Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Runners Wave

I bought a small Honda motorcycle about five years ago and I ride it regularly to run errands, take advantage of free motorcycle parking, commute, and to save money on gas. Shortly after I began riding I discovered that motorcyclists have a little wave they give each other as they pass. Their left hand comes of the handlebar and is held down for a second like a "low five". There are some variations; a couple of fingers might be pointed out toward the other rider or the hand might be held open and the degree to which the arm goes out may be anywhere from six o'clock to eight o'clock. The salutation seemed a bit on par with a secret handshake and wholly unnecessary, but I joined in the ritual as well.

I guess bikers (I don't think of myself as a biker) feel a certain kinship and consequently feel compelled to greet a like person. I'm not sure I'm like any of the people I encounter riding motorcycles but I'd grant that we are having a similar and rarer experience than driving a car; I suppose bonds us for a couple of seconds. I have noticed that scooter riders don't do the greeting. I infer that to mean that maybe motorcyclists don't give the low hand wave to scooters and so scooter riders don't wave because no one has ever initiated a wave to them. I've also noticed that riders of certain types of motorcycles are less inclined to wave. They tend to be the riders of bikes with large fairings that cover the whole front of the bike or sport bikes with low handlebars. I don't know if those riders see themselves differently or having a different experience than me and so don't wave, see me as different from themselves because of our bike choice and don't wave, or because of the design of the bike find it more difficult to wave. Sometimes a rider will give me the low hand wave and I'll be braking or about to change gears and not respond and I wonder if they'll feel slighted.

My experience is similar when I run. When I encounter other runners I will acknowledge them with a quick fingers up open hand greeting, sometimes a head nod, or even a spoken "hi" or "howdy". They will often do the same, but many runners will pass without even an expression change. I feel a greater kinship with someone whom I encounter on a trail on a mountain than a motorcyclist so when they pass indifferently it makes me wonder about the implications. Are they lost in the moment? Do they find it peculiar and unnecessary to greet a passing runner, person, fellow human being? Do they perceive me as significantly different from themselves; maybe what I'm doing doesn't seem like running to them, kind of like waving to a scooter driver. If I come across a runner in a relatively remote area where I have not seen another person for a long time, I may make a comment like "Oh, I guess I'm not the only sane/crazy person in the world".

I suppose a lot can depend on population density. A scene from Crocodile Dundee comes to mind. The character is from the Australian Outback and is a passenger in a car that stops for a red light on a New York City street. While at the intersection he greets a couple of people talking on the sidewalk and introduces himself, says he'll be in town for a while and that maybe they'll run into each other again. Presumably, in the remote Outback people greet any other humans they encounter, but a New Yorker would never think to greet everyone passing the other direction walking on 5th Avenue. I don't imagine all the motorcyclists at the yearly Sturgis, South Dakota rally cruising through the streets salute all the thousands of other bikers. Joggers in a city park may not feel compelled to nod to one another just like runners at the local 5K aren't going to all give a little wave to all the other participants.

Maybe motorcyclists and runners perceive themselves as vulnerable minorities. Motorcyclists and runners on the road experience significant vulnerability surrounded by big SUV's, trailer trucks, and distracted drivers in any four-wheeled vehicle and so maybe there is a "we've got to stick together" attitude among them. But then, I have notice other groups behave similarly. Truck drivers passing in opposite directions on a road may flash lights at each other and in my bus travel in Mexico I noticed the bus drivers always saluted and made peculiar gestures to each other as they passed on the narrow highways.

So I think I understand the bond that people feel to one another and that there may be a point when it's infeasible to express that bond; if everyone suddenly were driving motorcycles I'm sure the waving would stop. Maybe Harley riders would just salute other Harley riders and Vespa riders would just wave at other Vespa riders. I still wonder though, why the occasional runner that I encounter on a remote trail whom I gesture to or say "hi" to doesn't at least give a grunt or a nod of acknowledgement. Maybe he grew up in a big city like New York and does the opposite of Crocodile Dundee; he doesn't greet anyone he doesn't know just as he wouldn't on the streets of New York. Maybe he thinks it's a bit silly and unnecessary like I do with regard to the motorcyclists giving the low five to each other.

Many people prefer the anonymity that is found in a large city, but I would rather live in a community where I wasn't so overwhelmed by sheer numbers that saying "good morning" to a passing fellow human being would be an odd thing to do. It's not that I'm such a warm person, either, but it just feels like we'd be a healthier lot if more of us lived where the scale of community allowed for a nod of the head, a wave of the hand, a wink of an eye, a thumbs up, a flash of the lights, or even a "hi there" or "G'day mate".

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cicada Holes up in Runner's Ear

I haven't written a post for quite a while, mostly because running these days has been rather routine and uneventful, until yesterday evening. I had the opportunity to get in on two Boulder Trail Runner runs. I ended up doing the first run alone because I arrived five minutes late and tried to catch up to runners I discovered weren't actually there because I had the location for the run of the 5:30 for the following day. After that run I did a little work and then hurried to the trail head for the 8:30 run. I met up with about seven other runners and we headed out at dusk across the South Teller Farm Trail east of Boulder.

