Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Trans Iowa 2016


So, Trans Iowa.

I went, I started, made the first checkpoint cutoff time by five minutes, dropped out at the first convenience store (in Victor, Iowa) and rode back to Brooklyn to get picked up. About 86 miles for the day.

So why did I drop out? Well, it's a bit of a story:

I rode quite a few miles in training over the last six months, tracking things like heart rate, distance and speed. Despite being systematic about it, giving myself days off, managing my stress and whatnot, the numbers were flat. More importantly, I really wasn’t feeling all that great. My motivation was low and I felt disproportionately stressed out. I felt more and more like a robot; and even though I was eating right, getting lots of  sleep, and drinking enough fluids, I was not really Going Like Hell. Finally, after turning in my first hundred-mile ride on April 10, I felt noticeably short of breath. So I made a doctor appointment.

Some of you reading this, especially the endurance athletes, may know that doing something like making a doctor appointment with vague symptoms can be its own challenge. There’s an angel on the one shoulder who’s calmly telling us to watch out for our own well-being, and then there’s a devil on the other screaming “don’t be such a pussy! It’s all in your head!” (I’m quoting—it’s the devil, and he uses naughty words.) While dogged determination has given me some excellent experiences, my intuition told me something wasn’t quite right.

I expected something related to allergy or asthma. Maybe a lung function test. The physician’s assistant put a stethoscope on my chest, listened for about 5 seconds and said:

“Do you have a heart murmur?”

Me: “Uhhhh….no?”

“You have a heart murmur.” He listened again. “Any family history of mitral valve problems?”

“My grandmother had a valve replacement.”

He seemed unimpressed.

“Well, first we’re going to do an EKG here, then blood work and a chest X-ray downstairs. Then we’ll get you in over at the UW for an echo.” The ultrasonographer told me that had I been 50 pounds heavier, nobody would have detected the lub-click-dub-whoosh.

Turns out I have a mitral valve prolapse, which is essentially a noisy and slightly leaky heart valve. It’s pretty common (2%–6% of the population) and benign for almost everybody who has it. Many people who have it don’t even know they have it, and it doesn’t matter because it’s not the kind of heart disease that will kill you, at least not by itself.

Of course, nobody in the medical profession would tell me that right away. I had the tests on Tuesday the 12th, and ended up calling that Friday to find out what was going on. I was told that the news was generally good, but to avoid strenuous activity. Whatever that meant. I was all registered and paid up for Dairy Roubaix, but instead of doing the ride decided to volunteer in the kitchen for the breakfast shift and take some pictures of the riders out on the course. It was a good time, but it wasn’t the same as riding.

The following Wednesday, I finally got a message back from my doctor with some more detail about what I could and could not do. I decided that starting TI and riding steady for a while fit within what I could do. So we went. I didn’t expect to make the time cutoff at the first checkpoint, but that happened. I felt good all day, got to know Slender Fungus rider Dr. Giggles as we rode together. I was quite tired afterward—maybe more so than usual, but hard to say for certain.

It’s still not clear exactly where I go from here, endurance racing-wise. For a normal person, my condition would be a non-issue, but I realize that I am not a normal person. I have a feeling it might take a while to figure out what’s next. Meanwhile? Chillin’, I guess.

Thanks once again to Mark Stevenson for putting this thing on. Though we may secretly curse your name on some of the steeper hills (or sometimes not all that secretly) words can’t express what great experiences I had at all four of the Trans Iowas I did (even last year.) The ride itself, and even more so the people who help organize it and participate, I wouldn’t trade for anything.

I’m feeling damn lucky today. Glad I found out what I did in a nice warm, well-lit clinic without having it become a crisis out in in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night. Glad to have a loving and supportive family, and a lot of good friends. Glad we have health insurance. Glad I took the line at 04:00 on Saturday.

Previous TI attempts: 2015, 2014, 2013.

Photos over on Flickr.


Dr. Giggles said...

I had way too much fun riding with you to Victor IA. Hahaha! What a beautiful day and course, eh? Hope we'll get another chance to share the road together. Be bad in a good way, brother.

Michael Lemberger said...

Likewise—wouldn't trade it for anything. Especially the dogs and pigs.

Did you get your photos?