Tuesday, March 23, 2010

5 months post surgery - Hitting the Wall

I have actually had a remarkable recovery, in the best shape of my life probably, and was looking forward to my best performance yet at the big climb this year (where I would race up 69 flights of 1,311 stairs with an elevation gain of 788 feet).

The first 2 years I chose to be in the untimed climbing division because I feared I might get knocked down or have a more difficult time with my poorer balance. However, it proved to be pretty safe and I felt incredibly great after my 2007 and 2008 climbs where I timed myself with a watch. Further, I had a great run and felt strong on the climb just 5 and a half months following my 2007 surgery. I seemed to just keep getting better and on a roll. Therefore, I figured it was time to step it up and join the ranks of the more serious climbers racing and timed.

That worked great and I felt I did even better last year but I goofed up on using the timing chip and crossed back over the finish line before turning in my chip to wait at the top of the stairs for my husband. Of course that messed up the results of my time exponentially! So this year I was all set with how to properly use the chip.

I trained on the stairmaster for a certain pace with the goal to finish in 11-12 minutes. In practice, the stairmaster is easier with no elevation gain so I was able to finish 69 floors in under 10 minutes. To get my lungs adjusted to the elevation gain I had been doing some hikes of a local mountain since January.

Then the unthinkable happened......I got sick 2 days before the event. :( The week prior, my mother-in-law and I had been out to the National Institutes of Health where she picked up some bug which she thought at the time was allergies. She left last Monday and at home she got worse coming down with laringitis. So she seemed to catch something going around which was more than allergies.

I thought I lucked out but then friday afternoon I became exhausted which later developed into a sore throat and body aches that evening. I started pumping zipfizz, airborne, and theraflu cold and sore throat combined with rest to try to be well enough for Sunday afternoon.

I awoke Sunday dizzy but felt ok on the ride over. Yet I just walking the block up the hill to get into the building embarassingly left me a little out of breath. LOl I was wondering if our team member David had noticed and if he was thinking "My God! This lady is already pooped out hiking up a city block. How in the heck does she think she is going to run up 69 flights of stairs?"

Anyhow, when it was time to line up to go to the start, I grabbed a couple swigs of water. By the time we took the escalator down to the first floor, I already had cotton mouth with no water nearby to relieve it until I reached the 10th or 20th floor.

I was the first person on the team to start and within the 1st 10 floors all 3 trainers had passed me. Team members David (the top finisher on our team with a time of 12:05) and Brett had passed me by but I cannot recall exactly where. At floor 10 I was reminding myself to settle down and just keep in the pace that I practiced - easier said than done. I just did not feel right at all. It was kind of like when you take off on a 20 mile journey before you see the next gas station and you realize the needle is below empty. So you just hope that the gas in your reserve tank is enough you to the next station.

No matter how hard I tried, I just felt slower and not as strong as I had in previous events - did not feel on top of my game. I was already pretty depleted by the time I reached 35 floors. My lungs burned and my muscles felt like lead. I had to grab water at 3 of the stops and my body taunted me to stop and rest. At that point I seemed to not care anymore about my time but just wanted to finish. I did not stop but only slowed enough to grab a dixie cup of water and toss is in the trash a few steps up.

In previous climbs I would be hooting and hollaring to pump people up as we reached the half way point, 20 floors, 10 floors, and then the last flight. Not this time! I needed to conserve every ounce of energy to just breathe and move my legs. There were a couple ladies I was with in the end. I believe one passed me and I honestly cannot remember if I passed the other on the very last flight. There was no last dash of energy for a sprint to the finish. I was spent! I had already hit the wall by the 49th floor and tried desperately to hang in there for 22-23 more floors. It was a relief when I saw the sign posted 10 more floors, 5 more floors, and then last flight.

Exhausted and gasping when I crossed the finish line pad, I haunched over trying to catch my breath. It was probably about a minute that I remained like that until I recovered enough to pull myself back up to standing, got a bottle of water, and then pulled out my camera to catch the rest of the team.

My time was disappointingly much slower than what I anticipated (14:54) but it was fun nonetheless. I had a great time on a fantastic team with a wonderful bunch of people and a very meaningful cause. Further, I think this experience was really good for me to go through as I am preparing to climb Kilimanjaro this year. That total feeling of hitting the wall I could not exactly emulate when going for a run. It is hard to explain. I know from watching movies of climbing and reading stories of climbing expeditions and even talking to climbing friends that they reach that hitting the wall feeling where it becomes very mental to keep yourself going. I wanted to know what it is like to reach that threshold and have an idea of what it will take to get past it. Now of course this is a very poor simulation where a few minutes in a hot stairwell cannot even compare to hours out in the cold and probable wind at altitudes the human body was just not meant for. But at least I got a tiny taste of what I will need to condition my lungs and muscles to push past.

All in all, I suppose that is not too bad of an accomplishment exactly 5 months to the day post a major brain surgery on 4 tumors. Now my next event to tackle is to run the Seattle half marathon in June. I am a little discouraged and antsy to delay training as the bug blossomed into a full borne head/chest cold. Yesterday and today were incredibly beautiful days. I took the dogs for a 5 and a half mile walk last night. But today I woke up with a sore throat, sore back nasal passage, chest congestion, leaking eye, runny nose, and I am just wiped out! I will even have to miss water aerobics and another strength training session at the gym. :( So I am taking the day off to hopefully heal fast. I would love to be recovered and back on the trail this weekend.

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