Sunday, April 16, 2017

Fighting Big Flat: 2017 D.C. Randonneurs Frederick 300k ride report

The Frederick 300k (188 miles) is an institution on the D.C. Randonneurs' rotation, having first been ridden back around the turn of the century, near as I can tell.  It was my very first 300k back in 2012, and I vividly remember fighting 95-degree heat throughout the afternoon and wafting in on fumes in just under 14 hours.  Back then I was definitely of the mindset that a 300k might as well be a ride across Siberia -- I was posting periodic Facebook updates to let people know I was still alive, and my bike was weighed down with about 15 pounds of energy bars, most of which went uneaten.  It took me a couple of years to realize that, as rides get longer, the only thing that really changes is clothing. 

Another thing I remember about that ride is having my first encounter with a climb called "Big Flat." The first word is accurate; the second, less so.  But I'd only had the one crack at it, and I wanted a second.

One great thing about the D.C. region is that, depending on which way you go, the character of the rides changes fundamentally.  Head east toward the shore, and you'll never find anything flatter, with windswept beaches and wildlife preserves.  To the southwest is Virginia, where nothing is flat -- there are more rollers than a Broadway production of Hairspray.  To the west are mountains of varying degrees of seriousness.  Finally, to the northwest and north, in Maryland, there's a little bit of everything, and that's what this ride had to offer -- three solid climbs broken up with some Amish country and cornfields.

The goal was straightforward: finish under 12 hours, and thus complete the third of four requirements for R60 qualification.  To do that, I'd need to shave nearly two hours off of my 2012 attempt, when Max and I finished in 13:56.  Egads!  Fortunately, the weather called for a perfect range of 50 degrees at the start to 78 mid-day, so if it was going to happen, today was the day.  

Ride start, pretty in pink!  Photo credit: Ed F.
Of course, I'm a moron -- that's the first rule.  When faced with a ride more than an hour from home starting at 5:00 a.m., many sane people stay at a local hotel at the start/finish and make sure to get to bed early.  My version of this was going to a nice dinner with Amy in D.C. on Friday evening, then to after-dinner cocktails, and then to after-cocktails dessert with another cocktail, such that I got to sleep at about 12:30 after drinking all evening and woke up a little more than 2 hours later for a 190-mile ride.  Part of the story is that I'm stubbornly short-sighted, but the slightly longer version is that I recognize doing these rides knocks out a big chunk of the weekend that I'd otherwise be available to socialize.  I'm exhausted and useless when I get home, so it seems unfair to block off Friday night as well as Saturday and Saturday night -- cycling's not the only thing in life.  Of course, there's a healthy dollop of self-loathing when that alarm goes off in the middle of the night, and I'm not getting any younger.  I'm sure I'm sacrificing some performance with this tragic habit, but I like to think it adds a "degree of difficulty" score, like Olympic diving.  

Also, there's something vaguely weird about getting in an elevator at 3:00 a.m., fully bedecked in spandex, and nearly running headlong into someone smelling of booze who's getting home after an evening of revelry.  Worlds colliding.

The ride itself began at the Days Inn in Frederick, MD, as made famous by absolutely nothing.  On the plus side, it has a Waffle House attached to it.  We rolled out parade-style through the deserted streets of Frederick, which is always enjoyable in one of those "different ways of seeing the same thing" ways that cycling sometimes presents.  It's certainly better than returning through the same streets on Saturday evening, a pleasure we'd have later.  

I was the only rider with a time-based agenda, so I began to press the pace after an hour or so, when we reached the beautiful 5-mile climb up Foxville-Deerfield in the Catoctin Mountain Park.  It's one of the best climbs in the mid-Atlantic: peaceful, great pavement, a gradual slope through the forest, and a river rushing along next to you.  Soon after beginning the ascent, I found myself alone with Eric Willams, one of the stronger riders in the group, and someone who rides probably twice the miles that I do.  He climbs like a goat, and the two of us made great time to the summit -- I climbed it in 21:41, compared to my 29:07 in 2012.  A promising start!

More promising for me than Eric, though.  The poor guy had decided that, despite a ride start temperature in the high 40s, he'd head out with a short-sleeve jersey and no gloves.  A descent that was wonderful for me probably brought him no end of misery.  Oh well -- as he said, he knows better.  This is pretty much the first time I can remember on a bicycle when I wasn't the cautionary tale.

