Americans and Canadians, wives and parents and the occasional husband here to support their athlete. Each time a runner who was associated with one of us came by the whole group would cheer for them. The three principle EST employees were there, keeping track of everyone on the course.

Each time Ken Glah came by the whole house erupted. He's now a 45-49 age grouper, and he finished in 9:25:56, taking second in his age group. After he finished he came over to the house for some food and a shower, then settled in to see how everyone else was doing. People said he isn't training much at all these days.


Basta came by the house, said hello as he trotted by, then came back the other direction within a few minutes sporting a yellow arm band that showed he had finished one lap.

The second and third laps went through town, were flat and just over 10 kilometers each. I figured it would be about an hour before Basta came by again. It was quite dark by now and the crowds were thinning out a little bit. Well over an hour later Basta came through again. He was still running, still looking pretty good, all things considered. He was smiling and happy to be approaching his last lap.

He went on to the turn, got his pink arm band that showed he was on his third lap, and headed out for the final loop. I fell in next to him as he passed the spouse house and ran with him for about 100 meters. He said he hurt all over and was having to walk here and there, but mostly he was running. At that point he was running pretty well, too. I had to pick up my pace to keep up with him. I figured if he had a last burst of energy and could keep the pace he had for most of this last lap, he might do this one in about an hour. That would give him a sub-13 finish, which would make him very happy.

Near the 13 hour mark I went down to the finish line to await his approach. So many happy people crossing that line! They did not enforce the 'no family in the chute' rule and the finish was often clogged with spouses, children, parents, siblings, cousins, friends, neighbors . . . too many damned people interfering with other athletes trying to finish and get a decent finisher's picture. I hoped there would be a little clear space between finishers when Basta came through so he wouldn't have to trip over children or get a finisher's picture with him off to one side while someone stood with their entourage, kissing and crying, right under the finish arch. I swear, having the family interfere like that BEFORE the finish is one of the stupider thing I've ever seen. Make an area AFTER the finish line where athletes can kiss and cry with their families and solve the problem. Ironman recently made the no-family in the chute rule but since they don't enforce it it's meaningless.

Anyway. 13 hours came and went, no Basta. Then 13:15. So he was having a tough last lap. At least when I saw him last he was still running and still having a good time. He really embraced that, 'enjoy every moment' advice and was having a great day, no matter how he felt or how long it took.

At 13:34, Basta turned the corner into the chute. He did have clear space with no other athletes in the immediate vicinity. He said he timed it that way intentionally, making sure no one was in front of him and that there was plenty of distance between him and the guy behind him. He had a clear chute, so he stuck out his arms and swooped from side to side, like an airplane coming in for landing. At 13:34:13, he jumped high in the air across the finish line. The announcer was impressed with his finish performance and called out, in heavily accented English, "Adriaan Fan der Cap-Ay-Yen, from los Estados Unidos, djyoo are an Iron-Man!!" He wasn't saying that for everyone who crossed the line.


I made my way through the crowd and found Basta in the finisher's area. He was very, very happy and a little delirious. He wanted out of there, so we went over to transition, got his bike, and walked up to the EST house. There he had some dinner and chatted with some people, but mostly he wanted to get back to the room. The EST bus whisked us and our bike off to the hotel in no time. There we popped the bottle of champagne, Basta had maybe half a glass, and then he was out like a light.

He awoke the next day feeling very good. His neck and upper back were sore from riding aero for so long, as always, but I rubbed him with some Alcis crème and that took the soreness away. His legs were a bit stiff, but he felt surprisingly good. He could definitely feel that he'd had a very long, physical day, but he wasn't hurting. He was even walking down stairs normally. One rub of Alcis was the sum total of what he had for pain mitigation for this whole experience. Well, that and some caipirinhas.

Downstairs at breakfast and throughout the day we talked to others about their day. The New Zealander finished without trouble and got his benefactor's bike back to her unscathed.

A Mexican man who was in the wheelchair division talked about going up the super-steep hill. His front wheel kept lifting up because it was so steep and he thought it was going to come all the way up and over at times. He had to keep throwing his weight forward to try to keep it down. The veins on his arms were huge from the effort of pushing that wheelchair up that hill. Good thing they only had to do that hill once. He didn't speak much English, so he was pantomiming it for us English-speakers while someone who spoke both Spanish and English translated what he was saying for the group.

