Sunday, August 19, 2012

Active MSers Feature: Larry Danahey

Larry is from Denver, Colorado and appropriately (given the amazing surroundings, terrain and environment living in Colorado) he has taken to cycling as his activity of choice. Though he was diagnosed with MS about 13 years ago, he has in recent years tackled some of his biggest and longest rides. It is very inspiring to hear Larry say that the exercise has helped his MS symptoms; and additionally, the social interaction and simply being outside has improved his overall well-being. So great to hear these stories! Please take a moment to read his story; thank you Larry for submitting it, and thank you to all of you who have donated to my Can Do MS Fund.

We are at $4700, and my goal is $10,000 by October 13th. Please help spread the word!

Here is Larry's story, in his words:

I was diagnosed with RRMS in January of 1999 at the age of 48. I had noticed various symptoms for the previous 9 years ranging from foot drop, numbness, and vision changes, to balance issues, but the thing that drove me to find out what was going on was the paralyzing fatigue. I spent the next three years trying to get my mind wrapped around the diagnosis of MS, a disease which the wife of a very good friend of mine had passed away from just a few years earlier. Eventually, the worry wore me out and I decided to just get on with living.

Through out my life I had generally managed to stay active. Although I have never been a swimmer and now running was becoming more and more difficult, I eventually discovered that riding the spin cycles at the club was doable. That prompted me to dust off an old mountain bike I had and start riding outside. The bike took my mind off of the MS because there were so many other things to think about like where I was, where I was going, how far, how fast, the rain, the wind and the traffic and of course the scenery and whatever chaos might be going on around me. It was an exhilarating opportunity to experience life again and I fell in love with it almost immediately.

I attempted my first MS 150 in 2005. I was only marginally successful. I sagged and short cut my way to the end and still barely made it. I felt my effort was so miserable that I didn’t even attempt the ride in 2006 but I did step up my training on the bike. I successfully completed the MS 150 in 2007 and it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life, but I decided then that I would do this ride every year until I couldn’t do it anymore.

In 2008 I noticed that my time on the first day of the MS 150 seemed to improve and by quite a bit and I began to see that the bike riding was actually helping me overcome some of the MS damage, so I started to pay more attention to that aspect of riding. I began to notice positive changes in fatigue levels and strength. I found things I had not been able to do at all in previous years that I could at least do to a moderate extent. I stepped up my training again in 2009 and again improved my first day saddle time in the MS 150. I decided to step out and try some longer, harder rides.

In 2010 in honor of our 60th birthdays, a friend and I did the “Ride the Rockies”, 7 straight days, 532 miles, 27,000 feet of ascent. Although I took one of the recovery days off to visit some old friends, I DID climb ALL 6 of the mountain passes the ride covered. The MS 150 that year was relatively easy for me and again I improved my first day saddle time.

At the end of 2010 I had a brief relapse that I felt was brought on by an MS drug that I tried. I spent the first part of 2011 getting through the damage from that relapse. In spite of it though, I signed up for the MS 150 including the 2nd day century. I also signed up for the “Triple Bypass”, a single day, 123-mile ride with 10,000 ft. of ascent. Again I improved my time on the first day of the 150 even if only by 7 minutes and I didn’t have any problems on the 2nd day century either, except maybe a little with the heat toward the very end. Unfortunately, I failed miserably on the “Triple Bypass” though. I did several other rides with varying degrees of success that year too and I took the liberty of blaming my failures on the relapse I’d had late in 2010 and my successes on my training. I decided to repeat most of the rides that I did that year again in 2012 to see if I could improve my success rate.

Although the “Triple” would only constitute a relatively hard training ride for a pro, there is a good chance that it might be more than I am capable of, but whether or not I complete it is not really the point any more. The real point of these rides is the training they encourage me to do. I know how lucky I am to be able to ride at all because I know so many who can’t.

Over the years I’ve seen how beneficial the training has been for my MS, I believe there is more at work here than simple strengthening of atrophied muscles. And, of course, the various rides with fabulous scenery and multiple opportunities to make new friends, provides more incentive for me to concentrate on that training. Sometimes it is a difficult concept to explain to a more competitive rider, but although I appreciate being able to complete the rides I sign up for and I thoroughly enjoy seeing the improvement in my riding abilities, it’s really all about the training and the tremendously beneficial effect it has on the MS.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Visions of Flour: Running in Salida

We are well into our annual Salida, CO "summer training/escape the Austin heat" trip. We've been here 4 weeks, and we have just less than 2 to go. As always we have had an awesome stay here; cooler temps, afternoon storms, and the daily river plays with our dog Amico. Derick and I are both mountain people by heart; we love Austin but we have to get away and see mountains at least once a year. I have yet to take to the Arkansas river and make it into my own swimming treadmill, but... there's still time!

