Friday, August 7, 2009
G.B. Strikes Again
Back in the days when I used to run the Leadville Trail 100 in the summers, my training partners Snakebite, Alan and Wally had a name for me: G.B.
That's short for Gooney Bird. I got the name because I am terrible at altitude, and whenever we used to train by climbing 14ers or running trails way up high like Mosquito Pass above 13,000 feet, I would get silly. I could not think, I would giggle at everything and I certainly couldn't be relied on to find my way back down. I was stupid until I got down to maybe 11,000 feet.
I finished Leadville four times and never felt good, the altitude always got me and I'd always be competing for DFL. Now I've wised up and realized I do better at lower elevations.
Like, below sea level!!!
Training for Leadville, one of my weekly runs was to drive to the Longs Peak trailhead, run up to the Boulderfield and back down, and sometimes I'd do it twice. It usually took me less than 3 hours to do it once, maybe an hour and a half to reach the turnaround by the old "privy" sign. I could do two repeats in 6 hours.
On Monday I had a half-assed plan to go climb Longs Peak. First I tried to get Katy and Felix to go with me, but being a Monday, Katy has a real job and she was tempted but couldn't ditch work. I saw Felix at the running club picnic on Sunday and he told me he climbed Mt. Bierstadt on Saturday and had his own work to catch up on.
So I decided to go alone, and when I woke up, not by forcing myself to get up early, and if the conditions were right, I'd do it. I woke up a little late, managed to get out of the house by 6:15 and drive to Estes Park. I got to the trailhead at 7:30. The sky was clear and it was warm and windy. I kept thinking I'd get cold, I had a pack full of clothes and food and water, but I didn't feel cold except for my hands once I got up above treeline.
I felt lightheaded from the start, but not too bad. I walked at a fast pace but not pushing it hard. Once I got up to the turnoff to Chasm Lake I could feel how spaced out I was. Very strange. I haven't been up at altitude much at all this year, only once, really, climbing up to about 11,000 feet once is all, and that was back in June.
I made it to the Boulderfield in 2 hours and I was really lightheaded. I think that's at about 12,000 feet. I kept going, but it took me nearly an hour to get from the end of the switchbacks at the lower end of the Boulderfield to the point where you pass the rock tent shelters and start climbing up toward the Keyhole. I was having a hard time with my brain, I was unable to pick my way through the rocks. For some reason I would lose the trail, stop and stare blankly at the rocks, trying to pick a route, but my brain couldn't focus on it.
I sat down for a while and ate and drank, put some warm clothes on even though I wasn't cold, and took a little break. When I stood up I nearly fell over. There I was in my little running shoes among huge boulders with Alene-size cracks between the rocks. I sat down again and thought about it. I was just barely at 13,000 feet. It had taken me an hour to go what used to take me ten minutes. And just looking uphill toward the Keyhole, only a few hundred feet above me, I felt my head floating.
It was all boulders, I felt like it was more than I could handle mentally. I didn't feel tired, I just felt spaced out! I knew that it was only another mile and a half and 1200 feet of climbing, but my brain wasn't working. So I called it good and slowly picked my way back toward the low end of the Boulderfield and hiked back down and called it a day. I think if it had been earlier in the day I might have attempted it, but I was moving so slowly, I had no idea what I'd be like after a few more hours of hypoxia.
On the way down it did cloud up and rained on me for a while. No big thunderstorms or hail. I ended up with roughly 13 mile hike with about 3500 feet of climbing and descending. But it took me 6 hours to do what used to take me 3! I did enjoy the scenery on the way down.
And I did find out that my alter ego, Gooney Bird, is still with me.
This week I was also more tired than usual. For some reason I have been feeling unusually fatigued. I didn't sleep well in the middle of the week, when I was working, and it was busy at work.
So today I went to the lab vampires and got some tubes of blood siphoned from my veins. It was time to check the thyroid again anyway. I also got a lipid panel and other stuff for my annual physical which is coming up. Now that they took half my blood away, I won't even have to go up to high altitude to be G.B.