Greg, a young man in the 24-29 age group, had a bad day. He is nearly ready to turn pro and was hoping to qualify for Kona in this very tough age group. He was flying on his bike when his back tire went into a depression where the road had subsided from a pipe installation underneath. He had on racing tires with insufficient tread for these damp-road conditions, and his back wheel just rolled out from under him. He hit the ground knee-first , then shoulder, then continued the roll with bike still attached to his feet, hitting the ground again with the other side of his body. His bike broke, he had scrapes all over his body, and he had a tremendous pain in one leg. Still, he got up and tried to ride on. Then he realized that his bike's frame had a huge crack and that pedaling with one leg was getting him nowhere. He stopped. An x-ray later that day showed that he had a spiral hairline fracture in his femur.

But he did much better than another EST client, the woman who needed the ambulance that Basta had seen flying down the course. Unknown what caused the accident, but she went over her handlebars and landed head first, smacking her face and head on the road. Her helmet broke, plus she impaled her thigh on something and was bleeding profusely there. The ambulance took her off to the hospital. X-Rays showed that she had a concussion but no serious brain injury. Her husband was doing the race, too, so when he finished an EST employee took him to the hospital. They kept her overnight for observation. They eventually sent the husband back to the hotel since they had no place for him to sleep in the room, but Ken Glah had one of his people stay all night with her. The hospital staff spoke only Portuguese and the woman spoke only English, so the EST woman was there to translate and make sure the woman knew that she was being well cared for and it would be ok. An EST staffer also got her bike and all of her gear out of transition the next day.

She was ok, too. She made it to the dinner party that Ken throws for all of his guests the day after the event. She had a huge black eye, bandages here and there on her face and body, a stiff leg that had probably received some stitches, but she was happy to be out of the hospital and walking. She would be good-as-new soon.

Other people had very good days. John, a man from Florida in the 70-99 age group, finished in 16:09. He is 72 years old. There were two other men in their 70's in this event. But he was the only one who finished, so he qualified for Kona. He was very, very happy to have qualified and is looking forward to the big one. Then he says he's retiring from Ironman distance and will stick to Olympics. He started doing triathlon when he was 54.

Then there was Rosie, a 54 year old woman who finished in 16:57:32. That's two and a half minutes before the cutoff time. This was her first Ironman, she'd been fighting the flu for a month now, and was so pleased to have made the cutoff. She wasn't last, either. Two other people made it in behind her before they closed the course.

I don't know if this was a life-changing experience for Basta as it is for some people. In some ways maybe it was. He says he feels calmer and more patient now, thanks to Ironman. He's proven that with proper preparation and a good mental outlook (and good nutrition), anything is possible. He says he is going to write a paragraph or two on what he feels about this experience, so stay tuned for that.

As for his triathlon future, he definitely has the Ironman bug. He wants to do one a year from now on, until he's in his 70's and will qualify for Kona through attrition. I need to figure out how to get him to run better on tired legs, but overall I think he's doing very well. He took this one, his first, rather conservatively, but now that he knows he can do the distance and how it feels he can push it a little harder next time.

Right now he's just enjoying this feeling of accomplishment.


I hope this report was worth the wait. Thanks to you all for supporting Basta throughout this adventure. He appreciates it very much!

Links to all pictures from this experience are here http://picasaweb.google.com/annebrand/IronmanBrazil#

Monday, July 6, 2009

Not the Race Report

I'm working on the Brazil race report, really I am. I'm finding it difficult for some reason, which means it'll be boring. Can't have that. I hope to have a presentable one done soon.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ironman Brazil Pictures

Some pictures to tide you over until I get something written.

http://picasaweb.google.com/annebrand

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

At last, off we go

We're packed, we're ready. We leave the house at 6am. Finally, the time is here. This has truly been a long time coming.

For those of you who want to follow Basta or check how he did after the fact, go to Ironman.com, click on Athlete Tracker for Ironman Brazil, and enter his info to search for him. He's listed as number 656 in the registration but I'm not sure if that's his bib number or not. Try it.

It's been raining off and on all week in Florianopolis and the forecast is for rain on the day of the event. Scattered showers. Shouldn't be of much concern.

I will be much more relaxed when we arrive at our hotel, bike box at hand, and can get into the full flavor of the area and the event. I'll tell you, I'm glad I'm not the one competing because the stress of this is sky-high, even for me. Basta is handling it well and doesn't appear to be losing sleep over it now. But I'm prepared to give him a great deal of space in the two days before this event while we're down there. He's liable to be a tad touchy.

Thanks for all the good lucks and well-wishes, everyone! I'll post updates if I can get my hands on a computer with internet access.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Setbacks

Basta's father passed away. He had a massive heart attack while sitting on the couch watching tv in the evening. He was 80 years old.

Basta comes from a very large family and he's been talking to friends and relatives from around the world. All have been wonderful, offering condolences and kind words. He's been trying to contact as many people as he can who knew his father and would like to know about his passing. It's been busy.

