Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I Believed I Could Fly

Wherein I cleverly disguise a discussion on Newton’s Laws of Gravity as a race report.

Like a lot of kids, I had this idea growing up that somewhere within me was this hidden superpower and that, if I believed enough, I could make it become a reality.  I was sure I was one Professor Xavier mentor away from coaxing it out of me.  As a young boy, I wanted to fly.  I wanted to soar amongst the clouds with my pillow case cape.  As a teen, I reverted to my base desires and hoped to make myself invisible so that I could foil a bank robbery or, um, say, walk in to the girls’ changing rooms unnoticed.   As a young man, I simply wanted the power to overcome Jagermeister with my impenetrable steel liver.

And now I’m back to flying again…mainly because I can’t stand small children kicking the back of my seat during a flight.  Rob all the banks you want but Nitmos is going Detroit to New York non-stop in one single, childless bound.  R. Kelly, he of questionable judgment, general douchebaggery, and toilet training issues, was right about one thing: I believed I could fly.  I believed I could touch the sky.  Isaac Newton and his apple had other ideas but there was only one way to settle this scientific debate:  an experiment of one.

The Dances with Dirt 100k trail relay race is a much anticipated race around these parts.  I ran it last year and told you about it here.  It’s a hilly, off-road, wet, difficult race filled with fun, falling, beer, mud, poison ivy and, usually, a few swollen ankles.  Appropriately, it takes place in Hell, Michigan.  We had a five man team ready to cover the 15 legs of the course.  I was blessed with one river crossing (i.e. the perfect opportunity to test the theories of gravity.)

My money – the smart money, in this case – was on R. Kelly.  He believed he could fly.  I believed I could fly!  My Asics would not absorb a drop of non-sweat liquid, this I vowed. 

My river crossing was set for my third and final leg.  I figured I would launch myself into the air and fly away all the way home as a spectacular way to end the long day.  But a funny thing happened at the end of leg two.  They redesigned the course slightly and, oh, no, a surprise river!  Unprepared, I plopped into the water like a common bipodal Metropolisite and trudged across.  Asics soaked.  Not very heroic.

And there was no time to change shoes as my final leg came after a brief twenty minute wait.  So, off I ran into leg 3 with heavy, squishy shoes through the weeds, onto a two track, up a hill and nearly bisecting myself on a barely visible waist-high wire fence marked with a single barely noticeable ribbon.  The wire gave enough at the waist to allow me time to stop, back up a step and duck under to continue towards my date with destiny. 

The river approached; I could see it after leaping through the mud bog from one of the higher elevation grassy patches to the next.  R.Kelly vs. Issac Newton:  Game on.

Down the embankment with a few cautious steps ready to leap and jet away into the sky…

I believe I can fly; I believe I can touch the sky!

Off I go, gleeful, majestic, the fulfillment of a childhood dream!  Soon, all of our scientific notions about gravity would have to be thrown out and reexamined!  Nitmos, the non-fiction embodiment of Superman, takes flight!

Seriously, have you ever seen a take-off with such impeccable form?

It’s going great!  I’m flying!  Look at the joy.  I'm mesmerized by the shimmering mirror image of myself in the river water. I’ve broken free of Newton…of the laws of Gravity…confirming soon-to-be-Nobel-winner R. Kelly’s theory! 


Prepare for impact.

Les Brown is attributed the following quote: “Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you’ll still be amongst the stars.”   I’d like to modify that a bit.  From my experience, “shoot for the moon and, when you miss, you’ll be amongst squalid, cow dung, fecally-infested river sludge with a better than 50% chance of just having acquired dysentery.”  True, not as inspirational or bumper-sticker concise but definitely more accurate.

I don’t know what went wrong.  Maybe I didn’t believe enough.  Maybe Newton is right.  Maybe Les Brown and R. Kelly are full of shit.

Either way, I believed I could fly…and I ended up with a mouthful of cow shit flavored river water.  Don't follow your dreams, kids, you might end up with cholera.

Maybe next year I’ll forget all of this flying nonsense and just drink more Jagermeister (aka Steel Liver!).

Happy trails.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (see sidebar) already knew this.  Lucky you!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

When Will Marathons Come in Bite-Size Portions?

Another in my continuing series of race-improvement ideas.  See here for the previous installment.

