Thursday, May 13, 2010

I'll take the physical challenge

Those of you old enough to remember Nickelodeon's Double Dare, a kid's game show from the late 1980s and early 1990s, will undoubtedly get the reference of my blog post title today.  Contestants answered trivia questions, but also had the option of tackling a "physical challenge" in order to earn points and win the game.

Those of us on a gluten-free diet are no stranger to the physical challenge.  That's one way of thinking about the uncertain and challenging times leading up to our diagnosis, whether with Celiac Disease, gluten intolerance, wheat allergy, whatever.

I recently faced another physical challenge of my own.  If you read NGNP last summer and into early fall, you might recall the season I spent racing in Xterra off-road triathlons, which culminated at the end of September with the U.S. National Championship in Utah.  Going into that race, though, I came down with a bad case of H1N1.  Then, in early November, I had a relapse and was sick a second time.  From mid-November through the end of 2009, however, I was healthy as ever.

With the arrival of early January, though, my latest physical challenge arrived.  I began a series of chronic, recurring illnesses - viral in nature - that hammered me.  Between January and April I was sick eight times or so.  Each time, the pattern was the same: high fever, muscle and joint pain, fatigue, and often, other symptoms as well.  Each episode would last for 5-7 days.  Then I'd recover, be healthy for a week or so, and then relapse yet again.  My doctors didn't have many answers beyond the "repeated viral relapse" theory.  All my bloodwork - from cholesterol to insulin to white blood cells to endocrine to many other factors that they measured - came back normal.

Admittedly, it was a crushing blow for me emotionally and motivationally.  Apart from feeling unwell for such a prolonged period of time, I was also unable to train.  The net effect was that I lost much of the fitness I had worked so hard to gain throughout the course of 2009.  During the intermittent times when I felt well, I tried to go out for modest runs, to gauge how I was feeling.  Often, I could barely manage a 3-mile jog.  I couldn't believe it.  I had gone from trail running almost-half-marathons as part of my routine weekly training for Xterra, to sucking wind on a loop that I used to "sprint" as a time trial.

By now I had hoped to have already raced in my first Xterra of 2010.  Instead, I'm now hoping to do my first race in early June at the earliest.  I just don't think I'll be ready before then.  Gratefully, though, it seems the viral relapses are finally behind me.  I've very happily resumed training, which makes life for me start to feel more normal again.

Which brings me to my next physical challenge.  In addition to competing once again in Xterra, I'm also looking ahead to a major goal: a 50-mile trail run ultra race with 9,000 vertical feet of ascent (the Virgil Crest Ultra).  In short, the race is burly.  Last year, the winning time was 8.5 hours.  More than 25% of the people who started the race didn't finish.  The distance is the equivalent of running back to back marathons.  The vertical ascent is the equivalent of running to the top of the Empire State Building...eight times.  Bring on the pain.

I'm officially registered, and the clock is ticking - the race is on September 25 in New York.  As you might guess, I have a lot of work to do between now and then.  And so this past Monday, I commenced training in earnest...both for Xterra AND for the ultra race.

Apart from simply finishing the ultra race (which in itself will be an accomplishment), I've set a few goals for myself:

1. Finish in under 10 hours
According to last year's results, that would be good enough for a top 5 result.  I've never been one who's simply content to finish.  I always like to push myself to the limit, so why not go for broke?

2. Lose 10 pounds
Normally, my body weight reaches equilibrium around 155 pounds.  When I'm at the peak of training and racing, that number decreases to 150 pounds.  Right now, however, I'm hovering around 160 (thanks in part to my lack of physical activity with the virus, and some subtle dietary changes).  I have no desire to lug around an extra 10 pounds of body weight for 50 miles of trail running, and so I'm working to get back into "fighting shape."  

3. Have fun
Such endurance events are always a mix of pleasure and pain (or maybe, taking pleasure in the pain, which may sound twisted, but it's kinda honest...).  

In order to achieve goal #1, I have an aggressive training plan I'll stick to.  It involves lots of high mileage trail runs, hill workouts, cross-training on a mountain bike (in part to save my knees), etc.

