Friday, February 25, 2011


This is definitely not a running entry, but as I use this Blog mere like a personal journal, I decided to make write a little something about my experience before the memories evaporate.

Background: About 5 years ago, I went for an ultrasound of my neck because of a sore throuat. They never did find anything related to the sore throat, but they did find a nodule that was large egough to need follow up. A large proportion of the population has nodules, but mine was 1.1 cm and doctors like to follow those larger than 1.0 cm. This basically means an annual ultrasound. Because mine kept getting slightly larger every year, this also meant a biopsy pretty much every year except that the last 3 they did were inconclusive. My Doctor felt that we should take the nodule out. I took quite a long time to think about it. I don't feel any effect. If I hadn't gone for some other reason, that nodule would probably have gone undetected. On the other hand, going for a ultrasound/biopsy every year is a pain in the ass. Waiting in the doctor's office to get the result, you always feel nervous.

You would think that they would only tqke the nodule out, but in fact they take half of the thyroid out. That gave me pause. What about my energy levels? Can I run 100 miles with half a thyroid? I was assured that I could. I met the surgeon at Sunnybrook Hospital last Fall. The surgeon explained the risks and the procedure. They take half out, they test it and if they find it to be cancerous, they take the other half out a few weeks later. I was bombarded with numbers. My understanding is that the chances of the nodule being cancerous are pretty small, in the 1 to 5% range but the fact of the matter is that it either is or it isn't. The only risk that struck me about the surgery was that my voice could change.

The surgeon tells me I can get the operation done within a few weeks. What happened to our famous Canadian wait lists? Fuck, I was thinking more about late Winter or Spring not a week before Chrismas. I chickened out and to make a long story short, I met with the surgeon again in January and the surgery was scheduled for last Wednesday, February 23rd.

So here I am, 6:25AM waiting for the surgery office to open. This is my first brush (that I can remember) with big medicine. I had my tonsils taken out when I was 6. I had a vasectomy when I was 33. That's it. I had tests and probing, but nothing like this although this is only a day surgery. I'm going home this afternoon. Other people are showing up. They open the office, we check in and wait a bit. Over the next few hours, I will be asked my name, date of birth and procedure at least 10 times. Two names are called, including mine and me and this women are brought to little "rooms" where we change into our hospital gowns. We are asked to put all our personal effects in clear garbage bags, they stuff the bags in a personal locker and we go back to the waiting room. Adter maybe 10 minutes, I'm taken to what is best described as the speed dating area. We, patients, sit in numbered sections and around us stand a number of surgeons, anesthegiologists and interns. A few pople come to me and ask the usual questions. At some point, they start asking me about my shoulder. Wrong patient. Disturbing. The clockis ticking. I look around at other people. We exchange quick glances, but everyone is wrapped up in their own bubble. Then, a nurse shows up and it's time.
I enter the operating room. They ask me for my name, my date of birth and they ask me to describe what operation I'm about to have. There's a cross-shaped bed where I lay down. My arms are strapped to the arm's of the cross. They stick a needle in my left hand. The guy is obviously in training cause I can feelthe needle poking around, looking for something. I'm so tensed that I don't feel any pain. The other doctor takes over and fixes the needle. They put a mask on my mouth and nose and tell me to breathe. Then they tell me that I'm going to go to sleep. I'm about to say something...

Darkness. I hear: "Do you feel any pain?". I swallow and it hurst a bit so I say yes. Flashes, voices. Feeling of the bed being moved. "Do you feel any pain?". Sure. Didn't they just ask? Wonder how long it's been since they asked? Feels like 10 minutes. I open my eyes and see that it's past 12. Wow. They give me two blue pills and I take them. Swallowing is a bit hard. I fade in and out. My wife is supposed to pick me up at 3PM. I actually hear the nurse talking to her on the phone around 2:30 and she tells her to come a bit later, around 4 or 4:30. Good, cause I'm not standing up right now. Slowly, the world stops spinning, then I get up for a leak. The surgeon comes and says everything went great. She gives me a few prescription. It's funny how when I was at the hospital they gave me strong pain meds but they send you home with Tylenol-3. No worries, I expected that. A bit after 4PM, My wife calls the desk, I get dressed, I ask for a painkiller so I don't have to rush to the pharmacy and we drive home.

All in all, things went pretty smoothly. Everyone was nice and efficient. My only negative experience was with pain management after I leave for home.

Doctors are weird. Faced with an operation where you know they will cut you open and take a chunk out, we, as patients, are worried about pain. When I was 17, I got my wisdom teeth taken out (all of them at once), and the dentist sent me home with a prescription for Tylenol-3. What an asshole. That did absolutely nothing. My parents had to scramble to find a doctor to get me something a bit more potent. I was really worried about the pain. I explained my worries about Tylenol 3 and nobody gave a shit. They asked if I was allergic, I said no, and that was it. All is fine in the hospital, but once they sent me home you're on your own. Talking to the nurse and Doctor, if you try to talk about it, you're left feeling like a fucking drug addict trying to score drugs. "Call us if there's too much pain." Yeah, right. I wonder if they would send someone from their family home with Tylenol-3. All I needed was peace of mind.