The kids were off at school and I was rifling through my daughter’s Halloween candy bag, as I normally do, when another epiphany (ed: that’s not the giant drums, right?) came to me by the reflective glow of a Peppermint Patty foil.  My fingers slowly raked through the tumbling bite-size candy portions like an Asian masseuse through unkempt pubes.  So many “bite-size” portions…so evenly divided to save my teeth the trouble of separating a piece from the main body of candy…offering both a fun and healthier alternative to the “full-size” bar.

My maths aren’t no good but I believe it means:

Bite-size = Fun! = Healthier = BETTER

And here’s where the timpani comes in: Marathons should be offered in bite-size portions!

Let me explain since you come here for sciencey stuff.  Each bite-size Snickers is advertised as more FUN than a regular size Snickers.  It’s also marketed as healthier since, of course, portion control.  And since I would rather die than question an expensive marketing campaign geared towards misdirection and positive trigger words, bite-size is truly infallible compared to full-size.  (By the way, YES you may insert a “that’s what she said” at any point in this paragraph or the remaining text, reader choice, and it would be completely appropriate.) 

For example, without going over the maths, I believe one full-size Snickers equals roughly 29 bite-size Snickers calorie-wise, fat-wise.  Who’s going to eat 29 bite-size Snickers in one sitting?  Sure, throughout the day it wouldn’t be unusual to pound down four or five dozen but in one sitting?  Ridiculous.  And each and every portion involves a fairly rigorous and complicated set of finger maneuvers to open the little package in order to extract the chocolate shame pie.  You probably burn as many calories as you ingest simply by walking by the candy bowl, debating with yourself if you should have another, passing on after a mournful pat of the belly, and returning a minute later only to shift through the candy orgy in search of a prize, unwrap, chew, chew, chew, swallow.  That’s a lot of work and a lot of calories burned!  It almost makes more health sense to DO this several times a day than NOT to do it.  At the very least, it makes more sense than eating ONE regular size candy bar in one sitting.  No fat-burning candy bowl drive-bys.  No mentally exhausting debates filled with lust, anger, shame and, finally, sadness. Is this an approved diet plan/fitness technique?  It should be on an infomercial somewhere.  (PsnickersX?!)

So, how does this relate to marathons?  Well, let’s face it, running 26.2 miles is hard.  That’s a regular-size marathon.  If we learned anything from my maths and sciencish discussion in the preceding paragraphs, it’s that regular-size is bad and bite-size is good.  And this would be a good time to insert a 'that’s what she said'.  The math adds up.  You can basically eat as much as you want in bite-size portions without the harmful effects of a full-size portion. 

When I run a marathon, I usually start out strong, controlled, and confident but somewhere around 20 miles in my pace slows a bit, breathing becomes labored and, mentally, it can be a struggle.  I exhibit none of those signs after completing my third dozen of bite-size Snickers.  I’m just as ravenous, confident, and energetic as the preceding 35!  In an all-out effort, I can probably run a mile in around 5:10 (if I haven’t had three dozen bite-size Snickers that morning).  That would put me near the front of any marathon if not outright winning it.  But that’s only for a mile.  I couldn’t keep that pace for any more than one mile.  There’s something about a "regular-size" marathon that zaps my energy.

I’d like to split my marathon into 26 fun-size bites.  Over a few weeks, I could put together a pretty respectable marathon time.  One that just might have certain long-legged Kenyans quivering in their unflattering side-split running shorts.  Suddenly, in bite-size portions, I ‘m not just one of the (admittedly rugged-jawed, genetically “put together”) rabble trailing the leaders;  I’m a bite-size champion! (t.w.s.s.)

And that’s maths we can all get behind!  Race directors, take note!

Happy trails.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

It (Don't) Gotta Be the Shoes

Remember those early 90’s Nike commercials featuring everyone’s favorite anti-Bad Boy, Michael Jordan, and Spike Lee (aka Mars Blackmon) ruminating on the secret to MJ’s success? 

“It’s gotta be the shoes!  It’s gotta be the shoes!”

No, it WAS the friendliest ref’s whistle known to man but that’s neither here nor there.   I did a lot of b-ballin’ back in those years and, although I avoided Nike like any good Pistons fan – and human being, in general - would, I admit to being overly selective about my choice of footwear.  Maybe it really was all about the shoes?  Why take the chance?  I mean, if a celebrity, barely disguised and using a pseudonym, tells me to do something, I normally do it no questions asked.  That’s always been my policy.  Even if I feel uncomfortable doing what Carlos Danger has asked me to do with that rolling pin.

