Obstacles – Lights, Elevation, Sleep Deprivation

This past weekend was a “rest” weekend for me, so I thought a nice easy hike with a friend sounded great. Not wanting to subject myself to a super long car ride, but wanting to escape the hot weather, we headed up the Devils Thumb Trail from the Hessie Trailhead. The spring snow melt is in full swing, and this meant water…everywhere…flowing across the trail, or down the trail. Under normal circumstances, this would only mean one should wear waterproof boots, or expect to have wet feet. Knowing this would be the case, I even told my friend to expect wet feet. What I didn’t think about was all of the balancing over water crossings, or the loud rush of the creek, or the constant movement as water trickled down the trail with sunlight glinting off of it, all of which added up to me feeling terrible.  I finally told my friend I didn’t think I could go any further, and then I realized I still had to hike back down. It was rough, and we had to stop a few times. We also did have to back track a bit to avoid an angry moose that was charging hikers, but luckily she didn’t take her wrath out on us. Maybe I looked bad enough that she figured I wasn’t a threat. Anyway, it wasn’t until the afternoon of the following day that I started to feel okay again. The good news is that Run Rabbit Run (RRR) 100 isn’t until September, and snow melt will long since be over. But it does make me rethink my training plans, and I guess I’ll be trying to avoid water.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had some other pretty big reality checks. I’ve known all along that these would be issues, but I really just thought over time I would be getting so much better that they would become less of a concern. After all, the race is a year after my crash, and that surely would be plenty of time. However, as we are now at the 3 month countdown, I’ve realized that if I don’t take steps to prepare for these, my 100 miles will not happen. What are these major obstacles you ask? Is it the 100+ miles? No. Is it the 20,000 feet of vertical gain? No. Is it the steep 6 mile descent at the very end of the race? Okay, I didn’t enjoy that part of the course when I did RRR 50 a couple of years back, and I’m not looking forward to that after an extra 50 miles, but still, that isn’t it. My three major concerns are the lights, elevation, and sleep deprivation, OH MY!

My vision remains an ongoing source of trouble. My eyes are slow to adapt to changes in light, and have trouble watching things move. So I shouldn’t have been shocked when I tested out my coach’s fancy Ultraspire waist light and it went poorly. This thing is awesome though, and by having the light source lower, it helps create more contrast and shadows than you get from a headlamp. It let’s you see more detail in the terrain. The problem is that when I went out to walk through the neighborhood at night just to see how my brain would handle the bouncing light in the dark, I only lasted three minutes before the nausea  and disorientation set in. Yes that is right, THREE MINUTES. How in the world am I going to run in the dark overnight? That will be 9 hours of a bouncing light!  My physical therapist, Mary, is helping me with strategies to tolerate the moving light of the waist lamp or head lamp, and I’m trying to stay positive that I can increase my tolerance of the light.

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The start of the Run Rabbit Run 50, September 2014

The second thing that came up was a physician friend telling me I should be careful with exercise at altitude. Unlike the light issue, I hadn’t even thought of this one. My next race, Sheep Mountain 50 miler, goes up to ~12,500’. As I’ve previously done most of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks, I hadn’t given this altitude a second thought.  I’m not as concerned with my 100 miler, as that tops out about 2,000’ lower at around 10,500’. Since I can’t do much reading, I contacted friends and asked them to find research (not just random internet information, but actual research). It turns out that there are no studies on the effect of altitude on ultrarunners with traumatic brain injury, shocking I know! The research that exists talks more about the effects of altitude on acute brain injury, meaning in the period immediately following the injury. There is actually very little information out there on what happens months after the injury, and I was getting nervous I could cause further damage. On Monday I had a recheck with my neurotrauma rehabilitation doctor, and she gave me the all clear to work up in altitude. She warned that I should pay attention to how I feel, because I might be more susceptible to altitude sickness, but she said that I wont cause further damage.

summit of Pyramid
Summit of Pyramid Peak, elevation 14,018′ – September 2009

The third major concern is the sleep deprivation. I already know that I feel much better when I get sleep, but who doesn’t? More than just feeling exhausted though, my brain function markedly decreases and my symptoms become much worse. I’ve entered another period of insomnia this week, and I’ve been feeling pretty rough. Lucky for me, I wrote most of this post last week, so I didn’t have to spend too much time working on it. All this insomnia is great 100 miler training, right? Joking aside, I definitely wonder if I will be able to run through the night without sleeping. The race will take me 30+ hours, and that is a long time for anyone to be awake. I think it will depend on how much sleep I get leading up to the race. If I have a bout of insomnia leading up the race, that will greatly decrease my chance of success.

Even with these obstacles I am not giving up.  I still have 3 months to work on the lights, and another month to prepare myself for the high elevation of Sheep Mountain 50. There isn’t a whole lot I can do about the sleep deprivation. Training to prepare for that will not help my brain. The only thing I can do for myself is get as much sleep as possible before the race, and hope for the best.  If it was all easy, I wouldn’t need to make it a goal. Onward and upward, but first it is time for my nap.

2 thoughts on “Obstacles – Lights, Elevation, Sleep Deprivation

  1. I truly feel your training is helping you heel. You are encountering obstacles that you may not have figured out if you were sitting back and because of that you are figuring out ways to get better and conquer them. Hugs!

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