September Burns – a series of unfortunate events and the Tahoe 200 Endurance Run

Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.”                                                                         ― Lemony Snicket

 

Note: This is part two of my experience leading up to and through T200 in September, 2018 – cobbled together after much reflection and squeezed into a life made busy by a job with commute, family with 3 kids, an insane cat, a carnivorous fish and, or course, time to train and run. And, I guess, sleep. Part one is here. If I’m lucky, part three will see light of day…

A Tale of two shoes Mental journal entry, July 6, 2018. Note – this phone call did occur:

Today I called a running shoe company. I need a replacement for the Stinson 3, which is no longer available. The 3 had a maximal (tall) stack (sole) height that I have relied upon  to protect a knee since undergoing surgery to repair a piece of cartilage torn from my femur on a training run in 2015. This unnamed shoe company – thinly veiled here out of respect despite frustration at contrived marketing schemes designed to always force “the next thing” upon consumers in spite of products that already work well…has redesigned the Stinson 4 to be a completely different shoe.

When I call the 866 number, a nice lady answers. I ask to speak with someone who runs trail, not road – is that her, because my questions are specific to my needs. She tries to get me to submit my questions via email.

When I press her for a trail runner to speak with, she says all their trail runners are on the phone with other customers. She prompts me to instead ask her my questions, before  again asking me to submit any questions via email. This is confusing.

In mild frustration I push the issue and try again to ask her, the nice customer service lady I now surmise is speaking to me from a kitchen table somewhere in Florida, my questions. I tell her my wife and I have 100 and 200 mile races scheduled this year, that I really need someone who knows or runs in the shoes the company sells, and that I will wait on hold for as long as it takes for the right person. I am then put on hold to soothing classical music.

The nice lady eventually comes back and says no one in the office today is a trail runner and can I submit any questions I have via email. Further confused by the change of story, I ask her about the replacement shoe for the Stinson 3, which is the 4; that the unnamed shoe company bought by Skechers has apparently reduced the stack height or changed the soft, foamy cushioning material of the sole and made it stiffer, and which shoe do I transition to – I need the cushion of the Stinson 3. I am again placed on hold. By this time it becomes apparent she is calling her main office to ask another person my questions each time I am placed on hold to listen to the soothing music. When she comes back to the call she speaks generally about the Stinson 4, apparently reading from the company website. Becoming further frustrated, and now a little obstinate, I wade into the weeds with questions regarding actual stack height of each shoe, compared heel-to-toe drop, construction material and the dispersion of impact force of the 3 I rely on to run long while preserving the area of the once-bare bone on my femur, where the cartilage and scar tissue has apparently again become irritated after a 100K race 3 years after surgery that repaired the damage; that I appreciate the wider toe box of the 4 as compared to the 3 even though my toes sometimes feel like they’re lost in space, and that the ATR lugs on the sole of the 4 aren’t as soft, aggressive and grippy as on the ATR 3 and that I have slid out on rock surfaces on the edge of steep drops a few times, which is sketchy, and that the Stinson 4 feels like a completely different shoe, maybe a decent shoe, but it’s definitely not the 3.

There is silence.

Mind racing, I ask if I can call back Monday to catch someone who runs trail and she puts me on hold again, ha ha!

When she eventually returns to the call, she explains there may not be someone who runs trail in the office on Monday and, honestly, she has no idea when a trail runner might be in the office again. I restrain my muffled cry masquerading as laugh when she then begins to talk about the Mafate Speed, and after nearly 15 minutes of my precious personal time during my work day have now vanished along with my patience, I interject:

“if I may – sorry to interrupt: it sounds to me like (Skechers subsidiary) had no plan for an actual replacement shoe when they completely redesigned the Stinson to be like something from another shoe company. And honestly, if (Skechers subsidiary) has no plan, then maybe I need to look at another shoe company.”

And I hang up.

Note:
Some of the reviews submitted by customers on the Skechers subsidiary website for the Mafate Speed state:

“you cannot walk anywhere without someone making a comment about how bad they squeak and creek”.

and

“Traction is great, and I look real fancy”. 

Oh, good lord.