As the two of us plowed north toward Pennsylvania, Eric realized that cycling could be enjoyable rather than an exercise in self-flagellation, and accordingly drifted off the back, where he eventually joined up with a chase group of riders who had a thoroughly reasonable day.  I pressed on, trying my best to make it home in time for a wine tasting that Amy was hosting at our place that evening.

Next up was the featured attraction: Big Flat.  Below is the elevation profile for this ride: pick out the least flat part of it, and you've found it.  To be helpful, I've highlighted it.

It's not the toughest climb out there, but it's solid work, climbing about 1300 feet over nearly 7 miles. In 2012, I'd trudged my way up it in 46:35, but I guess I've gotten stronger: this year it was 34:42, good for 8th overall on Strava.  (I'm sure I'll be getting that pro contract any day now.)  It was a tough effort, but I consoled myself with the notion that it was almost literally all downhill from the summit.

I'll say this: the Michaux State Forest was a gorgeous place in full bloom, with bursts of whites, purples, reds, and yellows speckling the dark green backdrop.  Probably the perfect place to film an ad for Claritin, actually.

After the epic, swooping 9-mile descent into Shippensburg, PA, the mountains receded and Amish country beckoned.  Buggies, farmland, and sketchy roads unfolds for dozens of miles on end, and the sun came out to teach us a lesson.  Many people love these roads, but I found myself in that awkward mental position of having ridden a hard 80 miles and remembering that there's still more than a century to go.  Fortunately, the second half of the ride was relatively flat, so I anticipated making good time.  Maybe a sub-11:00 finish was in the cards?

To make a long story short, it wasn't.  And, come to think of it, the story wasn't that long: we were riding a huge clockwise loop beginning on the southernmost point, which meant that the last 80 miles or so were heading south and then southwest, directly into one of the most diabolical headwinds I can remember.  I was working my butt off just to go 17 mph.  Usually loop courses at least afford the dignity of benefitting and suffering from the same winds, but not in this case -- they picked up throughout the day, so it was just plowing ahead and hoping for respite that wasn't forthcoming.  At some point I decided that the goal was sub-12:00, and it wasn't worth wrecking myself for an attempt at a sub-11:00 finish that wasn't in the cards that day.  I just wanted a nap.

Ultimately, I rolled back into Frederick a little after 4:00 pm, having done what I needed to.  And, in fairness, I'd done well: my 2012 moving time was 11:55, and I'd taken 2 hours off of the bike, for a finishing time of about 13:55.  This year, I was moving for 10:36, and I was off the bike for only 35 minutes, for a final time of 11:10.  That's progress.  Enjoy the video!

Next up is the fl├Ęche, a 24-hour group ride that promises lots of eating.  I plan to P.R. at least one ice cream sundae.  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Mike Hall Memorial 600k: Ignoring Limits

Sometimes awful things pile up and there's no way forward except to go smash something.  After three months of the hardest training I'd ever done, a calamitous throat infection knocked me out of the 24-hour race at Sebring.  I'd never felt stronger, but instead of clicking off hot laps, I was intubated and bludgeoned with every high-powered intravenous antibiotic they could find.  Things turned out "well," if by well one means losing weight I couldn't afford and struggling to complete a 1-hour easy spin.

Fortunately, after a substantial training adjustment in which I dropped the high-watt intervals in favor of extended sweet-spot sets, I started coming around after a few weeks.  In mid March, I DNF'd a 200k brevet when my routing went horribly awry, but I still felt good.  I decided to test things by leaping straight into a 600k (375-mile) brevet out of Lumberton, North Carolina, on April 1.  It was a flattish and unremarkable course apart from 30 miles of riding along the beach, but I figured it would be a good chance to test out a new saddle and hopefully check off a big box on one of my 2017 projects, i.e., a Randonneurs Mondiaux R60 designation.  