We are incredibly lucky to have family that live near him in Holland who are willing and able to handle his affairs. One cousin in particular had made it a point to keep in contact with him regularly, even when he got difficult and argumentative in his old age. For him and his kind and gracious wife we are forever grateful.

Basta's father had been in poor health for some time and had prepared for his passing pretty well. One of the things he had arranged was to donate his body to science. He had met with people at the University that was going to take him and had the intake documents completed.

This donation to science has meant that the typical funeral arrangements will not take place. There is no rush to fly to Holland. We can and will go to Brazil as planned.

So Basta will do Ironman Brazil and dedicate the race to his father. That will make for an even more emotional day, I'm sure.

We leave in 5 days. Packing and planning the last details this weekend. As is typical with Basta, "tapering" to him means not working out at all, despite my best efforts to keep him on plan. He did go for a short run two days ago, but that's been it. No bike ride today. A friend wants to swim with us tomorrow so that may actually happen. But otherwise, no taper. No peak. Just, 'I'm ready, let's get there, let's get this done.'

We leave Thursday morning. Long long loooooong 18 hours of travel and four airports later, we arrive in lovely Florianopolis, Brazil. Lax to Miami, then to Sao Paolo, then a short jump to the island. With luck the bike will arrive at the same time, too.

The "Setbacks" title was about me and my dramas. I've fallen off the wagon. I've eaten bad things. Rather, good things that I react badly to. You try and avoid everything on that list and see how long you can do it.

I've been calling it, 'testing' and 'seeing how I do' but that's a load of bull. I'm just being undisciplined. And now, I feel normal. Which is such a sad testament. Normal for me is tired and weary and itchy and achy. Feeling great like I did felt like I was on some kind of happy/perky drugs because I just haven't felt good in so long. Must work on that. Normal needs to become feeling great and energetic.

Part of it is also knowing that I won't be able to eat very restrictively in Brazil. I'll have to eat what's available. That's part of the joy of travelling, anyway - enjoying the local cuisine and experiencing new foods. I'm going to do that. I'll avoid the major problem ingredients (sugar!) whenever possible, but I'm going to eat.


In the few days left, though, back on the bandwagon. I want to feel as good as I can when we're there and so I must cater to the fussiness of my delicate little system while I can. Because I realize now that I've been suffering the effects of these problems for quite some time now. Years. It just got worse and started to affect my heart and breathing when I stepped up the training and started consuming a bunch of sugar & chemicals in the form of sports drink, bars, and gels. The good part of that is it put me over the edge and made me find out what was wrong.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Food Intolerance Recovery - 1 Month

It's been 4 weeks since I got The Report. Nearly a month. In that time I think I've done a pretty good job of handling the monumental task of changing my life to accommodate my myriad problems.

To make a long and probably terribly boring story* about what a pain in the rear that has been, let me tell you that it's working. Two weeks into this it was clear that it was working. Now, four weeks into it, I feel fantastic. I mean really, truly fantastic. I haven't felt this good in months. Maybe even years.

And to think there are those in the mainstream western medical community who say this Alcat test has no validity. Ha. It has made a night and day difference to me.

It's amazing how many people want to take this test now as a result of seeing what it's done for me, too. I hope you do have it done, Crister. I think they have some European centers. A woman at work who is having a number of problems with swollen joints and various other distresses ordered the kit and is having her blood drawn for it tomorrow. She's anxious for the results but hopes it's not a severe as mine, of course. Another co-worker has a young son with some behavioral issues that they know are directly related to food or additives. They've spent years on the trial-and-error method of trying to figure out what all he reacts to. Now they are going to have the test done to remove the guesswork and hopefully make some real progress with him.

But back to me. After nearly a month of diminished exposure to reactive things, I'm finding that I react less to stuff. I can eat a lunch out, for instance, and have a sauce that probably has some onion powder in it, and just get a bit itchy for a few hours. Before that would nearly wipe me out, make me struggle to stay awake all afternoon, and then send me straight to bed when I got home. I hope, over time, I will be able to handle the smaller-reaction items with no trouble at all.

I'm also still losing weight. I'm getting a sufficient number of calories in. The super-fast weight loss of the first two weeks has stopped but I'm still losing 1-2 pounds a week. My clothes are falling off of me . I've already retired 4 pairs of pants because I can pull them off without unbuttoning them. Woot.

The other topic of note here -- Basta and Brazil -- is still on track and going well. He had a sore Achilles' tendon after his last long bike ride that he didn't tell me about until after he'd done a 9 mile run on it and made it hurt much worse. We rested it and focused on swimming for a bit and now he's ok again. He's started tapering, he's healthy, he's really tired. All is as it should be right now.

