Throwback Thursday: If You Hike with Me I Might Lose You

Last week we had the great pleasure of visiting two of my dearest friends (and their adorable son and puppy) en route to my brother’s wedding. Naturally, this got me thinking of my many hiking adventures with dear Erica over the years.  For friends who only lived in the same location for a grand total of two months roughly 15 years ago, it is remarkable the number of hikes we’ve done together.

One stands out for me, though, and that is the hike on which I was certain that I lost Erica.  This all occurred on the fourth day of a whirlwind visit and hiking extravaganza that, I’m fairly certain, nearly killed poor Erica despite her ambitious spirit and determination to hike each day of her visit.

Alas, let us recap the calamity so that anyone reading can immediately and logically conclude that should they hike with me, I may lose them.

Imagine that you have just hiked three days in a row, on hikes ranging from a mere 10km to 26km. Imagine that you are from sea level, and have had no time to acclimate to mountain elevation. Imagine that you also haven’t hiked since the last time you visited me, which was likely a year prior.  Imagine after all of this, I suggest a 14 km return hike with 1060m of elevation gain to round out your vacation. Would you be surprised to hear that Erica didn’t want to continue to the summit of Cirque Peak after reaching Helen Lake, about 5.5 km into the hike? I wasn’t.

Champ that she is, she suggested that I keep going while she returned down the trail to the car (perhaps for a much needed nap). Well, the summit turned out farther than we anticipated, so I also failed to make the summit that day.  I feared if I kept going towards the peak and took hours to return to the car, poor Erica would be bored out of her mind and never visit me again.  And so, I left my other friends to their quest for the summit and (literally) ran down the trail looking for Erica.

I assumed I would run into her while she was still on her way down. After all, I was hauling ass downhill and, in my head, it seemed as though it hadn’t taken me all that long to go part way to the summit (not surprisingly, it had actually been a considerable amount of time).  But as I got closer and closer to the trailhead, I still hadn’t seen Erica. I wondered if perhaps she had stopped to rest along the way and I had run right past her. It just didn’t seem right that she would still be ahead of me.

Then I got to the car and she wasn’t there either.  I checked the outhouse. I wandered around the parking lot. I backtracked up the trail for a while. Still, there was no sign of her. I had a horrible, anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach. Could she have veered off course? Had she misunderstood and thought that she should wait for me at Helen Lake?  Then, just as I was agonizing over the thought of re-hiking 5.5 km on extremely tired legs, Erica calmly sauntered into the parking lot.

In response to my confusion and anxiety, she merely said “I left a note.”

As an aside, back in Banff (where I lived at the time), someone (I never figured out who) was always leaving strategically placed items on my car. Sometimes it was bags full of McDonald’s wrappers. Sometimes it was random pieces of paper. Once it was a fairly substantial tree limb (delicately placed so as to cause no damage).

Back to present day, as I had walked past my car in the trailhead parking lot that afternoon, I had noticed an Excel gum box tucked under my windshield wipers, very low down so you could barely see it from inside.  But, since I was always finding random garbage on my car, I assumed it had been there the entire drive to the trailhead.  Alas, it was actually the note from Erica, kindly informing me that she had gone across the highway to the Crowfoot Glacier pull out.

Amidst all the weaving story lines here, let the true moral of this story not be lost: if you hike with me, I may just lose you.*

* It’s true.  It’s happened more than once.  Maybe next week I’ll write about the time I lost Caleb…


Mid-Week Emotional Check-In: Anger Edition

Vancouver is a tremendously active city. Everyone is always out biking or running or (god help us all) even rollerblading.  I live along the sea wall, which is like a homing beacon for the uber active.  You can go for miles in all directions engaging in your activity of choice. All of this is lovely…when you’re not injured.

Lately, I have been struggling with my sea wall commute to work.  Every day as I walk to and from the office, there are people running.  Hordes of runners looking all happy (okay, I may be projecting here) and full of oxygen and flaunting their fully functioning musculoskeletal systems.  I want to be happy for them, I really do.  The problem is that I simultaneously want to clothesline each one of them as they run by, and then lecture them about how grateful they should feel for being able to run.

I’m not normally an angry person, but I cannot suppress the undercurrent of seething rage that sparks inside of me as I watch others do what I still cannot do.  After more than two full months. Fortunately it passes quickly because rational me understands that these runners are not, in fact, rubbing their running in my face. Rational me also knows that it is a gross assumption on my part that they aren’t grateful for their ability to run. But every once in a while we need to allow ourselves a few good minutes of irrational anger directed at completely innocent people…right? And so, in conclusion, if you live in the False Creek area, you may want to keep an eye out for an innocent looking bystander with a propensity for the unexpected clothesline.*

*Obviously this is not a real threat.