A series of unfortunate events Shoes weren’t the only question causing uncertainly in my lead-up to Tahoe 200. On my peak training week before taper I tried to simulate a mythological 200 mile daily load effort on top of my regular life of family, work and commute by running an average of 19 miles each day after work, with a total of 17,000 feet of elevation gain:

Day 1

*18.2 miles  *3750 feet of climbing  *10:09 avg. pace

Day 2

*18.8 miles  *3593 feet of climbing  *10:19 avg, pace

Day 3

*18.4 miles  *3271 feet of climbing  *10:17 avg. pace

Day 4

*23.0 miles  *6493 feet of climbing  *11:44 avg. pace

This plan seemed plausible, as Belgian Karel Sabbe was in the midst of his now successful attempt to best the previous FKT on the Appalachian Trail, running an average 53 miles each day over 41 days. My thought: holy mackerel, if this guy can do nothing but run a string of 50s with a crew helping him, the least I can do is run a few 18s after work. But although it was only 18 miles each day, this experiment was brutal with a good trail slam in the dark and a generous helping of depletion. At the end of the final run, Rebekah opened the door as I dragged my wheezing carcass into the kitchen, hammered by only 5 to 6 hours sleep each night, with a loss of 4 – 5 pounds, balanced with satisfaction in a solid effort – training for four upcoming days of running and hiking at altitude around Lake Tahoe. And then I did some pull-ups.

The following Monday I attempted the three sets of pull-ups I had done each week since finding in spring that I could fix insane lower back pain by strengthening my upper body with resistance. Except I stopped at only two sets of five, as I had dipped a little too deeply into the well and burned some serious muscle mass over those 4 days the previous week. This resulted in pulling my upper back out of alignment: on Tuesday it was light pain in the upper left of my back, and I went for a run; on Wednesday my back was seriously stiff and painful, with limited neck mobility, and I went to work; on Thursday the pain was so debilitating I could not lift my right arm above its shoulder, and walked with nearly an 80 mile lean while resorting to massive doses of ibuprofen to get through my work day – and finally, in desperation on Friday morning, I made an appointment with my chiropractor, who works from both her main and private offices. Except that as her last client I went to the wrong office like a dumb-A, and as she had finished her work week with pre-made plans, she could not wait for me. And I was left spinning in intense pain, scratching my head as to what the hell I would do.

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Drug me…

Desperate times call for desperate measures. So, I scheduled an appointment with a primary care physician the next day to plead my case for ten muscle relaxants to get me through to Monday and another appointment with my chiropractor. During the doctor visit, the physician made the suggestion of something I had never heard of: a cryo treatment. Okay, what the hell is that? Not ice, no ice bathes she explained; that some athletes swear by it; that it is a cold treatment in a chamber and apparently very effective for reducing inflammation. Now I’ve tried ice baths to the tune of very temporary relief, but reducing pain and inflammation was my battle cry and right about now I would try anything. After a short search later in the day I found Reboot in the Mission in San Francisco. Scanning their website I noticed a section prominently blaring at me titled: Athletic recovery and performance, in addition to mumbo jumbo about anti-aging and weight loss effects, like some kind of late-night TV sales pitch.

Clicking on the athletic recovery and performance section reveals the following:

“Cryo eases muscle soreness, which improves future performance. A study has shown that when elite runners engaged in whole body cryo after a hill sprint, they had a 20% increase in speed and power up to two days later. (From Dr. Rhonda Patrick report)”

Hallelujah, I thought: I’ve found the no-sweat secret to running power and success! So, of course I made an appointment for the following morning. But Saturday wasn’t over yet, and for good, panicked measure I further complicated the situation by making an appointment for an acupuncture session at Family Room Acupuncture in Pacifica. Now, full disclaimer here: I am a believer in acupuncture. Acupuncture saved my painful and immobilized life once before, so it was no mental reach for me to go for a session, being nearly immobilized by pain yet again. When I arrived for my session I was offered electro-stimulation along with the needles to help relieve muscle spasms, and since I would have done just about anything to feel better, I gladly said yes to that little add-on to suppress pain until I could do the cryo, which would maybe, if I was lucky and the stars aligned, hold me over until I could see my chiropractor – the amazing woman who saved my 2017 Western States by helping me with a torn left hamstring. Unleashing the needles and electricity helped to increase my mobility, but boy was I freaking sore afterward, and meanwhile, through all of this, I still couldn’t run; all I wanted was to run….

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Dr. Frankenstein: “Can you feel the electricity in the air? or is that the small of desperation?”

Sunday morning brought a surreal trip to the Mission District and Reboot Float and Cryo. Upon entering the store front, you are confronted with 2 – 3 friendly young women who make you feel right at home. After paying for your session, a ritual unfolds: one of the girls asks did I watch the informational video before my appointment? Yes; please enter the cubby to change into your knickers and a fuzzy robe; OK. Don’t forget to put on the long, fuzzy socks; certainly don’t forget the fuzzy, cartoon animal-themed slippers, take your pick: apparently, it will be really freaking cold in the enclosure. The net effect, I am told, will be nitrogen gas pumped into the chamber – don’t worry, I won’t suffocate, and all of my blood will immediately flee my outer skin and appendages for my core and don’t forget the thick, fuzzy gloves as well!

