Blogs tagged with "illness"

I'm not sure exactly how to start this post - or how to write the middle or end, actually - but I guess I better start where I left off on my last post.
I said I would write a race report about Ironman Texas.

Indeed.. so I did. Unfortunately, it got almost infinitely delayed because all the analysis in the world could not help me with those important "lessons learned" from my race in Texas. It started out so great. In fact, the beginning and the middle went surprisingly well. I just don't know what happened at the end, although I have a possible explanation now which is something I didn't have a month ago.

Ron and me - before swim start.

I really wanted to have a great race in Texas for many reasons. One of the big reasons was that my great friend, Ron, founder of Punk Rock Racing and designer of the new race kit I was wearing here, surprised me by showing up in my hotel room the day before the race. I was therefore super-jazzed to have extra support on the course and at the start that morning.

Ironman Texas started with a 2.4-mile swim in Lake Woodlands. Before the swim, I was told my more than one person that this would be a long swim and do NOT expect a fast time in this particular swim for many reasons. The swim - a rolling start - did a U-turn, then made a right into the waterway channel. I swam wide, as usual, to avoid getting clobbered, and surprisingly had a rather uneventful swim. My stroke felt great and I took it easy until the U-turn, after which I picked up my pace and passed a lot of people before - and even after - we made our way into the channel.
Swim start in Lake Woodlands

Because the swim was "long," I took it very easy, and I hadn't been able to get in the pool more than twice a week during my build-up, I was expecting to see something around 1:10-1:15 (or worse) on my watch when I stepped out of the water. The 1:02 on my watch was a blinding surprise. I tried to keep a lid on my emotions in T1.

We were encouraged to carry our bike shoes through the transition zone because of ankle-deep mud - it was gross, but we were able to rinse our feet before starting the bike leg. I knew I was in good shape when I got to the rack to see most of my age-group was still in the water. When I finally got on the bike, my legs felt great, again surprised with none of the usual fatigue after the swim.

Leaving T1

So I rode relaxed for the first 50 miles (I was told the second half of the bike course is when the hills show up) and made sure to drink at least a bottle and a half of fluids per hour. My new fuel regimen included Skratch Labs hydration drink mix and solid fuel - mostly rice-based recipes from the Feed Zone Portables cookbook.

I took in about 250-300 calories per hour and as the day got hotter (in the high 80s and very humid), I remained relaxed and didn't push too hard, even on the rolling hills in the second half. I did not feel any thirst or hunger during the ride, and much to my surprise, Texas was the first Ironman bike leg during which I had no nausea. Convinced my fueling was perfect, I was actually looking forward to a good - and strong - run.

When I pulled into T2, my time was one of my best 112-milers, my legs still felt good - albeit a little stiff - and I knew I was in the race although my husband Jim and I decided beforehand that he would withhold from me my position in the age group so that I wouldn't chase anyone.

The first mile off the bike was about 7:40 (too fast), but my legs were feeling great and I was trying to run relaxed. The second mile was right around 8 minutes (goal pace). And that was the last moment I felt good.

Inching along

Then everything seemed to fall apart. My legs started to give and I was overwhelmed with a sense of fatigue that I can't explain. It was like every molecule in my leg muscles was screaming at me that they were tired and I needed to stop. It wasn't the heat. It wasn't thirst. It wasn't hunger. It was just .. fatigue. I had no explanation and I could not will myself to go any faster or any slower.

I inched along - running, then walking, then running again - pouring water and ice on myself - and at one of the aid stations around the midpoint, someone stepped right in front of me, and I went down hard, twisting my ankle in the process. I figured that was it, but the volunteers and medical staff helped me get back on my feet, gave me ice on the ankle and I was determined to get back on the course and finish, no matter how slow.

I was angry, confused, hot, and feeling pretty woozy by the time I saw Jim with about 3 miles to go. He kept telling me that everyone in front of my was slowing down, but that did little to help because I had nothing in my legs. I stopped and proceeded to vomit right in front of him. I can't imagine what he was thinking, but I remained on the course and kept going forward. I was never so happy to see a finish line in my life, and - yes, shockingly - I managed to pull out an age-group 4th even with that dismal almost-five-hour marathon.

By that point, I didn't care about anything except getting my medal. I tried to eat and drink after the race but ended up in the med tent with severe nausea and dizziness.

For a couple weeks after the race, I was still very confused about what went wrong. Was it not enough long-distance training? I had only one 100-mile bike ride but several close to 90 - winter training was difficult in Cleveland this year because of extreme cold. And I only ran 18-20 miles a couple times. I had several confidence-boosting long bricks though. Was it my fueling? Maybe solid food doesn't process as quickly as liquid? I really had no clue.