This shoe-fixation has carried on into running.  When I first started as a naïve, newbie runner, I wore Adidas Response (I know, right?)  Never mind that I was a bit portly around the midsection and could barely maintain a solid half mile of non-stop running, it had to be the shoes.  Certainly wasn’t ME.  Nope.

So, off to the specialized running store I went for the expert advice.  And so they recommended the Asics GT line.  Woooo, I thought I was personally fit with a shoe just for my stride and body type!  Little did I know that everyone was running in this, the #1 selling brand.  Turns out, that was more like going into Hot Topic, telling them that I have no innate musical discernment and unsure of my sexuality, and happily walking out with a One Direction CD. 

It’s been Asics GT-whatever’s for years now.  And they’ve been good shoes.  I have moonlighted with different brands from time-to-time and, you know what, they’ve all been varying degrees of “good shoes” too.  For years, I thought I HAD to run in Asics GT-whatevers or I just couldn’t do my best.  Maybe it’s a product of getting older, not liking unexpected things on my lawn, and no longer feeling the tug of misplaced loyalty and trusting fealty. 

I recently ran the Dances with Dirt in an old pair of Mizuno’s and I barely noticed any difference in comfort or support.   My current pair of Asics have long since expired their Run By date.  There’s almost no padding left.  I feel almost like a barefoot runner except minus the desperate need for attention and faux enjoyment.  I was going to ditch the shoes but my inner cheapskate won out.*

I remembered that several months ago some trusting company had sent me a free pair of Ortholite inserts to try out and review on my blog.  (Yeah, how’d that work out for you?)  Well, I inserted them into my dead Asics last night.  They went in smoothly like a lubed up rolling pin.  After a nice tempo six miler, I felt like I was running in brand new shoes.  Nice and bouncy and comfortable like a less methy Tigger.  I don’t need new shoes now!  Maybe I don’t need new shoes ever?

Turns out, it’s gotta be the inserts!**  It’s gotta be the Ortholites!

I always new Mars Blackmon was full of shit.

Happy trails.

(Were you just Ovaltined?  I think you were Ovaltined.)

*If you knew what we spent annually on soccer in this house, you’d guffaw.  Loudly.
**Take it easy, Carlos.

In the last two months, I’ve completed two races.  Will I ever post a race report or photos?  Will I ever post again?  One can never tell…

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Running from Rheumatoid Arthritis

I thought I’d take this occasion to post about something that someone somewhere might actually get some use from during a Google search.  According to my history, most searchers usually arrive here through an unsavory combination of search words like “anal” and “leakage” and “Charlie Sheen”.  There is benefit to knowing about all three of those things but perhaps this post will delve into a slightly less off-putting topic.

I am a runner.  I’ve also been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).  So far, I haven’t been diagnosed with Handsomitis, Charmingectomy, or Modest Egoism.  In fact, unless your computer screen is 30 inches wide (and widescreen), you probably can’t keep my ego within frame.  Buy a larger monitor to view the whole thing.

The nice thing about the internet – and a blog – is that it doesn’t forget.  That’s also the worst thing.  But, in this case, we can all look back at the innocent little post I did, pre-diagnosis, where I complain about stiff joints and feeling old.*  Hey, whaddya know, I had RA and didn’t know it at the time!  How sweet and naïve.

Here’s the thing about RA for those not in the know: it’s an autoimmune disease; it’s incurable and, usually, progressively gets worse; it’s not as dire as some cancers but more ominous than, say, Handsomitis.**  For me, it started with sore, swollen joints on the outside of my feet every morning, then hips (which made it a bit difficult to sleep), then neck, finally, ending in the hands.  By the time it reached the hands, the foot, hip, and neck pain had mainly gone away, thankfully.  It took up permanent residence in the middle two fingers of both hands.  At the time, I thought this was just some sort of karmic retribution for all the flipping off I’d done (and was yet to do).  But, joke was on RA, as it only served to make my middle finger knuckles slightly larger and thus more visible from a greater distance.  Duh, winning! (We are still doing this right? It’s been awhile since I’ve posted.)

The long term outlook can be anywhere from nuisance joint pain to complete joint failure/replacement/immobility/beep-beep-beep motorized cart.  In some cases, it can progress into the lungs and heart wall lining and, well, not good.

