Tuesday, June 30, 2015


I've been writing since early May that something has been "off" with my health.  I've been tired a lot, needed more rest days, had no "pop" with either strength-based or endurance-based work at CrossFit, and I've been sleeping a lot.  No, really a lot.

I don' think that a Saturday or Sunday has passed without me taking a 2-3 hour nap in the past 6 weeks.  Last night, I fell asleep on the couch at 8:07 p.m., went to bed about 90 minutes later, and slept until 6:17 this morning - 10+ hours.  This was after skipping the workout at the gym because I was too tired.

Saturday morning, I went to the farmer's market with my wife, we went to the supermarket, and I then came home and took a nap.  After my nap, I got up and mowed the lawn.  And, took another nap.

Sunday, I got up a little bit late - maybe 9:30.  It was a cold, rainy day and I planned on doing nothing.  By 1:00, I turned on the Red Sox game, and I fell asleep, waking up in the 7th inning.

Last Monday, I was too tired to go to the gym.  Tuesday and Wednesday, I got to the gym, scaled the workouts, but by the end of Wednesday, I was exhausted.  I had Thursday off work to go fly fishing, and I struggled that day.  I fished from about 5:45 a.m. until 9:00, when I realized I was exhausted.  I went to my car and napped for 45 minutes.  I then resumed fishing, but I was still exhausted.  About 12:30, I sat down on a rock in the middle of the river, and I just sat there for half an hour.  After that rest, I walked to my car and headed home.

At that point, I knew I was going to try to rest through the weekend.  And, I did.  But, I felt terrible all weekend - lethargic, sleepy, and no appetite.  There are very few foods that are even appealing to me right now, and even they taste funny at times.  Some of the limited foods I've been able to eat include Raisin Bran, ice cream, pretzels, potato or tortilla chips, and strawberries.  That's a lot of high fat and salty foods.  The idea of a veggie or a salad is just repulsive right now, and that's not normally the case for me.

I've now lost 20 pounds since early May, simply by eating based on appetite.  I've made no special efforts to lose weight.  Despite resting a lot, I have no energy or desire to train.  Even going for a basic walk seems like too much right now.

Luckily, I see my doctor again next Friday, the 10th.  But, my wife is so alarmed by how I've felt that she demanded I see someone else earlier.  She even suggested a non-mainstream provider as an option.

After talking to someone in my gym, a chiropractor who works with lots of other local non-mainstream providers, she recommended a local naturopath who deals in issues like these.  I've suspected this might be an adrenal fatigue or thyroid issue.  My primary care doc laughed out loud at those suggestions, but then did no testing and told me to just rest and I'd be fine.

Well, I'm not fine.  I have to say I don't mind the weight I've lost.  If I could lose another 15 pounds and then get healthy overnight, I'd be pretty thrilled.  I'm at my lowest weight in 5+ years right now, but I'm sure I'm losing muscle mass as well as fat.

I want to train.  I want to walk my dogs.  I want to feel strong while I'm out fly fishing.  I've spent the last 30 years of my life exercising regularly, so I can do these other things easily.  And now, it feels like I'm losing some of that.  This is way more than just getting old.  People don't age 20 years in 2 months.  At least, I'm assuming that is true.

I have had huge amounts of stress in the past few years - prostate cancer for me, multiple surgeries, ED visits, and and radiation for my wife, work stress, financial stress, kid stress, long commute, long work hours, multiple jobs, etc.  Maybe it's all been too much and my body is rebelling.  But, I need to find some answer to this before I'm a full-time couch potato who is too tired to do anything than control the TV channels.

Hopefully, between the two docs in the next week, we can find some answers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pete Rose and the Baseball Hall of Fame

I tried to retire this blog when I essentially retired from ultrarunning.  But, all 3 of my readers said I should continue writing, so I did.  But, I also said that without the ultra focus, I'd feel free to write whatever I wanted, rather than just ultras and skiing.  By now, my limited audience is really sick of CrossFit stories.  And, fishing stories were getting so old that I created a new blog to talk about them.