Now I'm starting to rethink it because of a recent illness that has sidelined me. Here come the "gory details" mentioned in the title. And it's really embarrassing to talk about, but hell, it's the truth.

About 4 weeks ago, shortly after Ironman Texas, I started to get a strange pain in my butt, kind of up near my tailbone and to the right. I was also feeling extremely fatigued - so much that Jim kept insisting something was wrong because I was sleeping so much. I sloughed off the pain as being muscular in nature - maybe from riding my road bike for the first time in a while. I thought nothing of it.

A week later, when the pain did not subside, I started poking around and felt what can only be termed a "lump" - or hardness. Still thinking it was muscular, I went to Google (yep, I Googled "pain in the ass"). Googling is not something I recommend to anyone contemplating a lump of any sort in their body. GO TO THE DOCTOR.

In the second week of butt pain, there were also other symptoms - ones I did not associate with my butt. I had a headache that wouldn't go away, I lost my appetite and was constantly feeling nauseous, and I had pain in my skin (the kind of pain you might associate with a fever but my temperature was only 99ish). When I did a training ride or run, I would get fatigued and be dragging after about 20 minutes. I told Jim I would call the doctor if it didn't go away, but it felt like it was subsiding by that Thursday, so I put off the call.

BAD IDEA. By Monday, I was in severe pain with all the other symptoms and now a larger elongated lump. Scared sh*tless about what it might be, I called and begged my doctor's office for an appointment, which they couldn't provide until Thursday. Tuesday, I called our health insurance "nurse on call" for advice - which was, duh - SEE A DOCTOR WITHIN 24 HOURS. The Cleveland Clinic has same-day appointments, so I took one Tuesday afternoon with a nurse practitioner. I didn't care. I was in severe pain.

The diagnosis? The first diagnosis was that I had a pilonidal cyst - this is basically an infection/abscess located near your tailbone usually caused by a plugged up hair follicle. She gave me antibiotics and sent me home. Two days later, I saw my family doctor. There was still pain. Some fever. Major fatigue. The lump was unchanged -- maybe bigger, it was hard to tell.

She had a different diagnosis: I had a peri-anal abscess. She gave me a different antibiotic in case the first one didn't work and referred me to a colorectal surgeon, just in case - if it needed to be "lanced and drained" it would be a simple office procedure for him. Ok, now I was freaked out - I've failed to mention in this post that eleven days from then I had a trip to Sweden to race in the ITU Long-course Age Group World Championship. My doctor reassured me that the surgical consult was "only for the worst case scenario."

Yep, I went home and Googled the hell out of this one.

My Google findings turned up the following: this type of abscess will not respond to antibiotics. It must be drained, either on its own or by lancing by a doctor.

My surgical consult was Tuesday. By Monday, I was almost comatose with an ever-expanding lump (this thing was now covering about a third of my butt cheek), pain, headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, and now a 100-degree fever. I called Jim, he called the surgeon's office -- they sent us to the emergency room "where it could be lanced and drained if necessary." In the ER, I was pumped full of a DIFFERENT antibiotic, pain killers, anti-nausea drugs and given a CAT scan for more information. The ER doc said no way was he touching this thing because of its location - better leave that to the colorectal guy.

(JUST A QUICK ASIDE: while we were chatting with the emergency room doctor, we found out that he was in attendance at my first Ironman, Ironman Utah in 2002 - his brother raced - and he happened to be one of the medical personnel trying to revive the man who drowned in Utah Lake that morning. Talk about bizarre coincidences!)

So... after reading the scan, he gave me the third diagnosis. I had an ischio-rectal abscess that was no longer full of fluid but now had blossomed into a case of cellulitis. It "had not become gangrenous" (yeah, i know, WTF!?!?). I was sent home from the ER with more instructions and info to deliver to my colorectal surgeon. When I got home, my fever went up to 101 degrees.

I had the worst night of fitful sleep ever.

Tuesday morning, I saw the surgeon and found myself in tears just telling him how bad I felt. He took one look, checked the CAT scans, and sent me to the hospital to prep for surgery in the OR at 2pm. No problem, he even said I'd be able to race in Sweden the next week. REALLY?

When I woke up from surgery, the overall feeling of illness was gone. Seriously. The drugs were not masking it.. my headache and nausea and fever were all gone. I still had pain, but now it was from three incisions and drainage tubes sticking out of my butt cheeks.