The evening had cooled off nicely as it does once the sun sets in Colorado. As we ran an easy conversational pace on the flat non-technical farm road the regulars made acquaintances with a couple of new runners answering questions they had about the different regular runs and typical routes, etc. On this particular run we usually go out about 3.2 miles and turn around at a bridge that crosses the Boulder Creek on the northern extension of the Teller Farm trail. We don't like to dawdle there because mosquitoes descend on us immediately over the water. We made a quick decision to continue on for another mile to add some hills to our run. The moment we started off in the twilight a large winged insect flew right into my ear as if aiming for a bulls eye and burrowed in as if there was only one way to go. I think I let out some sort of noise and thought I saw someone glance back, but they all disappeared into the growing darkness.

I stumbled around for a few seconds disoriented, being attacked at this point by mosquitoes as well. My motorcycle key was safety pinned to my t-shirt, so I released it and tried to get it in alongside whatever creature was in my ear. I thought I might be able to press it to one side and work it out or at least kill it. That wasn't successful; I mostly just irritated it and made it claw more frantically. I rubbed my arms and legs brushing off the mosquitoes and started to run after the group, thinking they'd be able to help, but I realized I might be better off seeking professional help than letting a pack of runners armed with a headlamp and motorcycle key poke around my ear drum so I turned around and headed back from where we had come. Running seemed to agitate it more than walking so I walked. At times it would be still and it was hardly noticeable, but frequently it would try burrowing more, or what to me felt like trying to extend its wings in vain.

I always run with my cell phone so tried to call my son so that he could come meet me at the nearest road, but he didn't answer. I texted my wife, explaining the situation and asked her to continue to try reaching Alex. She reached him and sent him my way, but I had a while to wait. The other runners came by on their return trip and I stopped them and asked if they could take a look with their headlamps; it was a little startling when they said they couldn't see anything, well, maybe something that looked like a leg. I let them continue on and waited, enduring its occasional stirrings.

A friend of Alex's was driving and my phone was almost out of power after having used the map-my-run app over the course of two runs during the day so I asked Alex to Google how to remove a bug from the ear canal. I thought maybe we could avoid going to the emergency room. According to the site he found, olive oil poured into the ear canal would not do harm to me and would kill the bug which would float out. It seemed reasonable, until I had the bottle of olive oil in my hand. I suddenly felt that I'd rather pay the $100 emergency room deductible and have the professionals take care of it. So Alex and his friend followed me to the emergency room.

Part of being able to deal with discomfort, pain, uncertainty, and creepiness of the situation up until the point of arriving at the emergency room was knowing how long each step toward relief would take; walking to the nearest road would be about fifteen minutes, Alex would be there to pick me up in another fifteen, the car ride to the house another ten, then another ten to the ER. But once I was in the ER the length of time I had to endure became an uncertainty. I wasn't unconscious, didn't have a broken bone, I wasn't in a room with everyone wearing masks, I wasn't having contractions too soon in my pregnancy; I was just pacing around the tiny ER room looking fairly normal from the outside. I was finally attended to about an hour and ten minutes after arriving at the hospital.

The doctor said she would put some drops of Lidocaine in the ear which would numb things and also kill the bug. Evidently there is a pain medication addict working at that ER because there was no numbing sensation and bug seemed just as content and maybe even a little more comfortable scratching around with a little lubrication. She left for a bit to look for a "scraping tool" and was consulting with someone on a cell phone at the same time. She injected more of the mysterious Lidocaine replacement liquid and then tried working the tool in along side it and flicking the bug out to no avail. She said she needed a smaller catheter and a larger syringe. Another fifteen minute eternity passed for the bug and I before a nurse came in with a liter of saline solution and a 60 ml syringe. She had me lay down on the cot bug side up. She proceeded to cover my head and neck with towels and fed the catheter down to what seemed like my eardrum. I'm sure she was just squeezing gently on the syringe plunger but it felt like she had the nozzle switched to "power wash" at the car wash. About five long power blasts ant my eardrum and she floated it out intact. She said, "most people say they have a big bug in their ear because in their ear it feels big; you did have a big bug in your ear."

She received it on a gauze pad and set it on the stainless steel work tray. It was still alive and clawed its way around the gauze in a circle as if taking a victory lap. The doctor came back to check on me and take a look at the culprit. She said she could not believe how calm I had been; she said she would have been scratching her face off freaking out if it were her. I would have too, if I thought it would have done any good. It wasn't causing great pain, and it didn't seem like it was making forward progress, so relatively speaking the stalemate was tolerable. The doctor offered me drugs speculating that I might not be able to sleep from the trauma, but knowing it was out was good enough, although a couple of beers didn't hurt. I arrived home after midnight to a house full of miller moths that had found their way it through a window left open without a screen. I spent about an hour swigging beer and swatting the cousins of my evening's nemesis.