I've written about baseball here a few times.  I did a couple articles on using run differential to predict win-loss records, with respect to an Orioles team that was very, very lucky a few years ago.  Today, I imagine, I'm not going to make any new friends.  Once this post shows up in search engines, I'm sure I'll have to delete a few incendiary comments.  But, here goes.

In my opinion, it is clear that Pete Rose should never be allowed in the Hall of Fame.  To further fan the flames, I'll go even further and say that Rose is one of the more overrated players in baseball history.  I think his statistics are good enough to be in the HoF, but I don't think it's a slam dunk.  One number in particular, which I'll address below, really, really bothers me.

The 1919 Black Sox scandal threatened to destroy baseball.  The integrity of the game was challenged when gamblers greatly influenced a World Series.  Others are far more knowledgeable about this subject than I am, and I'm not going to re-hash that history here.  One of the things that came out of that scandal was baseball's Rule 21.  Part "d" of that rule is what I'm going to address here.

Rule 21, Part d:
"(d) BETTING ON BALL GAMES.  Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year.

Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible."

Pete Rose has violated both parts of this rule and has admitted to this.  Because he violated the second part, he is "permanently ineligible".  Banned.  Not part of the baseball.

Some people argue that he never bet against his own team.  My response is "So what?"  The rule is the rule and he broke the rule.  He is ineligible.  The game was almost destroyed by betting, and that is why the rule exists.  He broke the rule.  He is permanently ineligible.  Yes, I know I'm repeating myself, but I am so tired of the online arguments in favor of his inclusion in the Hall of Fame, because he allegedly never bet against his own team.

Now, let me diverge for a bit.  For years, I've thought the Hall of Fame itself has a major weakness.  There are people who are clearly the all time greats - people who had amazing careers over a long period of time.  Ruth.  Gehrig. Young.  Johnson.  Mays.  Cobb.  Williams. Musial.  Mathewson. There is no doubt that they belong in the HoF.  They don't even need a first name to be recognized.

There are others who were brilliant, but for a short period of time  Sandy Koufax stands out to me as the perfect example here.  Herb Score, but his career was way too short.  Thurman Munson.  Lyman Bostock (does anyone remember him?)  Maybe Kirby Puckett, but his career was about 12 seasons.

And then, there are players who were above average, sometimes well above average, over a long period of time.  Ferguson Jenkins.  Tommy John.  Bert Blyleven.  Nolan Ryan.  On the hitting side, Tim Raines comes to mind.  Harmon Killebrew.  Johnny Damon.  And, I put Rose in this category.

I think of the players in this latter group as people who collected gaudy absolute numbers by playing a long, long time.  They weren't terrible players at all.  But, they weren't the best of the best.

So, if you look at Pete Rose's total career, you see the all time hits record.  But, remember that he was a terrible player for the final five years while he doggedly chased the record.  He also made more than 10,000 outs in his career.  He ranks 65th all time in a category known as WAR - Wins Above Replacement value.  He is right behind Adrian Beltre and Jeff Bagwell.  Are they Hall of Fame material?  But, still he's in the top 100 baseball players of all time in this category.  So, yeah, he's a very good player.

What happens when you look at his qualitative numbers though.  When you ignore the gaudy collected numbers, and peer into how good he was per at bat?  In a statistic known as OPS+ (on base percentage plus slugging percentage, adjusted by league and ballpark), Rose ranks 411th all time.  This is just among hitters.  His WAR ranking included hitters and pitchers.

But, you might argue, his career value probably dropped because he hung on a long time to get the career hits record.  To that, I might say "so what?", because he was actively hurting his own team in a search for a personal record.  But, let's borrow some information from a CBS Sports article.

If Rose had retired at age 40, with approximately 3700 hits, his career OPS+ would have ranked him 257th all time.

If he had retired when he got 3000 hits, he would have ranked about 220th all time.

Yes, I remember watching Rose growing up.  Charlie Hustle.  The charisma.  The collision at home plate in the 1970 All Star game.  The never-say-die attitude.  I admire those traits.