The first symptoms appeared in December 2009.  After several months of believing the swelling was due to running or soccer or weight lifting soreness, etc., Mrs. Nitmos finally convinced me to head into the doctor’s office early summer 2010.***  Ultimately diagnosed with RA – which I told you all about here – I ended up on two medications.  First, a weekly eight pill regimen of methotrexate, which can best be described as tasting like Sweet-Tarts – if Sweet-Tarts tasted like death.  Methotrexate is RA's gateway drug.  Second, twice monthly, I would give myself an injection of Humira (I’m sure you’ve seen the non-stop ads on TV) into the upper thigh.  Combined, the two medications cost the insurance company a princely sum of around $2000 monthly.  Fortunately, I only paid around $100 monthly due to my decent work health insurance but I’ve always wondered how anyone without insurance (or with poor insurance coverage) manages.

And, believe me, I have my own insurance company horror stories as they tried frantically to force me onto other, cheaper medications so their bottom line would look better.  For profit insurance, hooray!  Several HOURS spent on the phone tussling with these soulless profiteers…but that’s a story for another blog…

Methotrexate is a baseline drug almost all RA patients take.   Then, you end up with a second drug and that could be Humira or Enbrel or Trexall or dozens of others.  If one doesn’t work, you go on to the other.  Fortunately, my doctor was always optimistic and confident that there is a drug out there that matches a person. For me, the first try was successful.  Humira (along with meth, as I lovingly called it) worked right off.  Within a few weeks, my symptoms were under control.  Within a few months, my joint pain had vanished.

And since this is a running blog, I should note that I never stopped running.  Again, my doctor is the best.  He totally contradicted the layperson’s advice (which I heard, repeatedly) that I should stop running “because you’ll just damage your joints further”.  As he said, the worst thing an RA patient can do is STOP exercising.  This, in fact, IS what many RA patients do which only serves to accelerate an AUTO-IMMUNE disease that, already, is compromising your ability to fight it.  The best defense, he said, is to take your medication, eat healthy, don’t gain a lot of weight (which many do as they stop moving and become immobile thus creating even MORE stress on the joints), and keep exercising.  The qualifier here, of course, is that if it hurts don’t do it.  Find a different exercise.  Fortunately, the pain in my feet went away. So, I kept running.  I kept fit.  In fact, outside of pill-popping and drug-injecting, this guy here felt completely normal or, at least, like a typical Wall Street trader hiding a secret meth addiction.

Early on, there were times where a run would totally wipe me out for the rest of the day.  There was some guilt too because the kids would want to kick a soccer ball around in the yard and, man, I was just beat and had to decline – something I normally never do.  But the thought to stop running never even occurred to me.  In fact, I considered it a key part of fighting RA.  Physically, I wasn’t 100% sure it was the right thing to do but MENTALLY it was exactly what I needed.

Drug-taking began in August 2010.  With no symptoms recurring, the doctor agreed to let me wean off the drugs starting August 2012.  First, we stepped down off the Death-Tarts.  By the time I was sitting in a New York City hotel room not running the 2012 NYC Marathon, I was off meth.  In February this year, I stopped the Humira injections (just in time before my insurance company decided to start charging me an exorbitant sum for it because THEY don’t have a deal with this manufacturer but DO have a deal with another drug manufacturer and were forcing me to an unknown medication….again, a story for another blog…)

It’s been 9 months and, so far, so good.  No joint pain.  No swelling.  As of now, I’m one of the lucky ones as my doctor tells me less than 5% of patients can go off medications.  Usually, pill-popping, injecting is a life-long thing.  He thinks it was due to my young(ish) age, being fit, and catching the disease EARLY – hitting it hard with heavy medication (which, again, the insurance company could not understand, you know,” costly”…but that’s a story for another blog…) - before the body adjusted to having it around.

There’s always the chance that the symptoms may recur at any time.  But, for now, there is only one conclusion you should all take from this somewhat somber tale:  I beat an incurable disease!  I healed myself!  Yeah, that’s right, Nitmos is just THAT awesome.

Adjust your monitor for continued viewing.

Happy trails.

*Also, note one of the commenters cleverly advising me to have it checked out in a follow-up post I did complaining about knuckle pain in March 2010.
**Not to be confused with Hansonitis that we all had a case of in the 90’s, Mmmm-kay?
***If you experience similar symptoms, the thing any RA doc will tell you is that the quicker you can get treatment the better.  RA can be stopped in its tracks with modern medicine before joint damage takes place but you must ACT within the first 6-8 months from the onset of symptoms.