Apart from the Charly Miller Society, which requires that a rider finish the quadrennial Paris-Brest-Paris 1200k in under 56 hours and 40 minutes, the R60 is probably the toughest honor to achieve in the randonneuring world.  It requires that one complete a Super Randonneur series (200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k), each in under 60% of the allotted time.  That makes the requirements as follows:

200k (125 miles) -- 8:06
300k (188 miles) -- 12:00
400k (250 miles) -- 16:12
600k (375 miles) -- 24:00

I'd finished a couple of 200ks well under the required time, which left the longer rides to attempt in the remainder of 2017.  My personal best on a 600k brevet was 25:40 or so, so I'd have to go faster, but on the other hand, my previous 600s had been on considerably hillier terrain and an older bike.  In 24-hour races, which are on fully-supported loops, I'd knocked out 600k in under 19 hours, but randonnees tend to be slow -- routing, controls, and the rest of it just tend to add up.  I hoped for 22 hours and thought it possible.

Unfortunately, only two days before the ride, the cycling world received the devastating news that Mike Hall had been hit and killed by a car while racing the Indian Pacific Wheel Race across Australia.  Mike was a legend in the ultracycling world at the young age of 35: he held multiple records including fastest on a bicycle around the world and course record holder in the 4,300-mile, self-supported Trans America race.  He was one of the featured riders in Inspired to Ride, a Trans America documentary well worth anyone's attention.

How completely sickening.  We're now forced to add his name to those of Jure Robic (6x RAAM winner), Bob Breedlove, Claudio Clarindo, Anders Tesgaard, Matthew O'Neill, Lynn Kristianson, and many others avid ultracyclists who've been killed by cars in recent years while doing what they love.  For me, this is one of the top reasons I do so much of my riding indoors: I love to be outside on two wheels, but the more one does it, the more likely it is that the odds will get even.  Thus, I choose my battles carefully.  In Mike's case, from all accounts, it sounds like some of the roads the racers traversed were anything but safe, and that there were a number of uncomfortably close calls before the fatal incident.  It's utterly gutting to lose anyone that way, but particularly such an inspiration.  

In all, it wasn't a great mindset to take into a 600k solo ride on unknown road, but then again, maybe it was.  There's something to be said for the knowledge that we're privileged to be able to attempt these feats at all, and it's a gift we should celebrate.  

And so it was that I reported for duty at 6:00 a.m. in the parking lot behind a Super 8 hotel in Lumberton, North Carolina, looking pretty out of place.  Especially on longer events like 600ks, randonneurs tend to favor traditional setups with plenty of cargo capacity, but I looked more like a Martian, complete with disc wheel, Zipp 808 deep-rim front wheel, and aero helmet.  Perhaps overkill, but I figured that, if I wanted to go fast, there's no reason to leave the go-fast gear at home.  

To hit my goal of 22 hours, I'd have to average 17 miles an hour, which isn't generally a problem in terms of moving speed, but it also includes all of the stops and snafus along the way.  I'd probably have to average more than 19 mph while moving in order to do it, which isn't trivial over the span of nearly an entire day.  My best 24-hour race time is 20.5 mph, but that was fully supported, draft-legal, on a looped course where it was impossible to get lost, and on fully tapered legs.  Here, none of those things was true.  (It technically was draft-legal, I suppose, but as there was no one to draft off of, it was an academic point.)

One of the things that made me slightly nervous was that I'd be riding on a new saddle, the Selle Anatomica C Series.  I'd ridden on the traditional S-A leather saddles for years, but they're heavy as bricks and the leather needs to be re-tensioned periodically, and the carbon version promised to address both issues.  It's a beautiful thing, although, as a crowd-funder, I'd had to wait about two years to get it.

So, off we went!  With a 6:00 a.m. rollout, I hoped to be done between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. on Sunday morning and sitting comfortably in a booth at Denny's across the street.  We'd have to see.

For once in my randonneuring life, things went remarkably smoothly.  Tony Goodnight's route was a joy to follow, with turns only every 10 miles or so in many places, and relatively few control points that forced one to stop.  But that came with challenges: with highs pushing 80 degrees and scheduled stops only every 60-70 miles, it was important to keep on top of the nutrition and hydration.  For me, it was a mental struggle between the desire to stop as infrequently as possible and the knowledge that the whole thing could go down the drain if I didn't eat and drink constantly.  I resolved that dilemma by ignoring my desire to stop more often, and never even slowing down between controls -- go big or go home.  The result was that, on a few occasions, I went 4+ hours between stops, which had me pretty much parched and ravenous by the time the next stop rolled around.

