Sunday, February 26, 2012

If I Have to Have a Stepdaughter...

My mom is in her 84th year. I remember thinking this time last year that there's no way she would still be with us in a year from now or even six months for that matter. I'm guessing that most of my siblings felt the same given the weakness of her heart but she's still embracing life. She had an appointment last Thursday to meet with a woman to go over her living-will and finalize some other end of life details. Her green Ford Escort still doing the job of 'escorting' her around.

It's not an easy subject to bring up but I was curious about her thoughts of dying. I had the sense that she was comfortable talking about it and so we did recently. She said it's not something she dwells on but given the appointment she just had regarding her living-will, she's been thinking about it more than usual. She went on to say that she's not at all afraid to leave this life and I could tell from the way she said it that she wasn't trying to convince herself of that. Her bags are packed and she's ready to go whenever the time comes. I admire her for her calm and reasoned spirit at this phase in her life.

One thing that somewhat surprised me is that she's made arrangements to donate her body to science—I believe through the University of Minnesota. They'll likely use her remains with their medical students. She said they'll return her ashes to us some 18 months later. Honestly, I'm not sure what I think about hanging on to someone's ashes but should I decide to do that, there's a friend of ours at Foci who blows the most beautiful urns for both human and pet remains. Or maybe by that time, we'll be proficient enough to make our own.

I had my first hard effort on my CompuTrainer on Friday during a 3-hour ride. I can't say that time flew by because it didn't but I was so preoccupied with all the distractions the trainer provides that I wasn't at all focused on the time. No, I won't be out in the sun with the wind in my face this riding season (and I'll really miss that) but I think there's a good chance I'll find myself in even better riding shape because of the way I'll be pushing myself indoors. I can't say for sure but I think my lungs still have a little way to go before they're back to full capacity. I'm still being careful not to push them too hard for too long but I'm not always as good about that as I should be. I tend to get a little caught up in the moment sometimes.

I began using GPS to track my rides 6 years ago when I first bought a Garmin Edge 305 and then later an Edge 705. Since using GPS I've uploaded every ride I've ridden to Garmin's site where I can go back and look at them in all their detail. An aspect of the CompuTrainer that I'm appreciating more than ever is the ability to import previous rides from Garmin's site and after a quick conversion, input them into the database of my CompuTrainer to be ridden in my simulated riding world in the basement. I'm so impressed with everything about this trainer. I can't imagine a better indoor riding experience.

Here's a video I put together showing some of the cool functions of the CompuTrainer but read the next paragraph first.

In the video, you'll see a "metal man". That's a pacer I can set out on the course at whatever predetermined wattage I want him to ride at. I can also speed him up or slow him down should I feel the need. I flipped through the various screens to show some of the options for viewing the data. The Spin Scan is a very cool feature that allows me to see how evenly (or in my case, how unevenly) I'm distributing force on the pedals throughout the stroke. You can also purchase actual video of rides and use them to train with. The last half of the video is me riding the Oceanside, CA triathlon course. Just as in the computer-generated courses, the video progresses at whatever speed I'm riding. If I stop, the video stops. The load generator that is the heart of the CompuTrainer does an amazing job of simulating the needed power to maintain whatever speed I'm trying to given the terrain. Notice the 11.5% grade hill toward the end of the video and what happens to my heart rate as I climb it. Very, very real!

The University of Minnesota at Rochester (where Rachel attends college) doesn't have any sports teams but they do have a ballroom dance team/club. Rachel came into town with Maddy and Lada for a few hours on Friday night—just enough time to have pizza and visit a little before heading off to bed. They had to be up at 4:30 to prepare for a ballroom dance competition in Wayzata held all day and evening yesterday and most of today. I'm so amazed at her and her friends. I think back to myself at their age and I see no comparisons to be made whatsoever. None. They're so motivated and so mature.

I spent the morning and afternoon yesterday watching the dances and filming Rachel and a few of her friends. Tammy was stuck in the office so at least she'll have the videos to see. Rachel danced with her instructor, Jeremy, four times and in each of those dances they took 1st place. I'm very proud of her but then anybody who's been reading here for just about any length of time already knows that.

If I have to have a stepdaughter in my life I think I got stuck with a pretty good one!

Edit: I just got a call from Rachel—she was so excited to tell me that she won 1st place in both the Jack and Jill (randomly selected couples) Chacha and Waltz competitions. She figures there were at least 40 couples in each dance! This is really big. I watched this competition play out last year and it takes talent to make it to the end—and then to do it twice! I wish I had been there!!

Oh, and I just got a text from her "2nd in salsa :-)"

Friday, February 17, 2012

That Won't Be Necessary

Picking up where I left off yesterday...