Jim gave me the lowdown - the abscess was much worse than even the surgeon expected - hence it wasn't a simple lance-and-drain kind of thing. It was deep and extended to my left side (they call it a horseshoe abscess). No, I wouldn't be racing in Sweden - no lake swimming with open wounds.

I didn't care. I was so happy to be free of this thing - and I spent the next three days in bed. We contemplated still taking the trip to Sweden, but I couldn't envision sitting on that plane for many hours and spending the entire trip worrying about gauze and drainage and - omg - what if there were complications?

So, it was a drag to do, but we canceled the whole trip, and I've been recovering from this surgery for one week as of today. I saw the surgeon this morning and - yay! - my drainage tubes have been removed and he hopes it will heal up in 4-6 weeks. But no swimming (Boo!)

I can't help but wonder if my fatigue in Texas might have been the beginning of this illness. Either way, and true to my nickname, I seem to have picked a great way to start out a new age group.

Rainy starting line (pink caps = age 40+ chicks)

In March of this year, I was in search of nearby (read: within driving distance) spring triathlons to do once my hamstring tendon healed. At the time, I wasn't sure if I'd be in shape for, say, a half-iron distance, but if I conquered a marathon in May, then it might work - since the running part (the most damaging to my injury) would be only half that distance.

The

Swim exit, still raining. Me in pink cap. Wetsuit strippers at left.
Guy who missed the wetsuit strippers at bottom right.

Several races were taking place that morning. The half, an Olympic-distance triathlon, a sprint triathlon, and aqua-bike races in all three distances. The half-IM went first, and my wave was fourth - 40+ women - in pink caps. While waiting for the start, a few of us lined up wide, noticing the outside line was actually shorter because of a turn in the swim course. We "smart ones" probably had the easiest time in the water on Sunday, and I made it through the 1.2-mile swim un-clobbered. I didn't get my split time (no watch), but I knew I had a good swim because: (1) I spotted only a couple pink-capped women in front of me, and (2) Jim yelled "nice swim!"

I almost missed the wetsuit strippers. Jim had to point them out because I was oblivious and ran right past them. In less than a blink of an eye, I was on my way - I found it strange that I wasn't as exhausted as usual running to my bike. That was the last I saw of Jim in T1. He missed that I struggled clipping on my number belt in the rain, but other than that, my transition was decent, including getting into my bike shoes, and I surprisingly remembered to hit the start button on my Garmin once I mounted the bike. The only problem remaining was that my helmet shield had fogged up. Trying to wipe it while being careful about what was in front of me on wet roads meant that I didn't even look at my speed for the first five miles.

So I had to do a double take when I saw my first 5-mile split. Hard work on the bike this year wasn't expected to pay off this early in the season, and yet, there it was, the first number (the "minutes") on that display was 13. For the math wizards, that meant I was riding between 21-22mph (note: I did not do the math while riding, I just knew that 5 miles in 15 minutes is 20mph, my usual target). I chalked it up to a relatively flat start to the bike leg.

The great thing about the Grand Rapids 56-mile bike leg is that it only has a few turns. It's an out-and-back course with gradual rolling hills - a few are good climbs but nothing really steep where everyone has to get out of the saddle. Unfortunately, because of the large number of participants and long uphills and downhills, Grand Rapids suffered from a serious drafting situation. I wanted to ride my own race, but it was hard to stomach watching a whole peloton of guys with women just hanging on their wheels. Hopefully the USAT officials on the course were paying attention.

Besides trying not to draft, I spent most of the ride doing two things: blowing my nose and mentally assessing if I could keep this pace and still have a good run. After burning my quads for the first hour, I expected a major slow-down at some point, but I backed off a little in the second half to prepare for the run, still thinking it would probably be in vain.

T2. Wet running shoes are not easy to get on.

When I pulled into T2, I saw Jim and I think I yelled something about it being my fastest bike split ever in a half (it wasn't but I was really excited anyway). I knew several women had passed me and I'm sure some of them were in my age group, but I kept repeating to myself "don't do anything stupid on the run... don't do anything stupid on the run..." knowing I have a tendency to chase. The rain had mostly stopped but I still struggled to get my running shoes on wet - I gave up perfecting it, and decided to run with the tongue buckled under the laces.

Based on how I felt getting off my bike, I expected to start the 13.1-mile run fatigued with wobbly legs and thinking "there's no way I can run the whole thing." What happened was the opposite. I felt pretty good. I heard Jim tell me to ease into it, so I backed off a bit, but my legs were not suffering the way I expected, and I went through the first mile in 7:03.

Finishing the run.