I've learned a couple of things about randonneuring nutrition over the years.  First, if you're in trouble on a hot day, there's little better than massive ice cream sandwiches -- cold, caloric, and satisfying.  Second, if you need a blood-sugar rush, those huge Rice Krispy Treat bars are about as close to rocket fuel as you can find.  Third, Bugles!  Enough said.  Rules to live by.

One of the big challenges in a ride this long is finding something to hold the mental focus.  Sometimes the zen silence is enough to set the mind wandering, but I've found that, as one fatigues and things start to get sore, the zen dissipates into something closer to self-resentment.  So, music is key some of the time, but podcasts and audiobooks also are great.  On this occasion, I made my way through S-Town the new release from the makers of Serial, a fair chunk of the latest John Grisham book, a couple of episodes of Freakonomcs, and some Judge John Hodgman.  And lo, the hours did pass.

The course itself was nothing to write home about -- flattish, quite windy (constant 15-20 mph), and largely along country roads lined by pine trees.  At one point we crossed the Intracoastal Waterway before riding 15 miles along the barrier islands to Atlantic Beach, and then back again.  The roads were the highest of highs and lowest of lows, mostly great but with the occasional stretch that would have insulted a cheese grater.  

It was largely a mental game.  With the wind at the back, rolling at 22 mph felt effortless, but the price was a couple of stretches of 20+ miles into headwinds that felt like a sick joke.  My power meter was on the fritz, registering zeroes randomly when I was pushing darn hard, but I gave up trying to fix it after awhile.

In terms of moving speed, things went amazingly well for the first half:

100 miles -- 4:53
200k -- 5:59
300k -- 9:25

Each of those was a personal best for me on a brevet by a considerable margin.  By halfway, I was on pace for a sub-19 hour finish, but I was self-aware enough to know that such extrapolation is dangerous.  Riding at night tends to be slow, and with fatigue being what it is, stops tend to get longer and the average speed tends to drift south.

There's a mathematical issue I've noticed on these events that never ceases to throw me for a loop.  (Many people doubtless know this already -- I'm willing to embrace the fact that it's my issue.)  The issue is this.  Given my spectacular speed over the first half, I'd dared to adjust my target down from 22 hours to 20 hours.  10 hours in, my average speed was about 20 mph.  I knew that a 20-hour finish required an overall average speed of 18.6 mph, so I reasoned as follows: since I've gone 20 mph for the first half, I can go 17.2 mph for the second half to achieve an average of 18.6!  (17.2 + 20)/2 = 18.6!

Except the math doesn't work.  After riding for 10 hours at 20 mph, I'd gone 200 miles, which meant I had 175 miles to go in the second 10 hours.   175/10 = 17.5 mph, not 17.2.  Sigh.  Not that the 0.3 mph delta was huge, but when things are falling apart at the end of a ride, things like that matter.

After a 9:25 first 300k, a sub-20-hour finish required a 10:35 second 300k.  That's an hour slower, but it was still way faster than my 300k personal best heading into this ride, and much of it would be riding at night.  To make matters worse, I encountered a road closure with a massive traffic jam due to an accident with fatalities, and I got turned around a couple of times where the route crossed over itself.  And, of course, there was the challenge I encountered at mile 300, where I completed an 80-mile stretch completely empty of water, calories, and hope.  That prompted an extended break in the welcoming embrace of an Exxon station.

Ultimately, though, I've rarely felt this strong.  I finished in 19:38, fully six hours faster than my previous best at the distance.  After my 9:25 opening 300k, my second 300k had clicked off in 10:13!   Thus, my best and second-best 300ks were ridden back-to-back, which has to say something positive about my training.

I'll confess I'm pretty over-the-moon about this outcome.  As far as I can tell, it's the third-fastest official 600k brevet ever ridden in the United States -- the first is a 19:30 and the second a 19:34, so I was just a handful of minutes away.  Part of me thinks that, given that I was stopped for about 1:50 over the course of the ride, I surely could have gone 10 minutes faster, but I had no idea I was so close to the record, and frankly, who knows.  As a statistical matter, this graph puts things into perspective:

This shows the official 600k completion times in the United States from 1999-2011, and the chart begins at 20 hours, with the median up in the mid-30s.

