Blogs tagged with "allergies"

Oh No Not Again!
(Like in 2010, the Mooseman transition
was a flood zone on Sunday.)

One of my favorite fiction passages ever written is a scene in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in which a sperm whale and a bowl of petunias are improbably called into existence high above the planet Magrathea. It was one of those (very few) teenage moments during which I found myself not only reading but in hysterics behind a closed bedroom door at 3 am. I remember my mother bursting into my room to find me not only NOT crying, but - the horror! - still awake, and READING... and - even more horror! - it was an UNASSIGNED novel. Anyway, to get back to the story, the hilarious passage finds the sperm whale proceeding to fully come to grips with its existence in the brief moments during which it falls to the surface of the planet. But what about the bowl of petunias, you ask? Here's the quote:

"Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was Oh no, not again. Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the Universe than we do now."

(Note: SPOILER ALERT if you've not read but plan on reading The Hitchhiker's Guide series, skip the next paragraph)

Readers find out two books later in Life, the Universe and Everything that this scene introduces one of the great "minor" characters in the more-than-three books of The Hitchhiker's trilogy. It's also one of my all-time favorite characters, the "tragic" figure Agrajag. Agrajag's fate is to be continuously reincarnated and subsequently killed (accidentally and unwittingly) by Adams' protagonist Arthur Dent.

Why am I telling you this? Because I became more-than-intimately acquainted with the "Oh no not again" sentiment as history repeated itself - more than once, even - this weekend. On Sunday, I was the victim of nightmarish déjà vu - an almost uncanny duplication of circumstances in both events and symptoms (as the case may be). Unfortunately for me, the déjà vu was of two events from 2010 combined into one.

My husband Jim would say I didn't need to, but as usual, I did a desperate search for some kind of redemption race after Ironman St. George. We decided the Mooseman 70.3 fit the bill and planned a quick (12-hour-drive) New Hampshire weekend trip. Mooseman was a race I knew and loved, not only because it takes place in my beloved New England, but because I had performed well there in 2010. It was a race that might also, perhaps, allow me to capitalize on all the bike hill training I had done before St. George. Mooseman was so near-and-dear to me that I had also planned to race it in 2011, but a bike crash and resulting broken rib kept me from the starting line.

Had I raced last year, I might not be telling this story. Because the lessons I learned this weekend would have been last year's lessons and would have (hopefully) already been rammed home, burned into memory, and part of the process. But they weren't. And so, on Sunday, I was forced to relive a painful and identical experience from my racing past - from a DIFFERENT race even - the Kinetic Half in Spotsylvania, Virginia.

The 2010 Kinetic Half (read the race report) was the race that taught me about my allergy issues. Not just any issues, mind you, but full-blown asthma that can be triggered by spring tree pollen. I had my first (and at the time, only) asthma attack at (what appeared to be) the beginning of the Kinetic 13.1-mile run. A never-before-experienced shortness of breath on the bike leg was replaced by a desperate gasping for air when I started the run. I ended up in an ambulance. Later that day, it occurred to me that even my swim had been compromised by the allergic reaction - during the swim I experienced an uncomfortable struggle to breathe that I had chalked up to: "Jeanne, you went out WAY too fast."

Panicked by the whole experience, I saw an allergist who did a complete work-up only to conclude: "You are allergic to Spring." "Anything about spring in particular?" "No, just Spring." It turns out that all the tree pollens of spring are allergens to my body. She recommended training indoors all spring long and aggressive treatment for a few months every March starting in 2011. But her treatment plan was revoked by her replacement who had a different diagnosis. The new allergist concluded my asthma was a one-time thing, more likely the result of a "perfect storm" of conditions that day in Virginia. She wanted to wait and see what happened in spring 2011 instead of dosing me up with inhalers and drugs before we knew more.