Training Tuesdays: My SI Belt is out to Get Me

Almost immediately after my injury, I dusted off my old sacroiliac belt and commenced wearing it for virtually any activity that involved impact, jostling, bouncing, or the potential for me to trip, slip or fall. This has meant pretty much everything except casual walking on the street or my personal training sessions (where my trainer doesn’t want me to wear it so that I can better assess if motions cause aggravation).

I thought I was doing the right thing, providing much needed stabilization to a very unstable SI joint. I was sure it was saving me weeks of recovery time, particularly as I started to reintegrate hiking. But, since last week, I’ve decided that’s only what my SI belt wanted me to believe. It lulled me into a false sense of security and whispered promises of healing in my ear, only to turn around and stab me in the back.

My SI belt is out to get me.

Public enemy #1
Public enemy #1

After my most recent and acute attack of the SI, I was extra cautious and put the old SI belt into double rotation. I expected it to provide the soothing comfort of faux joint stability. Instead, my pain continued to worsen, the stiffness progressed, and by the end of the week I found myself unable to engage in the simplest of workouts. I was back to my remedial rehab exercises and walking. It made no sense.

Several days later, as I tried and failed to spin without pain, I ripped that SI belt off in a fit of rage only to discover an instant reduction in pain. At first, I thought it was just the beautiful lack of chaffing but then I noticed a) that I could move from seated to standing hover without pain b) I could sprint without jarring pain around my tailbone c) high tension seated climbs weren’t aggravating it and d) by the end of the workout I felt pretty much stiffness and pain free. All signs pointed to an evil spirit lurking within my SI belt.

Since my revelation, I have not used my SI belt at all, and I have only continued to see improvements, even after hiking. I don’t know why my SI belt would want to keep me in pain. Maybe it’s a desperate desire to be needed. Maybe it’s a ploy to avoid being permanently relegated to my storage locker–which, upon reflection, I completely understand as someone else’s hockey-gear-filled storage locker has made the whole space smell rank with sweat.  Either way, I’m not going down without a fight. It’s on SI belt. It’s on.

Monday Musings: Messages from the Universe

I find that people tend to fall either firmly in the camp of believing that the universe is at play in their lives or firmly outside of that camp. Me? I fall squarely in the camp of believing that the universe is at play, and I am unapologetic in this belief.  I don’t believe it in a way that leads me to think that everything in my life is pre-determined by some all-knowing “universe”.  I still believe in my own free will and choice, and that I alone am fully responsible for the actions that I take.  I just believe that sometimes the universe will try to teach us lessons we need to learn, or provide us with the things that we need at the time that we need them.

Don’t worry, I don’t receive messages from the universe…well, except for in those emails I signed up for that one time…

What does this have to do with my ultra marathon? The short answer is that it has nothing specifically to do with my ultra marathon. The long answer is that, in some way, I do think the universe is trying to teach me moderation.

The concept of moderation is one that I’ve failed to successfully grasp my entire life.  Here is just a short list of ways in which I demonstrate my inability to employ moderation:

–With food, I will either give up sugar and alcohol entirely and live a pure (and dreadfully boring) existence, or I will eat all of the things all of the time. There is no in-between.

–With exercise, I will either train for an ultra or a marathon or try to double my hiking distance from the previous year (a feat that would require hiking roughly 1600km!), or I will become a sloth (for me, this is sticking to half-assed gym workouts under the guise of staying active).

–With TV, I will binge watch entire series (not seasons, but series) then, with the utmost determination and snobbery, declare myself “over television”…until Netflix releases something else amazing.

–With books, I will burn through four novels in a week and then not pick up another book for a year

The evidence is clear. Me and moderation are not friends.

Last week, I was having drinks with some friends I haven’t seen in a long time and telling them about my parents upcoming move away from a mountain playground (i.e. whining about how they are taking away my rocky mountain vacation getaway). Prior to that, I had been discussing how my SI injury has kept me from running and hiking much so far this season. One of them looked at me and said “It sounds like the universe is trying to tell you to slow down and focus on other things.”

