Monday, June 15, 2015

Hit the RESET button

Flint + Feather lookout with the Vertical Walk Club - Photo by Hilary

"Researchers say that Over Training Syndrome (OTS) can mimic a host of diseases, including leukemia. But the most common symptom described by athletes is simply an ineffable, confounding lack of ability.” Running on Empty, Outside Online Magazine

I crossed out the dates of how many training days I’d missed in the calendar. There I was, weeks of enduring this blinding pain, numbness in my extremities so severe that I couldn’t use my limps … and then half of my face and tongue became temporarily paralyzed.

Waiting for a diagnostic was the worst part. And the medical explanation was that I had essentially crashed my lymphatic circulatory system (lymph nodes the size of lemons), thus derailing the immune function which fired-up a host of ‘F__ YOU’ signals in my body … shouting “stop what you’re doing, stop RIGHT NOW you’re finished”.

Looking back now, in the nineties I was serious about cycling. I performed well in training and showed promise early on in the Canadian cross-country series circuits. Juggling a full-time career and pushing hard to maintain my elite category license was a challenge. It did catch-up to me. It started with mono, then a series of respiratory infections. Docs said “anything is possible: virus, autoimmune, transient injury.” Eventually, I took a year off of racing.

In the beginning ...

The silent plague

Once I returned to racing, I soon found myself on the operating table. I had trained through a bladder infection, which led to kidney failure … all because I didn’t want to stop and pee during a 190K training ride. I quit cycling after that, primarily to go back to school, yet the urge to compete still gnawed at me.

“… true overtraining syndrome is triggered by a combination of psychological and physical stress … a severe shock to the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the body’s inflammatory pathways.”  – Running on Empty, Outside Online Magazine

When asked if I had overtrained, my immediate response was “no”.  Honestly, it didn’t feel like I was excessively run-down at the time. I have endured far more taxing loads in the past, plus the doctors had assured me this was random.

It’s been 21 weeks since symptoms first flared up (see blog post). The moment that I had a draft diagnostic though, my action plan was promptly laid-out. It worked. I have made progress toward a recovery. Now the trick will be to address the cause or triggers, to reframe my approach and change ingrained patterns. For example, where before I would push through fatigue (i.e.: "just accomplish one more thing") or through pain (i.e.: "awe, it’s nothing I can still run on it"), now I slow down and weigh my actions. 

"Before 2011, I was so stubbornly focused on just running,” Krupicka says, “but recently my body hasn't been able to weather that kind of abuse anymore, so I’ve learned to find satisfaction and inspiration in other activities. Running used to be my main motivation and goal. Now, the landscape and the experience—the mountains—are my primary motivators." - Trail Runner Mag

Getting back into things, slowly: Flint + Feather Vertical Walk Club,
candies at Tuesday Walk Club,
and the view from the Evac Trail in Squamish

What helped

Some find it helpful to altogether get away from the ultra scene and look for other outlets to identify with. Myself, I preferred to stay involved and accept the support of our community. I volunteered and crewed, and started a shame-free Walk Club. 

Movement, motor-control, mobility
The human system has an amazing capacity to heal itself. I addressed some fundamental mechanical issues such as eliminating prolonged sitting and realigning a faulty posture. I worked through my circulation issues by staying mobile such as frequent moderate walking, rigorous stretching and ‘MOBing’. I joined Dave Melanson’s stretch class* which sparked the first signs of healing. 

Sleep, nutrition and other delights
I was laid-off from my employment at the onset of this illness. It compounded my stressors and was demoralizing, however came with a silver lining. It gave me time to sleep, rest, slow-down. I put more effort in the kitchen and in marvelling at simple moments.

True, deep down I ignored growing pressures in my life by glossing over a series of detrimental setbacks, outside of running. I was in denial, naively calling it optimism. So what. I can accept I may never fully return to being the athlete I was, though I do aspire to be a more adaptable human.

Bad experiences are an interpretation or an invention of the mind. A breakdown is neither good nor bad. It is simply an interruption in something we are committed to. The value of the breakdown is determined by how we choose to respond to it. Malandro Consulting Group 

The trail family giving-up their training time to walk with me.
Shown: Pascal on F+F lookout. Dave on Evac lookout.
I'm taking a breather on Mt Brunswick, first time up there - photo by Jackie

*Stretch Class: targeted to endurance athletes, to address mechanical and circulatory dysfunctions and to promote better alignment and general mobility. The class has limited space and is by appointment only. For more info or a consultation, contact Dave directly:

See more recent photos on my Instagram.

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