Achieving goal #2 will be a combination of training and diet.  I've shifted my diet in small ways that are already starting to have a positive impact.  For one, in an attempt to avoid "throw away" calories, I'm restricting myself to having "flavored" drinks (such as coffee, wine, beer, juice) with one meal per day.  At other meals, I'm sucking down water like a fish.  For another, I've slightly decreased my portion sizes overall, and I've also decreased my portion sizes of meat, and traded them for vegetable-based gluten-free proteins, such as from quinoa.  For snacks, I almost exclusively reach for fresh fruit and/or veggies.  And I'm trying to limit desserts (such as a flan that will be tomorrow's Friday Foto) to only a handful of nights per week.

Achieving goal #3 will largely be the result of doing all that I need to do in order to achieve numbers 1 and 2.

Lastly, in order to keep myself on track, I'm going to introduce a kind of public accountability.  Each Monday, I'll write a brief blog post here on NGNP that summarizes the previous week's results - race recaps, training summaries (such as miles logged trail running), current bodyweight, etc.  Simply knowing that NGNP readers will be seeing the info should be motivator enough to keep me on the tried and true (as if fear of the race itself wasn't enough!).

Monday and Tuesday were training days.  Yesterday was a rest day.  Today I'm back to training.  And you know what?  I'm mighty excited about it.  It's time for another season of racing, one capped by the 50-mile ultra race.  I'll take the (gluten-free) physical challenge, please.

- Pete


theMom said...

This is awesome! I read over the winter and reviewed for one of my blogs, Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall. It totally inspired me to begin running again.

I have ten kids, so the last 20 years or so have been pretty much a walking stage for me. But my teenaged son challenged me to do an entire mile a month or so ago and it felt great! I've done a mile on a couple other occasions since then, and I've set a 20 mile goal to finish before mid June. But our rainy spring has deterred me from getting out often. Very modest compared to what you're doing, but it's a start.

It will be fun to read your reports.

peterbronski said...

Hi theMom... Wow, ten kids! I'm sure you've been VERY busy. Our friend Emily is one of 11, and so is my grandfather, but that's not quite the same as being a parent to double digit numbers of children... That's really great about your mile run, and about your 20 mile goal to finish before mid June. No matter what kind of runner you are, we all start with that first mile.

Cheers, Pete

Erin said...

So sorry to hear you've been unwell, and glad to hear you've turned the corner. It's so frustrating when your body doesn't cooperate the way you've trained it to.
Best wishes with your goals and races-I know you'll get there!
And I totally remember Double Dare!!

Deanna said...

Wow - impressive goal! I hope the nasty virii stay away and you are able to kick some xterra butt!

kelly said...

Fantastic Pete! I hope to see you on the trails!

peterbronski said...

Hey Erin... Thanks for the good wishes!

Deanna... Yes, I'm definitely hoping the nasty viruses stay far away. I miss Xterra and can't wait to get back to racing.

Thanks Kelly! What trails are you running these days? Maybe I'll see you out there!

Cheers, Pete

Anonymous said...

Peter, I too was sick last year, got better then sick again. I had asthmatic bronchitis the whole month of Dec and into Jan; got better in the latter part of Jan.. Then seemed sick again with flu like symptoms (without the fever) in Feb, March and part of April. I am finally starting back into my exercise routine and feeling good. Thank you for sharing. Good Luck to you!!

peterbronski said...

Hi Anonymous... Sorry to hear you, too, were sick. But very glad to hear you're feeling better and getting back into your routine!

Cheers, Pete

mrsmckracken said...

It must be going around! I was so sick this winter too, with strep of all things. (Three times in 5 months) I am racing in my first sprint triathlon on Saturday and also was so worried about the fitness I lost from not feeling well. I'll have to let you know if my body "remembers" how to be fit!Any suggestions on GF energy gels?

peterbronski said...

Hi MrsMcKracken... Congrats on your upcoming sprint triathlon! Good luck! For GF energy gels, my personal favorite is GU. I'll tape their tabs to the stem of my handlebars, and then they're easy to tear off and eat while riding.

Cheers, Pete