If I get to create my own HoF though, I put Rose in the longevity wing, if the gambling hadn't happened.  In the current system, I think he belongs in the HoF for his career achievements, if the gambling hadn't happened.

But, the gambling happened.  The rule is clear.  If Pete Rose is ever inducted into Cooperstown, I will never step foot in the HoF again.  I think it would send a message to other players that the rules don't matter.  But, they do.  The rules exist for a reason, and I can't see any reason to ignore the rule and invite Rose to Cooperstown.  Ever.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A look back: Laurel Highlands Ultra (70 miler) - 2003

Laurel Highlands Ultra Race Report

The Laurel Highlands trail race is a 70.5 mile race in southwestern PA.  It travels northeast along the entire length of the Laurel Highlands trail, a trail whose every mile is marked by small cement markers shaped somewhat like mini Washington Monuments.  The race award is a wooden replica of the mile markers.

A year ago, my buddy Joe did this race in its relay format.  Relay teams can have from 2 to 5 members, and Joe’s team was a 2-person team.  Joe loved the race and talked about doing it on his own this year.  My schedule is usually tight in June, but due to doing a September 100 this year, I found myself with time to squeeze this race in.  Joe and I both signed up months ago and discussed the race by e-mail for months.

We’d been warned repeatedly that it’s a tough trail and the race is more like a 100 than a 50 because of the difficult nature of the trail.  My per-mile pace ended up being the slowest I’ve ever run in a race other than a 100.

So, on Saturday morning, June 14th, as soon as it was light enough to run without lights, we were off.  There were just over 50 people doing the ultra and perhaps a dozen or so relay teams.  The course is divided into five major segments of approximately 19, 13, 14, 11, and 13 miles.  The first segment is easily the most difficult and it was a tough way to start the day.

We did half a mile through a park to the trail and then immediately headed up.  We started at about 1200 feet and the trail peaks in the 2700-2800 range.  By mile 3, we’d done a major ascent followed by a major descent.  I had been thinking about shooting for four hours for this first segment, but decided to focus on an easy effort rather than time after seeing the course.  This paid off later in the day.  Joe, meanwhile, had left me behind after half a mile or so.  I wouldn’t see him for a long, long time.

Soon, we started the biggest ascent on the course, climbing to about 2600 feet just past mile seven.  By mile 10, we’d climbed 3000 feet.  By the 19 mile aid station, it was 4000 feet.

I had my dad along crewing for me.  He’s going to crew for me at Wasatch and he’d never been to an ultra before.  Because he lives in PA, this was a great opportunity for him to see a race and learn a little about crewing.  Plus, I could use the help.

I first saw him at 11 miles and was glad he was there.  My shoes were giving me problems and I needed to change to protect a hot spot that was developing.  I next saw him at 19 miles and there I needed to tape the hot spot.  He was more concerned than I was about my feet.  I’m used to dealing with these sorts of things, but I could hear the concern in his voice as he asked me about my feet later.

As I left the aid station, I saw my first runners in hours.  This is a small race and the field spreads out quickly.  I passed three people from 19-22.  Two of them would pass me back; one more than once, but I would always return the favor.  At mile 22, I saw a runner in front of me suddenly sit down.  He told me he was “crashing hard.”  I offered him food and electrolytes, but he mostly seemed like he wanted to just sit down and be left alone, so I took off. 

The running through here got easier but there were still some significant climbs.  Overall, my altimeter registered just over 10000 feet of climbing and descending with 17 climbs that counted as “laps” on the altimeter.  A climb only needs to be about 150 vertical feet to show up as a lap, but a 150 foot climb and a 1500 foot climb each show up as one “lap”.

I was averaging about 4 miles per hour overall, walking the ups, the steep downs and the tougher sections of the trail.  Overall, I may have walked 50 or so of the 70 miles.  My goal was to make 4 mph for 10 hours and then slow down as little as possible after that.  Before the race, I’d thought that making the old cut-off of 18 hours would be possible.  After just a few hours on the course, I told my dad that I was estimating 20 hours as my finishing time.  I’d end up pretty close on that one.