I'm also happy to report that the Selle Anatomica Carbon Series saddle worked perfectly -- I think it's a keeper.  It's noticeably harder than the leather hammock that the traditional S-A offers, but it never was uncomfortable.  This may be because of the Mummy Tape I apply to my sitbones before all long rides, but whatever the case, it was nice to finish a 600k and be able to sit down comfortably.

So, mission accomplished!  I felt strong virtually the entire way, and I truly loved finishing before 2:00 a.m. and thus avoiding the witching hours that come later in the morning.  It's been a very long time since I've been at a Denny's at 3:00 a.m., but such was my reward.  Next up, trying to get my legs working again and recalibrate myself toward an upcoming 300k, where I'll try to put the next brick in the R60 wall.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Surviving a Scare

It's been awhile since I've posted anything, but I've had irons in the fire.  Work and travel demands caused me to take almost two months off of the bike after Race Across Oregon in July, and when I emerged in mid-October, my fitness was in Nowheresville.  But, for the first time in nearly a decade, I  renovated the Pain Cave both physically and virtually.

On the physical front, I picked up a Tacx Neo smart trainer to replace my 2006-era Computrainer, and I've been using the heck out of it.  In my mind, the direct-drive setup is categorically superior to the older wheel-on technology, and the Neo is a beautiful beast.

On the virtual front, I signed on with Trainer Road and Zwift, following a structured training plan for the first time in recent memory.  I've gotten to be reasonably proficient at prescribing workouts for myself over the years, but there hasn't been much periodization to it, and overall things had just gotten a bit stale.  Between October and late January, I was able to ride 6 days a week with consistency, recording about 700 training stress/week, which is about 50% more than in years past.  And the result showed: my power/weight ratio jumped from ~3.8 to ~4.4, which was the highest it's ever been -- an auspicious place to be in January -- and I was getting stronger by the week.

All told, although nothing is ever guaranteed, I was confident that I could put in a serious showing at Sebring.  I'd initially planned to ride the 12-hour, but I was feeling so strong that I'd mentally committed to switching to the 24 and taking a shot at that magical 500-mile day.  I started my taper late, putting in a hard weekend only a week out with the idea that I'd take it easy for a few days and then give it a go.  The Sunday before the race was my last long ride, a 5-hour trainer session that I entered tired but knocked out with no problem.  Then it was off to a Super Bowl party to enjoy the fruits of months of discipline.

The following day (Monday), though, I found myself feeling like I had a bit of a cold.  I do get the occasional head cold, and it's common to feel a little under the weather during a taper, so I didn't think much of it.  The hard work was done, and a scratchy throat was nothing to be concerned about.

Tuesday brought no improvement -- I was definitely fighting something.  What had been a mild, generalized sore throat had become more focused in an area in the back corner of my throat, and it was acutely raw when I swallowed.  Still, I figured, no big deal.  I even knocked out a 3x15' sweet spot session on the trainer as planned, and did so without drama.  I reasoned that the workout might even help clear out my head and throat.  The workout wasn't easy, but I *was* in taper mode with the fatigue it entails, and nothing about the experience suggested anything more than a cold.

By Wednesday, I'd put myself into the category of sick, as much as I hated to draw that conclusion.  I'd busted my butt for months to put myself in a position to try to win Sebring outright a few days later, and the idea of being sick for the first time in years was unbearable.  I was blowing my body weight in snot on an hourly basis, and when I swallowed, it felt like there was a spiked golf ball in the back of my throat.  It turns out that we swallow a considerable volume of saliva and mucus each day, and when swallowing is to be avoided, you become pretty disgusting, because it has to go somewhere.  I bought some cough drops and made the best of it, even dropping my bike and supplies with a friend for transport to Sebring.  That evening, though, I had a fever for the first time, felt achy, and the rest of it.  (Crap.)  Still, my philosophy was that all I needed was a solid night's sleep and I'd be on the mend.

Unfortunately, Wednesday night brought almost no sleep.  I felt like I was drowning -- imagine the worst cold in the world where you can't swallow without an explosion in your throat.  Amy slept on the couch that night, but I didn't even notice until the next morning.  Pretty much sums up how out-of-it I was.