When I was first admitted to the hospital a few weeks ago and updated my Facebook status about my condition, a co-worker, Leslee, suggested that I make sure they check for Factor V Leiden.
I work with some smart people. It turns out she was right!

From what I understand, Factor V is just one of the many blood clotting mechanisms that kick in when necessary. In my case, my Factor V is a mutant strain that doesn't shut down when it's no longer needed. It becomes hypercoagulable, meaning it continues to cause clotting beyond the point where it should, and unfortunately for me, it resulted in a DVT or Deep Vein Thrombosis. This video gives a detailed look at what actually happened within me. We're quite sure it was one of the falls I took on my Mukluk that caused the initial injury that resulted in the clotting.

This Wikipedia link gives a good summary about Factor V Leiden.

I left the retirement briefing at work fully expecting to hear the worst when I sat down with my doctor; that it would be necessary for me to remain on Coumadin permanently. I had a serious complication from my Factor V condition so why wouldn't they suggest that? I figured long term coumadin therapy has to be cheaper than another PE and the associated hospital stay.

I sat in the small doctor's office playing Hanging with Friends on my Droid Bionic while waiting for Dr. Gay to see me. He apologized for requiring me to come in but he thought it best. I wasted no time in telling him of my concern about having to remain on Coumadin the rest of my life and as he took a seat he gave me the best news I've had since this whole ordeal began, "That won't be necessary" he said. Wow, what a relief! Suddenly the year off my bike didn't seem like such a big deal at all—not in the least. As long as I could look forward to riding my bike in my retirement none of the other inconveniences along the way would matter. It was very good news.

I went on to express some concerns with Dr. Gay about what I thought were side effects from the Coumadin, fatigue being the main one but he assured me that it wasn't the drug causing my tiredness. He said that people who have gone through what I have will sometimes take months to get back to normal. He said that the embolism in my left lung was very large and he reiterated how lucky I was. I took that to mean lucky to still be around. He went on to say that my body is still doing a good amount of healing and that's what is causing my fatigue. Again, this was more good news for me because it tells me that I won't be this tired for the entire year while I'm on the drug—just until my body recovers.

I left Quello clinic and felt like I'd been given a whole new lease on life. Thoughts of selling my Mukluk (yes, there have been some) were suddenly gone. I love that bike!

So, if I could take another stab at the retirement briefer's question to me from Wednesday morning (my previous post) about what my plans are when I retire I think I'd tell him that I intend to do some really long distance stuff on my bike beginning with a week-long trip out to the Black Hills in South Dakota where I'll meet Tammy and fulfill a dream of mine. Maybe I'll even get a touring bike and slow it down some, you know, really enjoy every mile, not hurrying through each one because I've got a job that keeps getting in the way.

Did I seriously just say something about slowing down?

Strike that!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Phone Call from Quello and some Serious Considerations

There was a message waiting for me on our home phone Tuesday afternoon when I came home from work requesting that I call my doctor to find out the results of some blood work that was done on me while I was in the hospital. All the nurse could tell me was that I was a carrier for a condition called Factor V Leiden but that I'd need to meet with my doctor to learn more. I was familiar with Factor V because a friend at work is also a carrier and she suggested early on that I may be as well.

I don't want to sound dramatic but my whole world stopped for a time as my mind immediately began to explore worst-case scenarios and what it would mean to me. The most pressing question I had was would I be able to come off Coumadin in one year as we'd planned so I could resume my riding or would I be left on it permanently and somehow have to forget about ever riding the roads again? I called right away and made an appointment for the next day.

Air traffic controllers have a mandatory retirement age of 56. Some make it that long but they're very much in the minority. It's always been my plan to work until then but lately, I'm not so sure I still have it in me to go the distance; another 18 months. Of all the guys I hired on with 30 years ago, I'm the only one who has yet to retire. The recent health issues I've had have me reconsidering my options. I want to be careful to not make any decisions while I'm at a point of weakness which is where I feel I'm hovering now. I'll see where my thinking is at in a few months after I've had more time to get my strength back.

I sat in on a retirement seminar at work on Wednesday morning. It was information I'd previously heard but that was several years ago. There are one or two key decisions I'll have to make with respect to survivor benefits and I'll only have one chance to get them right. In the plan I'm leaning toward, it will cost me 10% of my annuity to provide 55% of my retirement benefits (a survivor annuity) for Tammy should I die before her. A quick refresher of the other available options couldn't hurt I figured.

We were asked to fill out some personal contact information as we entered the room which I found somewhat odd. I was expecting that those conducting the briefing would be federal employees but curiously enough they weren't. An hour into the talk it all began to make sense when the main speaker attempted to convince us that the cost of our survivor annuity was a huge waste of money. Oh really? There was some subtle groundwork being laid for a whole-life insurance policy pitch (at least that's how it appeared to me) for phase 2 on Friday where they'll be discussing some alternative investment strategies. And what better audience than a room full of folks nearing the end of their careers with some nice government pensions waiting in the wings. It sure beats cold-calling.