We are unable to get the Yellow Fever vaccines done. It's such an unusual vaccine for around here that most doctors don't carry it. You have to go to a travel vaccination clinic, and the one here hasn't had it in stock for over two months. They don't know when they are going to receive another batch. So we take our chances with the mosquitoes and the viruses they transmit. Along with Yellow Fever we have Dengue and Malaria to worry about, too, so I think we'll be wearing the long-sleeved shirts and pants when heading out into the jungle.

It's been raining a fair amount there, so I hope the Amazon has some depth to it! How funny to go to the largest river in the world and have it be too dry to float a boat. There is a fair chance that Basta will be doing his Ironman in the rain. A cool rain at that. He says he's mentally prepared for that if it happens. Good.

I'm not planning to take a laptop with me. Don't know what the internet situation will be like at the various places we will be in Brazil. In most of my travels I can find internet access periodically from either the hotel or an internet café, but who knows what Brazil will offer. I may be computer-free for three whole weeks. What a change that will be. I'll have to take notes and tell you all about it after the fact. I imagine the Ironman website will have their live athlete tracker going. Basta doesn't have his race number yet so you'll have to look him up by his name. His first name is spelled "Adriaan", in the Dutch manner. Yes with 3 a's. For those of you who don't know or just think that's a misspelling when you see it.

In 13 days we jump on the plane and start the long journey down south.

*If you're truly interested in what all I'm doing to try to avoid the things I react to, read on. The rest of you can go now. Thanks. Bye.

Within all of the things I'm reacting to, there are severe, moderate, and minor reactions. I only severely react to two things: Candida and wine-grape mold. So no wine -- easy enough. I've occasionally had to skip a sauce I knew had wine in it but otherwise I just don't drink wine. The candida, though, has been problematic.

Candida. Candidiasis. The theory that my guts are overgrown with candida yeast, even though I have no external indications thereof. I have plenty of the symptoms of an internal overgrowth, though, and the Alcat test says emphatically that I do. So I must go on faith on this. That means consuming nothing that yeast feeds upon, which is blood sugar. I must avoid everything that raises the blood sugar. Like sugar itself in all of its many forms, flour, rice, potatoes, fruit, etc. Also all grains because they may contain mold, all mushrooms because they are a fungus themselves, and all fermented sauces like soy sauce and vinegar because they contain yeast. I did that quite strictly for about 3 weeks. I made my own salad dressing using lemon juice instead of vinegar (lemon juice doesn't raise blood sugar). I made my own mayonnaise, too. It's really tasty.

I read a lot about candidiasis. Like everything on the internet, strong opinions from all aspects of the topic are vented and debated. Some think the condition is medical nonsense. Some say you must adhere strictly to the diet 100% of the time or you will relapse instantly. Opinions vary on what foods are 'allowed', what foods actually help, and what modern medicine can do for you. Having read through a ton of that, sorted through what appears to me to be fact from fiction, and knowing myself as I do, I think I have a pretty good handle on this. In a nutshell: Sugar -- bad. Fructose really bad. White flour -- really bad. The rest? Neh. Probably not that big a deal. I can eat a mushroom without trouble. I can eat a bit of rice now and then. The key is small amounts. A few bites of rice at lunch once a week I can handle. A whole bowl of rice makes my stomach blow up like a balloon as the yeast feasts on the resultant blood sugar spike and gives off gas. That's my sign -- bloated stomach -- too much blood sugar. The next couple of days I have nothing bad and stomach goes flat again.

Interestingly enough, it turns out raw honey can work its healing wonders on candidiasis, too. Instead of feeding the yeast as one would expect, some say it kills yeast and helps heal the gut. Well, I got some raw honey this weekend and have had a tablespoon of it every day since. It hasn't caused the bloated stomach that a sugar intake of that size would. I think it's helping. Plus it tastes really good. I'm putting it on an Ezekiel brand sprouted grain tortilla (yeast-free) along with almond butter. Dang useful for when the food cravings get to be intolerable.

My next biggest problem is fluoride. I got a two-stage fluoride + everything-else filter and installed it at home. I drink from that and try to remember to use it to brush my teeth, too. It's helping. My mouth feels a lot less irritated. At work they offer bottled water. I looked up their water analysis report, available on the internet, and this particular brand says it contains no fluoride. Good. My exposure to fluoride is limited to restaurants who serve tap water, and the shower. I'm not sure if fluoride contacting the skin is bothersome to me or if it's just what gets ingested. I can't change the shower situation, but I have stopped taking baths. No need to soak myself in it. But I have learned that Borax -- the 20-Mule-Team stuff, neutralizes fluoride. I got some of that and have been adding it to the laundry to make sure my clothes aren't fluoride-infested. I am going to try adding some to bath water one of these days to see if that really will make my water fluoride-neutral. Wouldn't that be nice to have such an easy solution to that problem.