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This is now becoming ridiculous…

Next I am led to a small room with a vertical coffin, uh, chamber. This is like something out of a Star Trek movie, which is fascinating and elicits a feeling of both weird and cool; is this the future, or is this me being sold a bill of goods from the back of a horse-drawn wagon in the 19th century? On the wall to right of the portal is a manifesto of sorts, which proclaims all of the theoretical benefits of subjecting myself to nitrogen gas in a coffin without suffocation. Then the girl asks what I want to listen to, and asks me to disrobe, and this is kind of interesting now, as I follow her instructions and open my robe to my knickers and my fuzzy cartoon slippers. After suggesting a track from Tosca’s Boom, Boom, Boom album, I enter the enclosure and she asks me what temperature I want the gas set to: cold, minus 100 something degrees; colder, minus 188 degrees, and finally some ridiculously cold temperature below minus 200 that I politely decline. I confidently pick minus 188 with a silly false bravado as if I am some sort of Norse God bad-ass in my where the wild things are slippers, the music starts, the window raises to seal me to my fate, and the gas starts flowing from about knee level, which is an ice-cold mist that slowly blankets me in a chilling fog. And it’s really freaking cold, but it is bearable, and I can still breathe, and as the chamber fills, the music pulses away, distracting my immersion. And over the next 3 minutes I feel the blood flee my skin, and my fingers are even cold now beneath the gloves, and holy crap it’s cold. And I’m about to shiver. And then it’s over: the window is lowered, and I am set free.

image5-5
Fascinating
image6-5
Uh-huh….

The net affect afterward, as I get out of my animal feet, into my clothes again and then try to engage the women at the front desk, is that I am doing these things while completely spaced out, nearly buzzed-like, and I hurriedly get my butt out the door and try to walk it off before I say something stupid. And that’s it. A quick transaction, light-headed and a few dollars poorer, and…what the heck just happened? I get back to the car in a daze, and just sit there, free of  pain while in a weird mental zone, wondering how long the relief and the buzz will last and if I can even drive.

Weird.

When Monday rolls up, I am so, so happy to see Dr. Freeburg after surviving a day’s work in a drugged haze, and within minutes into the long-awaited appointment I magically stand upright in absolute freedom from pain and discomfort. She tells me what I did to pull my back out, after a seeming flick of her magic wand and a couple of adjustments. And I am whole again. And after everything – all of the gnashing of teeth and the panic and the doubt and the weird, futuristic therapy and the wholistic Eastern Franken-therapy, and the drugged-up western therapy, I wonder: is any of this really worth it?! Is it enough?

Is anything, ever?

Wild Kingdom

Whole again yet still tender and now de-trained in late August after two weeks of painful, sedentary silliness, I looked eagerly toward my last saving grace of a planned day-hike summit of Mt. Whitney with a work acquaintance. Originally intended to be the red blood cell icing on my training cake to compliment a power hike taper to Tahoe, this now became an intense focus. I would be using mountaineering poles to help me up the slope in practice for my trek around Tahoe, but now I worried I would again throw my shoulder out: after a great year of training and racing, everything now seemed backstopped by a wall of worry, each decision an intersection with binary outcome of either intended or dreadfully unintended consequence due to the folly of my human nature. So, I looked at Whitney with passion and intense excitement and as a sure bet on my way to the race start at Homewood in September. Because failure at this point was unthinkable.

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This all seemed very straight forward. I had climbed Whitney some years before with a good friend, and looked with anticipation to an interesting part of the world comprised of geographical extremes in North American elevation between the lowest point at Badwater Basin in Death Valley, and the Whitney summit, approximately 146 road and trail miles away. All still seemed possible, and I made my getaway on Wednesday, August 29 for the chance to pull everything, including my mindset, back on track. But – as no difficulty can discourage, no obstacle dismay, and no trouble dishearten the man who seeks to feel truly alive, so man also does not control his own fate, and the simple, intended journey of a good climb would devolve into the unintended consequences of altitude sickness and being set upon by rodents.

The best laid plans o’ mice and men……

Do Not Fit…Dot NET framework…Dance Night Forever, ha ha…..Dynamic Network Factory, Inc (???), Defense Nuclear Facilities, Deschutes National Forest, Does Not Follow (mathematical proofs), Dominant Negative Form (genetics)……Dynamic No Fins (swimming). Data Not Found. Domain Name Finder. Digital Noise Filter, Do Not Freeze (USAP), Do Not Forget. Does Not Function. Down ’n Floundering (racing). Did Not Finish (racing)…………

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