We have our vehicles and homeowners insurance policies with our neighbor who's an agent with State Farm. I gave Brian a copy of my retirement package last year to look over with a request to come up with a better plan for covering Tammy than what I'm being offered through my government pension. By that I mean I would take my full pension rather than a reduced amount to provide for her and I would use the money I saved by taking my full annuity to purchase life insurance outside of the government on myself in case I die first; some sort of term or whole-life policy.

Brian contacted me a few days later and said he couldn't do it. He had no plan that would give me the same assurances or better than what the survivor annuity option of my federal retirement provided me with a similar cost. I want to be sure she has no worries and who can say what the value of a policy in today's dollars will be 25 years from now? By staying within my government pension, all of those values will increase through cost of living adjustments leaving me with less to be concerned about. I mean, I think that's why you have insurance to begin with; so you don't have to worry.

All during the briefing, my mind kept wandering to my appointment I had scheduled with my doctor for 10:30. There was a lot riding on what he would tell me. At one point the guy doing the briefing singled me out and asked me what my plans were for retirement...what would I do with my spare time? I had to think. Had he asked me that question a month earlier I wouldn't have hesitated to tell him of some serious riding I've been dreaming of but I had no answer; just a shrug of my shoulders and an 'I don't know' look. I hadn't considered a backup plan to my retirement where riding isn't a key focus and I felt stupid as I sat there pondering the question flat-footed and preoccupied with other thoughts while he waited for my answer. But I wasn't even sure what my doctor would tell me. All I knew was that I didn't want to get my hopes up to have them come crashing down so I was preparing myself for the worst while praying for anything but that.

Sorry for being a tease but this is getting a little long and I've been up all night at work so I'll finish this later...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Workaround

It's no secret that I've got an addiction to working out. If I don't get my fix I become preoccupied with satisfying it and the longer I live outside of my routine, the edgier I can become. For the most part, it's a positive addiction but occasionally I can take it to the extreme as I set goals that push me further than I should maybe go. But I find a lot of satisfaction in my accomplishments, especially on my bike—it's what I love. That's why it was such a blow to me when my doctor told me that I couldn't ride for one full year while on Coumadin for my bilateral pulmonary embolism. It's not lost on me that it's for my own good; I get that.  But orders to stay off my rollers too? Hmm. I could sense the walls closing in as withdrawal began in earnest.

CompuTrainer (defunct as of 2/2017) has been around since 1986. I'd heard of it/them but I never felt the desire to learn more about the product, much less buy one, until recently when some guys on the Serotta forum were talking about their CompuTrainers and the workouts they were getting racing against Metal Man. They piqued my interest and this was even before my hospital stay and cycling restriction. I should add that this trainer would be acceptable for me to use because the rear wheel is locked in place and the only way I'd fall off it would be if I were to pass out.

I spent some time online reading reviews from others and came to the conclusion that people really like this trainer. Usually, any discussion of bicycle trainers is full of comments from people who loathe this form of working out. They suffer through it with not much good to say other than they're glad when it's over. It can be mind-numbing. Not so with a CompuTrainer. I found all sorts of comments from people who are happy to hammer out the miles in the interactive setting it provides. I mentioned to Tammy my interest in getting one and she was very encouraging, telling me to go for it. She's a classic enabler.

I took delivery of mine on Friday.

The software is written for PC and not Mac but I was hopeful that I could run it on the PC side of my Mac using VMware. Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead! I was determined to make this happen. It's a strong addiction I have. I messed with it for a few hours Saturday afternoon trying to get the interface to work and seemed to have it synced up but couldn't get the signal from my Mac to the flat-screen on the wall through an HDMI connection. I was afraid this might happen after reading similar stories from others on the CompuTrainer forum but none of the users spoke of trying VMware so I was somewhat hopeful.

Beaten, I eventually gave up and purchased a lesser expensive laptop dedicated solely to running this software. I had it up and running within minutes of turning on my new Toshiba.

I climbed aboard and raced Metal Man over a moderately hilly 25-mile course, being careful not to overdo it considering my lung function isn't what it was before my PE. Metal Man is a pacer you can race against set to a wattage of your choice.

What makes this trainer so much better than any other out there is that you can program courses into it from anywhere using GPX files (GPS data files) from around the world or you can make up your own courses. I can even ride various legs of Le Tour de France if I choose. There's a load generator that applies force to the rear wheel that very accurately simulates the resistance you would feel on a particular climb. Wind data can also be programmed into it, both direction and speed.

