Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Training Update #5 forecast for the race location, today through race day

This is my last training update before the big ultramarathon! It's been exactly one week since the last training update, and so much has happened, I scarcely know where to begin. It's been one helluva roller coaster. (This is a long post, but I promise it makes for entertaining reading.)

I've decided that the theme for today's training update is "when it rains..." As you'll see, that's both a literal and a figurative statement. I'll start with the literal, the weather, since that's the easy part. 

The weather over by the race venue has not been good. They've had some pretty decent rain there in the past few days. Also, as you can see from the image above - a screen grab of the forecast for today through race day (Saturday), there's a very good chance of more rain, including the day before and the day of the race. 

If I could sit by a warm fireplace sipping hot mulled cider, that'd be one thing. But in the context of the race, a few associative words come to mind: wet, cold, muddy, and perhaps above all else, epic. This year's race is going to be epic. Adverse race conditions mean that all bets are off. (As I'm about to explain, all bets are off for another important reason, too. Read on.)

Image courtesy Stock.xchng / linder6580
My health over the course of the last week has been...not good. Bad even. In last week's training update I talked about what a good summer it had been, how I remained healthy and free of injury. I'm not a superstitious man, but I'm thinking I may have jinxed myself. Because no sooner did I post that update, than my health went in the toilet. It's easiest to convey the saga by way of a two-part explanation: my symptoms, and my futile search for a diagnosis.

Early last week on a routine trail run, I got a very minor scratch on my lower right leg from brushing against a thorny vine on a partly overgrown trail. It was maybe half a centimeter long. That's it. I get little nicks and cuts on my legs all the time, and didn't think anything of it. I washed the leg, and that was that.

By Wednesday, when I posted the last training update, that little cut had become mildly infected, with a quarter-sized red area around it. Something I took notice of, but still nothing to worry about. Then Thursday came along, and this thing blew up. It rapidly grew in size and changed appearance. It became raised, warm to the touch, swollen, uncomfortable. (I won't go into any more detail than that, in case you've just eaten... Let's just say it wasn't (and still isn't) pretty...)

With my stay in the hospital this past spring for staph in the back of my mind, I didn't want to mess around. And so Thursday was the first of many trips to the doctor. More on that in a bit.

Thursday night I developed systemic symptoms - fever and chills, joint pain, extreme fatigue, raging headache, nausea and vomiting, lack of appetite, general ill feeling. Friday through Saturday those symptoms stayed with me, or worsened, or waxed and waned.

When I woke Saturday morning, Kelli nearly jumped out of bed. Sometime overnight, both of my eyes developed pretty severe 360-degree hemorrhages. (See the photo below...) My right eye in particular continued to bleed until mid-day Sunday, so that the globe got a bit swollen and uncomfortable, causing some mild tearing and some blurriness on the edges of my vision.

Saturday was probably the worst day overall. I barely could get out of bed. After a brief 30-minute attempt to eat lunch at the dining room table around 12:30p, I went to sleep around 1:00p - and other than waking once a few hours later to throw up my small lunch - I slept until 8:30p or so. I got up for about an hour, and then went back to bed for the night.

By late on Sunday, many of the systemic symptoms had resolved or began to resolve, which now has left me with a small bit of lingering tiredness, the infection/rash on my leg, and eyes that make me look like the devil/vampire.

Such has been my health roller coaster over the last week or so. The search for a diagnosis has proven frustratingly elusive.

I'm here to take your soul.
Worried that the infection on my leg was a recurrence of staph, last Thursday I went to my primary doc. She agreed that it looked like staph, and treated it as such, prescribing an oral antibiotic. She also ordered a panel of blood tests, and said to come back if I had any major change in symptoms.

That night I developed my long list of systemic symptoms, and so sure enough, on Friday I went back to my primary doc. My white blood cell count looked good, but funny thing, initial tests came back positive for Lyme disease. Yikes! So she put me on a second oral antibiotic to treat that, and once again said, if things get worse, see her tomorrow (Saturday).

Well, as you know I woke looking like an extra from the Twilight movie series, and so I called her office. The receptionist answered the phone.

"My eyes are bleeding," I told her.

"Do you mean they're bloodshot?"