After that I focus on the 6 big food items that bother me. Of those, Brewer's Yeast and Onions are the biggest problems. No leaven bread, no alcohol, no vinegar, no fermented sauces, no onions. Just try eating out without consuming one or more of those things. It's not possible, and after every meal out I am itchy. So long as I do "best I can" the reactions are minor. Maybe as I avoid other things that are causing me to react my whole system will settle down and I can eat without itch again. Even now, like I said, it seems my reactions are lessening a bit.

Finally, there's the minor reactions. Lots of those. Just avoid whenever possible. If unavoidable, don't have them very often. Less than once a week is best.

The rotation diet is a big part of this. Not eating the same food more than once every 4 days. I'm trying to do that, as much as possible. Basta has been very good about that with the dinners he cooks.

I'm trying to eat as many veggies as possible.

I'm definitely eating everything fresh and natural. No processed, preserved, or colored foods for me.

I'm eating one small serving of fruit a day. Different fruit each day, if possible. The NO SUGAR IN ANY FORM EVER Candida people will be shrieking in horror at that, but the same people who recommend the raw honey also say that natural fruit's natural sugar is more healing to the system than it is yeast-feeding. When I eat fruit -- no bloated stomach -- so it's all good.

The ramifications of that are that I can do endurance sports again. I can ingest quickly-digested carbs for energy in the form of honey or fruit. That is very promising to me.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Taper + What Is Wrong With Me

Basta finished his last long week. Now the taper begins. He's really looking forward to tapering.

Not that he's been working out religiously. His work situation has him very busy right now and he's let his training suffer these past few weeks as a result. He's skipped a lot of workouts, in fact.

But he says he's ready. He's been saying he's ready for a long time now. Mentally, physically, he's ready. He has his nutritional plan set. He says he's really ready.

Maybe he is. I really wish he would have done all of the hours of these last few really hard weeks, but it is what it is. He's as ready as he's going to be.

Logistically, we're nearly ready. I got my passport renewed. We got our visas a few weeks ago. We're going to try to get Yellow Fever vaccines tomorrow. We don't need that for the event but we do for the Amazon river cruise we're taking afterwards.

As for me and my troubles. Well. Here is my saga:

My doctor surprised me and actually did listen to my problems. She took my blood pressure and agreed it was way too high for my age, weight, and reported athleticism. She ordered a bunch of tests, which I did, and a chest x-ray. The blood work came back fine, nothing to worry about, maybe a touch of anemia. Blood sugar a tad high. Cholesterol a tad high. Odd considering my healthy eating habits and fitness level, but nothing to worry about. Chest x-ray showed that my lungs are fine, so is the heart. She thought it could be a food allergy and referred me to an allergist. Yes.

While all that was going on the kit for my Alcat test arrived. I had the blood drawn for that, sent it in, and waited most impatiently for the results. I had high hopes that would give the answer to my problems.

The Alcat test identifies food intolerances. These are different than allergies. With a true allergy, your body reacts by pumping out histamines, swelling dramatically, potentially causing anaphylactic shock and death. A food intolerance, on the other hand, won't cause death. But it can cause muscle aches and pain, joint aches, itchy skin, coughing, gastrointestinal distress, high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, lack of energy, water retention, weight gain . . . A whole host of potential symptoms. Most of which I was experiencing.

I've thought all along that this was caused by something I was eating. I tried to figure out what it was by eliminating this and that suspect food from my diet but nothing seemed to do the trick. I knew it wasn't a true allergy because I've tried taking Benadryl for it but that made no difference. I was really hoping the Alcat test would shed light on my problem.

Well, as they say, be careful what you wish for. The results of the test arrived. I have a HUGE list of intolerances, far more than I would have ever imagined. For instance:

Brewer's and Baker's yeast. That means no more alcoholic beverages, baked goods, or bread. Nothing made using yeast. That includes soy sauce & all vinegars. Most sauces, in fact.

Cabbage. In all of its many forms -- white cabbage, red cabbage, bok choy, sauerkraut, coleslaw, etc.

Carob. No biggie here. That's probably in some of the 'sports' bars that I consume but those are easily skipped.

Chicken. I knew this. I haven't eaten chicken for over 10 years now because of this. But chicken broth is everywhere and it's hard to avoid. Every time I have it my neck turns red and I itch all over.

Coffee. WTF? You can have an intolerance to coffee? Apparently so. I was keeping a diary of foods and my reactions and I did note a sneezing and itchy spell after consuming coffee but thought it must have been caused by something else. Guess not.