The Grand Rapids run course is a two-loop out-and-back. Everyone from all three races is running the same course with different turn-around points, so it's very difficult to know who you are racing against. I really had no idea. I spent much of the run talking to myself to "avoid doing something stupid," assessing how I felt, making decisions about what to drink and/or eat, and looking for two friends who were also racing.

The course had two substantial hills, but to my surprise, my mile splits were pretty even 6:50-7:10 on the flats and downhills, and 7:20-7:30 on the hills, and I managed to survive on only Gatorade without walking the aid stations. When I crossed the finish line, my first thought was that I felt way better than I should have - I immediately regretted not trying to run faster. I asked Jim how I finished - the live results had me second in my age group. My time was 4:46:21, and we both had my run split at 1:34 (my fastest 13.1 miles since 2011).

It took me a while to digest the whole experience. I hadn't raced like that in a long time... and I was on no sleep and I was sick. I came in second in USAT Nats. I spent the next half-hour walking around trying to figure out what I thought of it. Jim kept asking how I was feeling. My answer kept coming back to "way too good" and "I should have run faster," and "I should have gone harder on the bike." I guess this is what happens when you're out of practice. And I am seriously out of practice at long distance racing.

Hanging out with super-fast people - teammate Brian Stern (middle)
and the 9th overall finisher, Nick Glavac (right)

We gathered everything up and took a long walk back to the car while waiting for the awards. After talking to a few athletes and checking out the unofficial results, we found that there were several mistakes that put athletes and relay teams listed in the wrong races and wrong age groups, and one of the mistakes was in my age group. The preliminary "winner" had competed in the Olympic-distance race, not the half, which meant that I was the age group winner. But even more surprising, I finished fifth overall - and no one was more surprised and delighted than me - except maybe Jim, who was adamant about getting things straightened out in the results (I love when he does that).

And so.. that was how an accidental registration resulted in a national championship. And now I have a big decision to make: to decide if I want to go to Motala, Sweden, for the ITU Long Course World Championship. There are worse fates. And I can't say enough huge thank-you's to the people who helped me in my recovery from injury to getting fast enough to stand on that podium Sunday: my P.T., Mike DeRubertis, my ortho doc, Sam Patterson, my awesome teammates from

Age group winners got very cool Rudy Project National Champion jerseys.

On Saturday, I started and failed to finish Ironman St. George. It wasn't because of the weather. Although the weather was bad. And it may be a while before I can laugh about the whole experience but hopefully someday I can. On the way home, my husband Jim and I did find some humor (but little solace) in the amount of bad luck that befell me before and during this race. He summed it up as follows: "at least you got it all out of the way in one race."

If I were one who believed in omens, I never would have shown up at Sand Hollow Reservoir on race morning. I may not even have set foot in St. George. But I couldn't give up my dream of going back to Kona in 2012. That's what Ironman St. George was about.

It all started three weeks prior to race day, I found myself in my doctor's office with the worst sinus infection of my life (seriously, and I've had a LOT of them). Despite antibiotics and rest, it made its way to my lungs before it (seemingly) exited my system via two weeks of coughing. That was a Friday, eight days before race day. I felt slightly weaker, and I was several pounds lighter, but I was determined to stand on that starting line with no reservations.

Monday morning - three days later, and five days before race day - my cough came back with a vengeance. After a desperate (read: begging) phone call, my doctor prescribed another antibiotic, but I still ended up in bed with a fever of 101 degrees. Tuesday, after another desperate (read: frantic) phone call, my antibiotic was switched, but at that point, I could already see the curtain rising on the final act. I had to decide whether to board my plane to Las Vegas on Wednesday. Jim - who was now coming down with similar symptoms of illness - convinced me that we should go and make the final call on Saturday morning (reminding me that Chrissie Wellington waited until the last possible moment to drop out of the Ironman World Championship due to illness in 2010). His argument: "If you wake up Saturday morning and feel good, you will wish you were there."

Fair point.

Jim and I spent most of our free time in St. George in bed in our hotel room. The antibiotic wreaked havoc with my GI system, and Jim was feverish to say the least. But we both approached race morning with high hopes and a willingness to give it a go. If there was anything I was sure of, it's that in Ironman, anything can happen, and I wanted to at least say I tried.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other intentions. And not just for me.

I suspect many blogs will describe in great detail the horrific weather conditions that all St. George athletes had to endure on May 5 - mine won't be one of them. During the swim I had a vivid flashback to Utah Lake in 2002 at the inaugural Ironman Utah in Provo - my first Ironman and the race responsible for acquiring me the nickname "Disaster Magnet" (thanks to Mickey Rzymek). But this time, the waves were larger. I got through the swim by reminding myself that my former life was that of a fish (true story).