Around mile 26 or so, near a ski area, it started to rain.  Easy at first and then harder.  I found my dad just past the official aid station.  He told me that Joe was about 25 minutes ahead and running well.  I was happy for my friend to be having such a good day in his first attempt beyond 50 miles.

I got to the 32 mile aid station in about 8:20 or so and was surprised to see that my dad wasn’t there.  I grabbed aid station food and Powerade instead of Gu and Succeed and headed out quickly.  Before I left the aid station, I told the volunteers that when a guy wearing a cowboy hat and an orange shirt turned up, they should tell him he was in trouble.

Soon, I was starting the 35th mile and I’d be halfway there.  The mile took forever, it seemed.  This mile spawned a thought in my head and I was soon compiling a list of “Miles from Hell”.  The list ended up including 35, 39, 44, 50 65 and 69 by the time the race was over.  I hit the halfway point in 9:15 and my estimate of 20 hours still seemed plausible.

After passing mile 35, the terrain got easier and the weather worsened.  The mud from the first rain shower had mostly dried and the footing was better.  I had a couple great miles into the aid station at mile 38, passing three runners in the couple miles before the aid station.  One runner pretty much jumped out of his skin as I startled him while passing.  I think people were very much expecting to be alone out there and another runner passing was a surprise.

Suddenly, the skies opened up.  I was raining hard.  Just as I was thinking that this was the hardest rain I’d seen in a while, it started raining harder.  I found my dad at the aid station and he apologized for missing the previous station.  He’d gotten lost and arrived minutes after I left.  The rain led to some chaos that would cause some problems later.  I got out quickly and started a nasty, muddy descent.  Suddenly, the rain ended and we spent a few miles on nice easy trails.  Until mile 44.  That serpentine mile wound through jungle-like foliage up, down, up, down and around.  I thought it would never end.  But of course, it did, and suddenly, I was at the mile 46 aid station.

I grabbed my lights, knowing that it would probably get dark before I made the next aid station at 57.  I also wanted to take extra Gu and Succeed here in case I got nauseous as the miles accumulated a common problem for me.  Where’s the food bag?  It wasn’t there.  All of my food and Gu were gone.  They’d apparently been left behind at the mile 38 aid station in the rain.  My dad hadn’t gotten any water for the Succeed.  I could tell that my dad felt bad and I didn’t want to make him feel worse.  I did make a comment before I realized what had happened that the one thing that I absolutely needed was the Gu and now I didn’t have it.

I crossed the highway to the main aid station, which was off limits to crews.  They offered me some Red Bull.  No thanks.  I went with Powerade, fig newtons, salted potatoes, and hit the trail.  The next couple miles were mentally tough.  I had a limited amount of food to get through 11 miles and I was worried.  I had some Pringles, about 5 fig newtons, and one precious Gu.  I rationed them carefully and was thrilled to find that the unmanned aid station at 52 had Gatorade.  Normally, I wouldn’t touch Gatorade in an ultra, but at this point, it provided calories.  I pressed on.

At about mile 55, I pulled out my LED light.  Twenty minutes later, I added my halogen lamp as well.  I pulled into the mile 57 aid station at about 9:30 or so.  I heard a familiar voice.  Joe was there.  When he saw me arrive, he got out fast.

My dad had some good news for me.  He’d scrounged a few Gus from other runners and a protein bar.  I took the Gus and the burger that he’d gotten for me and passed on the protein bar.  I grabbed extra batteries for my halogen lamp, re-filled my hydration pack, grabbed a turkey sandwich and set out for the last 13 miles. By now, I was simply power-hiking.  I ran a few more short stretches but fast walking was the norm.

I needed to average 18 minute miles to break 20 hours.  It was going to be tough. 

