Monday, January 31, 2011

Midpoint of winter and healing.

Winter. Tough season in the North. Anyone who has read my blog over the years it has been around has been exposed to my regular pattern: summers are pretty great for me, staying outside a lot, fall is even better. Winter sets in and I dig the snow for a while, then come this exact time of the year I'm over it. Sort of- in a way I still like it (don't worry, I don't intend for this to be a negative post). I actually do enjoy the Northern winter for some of the very reasons I want it to end. A paradox, but it is what it is. I like that it is fierce- that produces the adventure found within it. Winter cycling and backpacking, skiing and snowshoeing, and the indoor portion- months getting strong in the climbing gym- this is all great stuff. But my body still plays the standard 98.6 degree game, finding it much easier to play in comfortable weather, and I don't blame it. And I always long for more of the West. That wont go away. This year in particular, it has been hard to get psyched for the cold. I don't need to tell the same surgery story all over, it's been posted.
But a harsh winter produces something great- a huge appreciation of your abilities within a tough climate, and an even bigger enjoyment of the warmer months when they show. And this spring will possibly be the best spring I have seen in some time, as I will be not only emerging from a northern winter that lasts the standard 5-6 months, I'll be emerging from an even longer period of physical healing, and I'm starting to see the signs of it now. Feeling anxious often means there's stored energy and new ability.
A couple entries ago, I wrote some decidedly negative words on how I've felt about my recovery- every now and then a person can't help it. Sometimes thats the fuel to pick yourself up and make the best of something. I've been to the doctor again since then, and his encouragement to me has been to ease back into higher physical exertion, which I've been waiting a long time for. I also mentioned recently I've gotten on a treadmill for the first runs since last June. After a few of them now, I can say they are going fairly well. Actually, very well for having major reconstructive surgery. Last night I managed to run (slow and easy) 3 miles, and walk another .5. I've found out that if I run wearing a pair of cycling bibs, the shoulder straps keep my pecs from bouncing (and thus hurting due to rubbing on the bar/buried nerves), and I can jog at a slow pace. I'm going to rejoin my climbing gym in about 4 weeks, where I can continue to run, and even start some top-roping (doc changed his mind about this recently- he didn't really understand before the safety involved in indoor climbing- that there is extremely little chance I'm going to take a big punch to the sternum top roping something easy, so he said it's ok- much earlier than the July I thought I'd have to wait for- we'll see how my chest takes it though- I don't intend to hurt myself). So, even as I write this, I can see more clearly that I'm actually coming along alright toward living the active life I've enjoyed so much in the past.
I think it's time to set some goals for the year. This may be difficult, as I don't know exactly how hard I'll be able to go in the coming months, but it never hurts to work toward something- even if you don't make it. Trying is better than not. The goals I have in mind so far (only so far- I'm sure my mind will get more and more excited to go bigger as I heal further) are to ride a century before the bar in my chest is removed in July, and to run my first half marathon this year. I'd like to run a full marathon, and preferably a trail marathon, but I will have to see how my body works before getting carried away too soon. Each month will involve a little more activity, and we'll see how far I can go.
There is a decent chunk of this winter left, but it can be enjoyed with the right appreciation. And it's going to build a great spring. It may not be a record-setter of a year, but I intend to make it the best I can.

Feeling the excitement of winter breaking, last year in Yosemite, running in FiveFingers (60 degrees in the Valley):

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A few quicker steps...

Last weeks blog entry I shared that I've felt pretty down about my fitness level this far after surgery. Tonight helped to feel a bit better. It was a small step, just like when I blogged a couple months ago about returning to my indoor cycle trainer after only walking for exercise. Tonight I was able to run a mile on my in-laws treadmill. My chest was uncomfortable, but it held up fine and overall the run was great. It was a huge contrast from the last time I ran, which was a 9 mile trail run in Yosemite Valley two weeks before my surgery in July. But to go 1 mile after such a big surgery is great. There's got to be a starting point for each activity, and this was better than I've been expecting for a return to running. We'll see how I feel tomorrow, but I'm happy that it went well.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Here I am again...

Time to say something, I suppose. I’ve been neglecting to write for the past couple months, for a few reasons. I didn’t really plan the hiatus from blogging, but as anyone who writes knows, you just have those times were the motivation isn’t there.

There has been plenty to talk about, but not the usual material I post, as I’m still recovering from my big irritating surgery six months ago. I imagine the motivation to post will strengthen along with the number of days I get to spend playing outdoors since that’s what I usually write about.

As far as how I’ve been spending all this time; it’s been pretty varied. I guess I have to back up a couple months to catch up and hit the highlights.

November held a good event for me to live vicariously through the outdoor-strong crowd, with a chance to attend the Midwest Mountaineering Outdoor Adventure Expo, which included the Banff Mountain Film Festival, and a clinic put on by Dean Potter. I got a chance to take in countless accounts of outdoor epics, and had a very quick talk with Dean himself.