Yesterday I was out on my 11 mile uphill Tempo run which Derick so kindly assigned to me. The one thing that Salida lacks is a nice long fairly flat dirt path for running. Living in Austin, we forget how spoiled we are with a marked 10 mile dirt path around Lady Bird Lake. It makes it easy to do fast tempo runs, long runs and even recovery runs on a softer surface. Here, there is no shortage of hills but at 7000+ feet, they can get pretty taxing if you are always running up or down. And, given that I am doing Ironman training, at times I need to get the 'miles' in, not just the time. The first long tempo run I did here was out and back 291, a long fairly flat stretch of road. The next week, I took the 12 miles to a treadmill for a softer surface and less pounding. Then Derick discovered a long dirt road that goes uphill for (at least) 12 miles. He suggested that I do an 'uphill tempo' on this as an alternative. I agreed. I then said 'so what pace do you think I can run it?' and he said '...probably 7 min pace or faster.' I thought to myself...huh. Really? That sounds fast. But I figured to give it a go and see what happened.

thinking 'oh shit, what have I gotten into..'
and mentally preparing here...
The run goes from our condo and takes 3 miles to the start of the dirt, but half of this is already going uphill on pavement. Then the dirt begins; the start line for 8 miles up. Derick marks every mile with flour (I guess this is a runner thing?) so, lucky me, I could see my run splits. When you're told 7 min pace and you see 8:22 on mile 1, it can be a little demoralizing. (I of course yelled at Derick when he drove by me the first time something to the effect of "7 min pace my ass!") But, I tried to suck it up and keep on running, knowing this was a strength workout, not necessarily speed. Mile 2 was more brutal as the road was both twisty and steep.

By about 2 miles in, I start to just zone out and take it as it comes. It's long, and while the environment is beautiful, it is unrelenting and simply put, my hill does not end until the 8 miles are completed; no matter how fast or slow I split each mile, there are still 8 of them. The good thing was I had done this a week earlier, so I knew what to expect and I also had previous splits to base this run off of. Thankfully, these ones were slightly faster than the previous week. Derick would leapfrog me to mark off the miles, along with Amico in the car to spectate and 'support'. Up, up, up I go.

Soon enough, I hit the 4 mile mark which was a nice sight to see...halfway! I watched for Derick around this point because previously, he had pulled the car off to let the dog play in a fairly open spot and hand me some water. However as I approached Amico's play field, the cows had decided to take it over for the day, so the poor little guy was left in the car to bark at the cows. Thankfully, they let me through the road; and looked at me like I was crazy. (smart cows!)

From this point on, it is kind of 'all downhill' (mentally) since I know I am down to 3+ miles to go. The air gets a little bit more thin, temps cool off a bit, but it's still about trying to stick to the best pace I can sustain while ...yes, still going up. By the time mile 6 rolls around, the terrain kicks up again and also gets a bit more rocky; which can be tough given the amount of fatigue which has accumulated by now. I'd start to see rocks up ahead of me, which appear white in the dirt, and I kept thinking they were lines of flour; but most times, they were just more rocks! I'd think "Damn, where is the flour!" I tried to not look at my watch except for the mile splits, because it kind of messes with your head if you fixate too much on the time; moreso, it's just one line of flour at a time. 

Even though the run 'only' tops out at about 9800 feet, it almost feels like I'm getting closer to the sky as I finish up the final couple of miles. And one of the best parts of this entire run is, the final 1/4 mile the terrain actually levels off and descends a bit. A nice way to finally find some leg turnover and finish it up strong!

...aaand, done. The run culminates with the view from the top and a happy Kelly; thanks to my awesome sherpa husband and of course Amico in tow to keep Derick company. This dog loves few things more than car rides (except maybe playing in the river, biting waves).


This run, to me, is kind of a symbolic microcosm of all of my time training here in Salida. Vastly all of what I do is on my own, solo, for 6 weeks. While most the time I relish in solo training (I feel good, I roll with it...I feel like shit, I dial it back; no added stresses of pacing off of/with someone else) I have to admit that I have had a few ups and downs. I may struggle one day to get myself out the door, but once I do, I realize why I do what I do and how much I truly love it. I've got an incredible playground here in Salida, and it's just a matter of figuring out where I'll do what on each day. Swimming is probably one of the harder things here; swimming at 7000 ft is extremely challenging, in an indoor 25-meter pool that is kept at a balmy 84F no less. There is no open water lake, or at least none actually 'in' Salida. However, like anything else... you make it work. I miss my masters group in Austin, I miss the long course meters pools...but I know that the altitude is making me stronger, and if I want to get it done, it's up to noone but me. And I have to hand it to Derick. I would have never (ever) chosen to run uphill for 11 miles and call it a 'tempo' run. I am usually pretty tied to paces; tempo means fast, and I want to see fast splits. However, in this situation, tempo means strength and even though the turnover is not there, to mentally run up a hill that lasts for 1.5 hrs is brutal; not to mention the physical challenges it brings and that it can actually make you a 'faster' runner. It requires so much fortitude and persistence, regardless of that satisfaction of seeing 'tempo pace' on my watch at each mile. One foot in front of the other, relaxed upper body, consistent breathing, keeping the effort in check...and just clicking off each line of flour. Noone around to keep me honest, noone next to me to keep me moving forward; just me. If that won't make you mentally stronger, I'm not sure what will! 
Here is a little glimpse of what tomorrow has in store...this is me riding back from Buena Vista, after climbing  up Cottonwood Pass; which tops out at 12,126 feet. When it gets tough and the legs are burning, I'll just remind myself that there are no mountains like this in Austin! It's not a bad way to spend a Saturday. Because this is the reward at the end; a natural ice bath & entertainment from Amico! 

Thanks for reading!