The only race I did in Spring 2011 was Ironman St. George, to which she gave the green light because it was a race in desert conditions with minimal, if any, tree pollen. Right after St. George, I crashed my bike and my spring racing season (and thus my Spring allergy assessment) was forever lost in the wake of a broken rib.

Cue up Spring 2012. The last time I did Mooseman was 2010. It was only a few weeks after the Kinetic Half. Needless to say, I was in full-blown allergy-scare mode. Allergy meds and inhaler were now part of my race checklist and transition gear. Asthma didn't stand a ghost of chance. But as of this weekend, I have been without an allergy-induced (or any) asthma attack for over two years. For all practical purposes, asthma was a distant memory barely registering when I got a glimpse of my inhaler in my purse. And the only time I've taken over-the-counter allergy medication is to treat mild symptoms.

In transition, I miraculously got the end
of the rack - I knew then, absolutely,
that my luck was about to run out.

And by Sunday morning, it was the weather - not my allergies - registering as a major problem at Mooseman. It was cold and rainy without a break in sight. Coincidentally, except for a temperature difference of about ten degrees, the weather in New Hampshire on Sunday was IDENTICAL to Mooseman in 2010. Oh no, Not Again! I was having race flashbacks - unfortunately, they were the WRONG race flashbacks. My brain was given over to preparing mentally and physically for a race in cold, wet conditions and avoiding hypothermia (one of those memories that actually HAS been rammed home and IS part of the process). When I did Mooseman in 2010, I remember being so miserable in the rain that I fought back tears during the last part of the bike ride (read the race report).

So, why on earth would I consider allergies at a time like this? I mean, seriously. I proceeded to ignore the obvious signs. Seriously. What was that yellow stuff floating in all the puddles? What was the deal with my eyes being all puffy? Did Jim just say: "Don't forget your inhaler"? Even up to the point after the gun went off and it felt like someone was jumping up and down on my chest and trying to smother me in the water, it still NEVER occurred to me that my Spring allergy was rearing it's nasty head.

What did I do in the water? (Isn't it obvious?) I chalked one up to: "Jeanne, you went out WAY too fast." (Instead of the more appropriate "Oh no not again.") The writing was all over the walls, but I wasn't looking at the walls. I was looking down the hall. At the finish line. I so badly needed this race as a pick-me-up that I threw common sense out the window.

And despite a decent (if suffocating) swim, by the half-way point on the bike, I was getting that "old familiar" shortness of breath. The only thing different than what happened in Virginia was that this time I KNEW what was happening. When I started coughing, I knew it was too late. And the phrase DID pop into my head: "Oh no NOT AGAIN!"

While climbing the mountain on the second loop, my quads were already starving from not enough oxygen, and I couldn't breathe deep enough to get them any. My bike speed on the hill was so slow I was afraid I would take a deep breath, start coughing, and fall off my bike (talk about a disaster!). I considered walking up the hill. And crying. And although it wasn't likely, I hoped that by the time I reached transition, Jim would still be carrying my backpack. The backpack containing my inhaler... because, we all know, IT WASN'T IN TRANSITION. My inhaler, that is.

By my own estimates of my capability, my bike time was dismal. Upon dismount, I yelled to Jim that I needed my inhaler - told him where it was. What the hell was he supposed to do? I was the one who made the mistake and all I did was make him feel guilty for not carrying a heavy backpack around all day in the rain.

Remembering Virginia, I dreaded the run. But I still made an attempt. And by mile 1, I had already stopped three times to catch my breath, asked countless people if they had an inhaler, and alerted the medical staff. By the time the ambulance got there, I was angry, sad, AND scared. I borrowed a phone to call Jim, only to find he was making his way up the run course to find me. I was trying to breathe, trying to reconcile what was happening, trying to decide if I could deal with dropping out (like I had a choice), and trying to get the information to the medics that my husband is trying to find me. I even took a mental snapshot of how much distress I was in to avoid overanalysis of the DNF.

But most of all, I was trying to breathe. And coughing. And panicking.