Hops. No beer. No biggie. So this is why I turn red when I drink beer? Or is it the yeast? Or the double-whammy effect? In any event the brewer's yeast eliminated beer anyway so this is redundant.

Onions. Seriously -- WTF? Onions? Onions are in everything. EVERYTHING. It's more prevalent than chicken broth, even. This one is really hard. It includes all onions -- green onions, shallots, leeks, etc.

Peaches. And their bald cousins nectarines. Not a problem here. One of my favorite sports drinks is peach flavored and I wonder if it actually has some peach extract in it.

Those were the big reactions. Along with that I had minor reactions to another collection of foods. Cinnamon. Crab. Brussel sprouts (oh darn). Sesame seeds/oil. Olives & olive oil . Cashews. Bananas. Black & green tea (no more iced tea at lunch). Corn (or tortilla chips). Cottonseed oil. Grapefruit. Oregano. Salmon. Rye. Snapper. Yellow squash.

I have a severe reaction to Candida, which indicates that I probably have candidiasis -- a systemic Candida overgrowth. I don't have any external symptoms of that so it is all in my gut. As a result, I can eat no sugar, no fruit, and no mushrooms. That's sugar in all of its many forms, including honey, molasses, fructose, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, etc. Nothing that the Candida can flourish on. Avoiding all grains, potatoes, rice and flour is also advised because they raise the blood sugar. Candida loves blood sugar. Avoiding all of this should make it die off within a few weeks.

I have a minor reaction to casein but not to whey. Still, that means no dairy. I'm not a milk drinker but the no cheese, no yogurt, no butter, no sour cream part is sad. Since I can't drink coffee any more the no half & half is not a problem.

So that's the foods. That's bad enough, but it gets worse. They also tested for molds, environmental chemicals, and food additives/colorings. I react to a handful of food colorings (orange, green, red, yellow), potassium nitrate (no more processed meats), aspartame & saccharine (I knew those bothered me and never have "diet" products as a result). I am best off if I just stick to natural foods -- nothing processed, nothing from a box, nothing colored or preserved.

Then there's the molds. I severely react to botrytis -- a mold that is most commonly found on wine grapes. Great. Given the severity of that reaction I will probably never be able to have wine again without suffering bad effects. A bunch of other molds, too, like the ones that grow in the shower. I am lucky I don't live in a more hot/humid climate where molds thrive more.

Last but not least are the chemicals. I reacted strongly to fluoride, of all things. Also to chlorine, nickel, and orris root. I can't wear my white gold wedding rings for more than a few hours at a time or they burn my finger, so I knew about the nickel. Orris root is the base for most perfumes, so now I know why perfumes make me cough and sneeze. I've always hated swimming in a pool because of how the chlorine wreaks havoc on my skin and hair and saps my energy. Every time after swimming in a chlorine pool I had to go home and have a deep and hard sleep of the dead for a few hours. I thought I was just a bad swimmer and it wiped me out. Now I know that is not the case, it's my reaction to the chlorine. It really does affect me differently and more strongly than it does most people.

The fluoride is a big surprise. I switched to a fluoride-free toothpaste but my city adds it to the water supply so it's in everything. I think that's why my mouth almost always feels inflamed and irritated. I think that and the onions are causing that reaction because it is still somewhat with me, though much reduced. My mouth always flares up after eating at a restaurant, and I think it's because onions and onion powder are so common and because restaurants use tap water in the kitchen, so I'm getting a lot of fluoride in every dish. I've ordered a fluoride filter for the home and it should arrive next week. In the meantime I'm drinking and brushing my teeth with fluoride-free bottled water. I hope with reduced exposure the mouth symptoms will fade, even though I won't ever be able to achieve complete fluoride elimination.

So there you have it. For two weeks I've been trying to adapt to these restrictions. It's not easy, as you can imagine. I thought I had a pretty healthy diet beforehand but now it is absolutely pristine healthy.

What can I eat? Beef. Pork. Eggs. Soy. Garlic. Tomatoes. Lemon. Avocado. Peanuts. Those are on a lot of people's lists but I tested no reaction to them. Most vegetables are okay. Hooray for small things. I can eat something.

Basta, who is the chef in this family, is adapting to this beautifully. He has a list of my can't-eat foods and makes extraordinarily tasty meals around that. If I could eat at home all the time I'd be fine. It's eating out that gets me. Imagine ordering something in a restaurant that doesn't have onions, butter, or olive oil in there somewhere. I am doing the best I can, but after every meal out I get a reaction of some sort. Either an inflamed mouth or itchy skin or a stomach ache. But it's mild and it passes in a few hours.

