"Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations. If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won't exist because you'll have already shut it out." -Mae Jemison, astronaut

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I Have Two Feet

I've been looking down at my feet a bit more than usual today. And instead of grumbling about numbness or muscles twitches, I'm feeling grateful that they're just there to grumble about.

I had a bone scan two days ago because there was still enough pain in my foot to question a stress fracture. The radiologist yesterday confirmed no stressie, so I was relieved. Today, I saw my sports doc for a detailed review of my injury.

She's good. Very good. And deals with Western Australian Institute of Sport athletes, so she's seen it all. She's not prone to drama. She's very practical, frank, and realistic.

So when she told me I was a very lucky girl and that she's seen anterior compartment syndrome result in amputation, I took notice. Forget fasciotomy, where they just relieve pressure with a few incisions that look gross. Amputation. From running.

There obviously seems to be a difference of opinion between the emerg doc I saw in Albany and my sports doc as to whether I should have continued running those last few hundred kms. In the end, I made it. I got the record and I get to keep both my shins and feet. And likely, any muscle/nerve damage should heal well by the new year.

I guess I felt a particular duty to post this, because since my event I've heard of 4 athletes who developed this condition during big events. They all healed and no one needed surgery. However, I don't want someone in the future to have read my story and think now that they should just push past this particular pain barrier.

At the time, I said I would only continue if there were no identifiable lifetime consequences, including surgery. And at the time, that's what I thought, with the information at hand. Knowing what I know now, I would have stopped on the South Coast Hwy. It wasn't worth the risk.

Play safe. It's a lifetime pursuit.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What Does a 1,000 km Recovery Look Like?

1. Nightmares. Day 12 of being off the track. I continue to have nightmares every night. I guess it's not really fair to say they're "nightmares." They're just annoying dreams where I am back on the track, completing some section slower or faster than the time I did in reality. There's almost never a problem or dilemma, it's just me on the track every night in my sleep. Rolf has been having the dreams, too - only his are where he's trying to get to me on the dirt roads, never knowing if they're going to be passable, gated, under construction, re-routed, or inundated. For excitement, his brain added Mexican banditos to his dream the other night.

2. Elevated Heart Rate. After any event, my resting HR is up from its usual happy place (sub-40 bpm) to somewhere around 52 bpm. It tends to come down in chunks at a time. A short ultra - I'm back to normal within a week. The Sri Chinmoy 24 hr event - it was 3 weeks before it completely reduced to baseline. So, with this event I expected an elevated HR for a good 3 weeks. Throughout the event it was 52-54 and my blood pressure was normal (BP tested in the hospital). Since the event, my HR has actually increased. That was fascinating. It went up to the high 50s and then around Day 7 post-event it peaked at a RHR of 69. That was a bit discomforting, actually, because it's just never that high. I decided to work from home a bit more and juggled my schedule a bit to try to reduce the amount of time I needed to be walking/moving/dealing with stressors. My muscles feel great, but especially for the first week, I was easily physically exhausted.

3. Tick Bite Reactions. These seem to have finally stopped itching three days ago. Fantastic, as the itching was really making it hard to get to sleep. That's over 3 weeks since the actual bites. Next time I wear my 95% DEET.

4. Muscle and Nerve Spasms. These are still keep me from getting to sleep for about an hour each night. When I lay down, my adductors, calves, and feet go into spasms. Some is just twitchy stuff and some is painful "nervy." Some of my toes feel numb to touch - if you've ever had frozen toes (skiing?), it's like that.

5. Sunburn. My molt is nearly complete. The left ear, left tricep, and tops of both hands have mostly finished peeling and the itch is mild today.

6. Weight. My metabolism was on overdrive so I've been eating more than usual and more than necessary. My brain just seems to be getting the message now that I'm not running and is slowing down its hunger demands. That's good because I've probably put on a kilo.

7. Anterior Compartment Syndrome. Since completing the event, I've now heard from two people who raced Tor des Geants (if you think what I did was insane, look at that one) and both developed the same thing. And reading Jen Pharr-Davis's blog of her AT record breaking hike this year, she also got it. The difference with me, though, was that I only got it in one shin. With hindsight, I realised I've had a lump come and go on occasion in that shin over the past few years. And the day before I started the event, my new massage therapist noted the fascial tightness there. Understandably, he didn't want to work it aggressively. But I had no idea the writing was on the wall with that little comment of his. The swelling has decreased considerably but there is still a small tender lump on the shin. And I have an uncomfortable pain on the lateral/bottom of my foot that makes me limp. This is the "ball bearing" feeling I felt when running some days. Now that the shin has gone down, this has "turned up" in volume. Today I added the radioactive "bone scan" to my list of tests. I heard whispers of "cuboid" and "metatarsal"...we'll find out tomorrow if the original scan actually missed a stressie!

In regards to my general health, however, I'm very well. I'm really pleased with how my nutrition was throughout the event. Despite the massive sleep dep and the fact that Rolf got sick on Day 3 and one of my pacers had a cold, I didn't get sick during or after. I kept up with my probiotics (yoghurt every morning) and Udo's Oil and Rolf bought me antioxidants on the road (blueberries, yum).

But with all this negativity I'm ranting on about (sorry, it's cathartic), could I possibly miss anything about the track/event? Yes, after 12 days I can now say I do. I miss the beauty and peace of being in the bush (without biting, burning, and buzzing things it would be all the more). I miss the simplicity of knowing every day what my job was. I miss the routine. I miss the quality time with Rolf.