After being treated with a nebulizer and convincing medical personnel not to take me to the hospital, Jim and I made our way to the car for the long drive home. When I wasn't coughing, I spent most of the drive asking myself (and poor Jim) the same questions over and over again and cursing my terrible luck - and stupidity - at my first two attempts at racing this year. As an aside, I was also trying to figure out why the side of my head has now broken out in hives. (More allergies? The same allergies? Panic? Something entirely different?)

I almost forgot to mention how my wetsuit got destroyed. Yes, yet another disaster. But believe me when I say I'm not sulking. I'm embracing what now feels like the return to Disaster Magnet status. It's a comfortable place for me and the stories are much more amusing to tell.

To end this maddening story on a positive note, I will leave you with a very appropriate message:

Who would have thought that at the age of 45, I would develop what appears to be asthma. Yes, I've been dealing with three or four sinus infections per year and seasonal allergies that began later in life... like, in my 30s. But asthma? That's just a disease that "other" people have -- my husband, my mother-in-law... Asthma? It would surely ruin me. I'm an endurance athlete. I LIVE to breathe large.

Alas, not only have I suffered what appears to be an allergy-induced asthma attack, but, being the Disaster Magnet, it happened in the worst possible way (for me) -- DURING a race.
The race was the Kinetic Half (Ironman) at Lake Anna State Park in Spotsylvania, VA. I had several goals for the race, none of which included an asthma attack. I had written them down before the race in my trusty split book:
  • practice nutrition for Ironman Lake Placid
  • practice transitions (or, as the case may be, learn how to do transitions again)
  • have a decent run leg (taking into account the Pittsburgh marathon six days earlier)
  • assess my bike training

The day started out like most race days... no - wait! The day started out BETTER than most race days. Why? Because I got about five or six hours of sleep the night before. No panic. No anxiety. Just sleep. We got to the site early, I picked up my chip, got body-marked, and set up my stuff in transition. Athletes were discussing the weather -- the wind was expected to pick up to about 20 mph by the time we were on our bikes. The one thing to remember: it's everyone's problem. This race was windy last year too.