Because now, after two weeks of avoiding these things as much as I can, I feel tremendously better. Blood pressure dropped to 103/63 after the third day of dietary purity. Resting heart rate dropped to 73. I am thrilled with that.

All the other symptoms are dissipating, too. My ears no longer feel like they are stuffed with cotton and don't itch any more. My skin in general doesn't itch, just for an hour or so after eating at a restaurant. I can live with that. My joints don't ache and my knuckles feel fine. I can write with a pencil without pain again. The feeling of needles stabbing into my quads is gone. The overall muscle aches are fading.

My energy is returning, too. I don't have to plan my weekends around naps and I don't come home from work too weary to do anything but take Misty for a short walk and then crash into bed. I actually have the ambition to do things after work now. Like work out. I feel like a blanket of weariness is slowly being lifted off of me.

My lungs took the longest to recover from this. Up until two days ago I still had the shortness of breath thing whenever I climbed a set of stairs. I could feel that my lungs just weren't right whenever I tried to exercise, no matter how gently. It's hard to explain, they just didn't feel right. I felt pressure and like the lungs were laboring far too hard for what I was doing, and doing so incorrectly. Like they were sliding against something in there. I'm glad I had the chest x-ray done to tell me that nothing was obviously wrong in there. No pneumonia, no cancer. And now, at last, that symptom is gone. That is a huge relief. I can work out again.

It's nice to know what was wrong with me, even though the solution is very difficult. I am to avoid all of these things for 3-6 months, then I can try to introduce them back on a very occasional basis and see if I can handle them. The key is to not do constant exposure. Someday, I can maybe have a dairy product one day (cheese!) and have a minor reaction, then if I don't have it again for 3 days the reaction will clear from my system and I can have it again. 4 days is apparently how long it takes these reactions to leave the body completely. So they recommend a rotation diet: Don't eat anything more than once every four days. Not even things that I'm not currently reacting to, because I may start reacting to them due to overexposure. Given that I am obviously prone to food sensitivities, this is good to know. I don't want to develop a problem with anything else.

So we are trying to do the food rotation thing. We have beef day, fish day, pork day, shellfish day. Different veggies and salad greens each day. Substituting a vegetarian meal or an uncommon meat like lamb or buffalo at any time is fine. We rotate the oils, using grapeseed, canola, coconut, safflower, peanut, or walnut oil instead of just olive all the time. I am eating an abundance of varied vegetables, not just broccoli, cauliflower, carrots all the time. We've switched from the mixed lettuce salad to one type each night -- romaine, spinach, mache, arugula, butterleaf, etc. Basta made a garlic/lemon dressing with grapeseed oil that I can use (once every 4 days) since all of the commercial ones have at least one ingredient on my banned list.

So yeah, there's a lot going on. Feeling better and having all of these symptoms fade away is worth the effort, though. I am committed to doing this strictly for at least 3 months, then maybe I will start to see what I can add back in on occasion without causing me too much trouble.

The first 5 days or so of this was really hard. I had headaches, aches, pains, weariness -- worse than the actual symptoms I was having before. I was warned that would happen as my body was working hard to clear everything out. After that phase was over I started to improve rapidly. As of this morning my blood pressure is 88/60. That's normal for me. Finally.

I've lost 10 pounds so far, too. I'm thrilled about that. At this rate I'll probably lose another 10 within a couple of months. Then I'll be right around my goal weight.

And I'm exercising again. I swam 1.2 miles in the ocean today and it felt fantastic. The heart and lungs felt fine, just fine. I was thrilled to be out there and having a good swim. Yesterday I ran/walked 3 miles and it felt great, too. The legs are still a little weak but I have high hopes my strength will return in full force very soon. I know I've lost some fitness through all of this so it's partly a matter of building the strength and fitness back up, too. Since I'm unable to consume sugar in any form my workouts are pretty well limited to about an hour, but I plan to make full use of that hour. I can stay very fit with an hour a day and I can work on speed.

I'm looking forward to a good bike ride tomorrow. And to having a bit more energy, a few less symptoms. I can only imagine how good I'll feel 3 months from now.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Oceanside 70.3 2009

Been there, done that, no big deal.

That's about the extent of what I have to say about Basta's Oceanside day. He wasn’t stressed at all about it, he was well prepared for it, and he knew the course.

Also, this really wasn't an important race for him. His focus is on Brazil. Brazil, Brazil, Brazil. Oceanside was just a training day.

It showed in his time. Last year -- 6:21:56. This year -- 6:18:44. 3 minutes faster. Big whoop.