So, no running for a few more days, until I get my stiches out on Tuesday.I'm told the scar will be pretty small and will fade over time. I keep thinking about the movie Highlander. The bad guy had this huge scar around his neck with safety pins as decorations. Hopefully, it will look a bit better.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Sedona Marathon 2011 - Race Report

Prior to yesterday, I had only run one other marathon, the 2008 Toronto Marathon. I had trained pretty hard for that one. Since then, I have run quite a few ultras ranging from 50k to 100 miles but nothing significant on roads. My training for this race was lackluster, after my aborted training for Susitna. I did do some fairly long trail outings time-wise but I never really covered more than 25k in my longest run since last Fall. Still, I had a few 3+ hour trail runs under my belt so I felt mentally ready. It’s not like I was trying to qualify for Boston or anything.

Section of the Course on Google Earth

It’s weird because here I sit, trying to write a race report and I’m drawing a blank. It was a road race, almost every runner in his own iPod bubble. Yes it was hilly with about 1800 feet of climbing (my Garmin says 2200ft). Yes it was pretty. A third of it was actually on unpaved roads. Yes, I paid for my lack of training. I crossed the halfway mark at 1h56 after a net downhill of about 300 feet. A few miles into the second half, I knew I was in trouble. I don’t think I really hit the wall but the long uphills were just killing me. I walked quite a few times on the uphills. There were very few flat sections on the course.

The highlight of the race was running for about 15 or 20km with another ultra runner getting ready for the Leadville 100. After we got separated (he finished a few minutes ahead of me), I was left counting the miles all by myself. I slowed down by about 13 minutes on the way back up for a finishing time of 4h09:50. I won’t lie to you, I was utterly spent. The last two km were significantly uphill and you constantly fight a battle between wanting to be done and what you got left in the tank. I finished 56th out of 168 runners, actually placing 3rd in my AG (there were 6 of us). Hey, I placed!

As long as it was since my last marathon, it probably will be even longer before I run another one. Quite frankly, it was a grind, running on the white line, waiting for the race to be over. I don’t know what my problem was, I’m used to running much longer than that. The scenery was beautiful. There were plenty of well stocked aid stations. The weather was nice, around 16C. I don't have an excuse.

I didn’t really regret doing the race while I was running it, but today I was thinking that if I’m here at this date next year, I’m probably going to strap on my hydration vest and go for a sweet 4 or 5 hour trail run.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

McDowell Mountain 15 miler Race Report

After yesterdays fiasco (see earlier post entitled "I Am A Moron"), I drove back to the race site this morning and this time, nobody had bikes. The weather was beautiful, af a bit cold at around 40F but it was sure to get warmer during the race so I decided to run in half tights, t-shirt (my "HealthAndAdventure" La Sportiva, of course), arm warmers and light gloves. I had bought a brand new pair of shoes for this race, a pair of Mizuno Ascend 5, but despite how beat up my Crosslites look with the side-fabric pretty much busted open, I decided to use them.

People looked fit. I knew that people would be fast, because of the short distance. Same thing happens at the ITT, with it's shorted 32k distance it attracts fast trail runners we don't usually see at ultras. Not too many ultra runners here though, although there were a few. Gators and handhelds are a dead giveaway. I wore my Haliburton hoodie until the start and a couple of ultra runners came and talked to me.

At 8AM sharp, we started running. The first couple of miles were flat-ish. It was nice and cool and I was running without fluids, a luxury I knew I could afford with aid stations every few miles. Then the trail started going up. None of that rolling hills shit. Up. For miles at a time. Then down a bit. Then up for more miles. The incline was not too steep though. Where back home trails tend to go up a hill straight up (thereby crushing runners legs and spirit), here they use switchbacks to make it more manageable and runner friendly. Cultural difference I guess. The course was a big loop, but with a one mile spur at around 5.5 miles.

I felt good so I started at a solid pace, sub 5min/km. I passed a few people and then settled in a group I felt comfortable following. This was no ultra and there wasn't much talking. When we hit the uphills, I ran with a solid effort but nothing stupid. Obviously, a lot of runners can't write the same on their blogs because my group desintegrated and I pushed on to the next one.  I was climbing as fast as I dared considering the fact that you could see groups of runners really far ahead still climbing the same hill. On the first major downhill, I decided to run as hard as I could. The trail was nice but challenging enough that I didn't quite go as hard as I could have but I didn't want to trip.

As I entered the spur (which is downhill on the way out) at around 5.5 miles, the leader was just climbing out of it, with a stream of others maybe 20 seconds behind him. The downhill was challenging, barelling down the rocky single track and having to move over to let those guys up. After the turnaround, which was up a nasty, very steep but short uphill, I got my second cup of Gatorade. The guy in front of me got a gel.