The 1.2-mile swim was a single loop in a triangle shape. My wave, the over-40 women, was second to last -- that took a little pressure off. The water was 74 degrees. I warmed up in my wetsuit and decided to keep it on just in case the water further out was colder (it was). Jim mentioned I was smiling at the starting line -- my response was that it was the first time in ages I wasn't mentally frazzled from lack of sleep at a start. I lined up in the front (mostly because the women in my age group were not jockeying for position), the start horn blew, I hit my watch, and we were off.
I should have known in the first few strokes that something wasn't right. As usual, I went out fast to get a good position in the water, but within a few strokes, my lungs felt like I was swimming all-out. You know that feeling you get when you swim a whole pool-length underwater and just barely make it? When you come up for air and your body is screaming for oxygen? THAT'S how I felt. It was very scary, weird, and confusing and I slowed down to try and catch my breath. Not knowing what to do, I eased back and pressed on. At that point in the race, I thought the mistakes were all in my pacing and never considered that something was physically wrong.
The last leg of the swim was directly into the sun. I stopped several times to spot the buoys and shoreline only to realize I was the one people were drafting off. It went by quicker than expected, and I got out of the water second in my wave.
My transition was a disaster. I should have expected that with no practice. I had to sit down and struggle with my wetsuit at my ankles for what seemed like hours. When I was finally free, I took the quickest way around the racks and out of transition. Atypically, I ran in my bike shoes because the T1 exit was on gravel. It was an uphill bike mount, and mine felt like a comedy of errors (note to self - PRACTICE which side to run on and which pedal needs to be UP).
The two-loop 56-mile bike course is very rolling with some great downhills but the wind was a huge factor on the bike -- we went out and finished against it. Getting speed and rhythm on the bike was hard with the lingering (hilly) marathon fatigue in my quads. During this race, I wanted to get comfortable with my new bike and aero position and practice fueling. Because it was hot and dry, I drank 20-24 ounces per hour with about 250 calories/hour from E.F.S. Liquid Shot (which includes electrolytes) and Carbo-Pro. Bike fueling was dead on -- no dizzyness, no feeling of dehydration.
It was my lung problem that came into focus on the bike. About halfway through the first loop, I took a deep breath and found myself coughing. Thinking I had sucked in a bug, I was surprised that the sensation continued, and I felt the need to cough every time I breathed deep. After considering dropping out at the end of the first loop, I decided to keep going, take shallow breaths and hope it went away. I wondered if it would affect my run. I also kept getting "stuff" in my eyes and tried to wash it out with water but couldn't (I would find out later that there wasn't "stuff" in my eyes).
I knew my bike leg was slow, but I passed many women and I knew I was winning my age group. I would make it up on the run. If I COULD run. But I was losing concentration on the race with growing concerns about my breathing problems. Coming into transition, I forgot my navigational route, went the opposite way and overshot my bike rack. I had trouble getting into my running shoes (note to self -- FIX the insoles of racing shoes), then fumbled with my hat and gel packs before getting on my way.
I started the 13.1-mile run out of breath on the first short jog out and back before the three-loop course. My immediate breathing difficulties centered around the inability to get a lungful of air. When I saw Jim, I stopped and told him I couldn't catch my breath. I started coughing. A race volunteer asked me if I needed help. I did, but my biggest concern was dropping out. In a moment, medical personnel were there to help me assess what was wrong. I was coughing. I couldn't stop. I was almost choking by the time they put me in the ambulance. Someone said "emergency room" and my worries skyrocketed. I was still hoping to finish the race at that point. (I was leading my age group for crying out loud!) I answered a bunch of questions about medication and my lungs and after about 30 minutes of breathing-coughing-breathing-coughing I decided, with their urging, to end my race. One of the EMS personnel informed us that because of the dryness, the pollen count that day was close to 4000 (whatever that means) instead of the usual 250. They think I may have had an asthma attack triggered by allergies and that my body was unprepared for the difference in Latitude. The only relief from coughing came when I was given humidified air through a breathing mask. Even the oxygen tube didn't help (but that might have been because I couldn't breathe through my nose). So much for spring races in the "south." I had noticed the blooms were MUCH different in Spotsylvania than in Cleveland this weekend.
After I got out of the ambulance, I went to the bathroom and noticed my eyes were swollen and I had the dreaded hives on my eyeballs that I get when I go running in the first two weeks of spring blooms. That explains what felt like sand in my eyes on the bike. We got back to the car and to find it covered with pollen. It still bothers me and I keep wondering if I did the right thing or if I should have just backed off my pace and toughed it out. And why me? Why didn't anyone else have this problem?
The questions persisted on the drive home with one respite. Jim wanted to stop and see the Civil War battlefield of The Wilderness. And we got lucky because a National Park Service historian was just about to give a short tour describing the battle. Before I went to last year's race, my friend Curt told me that the area in and around Spotsylvania played a huge part in the Civil War but I didn't know about it until yesterday. Walking the field and hearing how thousands of Americans lost their lives in a horrific battle has a tendency to put everything in perspective. If I weren't so concerned about breathing, I might have broke down in tears. It was humbling and spine-tingling and sad. The photo at right is a memorial to one of the Union volunteer brigades that charged into battle first.
It took many hours before I was able to breathe deep without coughing -- the coughing stopped on the drive home when the weather changed to wet and colder. Another data point in the disaster chronicles. Jim says it's better we know now than to find out in a more important race. (And maybe my spring training will benefit.) I'm still struggling a bit with the disappointment, but I know he's right. And I did learn some other lessons from this race like what I need to work on (transitions) and what is working (bike nutrition). So all is not lost. But my first order of business for the coming week will be to see an allergist.

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