P.S. For photos with this post, I decided to highlight my mates who came out and shared some of the journey, plugging their ears to my whinging and staying ever so calm, happy, and helpful. Thanks, guys.

My donation page for Inclusion WA is staying open another week...Thanks to everyone, we're at $4,200 and I hope to hit $5,000 before I call it a day. If I have a stressie, maybe it'll earn me some more points ;)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bibbulmun Track Fastest Known Time: 15 days 9 hours 48 minutes

Type 1.5 fun Squared.

That's the best I can give it. 1.5 squared = Type 2.25 fun
My statistics reveal a total of 1,007 kms logged (Garmins tend to record slightly long), 18,900 metres of elevation gain, 19,100 metres of loss, and 213.75 hours of actual travelling time.

The stories from this record attempt have yet to end - we are both still having nightmares, my foot looks like an elephant's, and the car is still in Albany under repair. Yes, I think there will be a bit of a documentary made!

Here's a brief synopsis:

Day 1-2: Running 202 kms with 4,600 mtrs of elevation gain in unseasonably hot weather. Stopping at 30 minute intervals to soak my hat and shirt. Headlamp going out at 10.30 PM atop the summit of Mt Vincent. Ticks that were not deterred by DEET. Running with one or other eye closed, as there were invariably at least 10 flies stuck to my face (and corners of my eyes) at once.

Day 3: Pacer's dad ringing pacer to warn of torrential rain at Collie. That's okay, we're not going as far south as Collie today. Apparently torrential rain goes where it likes. Afternoon and evening spent in rain. Cured the fly problem. Tick bite reactions and numbing, stabbing pain in bottoms of feet allowed me 1 hr sleep that night.

Day 4: The running zombie after 10 hrs sleep in 4 days. Included a 45k solo stretch singing children's songs to keep myself awake and moving in rhythm. Saw no one, which was probably a good thing.

Day 5-6: Mates come out to pace with me around Collie/Balingup area. Left foot flares up badly, barely able to walk. Switch to sandals to try to deal with swelling and offer a gait change to legs. Pacers leave at end of weekend, looking like sad puppy dogs - their faces give away the sense of demise for the record attempt.

Day 7: Reach halfway point according to Bibbulmun Foundation - Donnelly River Village. Have small meltdown at having made it this far. Sun gives way to torrential rain again, which continues all night.

Day 8: Very hilly day. Right VMO now toast, as it is doing extra duty on the descents that the left shin cannot manage. Still powering uphills. A shot of frustrated anger at my slow pace in the late afternoon sees me power through a few hours, only to have shin flare up again at dark.

Day 9: Frustration that the track towns are often the hardest to negotiate through, due to a lack of waugals (markers) - this starts with negotiating Pemberton first thing (no locals on the street had any idea where the Bib track went, other than vague references toward the Gloucester Tree). Day ends with me navigating through Northcliffe, running around a picnic area, searching vainly for waugals. South of town, the track puts you into the ditch along the road, to stumble through overgrown, foot-grabbing weeds for 3 kms.

Day 10: Begin "seasonally inundated" section. Sitting on the ground in the late arvo, forcing myself to eat a Snickers bar. All food has become disgusting and must be negotiated down the gullet purely for the energy benefits. Staring at my shin and ankle, wondering if it's a stress fracture. Two kms ahead, find my second, larger pack hanging on a post. Note from Rolf, "Car and trailer bogged 2 kms back. Gone for help." I have my sleeping bag now and will camp at Mt Chance shelter without a mattress pad (read: 2 hrs sleep).

Day 11: Try various taping techniques on foot. More bogs. Wading with tadpoles over 500 mtr sections in knee deep water. Foot/ankle/shin pain disappears in the afternoon/evening and I wonder if I have solved the problem.

Day 12: Intermittent rain is enough to keep things annoying - jacket on/jacket off. Humid whenever the sun comes out. Shin gives out mid afternoon at nearly the exact moment that our jeep's starter motor gives out. Rolf left parking on hills in order to bump start vehicle. Drove into Denmark 40 mins away for the night, to recuperate in a motel and search vainly for mechanic and starter motor on a weekend in rural WA.

Day 13: Rose at 4.15 AM as usual. Got ready, but a test walk around car park quickly revealed a very angry shin. Day spent in Denmark and Albany hospitals for xrays and scans. Parking on hills. No stress fracture. Compartment syndrome. I need a break, but with "only" 175 k to go, I can try with anti-inflams. No long term damage expected if I choose to continue, so I make the call to try. Walk 11k that evening.

Day 14: Decent day, but make the call to stop just before summitting Mt. Hallowell, as I know it's a bouldery, technical climb that will be just that much slower in the dark when fatigued.

Day 15: Attempt to make final push to Albany. Nearly 100k, but Rolf and I willing and determined to take all night if need be. Frustratingly, I miss a hut in the morning and lose a few hours backtracking, as it is a hilly area. Shin suddenly blows up just before Shelley's Beach Rd. Cannot move at all for several minutes. Dusk, a chill sets in, space blanket comes out. Takes nearly 3 hrs to travel 5k off the hill.

Day 16: Coincidentally, a marathon in distance to get to the Southern Terminus. Able to jog in the arvo, but pay for it with shin flaring up in last km. In town, but unable to move, we pull out the chair and ice my shin, whilst media ring Rolf to ask where I am. Last km takes over 50 minutes.