Now, initially I was like, “nah, that ain’t it”, but the more I thought about it, I wondered if perhaps the universe was trying to teach me a lesson…but not that lesson. Suddenly I could see that the universe was, in fact, very craftily teaching me a lesson in moderation:

Step 1: The universe deals me a pesky recurring injury and makes sure that it simply won’t go away, thus preventing me from getting obsessively hard-core about hiking and training.

Step 2: When I fight back with ambitious plans to correct my body through strength training and treatment, the universe is like “let’s just make this a little bit harder for you to have good trail access…let’s maybe take away your vacation home and make it harder for you to follow through with that crazy plan to hike extreme distances for eight consecutive days this summer.”

Step 3: So that it’s not just throwing crap at me, the universe also sprinkles in some really good things that result from my forced moderation.  For instance, this weekend I had a four-day hiatus from any serious workouts so that I could attend my brother’s wedding in Niagara. If I had been training seriously, I would have been tremendously anxious about how I would fit in training runs and would have lamented the total absence of elevation gain in Ontario. Instead, I was able to enjoy myself, spend time with my family, indulge in the world’s largest ice cream cone and mid-afternoon beer flights. Most of that wouldn’t have happened had I been overly fixated on training progress, or at the very least I wouldn’t have enjoyed it.

By no means am I there yet with moderation.  But I am starting to see the universe’s point of view.  When I live a slightly more moderate life, I am still able to stay active, but also devote more time to friends and family. In other words, I am able to live a more multi-dimensional life where I am not all-hiking-all-the-time. And, sometimes but certainly not all the time, I can just calm the f&*k down and relax.

I’m on to you, universe, but I’m willing to hear you out for a bit longer on this moderation thing…


RWIR #15: Enough is Enough

That title pretty much sums it up. It has been a crap week for recovery and an even worse week for training. My 0 to ultra plan has fallen to the wayside completely as I’ve tried to balance pain with progress.

Activity: Cardio + Rehab
Relevant Stats: 25 minutes cardio + 45 minutes rehab exercises
Observations: After last Friday’s epic failure and still in pain, I opted for a brief gym workout. I wanted to get my body moving to see if it improved the situation.  While it didn’t make things worse, it also did not improve matters. Yet again, I was discouraged.

Activity: Cardio + Rehab
Relevant Stats: 15 minutes cardio + 45 minutes rehab exercises
Observations: In a total and utter funk, and after hours of dress and gift shopping in a crowded mall (my own personal version of hell), all I could muster was a workout largely focused on my rehab exercises. It didn’t feel like enough, but I had no spirit and energy to bring to the table. None.

Activity: Spin
Relevant Stats: 60 minutes
Observations: This was my first decent workout in days. I worked hard, did sprints (which I hate) and broke a good sweat. Also, my SI felt ten times better afterwards. Instead of making me happy, this only got me more riled up because I don’t understand what is making it worse nor better. Inconsistencies are not my friend.

Activity: Cardio + Rehab
Relevant Stats: 30 minutes stairs + 30 minutes strength
Observations: I have a love/hate relationship with running stairs. I know it’s good for me, and sometimes I have the mindset to just power through, but it just never gets easy. This was a better day in the spectrum of hate to love and I knocked out a solid 30 in my building’s stairwell. Only one tiny apartment dog was nearly harmed in the process (don’t ask).

Activity: Spin
Relevant Stats: 60 min.
Observations: I knew this was my last chance for a decent workout before wedding weekend adventures where access to motivation and means would be limited. After my adventures on the stairs, and a day of spin, I suffered some seriously tight calves.

Activity: sitting on my ass on  a plane then in a car
Relevant Stats: travel day…sigh
Observations: We spent a day on our asses and then were reunited with great friends who treated us to a deliciously large but totally unearned steak dinner complete with ice cream cake. And wine. Holidays are the best.

Activity: walking
Relevant Stats: touristy things!!!
Observations: With a full agenda including a trip to Niagara Falls and family dinner in Niagara on the lake, ain’t nobody got time for workouts. I will have to settle on the health benefits of walking and sweating off five pounds in the humidity and heat.

I think it’s clear that progress did not occur this week, and next week will likely be the same as I’ll be focused on family time, wedding festivities, and touristy things.  And so, I give this week a firm:

going nowhere

Throwback Thursday: Sibling Edition

This weekend, I am on my way to my big brother’s wedding and it will be his 40th birthday within a couple days of the wedding. There’s much cause for celebration.  I am fortunate to have a pretty great sibling. I don’t just like him because we’re family. I like him as a person.  And so, I dedicate today’s throwback to my bro’s upcoming nuptials and foray into his fabulous 40s.

