Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Louisa Pond atop Shaupeneak Ridge, Hudson Valley, NY.
Photo courtesy Robert Rodriguez Jr. Photography
Two weeks ago I sprained my ankle. I shouldn't be complaining, really. In a year and a half of intense trail running - including training for the Virgil Crest ultramarathon - the only two major physical injuries I sustained were, ironically, to my arms. Both happened during trip-and-fall accidents while trail running. (There was also, of course, the issue of my time in the hospital earlier this year, but I'd hardly call the staph infection and the tick-borne illness "training injuries.")

I was running at Shaupeneak Ridge, an almost 700-acre preserve on the western shore of the Hudson River, protected by Scenic Hudson. From the lower trailhead, a trail winds its way 1.6 miles, and about 600 vertical feet, to the top of the ridge. Once there, a growing network of trails provide several opportunities for loop runs before returning down to the lower trailhead.

It was early on a Tuesday morning before work. I was the only person in the preserve. It had been a good run, but as I made my way back to the descent trail to conclude my run, my right ankle rolled. My ankles roll all the time, actually, in minor, insignificant ways. With the uneven terrain, and the roots, and the rocks, it's the nature of trail running. I'm constantly adjusting my gait and catching my balance.

But this time was different. As my ankle rolled, I felt the unmistakable twinge of pain along the outer edge of my ankle. This was not good. Trail running for the week was over. I rested for 7 days, trying to give the ankle a chance to heal.

Then, one week ago (and one week after the sprain), I returned to Shaupeneak Ridge, the scene of the crime, to test my ankle and see how it felt. As usual, I began with the 1.6 mile, 600-vertical-foot trail run up to the top of the ridge. The ankle felt okay, not great. But what I noticed much more so was how suddenly tired and fatigued my left quadricep was becoming.

I knew instantly what was going on. Subconsciously, my body was compensating, making adjustments to accommodate and mitigate the pain and the injury. (Two weeks later, the ankle is still not 100%, though it's feeling good enough that I'm back up to trail running 9 miles at a clip, so I'm pleased with the progress.)

I'm not sure why, but that subconscious compensation reminded me of my pre-gluten-free days, when I was still wracked by debilitating symptoms. When gluten has been making us sick enough for long enough, our body and our mind recalibrates. Just as my mind subconsciously favored my left leg to spare my right ankle, so had my mind readjusted my lifestyle to accommodate my gluten-induced troubles.

For example, I've always had a love of flying. Take-offs and landings were especially my favorite part, though the whole act of flying mesmerized me. (One reason why I, at one point, was on track to become an aerospace engineer. But that's another story...) Because I loved flying, I always wanted to sit in a window seat, not just for the view of the earth far below and the clouds around, but also to see the wings and flaps, the engines and landing gear.

But as my gluten-induced symptoms came on with a vengeance in my mid to late 20s, a funny thing happened. I started booking flights by requesting aisle seats. I abandoned my beloved window seats, because suddenly, there was anxiety with flying. I needed an aisle seat so that I'd have easy, quick access to the bathrooms not if, but when, I would get sick from gluten. I can't say that I consciously made this switch in seat preference. It just sort of happened somewhere along the line. I was subconsciously compensating, working my life around the gluten.

(I'm now happy to report that I'll take whatever seats I'm assigned. It doesn't matter where I sit on an airplane. The gluten-induced anxiety is gone, as is the need for instant access to the aisle so that I could scoot the loo. Being gluten-free is awesome, but you already knew that, didn't you?)

My life adjusted in other ways, too, though one example ought to do for this blog post. But how did your life adjust, consciously or sub-consciously, to accommodate the problems caused by gluten? Did you start avoiding restaurants and public meals? Carry a bottle of medicine for stomach trouble? Give your GI doctor the #1 spot on your phone's speed dial?

Feel free to share!

- Pete

P.S. To see more beautiful pictures of the Hudson Valley, which we now call home, be sure to check out the website of Beacon-based Robert Rodriguez Jr. Photography. He graciously shared the Louisa Pond pic at the top of this post.


Melissa said...

My biggest glutenation symptoms are overwhelming fatigue and intense joint pain. Even now, I always have an escape plan in my head in case I get exhausted while running errands or hanging out with friends. I get the important stuff done first so I can retreat if I need to rest, and I constantly scan public places for benches and chairs.

peterbronski said...

Hi Melissa... Great example! Thanks for sharing.

Cheers, Pete

M Smith said...

Dining out less often - and actually being anxious about dining out at all - is my new normal. I haven't been all that successful with dining out. No matter what I do say etc. I still manage to goof and that equates to, for me, about 5 days of pain and undesirable GI symptoms as well as intense fatigue. I've had it happen even at places that tout a GF menu.

Maybe one day, more restauranteurs will 'get it' but for now, it's safer for me to eat at home.

peterbronski said...

Hi M Smith... Another good example. Thanks for sharing!

Cheers, Pete