"No. I mean both of my eyes are covered in blood."

Silence while she checked with the doctor.

"We think you should go straight to the hospital. Since it involves your eyes, we don't want to mess around."

Which is how I spent the first part of my Saturday morning (before spending the rest of the day in bed) in the ER of the hospital. They didn't have any answer for my eyes, or for my systemic symptoms, but diagnosed my leg as poison oak contact dermatitis and sent me home with a topical cream.

Meanwhile, the infection/rash on my leg doesn't seem to respond to the oral antibiotics or to any topical treatments. In fact, it continues to spread and get worse. So on Monday I visit a dermatologist, who diagnoses it was a severe spider bite, with accompanying systemic reaction. He prescribes a new stronger topical cream. He said he would normally have also prescribed a certain oral antibiotic, but that it could increase intraocular pressure, and with how my eyes already looked, well...

That same day I also went to see an opthalmologist, to make sure something serious wasn't wrong with my eyes. (For the most part, they're fine.) He gave me prescription eye drops (combo steroid and anti-inflammatory).

Oh, and by Monday, the full blood test results were in, and this time Lyme was negative.

To round out my bases, yesterday (Tuesday) I saw an infectious disease specialist. His assessment: the problem with my leg was an extreme allergic reaction to the vine that caused the initial scratch, and the systemic symptoms were my reaction to a drug allergy to one of the antibiotics my primary doc prescribed when she thought I had staph.

So to recap: since just this past Thursday, I've seen my primary doctor, an ER doctor, a dermatologist, an opthalmologist, and an infectious disease specialist. Those five doctors have variously diagnosed me with: a staph infection (not it), Lyme disease (also not it), contact dermatitis from poison oak (doesn't explain my systemic symptoms, and which, by the way, doesn't grow in New York!), a bad spider bite with systemic reaction (it's not a spider bite, trust me), and a contact dermatitis allergic reaction and bad drug side effects/allergy (possible, though I'm still skeptical).

At the end of all this, I have no definitive resolution. I just know that I'm getting better.

So what has all this meant for the last week of training? As you might have guessed, there hasn't been any training. I didn't do my last long run. I didn't do my last short runs. In fact, I wasn't even sure I'd be doing this race in a few days. As of Saturday night, it was looking like a 97% probability that I'd have to withdraw. I was already thinking of other ultra races later in October and November that I could run to "make up" for having to miss this one.

But my health has rebounded enough that I'm going to give it a try. I went for one modest short 4.5-mile "test run" yesterday to see how I was feeling after all this. I didn't feel great or terrible, good or bad. I just felt okay, which is fine by me all things considered.

I'll admit. At times I've felt demoralized and disappointed by all this. I want to perform at my best. I want to peak for this race. That won't happen. And this isn't the first time a major race has been sabotaged by illness. This spring I missed the North Face Bear Mountain Endurance Challenge (another 50-mile ultra) because I was hospitalized with staph and then tick-borne ehrlichiosis. Back in 2009, I came down with a nasty case of H1N1 flu two days before the Xterra off-road triathlon US national championship.

I've tried to put a positive spin on the situation, and have come up with at least two ways getting sick will actually help me in this race:

1. Abandoning training and spending all that time in bed prevented me from over-training in this last week, forcing me to start an early "taper."

2. My devil eyes will be great for intimidating the competition.

2x Supporter

GF Bistro

It wasn't been all doom and gloom, however. On a much brighter note, you all are awesome! While I've been resting in bed, trying as hard as I can to recover in time for the race, you've been busy supporting the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness! As of this morning, we've reached 59% of my goal. Together we've raised more than $2,930. Thank you all for your support! Let's break right through the $3,000 mark and keep on going.

If you've thought about making a donation, but haven't yet, please go do it now. Visit my fundraising page. Every dollar helps. Seriously. And the clock is ticking. The fundraising doesn't officially stop on Saturday... the fundraising page stays open for another month or so after that. But Saturday is a finish line of sorts, and I'd love to get as close to the goal as possible by then. Do it for yourself. Do it for someone you know who is gluten-free. Do it for the NFCA. Do it for my red eyes. =)

Finally, on a logistical note... for those of you who want to track my race progress live, you'll be able to do so. The race starts at 6:00am on Saturday. Starting Friday, you can go to the race website and follow links to "live runner tracking." Find my name under the 50-mile race format. Or, if you prefer to have text messages sent to your phone each time I pass through an aid station, you can sign up for that now. Go to this page, choose the 50-mile race format tab, find my name (Peter Bronski), and click the cell phone icon next to it.