At this point, I have to go to commercial for a rant about gels. You can't just eat a gel while running and expect your stomach to process it. You have to drink a lot of water. Not Gatorade, water. If the concentration of carbs in our stomach exceeds a certain limit (set by your level of effort), the stomach just shuts down and waits for you to stop running. Drinking Gatorade with a gel is like putting oil on the fire. It doesn't help. Gatorade (well sport drinks in general) already contains an optimum (well, you know what I mean) amount of carbs. If they could put more calories in Sport drinks they would, but they can't. Gels are like Gatorade powder. Would you just take a spoon of Gatorade powder at an aid station and guess-timate how much water to drink? So when a guy who's been huffin' and puffin' going up a hill decides to gulp a GU, with which he should probably drink two cups of water but I know he didn't, I want to slap him on the back of the head. Gels are a convenient way to transport energy, but they take a lot of experimenting and are more appropriate for extended efforts where your pace is slower and therefore you can tolerate more carbs in your stomach. Ok. Done. Back to our program.

As I leave the aid station and start up the mile-long climb out, I get passed by 3 guys! WTF? Nobody has passed me yet! WHo do they think they are? Resistance is futile, I'm climbing as fast as I dare. After the climb, a sweet downhill and I really push it. I'm having the beginning of a side stitch. That last Gatorade is sloshing all over the place. Halfway up the next short uphill (half a mile) I look up and I see that my gel-eating friend is walking. Probably the gel. I pass him and look up to see another of the guys walking. He's too far to catch on this hill, but I'll get him. I'm really starting to enjoy my race.

The next three miles are pretty much downhill and I'm having a hard time catching those two. I turn a corner and there's a fairly short uphill with one of my pals struggling to get up. I pass him near the top of the hill. There's another mile-long uphill coming. Not too steep but it kicks me in the balls. Then with about 3.5 miles to go, it's pretty much all downhill from there. I go as hard as I can. As I run down, I can see long stretches of the trail ahead and below me. I see 4 runners, most of which I'm pretty sure I won't be able to pass. The first one is the 3rd guy who passed me. He must pay. I get to him fairly quickly. He's done like dinner and not moving well. Probably had a gel as well. Then, surprisingly, I get close to the next two, a guy and a chick and I eventually pass them both.

I get closer to the last guy and with a mile to go I'm right behind him. I don't want to go for a sprint right at the finish line because if the guy is not into it I'll look like an ass. On the other hand, if I pass him too soon he might hang on and do it to me. It's happened to me before. His legs look shaved so he's probably a triathlete (they are verywhere here) and will resist. With about 1k to go, I pass him but just as I pass him, the terrain starts rolling instead of steadily going down. This is going to hurt. Even worse, I hear him right behind me. He's not letting me go. We're pretty much going uphill now and, as they say in the books, I ventilate like a mad man. Where is that finish? With what my Garmin says is 400 meters to go I'm starting to hurt. My foe has fallen back a bit, I think, but I can hear him and he's definitely within striking distance. All of a sudden, I go up a short steep hill and I'm on the parking lot where the finish is. I can see it. I take off like a bat out of hell. I finish in 2:05:57 and he finishes 6 seconds later.My overall pace was about 5:12min/km which I'm pretty happy with.

I haven't raced a shorter, intense race like this in a while, over two years actually. I love ultras, but the racing aspect is a bit more pronounced in shorter races. That being said, for a guy who hasn't run short in a while I think I ran it pretty smart. Nobody passed me and got away with it. I passed plenty of people. That being said, it's tempting to think that I should have started a bit faster, worked the hills a bit harder but  I'm not sure I could have done much better.

I'm sore as hell right now. My friend the right Achilles is on fire but he's just pissed. I'll take an easy week and next Saturday (YES, Saturday), it's the Sedona marathon.

Good times.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I am a moron

This morning I get up at 4 AM, perform my pre-race rituals and jump in the car for the 2 hour drive to the McDowell Mountain park. I get there a bit after 6:45, with plenty of time to spare for my 8AM start. One problem though, everybody else has a bike. WTF? Did I sign up for a bike race by mistake?

After speaking with a few people, one of the organizers then tells me he heard that there was indeed a foot race somewhere else in the park. I jump in the car and start driving around the small roads, but I can't find any other race. I finally stop a park employee and he tells me the XTERRA race is TOMORROW!

I haven't raced a non-ultra race in over 2 years, and ultras are ALWAYS on Saturday, so the concept of a Sunday race never even crossed my mind. Who wants to race on Sunday anyway? Isn't there a football game or something tomorrow?

Anyway, I thought about looking for an IMAX theater to see Sanctum but the reviews are so bad I decided not to do it. I could have run there, but I didn't have a trail map. I drove back on the scenic route, nearly shit my pants driving on the side of a cliff and got back home in about 4 hours.

Fuck it, I'm going for a run  to have a nap (I was going to run, but I fell asleep after lunch.).