I caught Joe about mile 57 and stayed with him for about ¾ of a mile before passing.  I made one pit stop and he re-passed me briefly, before I moved past again.  At about mile 60.5, we went out on a dirt road for about a mile and half.  Here, I thought, I can make up some time.  But, it was mostly uphill and I barely held my pace.  At the top was our final aid station.  I had a quick bowl of soup and hit the trail.  Like I’d done at least 3 times earlier, I tried to leave the aid station going the wrong direction, but the guy manning the station straightened me out quickly.

I hit mile 62 two minutes off pace for 20 hours.  I tried to make it up in mile 63, a fairly easy downhill mile.  I lost another minute.  Then two minutes in mile 64.  Twenty hours was slipping away.  But, I stayed focused on getting to the finish.  I was in my last two hours.  One foot.  Then another.  Repeat.  Mile 65 was tricky and I had to be careful to make a few correct turns.  The next mile was easy. 

When do we start the descent? 

We needed to drop about 1300 or so feet to get off the ridge we’d been following all day.  I’d been hoping it would be over 6 long easy miles, but at mile 67, we were still way up there.  I was caught off guard by the sudden appearance of red lights in the distance through the trees.  It turned out to be radio towers.  Then, under some crackling power lines.  Now we were going down.  Mile 69 was all down.  There it was – the mile 69 marker.  One to go.  It was an easy mile but through a labyrinth of trails, some marked with glow sticks and others that left me searching for the omnipresent yellow trail blazes. 

Lights in the distance.  Voices.  I was done.  I made it in 20:16.

This is one tough race, truly 70 miles of technical trails.  Unique in distance.  It’s a beautiful trail, but the view doesn’t change very much.  You’ve got to watch your step all day long.  Great aid stations.  And, the 22 hour time limit makes this race much more accessible to the middle and back of the pack runners than the old 18 hour limit did.  It’s well worth the trip to run this one.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Collecting data and then ignoring it

I recently got a Fitbit Surge.  It's a pretty cool little toy.  It has a continuous HR monitor, monitors sleep very well, keeps track of steps taken during the day, and it has GPS for running or hiking.  The GPS function does place quite a strain on the battery, limiting you to about 5 hours of continuous use.

With GPS turned off, the unit goes about 5 days between charges.

There is an iPhone app for the FitBit, but the online user dashboard is much more impressive and useful.

I've had a few minor complaints with the unit, mostly similar to what I'd read online about HR measurements.  In particular, it seems that my resting HR, which is measured overnight, is simply too high.  There are times when my instantaneous HR will be 20 beats lower than my alleged resting HR, so I think there are some algorithm or sensor issues.  But, the HR data does seem to be consistent, and as such, it's useful, even if the magnitude might be incorrect.

So, I'd written previously about feeling somewhat ill and taking it easy and trying to let my body recover.  While I was doing that, my resting HR dropped consistently from 5/22 through 6/9.  In those 18 or so days, my RHR dropped by 13 bpm.  I took that as a good sign that I was doing the right thing and my body was recovering.

Then, on 6/10, my RHR went up, by a single beat compared to the day before.  I didn't pay much attention to that one blip.  Over the course of last week, I did CrossFit on Monday and Tuesday.  I felt good on Monday and squatted heavier than I'd squatted recently.  Tuesday wasn't too hard, but by Wednesday, I was sore.  On Wednesday, I did a hilly hour-long walk, but skipped CrossFit.  Thursday and Friday, I was back at CrossFit and I worked hard on Thursday.  Saturday, my wife and I went for a run.  Sunday, I did a hilly hike at Sugarbush, spending a lot of time bushwhacking, looking for a ski one of my students lost off-trail last winter.  I was out for 2+ hours.  Sunday night, I was exhausted.  My appetite was gone again.  I felt terrible.

I wasn't really paying attention to my FitBit dashboard.  Monday, I noticed that my resting HR had increased by 1 or 2 bpm every day for six straight days.  I had this data and I simply ignored it.  And, I trained harder than my body was ready for me to train.  A clear data line showed that my body was getting tired and I was pushing the training anyway.