By Thursday morning, it was becoming increasingly clear that Sebring was a stretch.  (Many people would doubtless say "of course" at this, but I think endurance athletes are used to just working through challenges in a way that alters how you view things.)  Amy and my parents thought I might have strep throat; I was undeniably miserable.  Awkwardly, I had to go to work on Thursday because I had a hearing in court that afternoon that I felt I needed to attend.  By this time, I couldn't really talk without coughing spasmodically, and swallowing was almost entirely out of the question.  I managed to communicate to the judge that I was sick, and that was pretty much all that was required of me that day, but I went straight from court to a primary care doc to see what the heck was going on.

The nurse practitioner saw me quickly, noted that my tonsils were swollen, and performed a strep test that everyone expected would be positive.  But it wasn't -- negative as could be.  She consulted with some other folks in the office and recommended that I go to the ER based on the fact that something was clearly wrong, but there was no obvious answer as to the "what" of it.  By then, things were so bad that I dialed Amy's cell and asked the nurse to tell Amy what she'd just told me, because I couldn't speak more than a couple of words at a time.

Amy met me at home about an hour later; I took that time to stand in a hot shower and just try to stop shivering.  We drove to Sibley Hospital ER, where I was admitted about 8:00 p.m. on Thursday night.  I got a CT scan, which showed several large peritonsillar abscesses (essentially pus-filled pockets of infection) in the back of my throat, some of which were dangerously low in my neck and thus close to my vocal cords and chest.   Also, I had a 103-degree fever.  After hours of deliberation, the folks at Sibley determined that I needed surgery immediately but that they weren't equipped to do it -- given the scope and location of the problem, the ENT docs needed a full-fledged facility that could deal with collateral chest infections that might arise from the initial surgery.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it took hours for Sibley to find another hospital that could take me.

During this time, which stretched until about 1:00 a.m. on Friday morning, we'd decided it made sense for Amy to go home to try to get some sleep.  I promised I'd let her know where they took me for surgery and when it was scheduled to happen.  I didn't see the point in her destroying herself to sit in an E.R. indefinitely while nothing happened.

Ultimately, in the middle of the night, Sibley decided to send me by ambulance all the way to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.  It was a pretty surreal scene staring out the back window of the ambulance as it bounced through deserted streets as I was tranquilized on morphine.  The only comparable instance was nearly 2 years ago -- coincidentally, in connection with another 24-hour bike race, in Texas, following a particularly nasty crash.  At least this time I was headed to a real hospital.  I let Amy know that I was in Baltimore with surgery scheduled for Friday morning.  Communicating that was about all I could manage between my misery and narcotic haze.

I don't remember much from that point until Saturday afternoon.  The surgery apparently revealed problems significantly more severe than the surgeon had anticipated.  Among the several infected abscesses was one that was about 4" long -- one of the largest the surgeon had ever seen -- and it was necrotic, meaning that the tissue was dying.  It also was in a particularly sensitive area.  They had to remove a tonsil just to get to it, and it was very close to the nerve that controls my vocal cords.  The doc was alarmed that such an extensive problem had developed so quickly, and feared that I may have contracted a flesh-eating bacteria.  The phrase "necrotic fasciitis" was thrown around.

I vaguely remember a conversation with the doc after the surgery in which he expressed concern that he might not have taken care of the entire problem.  Scans showed additional swelling further down my neck, and if the infection continued to spread, more surgery would be required.  My hazy recollection of that conversation involved my telling the doc to do what he needed to do -- if was another surgery, it was.  But my memory is pretty hazy, as I was on several different kinds of potent painkillers, had a breathing tube down my throat, and could barely even write on a board, much less talk.

Amy's experience was even more alarming.  Apparently the doc told her that the next surgery could require going into my neck from the outside, through the vocal cords, which meant that I'd never talk again, assuming I survived it in the first place.  He asked her the odd question: "Is Damon risk-averse?" and also whether being unable to talk would significantly impact my career.  As a lawyer who appears in court regularly, I think the answer to that is pretty damn clear.  I have no memory of this.