How better to celebrate my brother than to highlight some of the ways I have tortured him on hiking trails.  When I first moved to Banff, my brother was altogether too trusting and too game to join in on my hiking whims. As a result, he suffered many an unpleasant hiking experience care of his little sister, who has a sick sense of what constitutes “fun” in hiking and who (in her younger years) could not be swayed by rain, nor sleet, nor hail, nor hangover.

Top 3 Sibling Hiking Misadventures*

1.Off an airplane, onto a trail: The very first time my brother visited me in Banff, he arrived in town and I promptly suggested a short hike to take advantage of a rare cloudless day.  Little did he know that I would drag him on a 16km hike with very little in the way of stunning scenery.  I am certain a part of his soul died on the long walk out. In hindsight, I cannot imagine why I thought that my poor brother, immediately after travelling for 6 hours, and after years of not hiking, would find a 16km hike with 760 meters of elevation gain enjoyable. The only reasonable explanation is that I’m a sadist and my brother is too trusting.

hiking 005
Don’t be fooled by his apparent happiness. This is on the way up when spirits were still high and legs were still fresh.

2.Hell hath no fury like a driving wind and rain: My brother is a fair weather hiker. He is less passionate about mountain scenery and the need to walk uphill for hours on end to see it, particularly if the sun isn’t going to shine. Somehow, I managed to convince him to hike 18km to Healy Pass on a questionable weather day.  Perhaps he was lulled by the (relatively) small elevation gain (I think it’s only 500m or so). Perhaps he had given up on convincing me to do anything other than hike.  At any rate, we encountered frigid rain and wind at the Pass, exacerbated by the fact that my brother was wearing a jacket roughly the thickness of saran wrap, with none of its waterproof qualities. Let’s just say this picture captures the essence of his discontent. 

hiking 018

3.Hangovers, Hiking & Heat: A Trifecta of Hell I have no idea during which visit this hike occurred. I remember merely the heat, made worse by the absence of trees care of forest fires of years past.  I remember the never ending climbing, made worse by excessive alcohol consumption the night prior. And I remember the utter lack of payoff at the summit given the heat and dehydration we had suffered. What resulted was an incredibly long day on the trail, largely spent in silence, because sometimes siblings know that if they start talking they will both regret it.

Even I can't explain the smile. I assume it must be a dehydration-induced state of euphoria.
Even I can’t explain the smile. I assume it must be a dehydration-induced state of euphoria.

Thank you, brother, for putting up with me, and can’t wait to celebrate with you this weekend.

*I feel compelled to point out that me and my brother have had many hiking successes and good times on the trail. It’s just way more fun to recount the missteps.

Mid-Week Update: Treatment Plan of Champions

You may recall on Monday, I talked about reaching my own personal breaking point with my SI injury. If not, you should be reading my blog more often! At any rate, I’m pleased to announce we have a new and improved treatment plan in place (by we, I mean me and my cadre of health care practitioners).

As loyal (okay, maybe occasional) readers, you get a sneak peak into my shiny new plan. Can you barely contain your excitement? Here we go. Here is my plan for getting this body back in working order:

1. Bi-weekly laser therapy: For the next three weeks, I will hand over wads of my hard-earned (that part may be debatable) cash not once but twice per week in efforts to focus on aggressively reducing inflammation. I am okay with this, aside from the cost component, as it’s rather relaxing and sort of like taking a 10 minute, mid-day meditation break.

2. In tandem with laser treatments, I am moving forward with an MRI. This is for peace of mind, more than anything, as it’s likely not going to do much other than show that there is inflammation in the area. However, on the off chance that it’s some other debilitating illness or spinal issue, I am game to give it a whirl. What else do I have to drop a cool grand on, right? My only fear with an MRI is that I have some piece of unknown and errant metal in my body that will cause that part of my body to be pulled out by sheer magnetic force. I realize this is not actually what happens, but fear is rarely rational.

3. Prolotherapy: this is contingent on the MRI, of course, but assuming that all it reveals is inflammation, I’m ready to go this route. I’ve read a lot of conflicting information about the benefits of prolotherapy, but a lot of nay-sayers tend to be physicians who don’t value alternate practices or individuals who’ve had bad experiences. I can’t say I’m terribly excited about a needle in my spinal area, but it seems my best option. Also, it is incredibly cool to think that injecting an “irritant agent” into a damaged space causes a reaction that simulates ligament repair. The body’s reaction is sometimes amazing.

There you have it, easy as 1-2-3. And how often do we get to say that in life?