Monday, I took a rest day.  My resting HR dropped that night.  Tuesday, I did CF, but with light weights and fairly easy overall.  My resting HR dropped again that night.  Wednesday, I did CF again, but again, I took it easy.  My wife and I were the last 2 people to finish the workout on Wednesday.  My resting HR dropped again overnight.

I have spent so much time since I got the FitBit, looking at the dashboard, and focusing on how many steps I took each day, and how much sleep I got each night.  I completely forgot to pay attention to another important piece of data.  By doing that, I basically set back my recovery from my recent fatigue by a couple weeks.  I feel like an idiot - having good data and ignoring it.

My resting HR last night was the same as it was 14 days ago.  It was 5 beats higher than the lowest number the FitBit has recorded.  I'm not going to consider a single hard workout until I've gotten down to that lower number.  And, if the RHR increases, I'm going to take a rest day.

What's the use of having the information if I'm not going to use it?

Friday, June 12, 2015

The other side?

It's been 2 weeks since my last post.  In those 2 weeks, I had a visit with my doctor.  He listened to everything that's been going on, and then said something very unlike his normal comments.  He went to med school at Johns Hopkins.  He's a smart guy.  He knows I'm a very analytical guy as well.  He knows I want a detailed explanation of what he thinks is going on.

He told me that he wanted me to simply trust him, and he wanted to approach this based on instinct after practicing medicine for the past 30 years.  They do call it practicing, right?  Basically, this is what he said, paraphrased:

First, we tried a new medicine last time you were here.  It can cause extreme fatigue.  It likely did for you.  You were correct to stop the medicine.  However, the fatigue should have cleared in a couple days, and it didn't.

He went on to look at the last 2 years of my life.  Stress at work, stress with the kids, financial stress, prostate cancer for me, melanoma for my wife.  Three surgeries and radiation for my wife plus a handful of emergency room visits all in the last 7 months or so.  He didn't even know about the latest issue with one of my children, but we did get to laugh that my life is never boring.

He basically said that he was surprised that I've held up as well as I have, and he thinks the medication just triggered a meltdown of sorts.  His advice was no blood work.  If I want to go for a walk instead of a run, I should do that.  If I want to go for a walk rather than do CrossFit, I should do that.  If I want to nap rather than go for a walk, do that.  If I want to nap just because, do it.  Sleep as much as I want.  If I don't want to drink alcohol or eat food, don't do it.  Just let my body dictate how to proceed.

So, I've been doing that for about 2 weeks.  I'm still going to CrossFit, but I'm also still scaling the workouts.  Two Mondays ago, my front squats and back squats were pathetically light and felt really hard.  This past Monday, they were heavier (but not heavy) and felt easier.  On Monday of this week, two friends working out beside me made a comment about how I flew through the latter part of the workout.  I told them I'd scaled the workout, and I was doing only 2 reps for every 3 reps they did.  That's what's been working for me.

I've been taking naps on Saturdays and Sundays.  Going to bed early.  My appetite is better, but I'm still eating less food than normal.  I'm down 15 pounds in the past 6 weeks or so.

And, I'm feeling a lot better.  I haven't had a day where I felt like I was in a mental fog for a while.  I haven't had a day where I mentally wasn't willing to walk or lift.  Yeah, I went to bed before dark on Wednesday after my wife and I skipped the gym because we were sore.  I got some good sleep that night.

So, maybe my doctor's experience and intuition were correct.

I had complained to him at the visit about my previous Saturday.  I'd gone to the farmer's market in the morning with my wife.  Then, we went out to breakfast.  Then, the supermarket.  After that, I came home and mowed the lawn.  I walked 3 miles with the dogs.  Took a nap.  Went out fly fishing for a couple hours - easy wading.  I was exhausted and went to bed without even eating dinner.  To me, that's a rest day.  My doctor laughed and said it was more than he does most weeks.  He said he'd go to be early as well after a day like that.

Hopefully, the next couple weeks will see continued improvement.  Maybe I'll even be lifting heavy within a month or so.  I wouldn't mind if my appetite stayed away though.  I could still stand to lose another 20 pounds or so.