Meanwhile, the bacteria were being cultured to try to identify what had attacked me, and everyone was watching my white blood cell count to see whether it was moving in the right direction.  I was on four different kinds of high-powered IV antibiotics because no one was certain which one might prove effective.

I was only vaguely cognizant of this stuff.  I like to think I was at least partially lucid at the time, but I can't remember much of what happened.  At one point, I scrawled on a white board: I feel like post-Trump America.

For me, the most alarming part of things was that I'd gone to the doctor thinking I'd get just get some antibiotics.  From there, I'd learned I needed surgery, perhaps even a tonsillectomy, and the thought of spending a weekend in the hospital was nightmarish.  But now, no one could tell me much with certainty except that I'd be intubated for the foreseeable future and my hospital stay could last for weeks if things didn't play out in my favor.   A week-long stay was the best I could hope for.

Fortunately, things broke in my favor, and I recovered more swiftly than the doctors' most optimistic estimates.  I think my relative youth, good health, and strong immune system counted heavily in my favor.  The antibiotics succeeded in driving out the infection over the course of a few days.  I was intubated until Sunday, moved out of the ICU on Monday, and released on Tuesday -- 5 days after admission.

From here, it's going to be a bit of a road to recovery.  I'm on a liquid-only diet for several more days, and I'm exhausted and weak.  Given the blood I lost during the surgery and over the course of hourly tests, my hemoglobin levels are through the floor, and I wasn't able to sleep for more than half an hour at a stretch for 5 or 6 days.  ICUs are terrible -- loud, beeping machines, a tube down your throat, 800 wires and IVs connected to you, and nurses who poke you, draw blood, change drips, and ask you how you're doing literally every hour.  Several times I managed to fall asleep, only to be awoken by a nurse who just wanted to know if I was okay.

Ultimately, given the background terrible luck that put me in the hospital in the first place, I think I'm pretty fortunate.  The primary care nurse sent me to the ER rather than sending me home, which isn't an inevitable call to make for someone who presents with a sore throat and fever during flu season.  Had she done otherwise, I think my life could look significantly different going forward, because the infection was ballooning in a nightmarish area.  I also found myself at Johns Hopkins, which is about the safest place one could be; in many parts of the country, that wouldn't have been an option.  I had a tonsillectomy, but that's an afterthought in the grand scheme of things.

It's hard to know what conclusions to draw from this.  It's easy to say: "If you're sick, go to the doctor," but I'm almost never sick, and when I am, it tends to last about 12 hours.  Moreover, I think I have a high pain tolerance -- the sorts of athletic events I'm drawn to suggest as much -- and an allergy to drama.  Put it together and it translates into a philosophy of "there's nothing wrong with me that a little sleep won't fix."  I suspect many endurance athletes share some or all of these traits, so maybe this story will provide a cautionary tale to someone out there.

It'll take time to get my strength back, catch up on work, and get life back to normal.  Obviously there will be a lot of rebuilding needed on the bike, although hopefully it won't be a return to zero.  It's amazing how much strength you lose from being confined to a bed for only a few days.

On the whole, I'm a lucky guy.  Amy was an incredible trooper at a time when she really couldn't afford to be given her situation at work, and I had a steady stream of friends visiting me in the ICU from D.C. and Baltimore.  I had more messages and well-wishes than I could hope to respond to.

Perhaps this is best placed into the category of a near-miss.  Life is full of those, whether we know it or not.  Ten years ago, my brother Jaron -- for whom this blog is named -- presented at a primary care doctor with a headache.  His experience was the opposite of mine: he was prescribed pills and sent home, and then the same thing happened again when he went to the E.R. a day or two later.  No one even performed a CT scan.  By the time someone took him seriously, it was too late, and a treatable cyst in his brain had become fatal.  From what I'm told, my situation could have headed in that direction if my caregivers had been less concerned and diligent, and if my treatment had been delayed much longer.

We all rely on other people in life, whether we want to admit it or not, and regardless how recently we've read Ayn Rand.  Life is about making the most of the opportunities and gifts we have, but it's also about being lucky in countless ways -- from having a caring family and educational opportunities to people who look out for us when we desperately need it, even if we don't know it at the time.  I'm happy to say I've been deeply fortunate in all of the ways that matter.