The same weekend, Alison and I headed down to Texas to visit with family. We have a new niece, Ellie Dakota, and it was great to see everyone. I’m still getting used to the “uncle” thing. We almost didn’t make it down, as the Cities had their first winter weather smack in the face- freezing rain that caused countless accidents. You can see how nice our roads were in St. Paul- this is my name scratched into the glare ice we drove over to get to the airport:

Other family trips happened as well, some good, some not. After Thanksgiving, the family lost my uncle Skip. He had a long battle with a beat up heart, and passed away at the family farm with my parents along side him. The funeral in Minot, ND was small- many couldn’t make it as we had our biggest blizzard in around 20 years here in the Cities, and flight/trains/cars/whatever you tried was delayed or cancelled. I just managed to squeak in on a Skywest flight the morning after the storm and made it to the funeral on time. It was a nice memorial; more of a collection of good/humorous memories than a traditional service, which is what we think he’d have wanted. It was also a good chance for our family to get together from around the country again. Here's a shot of me with cousins I don't get to see very often; Mira, from NY, and Andrew from CA (great to see you guys!):

Alison and I made it up to Minot again after the funeral weekend, and spent time with everyone there for the holidays. It was great to see everyone, including my grandma, who is in a home in Mohall, ND with dementia, and my grandpa, who lives in Westhope, ND. It’s a little harder to coordinate visits to see them often, and we always appreciate the chances we get.

We also had the chance to spend time with relatives here in the Cities over Christmas weekend. Here is Alison's grandma with all of us grandkids:

As for surgery updates, and getting in shape again:

I can’t sugar coat it; I’ve been feeling a major low point in my fitness level in this whole process, and it’s hard to deal with. I’m sure that’s had something to do with my silence on this blog. Before surgery, I was climbing pretty strong for a Midwesterner, cycling big miles and solo tours, backpacking strong, and progressing well into being a minimalist shoe runner, tackling my first couple “longer” (for me) trail runs in Yosemite Valley. I feel like I’m so far away from being there again after I chose to have my procedure. Thinking objectively, I knew ahead of time that I’d have a bad year, which I could expect to then see improvement afterward- hopefully progressing beyond my pre-surgery abilities. So I know this is part of it all. But saying that is one thing when decided to have a big surgery. Actually living through that terrible year is something else completely. It’s a lot of time for negativity and doubts to get in your head, while you are feeling weak, but accustomed to being strong. I may change my mind in the future, but I’m not yet very happy with the results of having this surgery. I guess it’s because I haven’t yet had a chance to see whether or not I will see an improvement in heart function. Cosmetically, there has been some improvement from pre-surgery days, but I’m not all that excited about it. At this stage of still-low exercise/fitness, that’s all I’m able to judge. I again have a large depression in my chest. It’s definitely not flat or “normal” looking, whatever normal is. I don’t know if this is because of my chest sinking in a bit again, or if it more an issue of severe muscle atrophy after months of non-use. Seems to me it is a combination, as my doctor has alluded to either case, giving different answers to the same questions over time, which is very frustrating. It would help to feel good about the procedure if I wasn’t so concerned that I will just end up watching my chest regress back to where it started, which does happen to some people. All I can do is wait and see what happens, and try not to let it drive me crazy in the process.

I have been getting out on snowshoes and riding my cycle trainer when I can to try to further limit my loss of fitness and keep myself sane. There have been some good walks as this year has seen record snow here. La NiƱa is what they’re saying.

Not a ton of snow yet in this shot. Walking Afton State Park, early winter:

Walking Fort Snelling State Park, Christmas morning:

Night of the big blizzard, outside my apartment in St. Paul:
Post-holing down Summit Ave in Saint Paul??

I may try to start running a very small amount if I can get access to a treadmill again soon. I’ve gained a light case of “man-boobs” while getting out of shape, so that on top of healing pectorals and a bar in my chest riding on nerves might not make for tolerable running, even if it’s light. We’ll see.

Something that’s helped me in all my healing woes is reading/watching stories of other outdoor folks who’ve overcome after injury, even paralysis. I bought a Nook, from Barnes and Noble recently, and read climber Steph Davis’s book, High Infatuation. In one chapter, she wrote about her friend who became paralyzed below her upper abdominals in a climbing accident, but who just a year and a half later went on to climb El Cap in Yosemite by basically doing four thousand pull ups. Awesome. Perhaps I’m just a colossal whiner for feeling down about my own chest issues. It could be way worse, and people overcome a lot more.

I intend not to fall off my blog for another two months, I appreciate your continued reading. I hope to have good news of getting stronger and feeling better, and I hope to continue spending my time recovering alongside great family.