There's so much to learn about the program and my knowledge only scratches the surface at this point. I'll be getting into it much more over the coming weeks and will no doubt write about it here.

Yeah, I know...yawn!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Thoughts of Reviving an Old Love

As much as I enjoy biking, there's something that I used to enjoy even more: running.

It was late summer 1983 and I'd recently been exiled to Huron, South Dakota working for the FAA at the Flight Service Station there. I remember being in my car one afternoon on the north end of the city and noticing a runner appearing to move effortlessly alongside me as I slowed for a stop sign. There was something about that image that both intrigued me and stayed with me. In the summer of 1984, the seeds planted in my subconscious from seeing that runner one year earlier began to take root.

I'd sometimes go for walks at night to sort through whatever thoughts may have been troubling me. They were typically thoughts of how I'd ended up in Huron. On one of those walks, I decided to throw in some running. I'd run for a block then walk for a block and repeat that several times. It didn't take long before I'd built up enough fitness to run most of the two-mile route. Then, one fall afternoon I had a breakthrough run. I started out on my usual loop to the west, out of our apartment on Ohio Ave. I felt strong and when it came to the point in the run where I'd always turn in the direction of home, I didn't. I pressed on.

I headed east through the city past Memorial park then climbed 4th street beyond the James River. By the time I'd made my way back to the apartment, I'd covered 9 miles. I had never run anything near that distance and I was so excited but my quads were also showing signs of wanting to cramp once they were no longer being worked. I remember soaking in the tub afterward, basking in the glow of the having-given-it-all-I-had tiredness I was feeling. I knew I was on to something.

Over the next few months, I'd fully fall in love with distance running. It became my passion. Shin-splints would slow me but they couldn't stop me. My bikes would get very little use over the next many years while I indulged in my addiction.

Running would be my focus for the following 7 years but in that time I'd also see the debilitating effects of what routine 50-65 mile weeks can do to a runner's knees. I would run my last marathon in October of 1991. I dug out my running logs from the months leading up to my final race to refresh my memory. I took my running seriously—maybe too seriously. Highest weekly total: 76.4 miles; highest 30 day total: 275.6 miles; 6 miles in 36:57 for a 6:10 pace in the days leading up to the race. I'd prepared myself the best I could given that I had (have) a bad right knee and couldn't do as much speed work or hill work as I'd wanted. Still, I was chomping-at-the-bit for race day.

My parents were staying with us for the week and when I awoke early on the morning of the race to a sleeping household, I found a note from my dad with words of encouragement. They stayed with me throughout the race.

Reading from my running journal:

Sunday, October 6th, 1991

26.2 miles in 2:55:42 (284th out of 6400 runners)

First 20 miles in 6:30 pace. Last 10k in 7:18 pace. Developed a severe blister on my right heel that caused me to slow at mile 19. I have the ability to do a 2:48 but I'll need to do more distance work. I'll have to do a steady diet of 65-75 mile weeks. I'm very pleased with my effort. My weight before the run was 152.

I'd go to the medical tent after the race to find that the skin of my entire right heel had blistered and would eventually peel off. The inside of my shoe was a bloody mess. I had problems with my racing flats and never got enough miles in them before race day. Big mistake.

I didn't know it then but it would be my last running race. Within a few months, I'd have arthroscopic surgery on my right knee to repair damage from years of abuse on the roads. My orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Richard Schmidt, was the same doctor who had recently performed surgery on famous marathoner Dick Beardsley when he was nearly killed in a farm accident. After my surgery, he told me that I could continue to run and do marathons but his advice to me was to cut my mileage in half and slow my pace otherwise I risked going into my later years with knees crippled by arthritis.

I got back on my bike.

I toyed with running again 10 years ago but after a few months, I stopped because I didn't want to do more damage.

But are there more running days ahead for me? Possibly.

A friend at work is being treated for very crippled knees from a lack of cartilage due to sports injuries years ago. Barry heard of a much less radical treatment than typical knee replacement surgery—a treatment that is very much in its infancy but not at all invasive compared to the alternative. The company is called Regenexx and their treatment involves injecting stem cells taken from your own body to the site of the injury.

Barry had his treatment two months ago and is making steady progress. He's likely going to have to go in for another round of injections to get the full benefit of the procedure which isn't at all uncommon. Another friend at work is also going to have one of his knees treated.

I'm content to wait and see how Barry and Jeff make out with their reconditioned knees before I look into it much further. The thought of running again does intrigue me. If I'm given another chance I'll not abuse it, I'll run much smarter—or maybe I'll simply be content to be able to push myself much harder on my bike than my knees will now allow. I would love that.

Check out this video recorded a couple weeks ago from The Doctors. This is the same doctor that performed Barry's procedure. It looks promising.