This morning, describing the bug to my daughter, she thought it sounded like a cicada. I hope it didn't think it had found a comfy place to hole up for the next 17 years. The top picture from Google Images looks very much like what they flushed out. It did not appear to have red eyes, but it was rather rumpled by that point. My advice, if a big hardy bug decides it likes the cramped quarters of your ear canal, don't mess around with oils better left for salads; stay calm and get it flushed out by the professionals.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Running and Pain and my Comfort Zone

This month's edition of Runner's World has an article entitled "Hurts So Good" in which the author talks about the runner's relationship with pain, his own dance with pain as a runner, and weaves in his son's bouts with pain and extreme discomfort as a high school cross country runner. I'm OK with perpetuating the mystique of the runner. Non-runners have at some point in their lives experienced some distress from running, whether from a slog through a concourse to catch the next flight, to cut off the ice cream truck before it leaves the neighborhood, or their many attempts to get into shape that were abandoned after the first half-mile jog; as a result they conclude runners must experience pain and discomfort routinely.

I was recently talking with a fellow teacher who used to run marathons but had to switch to bicycling and swimming after rheumatoid arthritis ravaged her joints. She assumed I had a high tolerance for discomfort because I am able to run for several hours at a time. I responded that this wasn't the case at all; I've built up to it. I've just extended my comfort zone. I don't like to be out of it. Granted, I have to push myself on occasion to go beyond where I've been before, but I take very small bites of discomfort.

I've learned to recognize discomforts; a pain or discomfort only bothers me if I don't understand it or am worried that I won't be able to handle it. One of the things I truly like about running is the lack of pain. Something could be hurting on a run, but I either forget about it or natural painkillers kick in and mute it. I can't recall having sore leg muscles from running in the past twenty years. Some might say, "no pain, no gain," but obviously there has been gain; I could easily go for a four hour run this afternoon in which I run a couple of 12% grades gaining two thousand feet in elevation with a liter bottle of water in one hand and a Cliff Bar in my pocket. If the temperature were to unexpectedly be such that I dehydrate and I can't think straight and I have an hour yet to get back, I'm going to leave my happy place. If I survive though, and I find myself in a similar predicament, I will be a little less uncomfortable because I'm no longer facing an unknown.

I actually don't deal well with pain when I'm running if it persists. Most pains don't persist; a couple of times I've had an IT band act up. That was pain that grew and persisted, telling me to stop what I was doing. If I have pains due to running when I'm not running, I don't worry about them. Sometimes after a long run I can hardly get off the motorcycle and hobble to the door when I get home, but I know I'll be good to go the next day. I've had plantar faciitis and Achilles tendonitis that has lasted for months, but I knew that I'd feel better after a run. Of course, that's why the symptoms would last for months.

I know there are runners who go to the pain zone all the time, some embrace it, for some it's a pain that at least they have control of, not like other pains they may suffer in life. I'm not about the pain; I'm about the not pain. I'm about the 50K all above 9,000 feet above sea level with 9,000 feet of elevation gain being within my comfort zone because I'll want to go out for a run the following day.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Weekend Warrior Running

Five months have past since I last posted an entry, which was about vegan running. Eating a dairyless and meatless diet and running have been completely compatible. (I occasionally violate the veganism with some nonfat yogurt and egg whites.) September through May my days are typically busy and they don't leave much time for running. I managed to reach 1100 total miles for 2012, and although it's early in the year I believe I am in a good position to do something similar this year.

Recently, my running has taken the following pattern: On Tuesdays and Thursdays I cover about four miles with a small group of beginning student runners. They are in the walk-run stage but we typically head to a hilly area and I make sure I run all the ascents. Then on the weekends I get out to the foothills near Eldorado Springs and Boulder for one or both days. Lately, I have been enjoying  a run that starts out at the southern Mesa Trail head in Eldorado Springs and heads north, then up Upper Bluestem, reconnecting with the Mesa Trail, continuing until Bear Canyon. I take the Bear Canyon Trail to the Bear Green Trail and work my way around to the summit of Green Mountain and return via the same route. This run typically takes about 4 hours. I had an unsettling moment, when about 25 minutes from the end I stumbled and the light flew out of my hand and went out. I discovered I was in a darkness so dark I could see where the ground and trees ended and the sky began. I managed to find the light and turn it on, but the prospect of crawling blind down such a rugged trail made me consider bring two lights the next time I run trails in the dark.

Yesterday, I didn't hit the trail until 4PM so I decided to do one of my favorite runs that starts on the other side of the road from the above-described run. I take the Dowdy Draw Trail to the South Springbrook Loop to Goshawk to Fowler. I then head back up to the top of the Springbrook Loops and descend via the North Springbrook Loop and back to Dowdy. There I cross the valley on Dowdy up to the ridge where the Flatiron Vista trails connect to Dowdy. At that point I turn around and take Dowdy back to the parking lot. This run was just under two hours and with the days getting longer I didn't even need a light at the end.

Yesterday's run seemed so easy. I cruised on the ascents. There are basically three ascents. The first is about 900 ft., the second is about 500ft., and the third about 400 ft. Even though my weekly mileage had been somewhat low, I think the 4 hour runs with 3800 ft. of elevation have done a lot to maintain my conditioning. Previously, yesterday's route would have found me taking a couple of breaks at certain points, but I didn't even think to yesterday.