The wind that whipped up the surf was also a nightmare on the bike leg - for the first 45 miles, we had to fight 30-40 mph headwinds and crosswinds that were responsible for blowing the eventual winner, Ben Hoffman, off the road. I was fully determined to fight through the wind and the continuous bouts of coughing... right up until my right shifter cable broke between 70 and 80 miles and landed me in permanent high gear on the notoriously hilly course. Thanks to race support, a bike mechanic eventually made it to me and replaced my cable. He did it miraculously fast while telling me a story of how he was fixing my bike with the same wrench that his dad used to pull one of his baby teeth in 1959 (I am NOT making this up). The mishap cost me 30 minutes and the age-group lead.

My shredded enthusiasm for this race was now hanging by a thread, but I felt obligated to finish after that mechanic came all the way out to help me. And I wasn't going to let that Kona slot slip out of my hands so easily.

I started the run with sincere hope that it would get better. But in the first mile, I realized the effect of compromised lungs at an elevated heart rate as I had to keep stopping to cough and catch my breath. By mile 3, antibiotic-induced GI distress hit, and I found myself in a porta-john wondering if all my fluid intake had gone directly to my intestines. But I kept running (because if there was one thing I worked hard at this year, it was my running speed!) - and despite ALL of this, Jim informed me that I had actually begun making up time on the age-group leaders. Was it possible that I could overcome the odds and put together a last-gasp bid for a Kona slot?

By mile 16, I had my answer. It was: "keep dreaming, kid." My pace had slowed to a crawl, and I was sick of porta-johns and tired of having my body ravaged with coughing and not getting enough oxygen while trying to run. I've overcome adversity to finish Ironman races before. This was no longer about finishing. It was about minimizing the damage. I had to ask myself and honestly answer the following questions:

  • [Seriously,] what would be the point of continuing?
  • [And more importantly,] will the regret of not finishing be worse than the physical fallout of nine more miles in a compromised state?
The questions came while heading out for the third and final loop of the run. I saw Jim. I told him I really just wanted to call it a day. I sat down. He heard me try to breath and cough. There wasn't much discussion - physically, I spiraled downward and my race ended right there. An ambulance took me to the finish.
It didn't come without regret. It didn't come without feelings of wasted training time and money. And failure. And embarrassment. And sadness. And envy at seeing others' with their medals and finisher goodies. But perhaps the hardest thing of all - the thing that I've never, EVER, been very good at, is accepting that the decision I made was the right one. Without hating myself.
And now, hating myself, I have to rethink the rest of the year. Because Ironman St. George was never just about the finish.

On Saturday, I started and failed to finish Ironman St. George. It wasn't because of the weather. Although the weather was bad. And it may be a while before I can laugh about the whole experience but hopefully someday I can.

I spent a crazy weekend in New York doing a bunch of my favorite things with my favorite person (my husband Jim):

It was a weekend that lingers, not only in my memory, but in my lungs in the form of yet another illness. This one was especially custom-made for Jim -- a virus that caused several days of laryngitis. Unfortunately for me, it also caused several days of missed training because of difficulty breathing.

After the asthma attack in Virginia and now this, I have decided to designate this month as "The Great Lung Disaster of 2010."

But for every negative, there must be an equal and opposite positive, right? The positive from GLD2010 is that I'm drawing again. The creative juices started flowing as they always do after some kind of mental or physical breakdown. The images were coming and all I needed to do was find time to draw them (not an easy task with all my training).

While we were in New York hanging out with friends, the subject of my art came up, and I showed them some of my drawings. Then it happened. One of them said something I always wished, but never thought, I'd hear -- he compared my drawings to the art of H. R. Giger. It may have been the singular biggest compliment anyone ever gave me. It was all I needed.

No, wait! I needed one more thing: time. And almost like clockwork, along came the "thwack" from above -- in the form of a virus. Can't train? I guess I'll draw. My pursuit of artistic expression was reborn. Is it a calling? I don't know. What I DO know is that I want things to be different this time. I feel that I should to set goals (a drawing a week perhaps?), but art was never something I could force. It always just "happened." It came as a spur-of-the-moment need to produce something, to "get it out." Maybe if I make time for it, things COULD be different this time. Maybe there's room for something else besides training and work in my life. Sometimes I feel that, at my age, it may be now or never.

Here's a photo of my newest drawing, still in progress (because I'm training again) and tentatively titled "The Great Lung Disaster of 2010":

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