He was actually 3 minutes faster on the swim, 4 minutes faster on the bike, but he had leisurely transitions and a slower run by 3 minutes. He just wasn't pushing it. He wasn't racing. He was cruising at a comfortable pace.

Which is all fine -- we do this for fun and fitness, after all -- until we sit around the athlete food table with fellow triathlon club members and hear them bemoan not getting sub-5 today. These are a speedy group of people, and being around them makes you feel woefully inadequate for not being fast enough. I told Basta if he wants to get to be sub-5 himself he needs to set time goals and work hard to achieve them. He just wasn't interested in that for this race.

And then there's me. Long story short, I didn't compete. DNS. Did Not Start. My blood pressure is still high, my resting heart rate still often in the hundreds, plus a whole host of other oddball symptoms that I haven't really talked about here. I've been getting worse instead of better. Climbing a staircase leaves me panting for breath with my heart pounding. Doing 70.3 miles was inconceivable. I can't even imagine running 100 yards right now.

But I did go to registration and get my athlete's wristband and swim cap. Basta was doing this, and so were my friends from work. Same as last year, we all stayed in the same room and went down to the event together. I went into transition with them, pretending to be an athlete, and set up my rack as if I were competing. Then I took pictures and hung out, trying not to let my disappointment become a sucking vortex of negative energy and impact their days.

I wasn't feeling very good, as usual, that morning. My heart was pounding and I was a little light-headed. I saw the Medical Tent near the finish line and thought I'd check, just one more time, to make sure I was making the right decision. I went over there and asked them to take my blood pressure.

A very nice doctor sat me on a bench and took it. I told him what was normal for me and the reading he got was 40/40 higher than that. He talked to me about how I felt and how long I'd felt that way. He took my pulse and said it was quite high. He very carefully said that he recommended I not compete this day. I thanked him. That made me feel better, actually, to know that a doctor felt I shouldn't do this event this day, too.

Now, two days later, nothing has changed. Basta feels fine, no pain or soreness. He's going for a short run when he gets home tonight, then it's back to regularly scheduled training.

I am still thinking I'm having an allergic reaction (or intolerance) to something I'm eating or being exposed to somehow. I ordered the ALCAT test and have high hopes for that showing something. I also ordered a box of vegan meal-replacement drink mix. You can supposedly live off of this stuff without eating anything else if you wanted to. I plan to try consuming just that for a week or so to see if that helps.

At Basta's insistence I have also scheduled an appointment with my internist. I suspect that will be a complete waste of time, but maybe she'll surprise me. Really wish I could find a good doctor but they don't seem to exist in the HMO system I am stuck with. At least she'll probably run a bunch of blood tests and we can rule out any problems there. Then she'll tell me to eat better and try to get a little bit of exercise. Yeah, she never bothers to ask how I eat or what kind of exercise I do. Just assumes I'm your typical sedentary fat American.

But I actually have been a sedentary fat American for a while now. I haven't had a decent workout in what feels like forever. Since this obviously isn't going away quickly, I've started doing what I can to help keep me in the game without actually making my eyeballs explode. I've discovered I can walk without trouble. A walk raises my heartrate up to around 130, so it's a nice Zone 2 workout. So walk I will. Also, I can lift weights. And do yoga. All low-stress activities but it's certainly better than nothing. This vegan thing should result in some nice weight loss, too. Maybe I'll be leaner, more muscular, and bendier as a result of all this.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Today

Sitting here in bed. Just woke up. No coffee yet. Blood pressure is 128/87, resting heart rate is 81. While neither of those would make a western doctor even raise an eyebrow, they are high for me. Normal is 90/60 and 72ish.

So something continues to be awry. Along with this is a headache, intestinal distress, an overall feeling of achiness and lack of energy. Maybe it's a bug, who knows.

Basta's flu is gone and he feels pretty good. He took several days off from training because of his illness and it made him twitchy. He couldn't wait to get back to it. Funny how that becomes an addiction.

5 days to Oceanside. Strong focus on simple, healthy foods, getting good rest, and light training for both of us.

If I feel like I do now I'm not sure it's wise to do any of Oceanside. I'd really like to do at least the swim, just to prove I can. The swim has been my challenge all along here and I really feel like I've conquered that. At one time the thought of swimming a mile in the open water made me terrified. Now I've learned how to swim, I have done the distance many times in the pool and in the ocean, now I just need to do it in an event. Then I can say Done. Success. Goal Achieved. Feel good about that.

I can ride the bike and I can run a half marathon (well, not today. But you know what I mean. When I'm healthy). Doing all three on the same day may have to wait for another event, but I'd really like to get that swim done in Oceanside.

Of course I had to read that article about how most people die in triathlon in the swim and due to a heart problem. Great.

I am going to go barf now. Bye.