Wish me luck. After the week I've had, I'm going to need it!

- Pete


glutenfreeforgood said...

Whoa, you have been through a lot! Serious bacterial infection? Maybe from a plant toxin or something? Except the normal WBC. Hmmm? Well, at least you don't have Lyme disease. I just signed up for text updates on your run. I'll be following your progress and sending good energy your way. Take care of yourself!

Kathleen said...

Oh my gosh, that's terrible! I hope you're back to 100% soon. I'll be thinking of you on race day, stay safe.

peterbronski said...

Hi Melissa... Thanks for your support, concern, and good energy! I'll take all of it! Yeah, bacterial infection or plant toxin (or both) sounds possible to me. Either way, the timing is just terrible. We'll see how the race goes!

Hi Kathleen... Thanks!

Cheers, Pete

Lori-Ann said...

OMG, you have been through so much and you are being such a trooper to continue! That is so awesome!!!! Best of Luck on Saturday and keep safe!!!!

gfe--gluten free easily said...

Whoa, Pete! That's all super scary. I think I'd pursue all of these issues with some more specialists. It seems like you may have some underlying issues that always get triggered when you are in major race prep mode ... from the body being overly taxed perhaps? Mark Sisson and the paleo/primal guys talk about the effects of "chronic cardio" (even though they are all for exercise, just in a different form). Might be worth looking into. I'm sending you healing thoughts and good energy, too (with my fingers crossed)!


Lorraine said...

Pete I'd say go see a reputable homeopath in your area and get to the underlying problem of the repeated staph infections. I've used homeopathy for 22 years and with 3 kids trust me it's safe. And if you can find the right remedy it's amazing! Just remember how long it took all those professionals to diagnose you and they were not in agreement, and then have the same patience with your homeopath. :)

Jessa said...

peterbronski said...

Hi Lori-Ann... Thanks for the well wishes!

Hi Shirley... Thanks for the healing thoughts and good energy! I think to an extent you may be right - the physical strain of preparing for a big race might make my body more susceptible to "bugs" and getting sick. But I don't necessarily blame the training. I've had plenty of races and not gotten sick for them. I think there are times when I let life in general get too busy - training, plus work, plus kids, plus book projects and other things. I end up burning the candle at both ends sometimes, and that's not a good thing.

Cheers, Pete

peterbronski said...

Hi Lorraine... Thanks for your concern. Just for the record, I've only had one staph infection, when I was hospitalized in the spring. The tick-borne ehrlichiosis one week later was just dumb luck. Anyone who spends time outdoors around here is at risk. This most recent bout wasn't staph, though my primary doc initially treated it as such.

Hi Jessa... Thanks for adding your perspective!

Personally, I'm a fan of a holistic approach to medicine, which combines eastern and western philosophies.

Cheers, Pete

gluten free gift said...

Holy moly... you certainly are a trouper! I too am a big believer in going natural in the medical department - sometimes one drug can ease a symptom only to cause another. I wish you great success in your upcoming race. Claudine

Esther said...

OMG Peter! You're Awesome! First, I must say that you are a fabulous and intriguing writer. I have been following your training blogs and they are always so thorough and interesting...I love your writing. Secondly, Only you would continue with your race plans despite unexplainable medical odditites. BTW: I love the caption under your pic! Lastly, please take care of yourself. I appreciate your dedication to celiac awareness, but your health comes first and I wouldn't want to have you push yourself too hard because you think we are counting on YOU. Your girls need you to be around for a long time, so if it were up to me...I'd say sit this one out. I'm sure you will find a way to make the best of your current situation and I look forward to your blog about it.

How to get top rank said...

I want to express my admiration of your writing skill and ability to make reader to read the while thing to the end.

peterbronski said...

Thanks everyone!