8 months and counting

Yup, I’m still injured! That’s quite possibly the reason why I don’t really update this blog - half of my previous entries had something to do with running, and I also felt too depressed to keep writing injury updates.
But at this point, it’s worth listing all the things I tried so far, just because it’s a bit funny, and will also remind me one day not to get injured again.
So in no particular order, these are the methods, items, medications, that I’ve tried since September:

  • 2 months of physical therapy at Excel
  • 1 month of Etodolac anti-inflammatory meds
  • Flector anti-inflammatory patches on my legs
  • Nitroglycerin trans-dermal patches on pain areas for several weeks (yes, those that heart patients use to prevent angina attacks
  • All natural bursitis patches from Australia, worn at night for a couple of weeks, they smell like vinegar, and always rip off too much hair in the morning
  • Home ultrasound kit - 4 weeks, an hour a day (although I may have used it wrong initially)
  • 6 weeks of aggressive PT at Zarett
  • 1 very painful scraping session for each leg at Zarett
  • Couple of myofascial release massages

Some of the tools in my home inventory are

  • the stick (one at home, one at work actually)
  • foam roller
  • some tennis balls that I lay on or sit on, depending on whether I’m releasing the hip flexor or massaging the hamstring
  • the super powerful Thumper massager
  • neoprene thigh compression sleeves that i wear whenever i walk or bike anywhere

And then there are countless hours of stretching and strengthening exercises at home, I would guess at least 4-5 hours a week, and even more during certain periods.

At this point I am feeling a little better, I think the last round of PT, plus the myofascial relese therapy might actually be making a difference, I just hope it’s not temporary.

In PT they pointed out some weaknesses and bad flexibility in parts not close to the injury (hamstrings), but that could have contributed to the initial injury. So I’m working on some hip flexibility and core strengthening, which will hopefully help me not get injured again, once I actually start running again.

Add comment April 23rd, 2009

Slow Recovery

It’s been three weeks since I started doing physical therapy for my legs. I started seeing improvements immediately, but soon realized that it will take something like 5-6 weeks at least in order to stop feeling the pain completely. Then I’ll be able to start running slowly.
For now I’m spending 1 to 1.5 hours a day stretching, strengthening, and massaging my hamstrings and calves. Needless to say, that’s way more time than I ever spent running. The good thing is that I’ll learn to do some of these exercises routinely, and hopefully prevent such injuries in the future. Because let’s face it - everyone would rather run than stretch and do silly exercises on the floor (while the dog is trying to disrupt you). But after having to do so much of them now, I think I’ll be able to get myself to do them a couple of times a week, especially knowing that they’d make me a healthier runner.
There are some other good things coming out of this whole injury fiasco. I now have more free time to support Crystal as needed in her training for the marathon - dog walking and other things would be a real mess if we both had to stick to a demanding marathon training schedule. Having gone to the pool 3-4 times a week has also made me a stronger swimmer, which will hopefully be useful in any future triathlons I do.

Add comment October 24th, 2008

Good photos, good stories

I’ve recently been told about the Boston.com Big Picture blog, and have been following it for some great photos and interesting stories from around the world.
However, the most recent post about Childhood Cancer Awareness Month (have you heard about it anywhere in the media?) was actually so powerful and sad that it prompted me to share the link here. Go read it and some of the comments posted by people who unfortunately know about this firsthand.

Add comment September 27th, 2008

Injured

I haven’t written in a while, I guess life after Nepal seemed pretty ordinary and boring, not much to write about. However, there has been an event that changed my life(style) significantly, so here it is…

About four weeks ago I got hurt while running. Didn’t think much of it, it was just a cramp in my left hamstring, it happened during a long run on the trail in Wissahickon, so I assumed I just overexerted myself, and if I rest for a few days and stretch well, I will be over it. So I “rested” for a week by only biking and swimming, then went back to normal running for a full week. At that point the pain came back, it was in both legs, spreading from the calf, over the back of the knee, into the hamstring. I just put up with the pain thinking it will go away, and kept running. As a matter of fact, the only time I didn’t feel the pain was while running!
However, after about a week, when I woke up and could barely walk, I realized that I needed more than just a few days off. On the day we flew back to Croatia, I was so crippled I barely walked at the airport and got home walking as slow as my mom. I rested almost completely for a couple of weeks (excluding an overnight hike, which was well worth the pain), but the pain came back with a vengeance when I had to move more in Philly.
So the diagnosis is as follows - tendonitis in both hamstrings, normally takes 4-6 weeks to heal. This means not only that I can’t run the Philly Distance Run tomorrow, but I’ll have to skip the full marathon in two months as well (both paid for, nonrefundable, thank you very much). So basically the whole fall running season is pretty much ruined because I over trained, and then was too stupid and impatient to listen to my body and give it proper rest.
It was always easy to dispense advice to others and tell them to back off and rest if they felt any pain, that a few missed runs are not a big deal, and I was proud of my training schedules that always got me to the start line healthy, until now. This fall I just wanted a bit more, and probably overdid it at some point. Most non-runners and runners who haven’t been injured wouldn’t realize how much it means to be able to run. For us, running is not just some silly form of self-punishment, it’s a lifestyle that keeps you fit, your mind clear, and is often the perfect stress-reliever after a sucky day at work. Training for races and running them is not just about setting personal goals and hopefully achieving them, it’s about having a lot of fun, and socializing with others runners.
Being injured really makes me realize how much I need to appreciate being healthy enough to run, and also puts things in perspective - a few weeks, or even months off is not that big of a deal. I will come back, take better care of myself after learning more about my body, and sign up for new races. For now I’m (hopefully) keeping the pounds off by swimming just using my arms four times a week. And you can bet I’m doing a good job stretching those arms before swimming, lest I get totally crippled!

A small benefit is that instead of pre-race jitters, the night before the race I can now enjoy some beer!

Add comment September 20th, 2008

The daily swoop

First I thought this was a freak incident, but I can easily reproduce it once or twice a day now. When I walk Pablo to the park right outside of our building and we walk around a particular tree, there’s this small bird that starts chirping, and then eventually swoops at Pablo’s tail, and actually touches it some times.
I guess its nest is in that tree that Pablo likes to pee on, and we’re perceived as a threat, so it goes for the highest (and hairiest) point on Pablo’s body. The most amazing thing about this is that the bird hasn’t ended up in Pablo’s jaws yet, mostly because it attacks from behind.
Pablo’s prey drive is pretty high, and he’s managed to already catch a fish (yes, a catfish was living in one of Philly’s fountains for a while, but Pablo just managed to scare it enough, he didn’t finish it off), and goes for squirrels on a daily basis. Recently he surprised one (and me) when he circled a large tree, and was mere inches away from its tail. I hope he never catches one as that would be really gross and cruel, and it would make him an even more dedicated hunter.

Add comment July 12th, 2008

Running after 4 weeks, and altitute training

I had my concerns being away for four weeks that I wouldn’t be able to run when I came back from Nepal. I even brought my running shoes, but as mentioned in an earlier post, I’d be insane to try to run in Kathmandu traffic and pollution, so that didn’t happen.
I was hoping that being at high altitude for two weeks would make up for not using running muscles, being that my body was full of extra red blood cells that could carry more oxygen to my lungs and muscles…
The day after I came back, I set off on a standard 8.5 loop run with my running club, going at the pre-Nepal standard pace, and soon found out that yes, even with the extra blood cells, my leg muscles just gave up after about 4 miles, cramped up and waved the white flags…
This was bad news considering that a week later I was hoping to improve my Broad Street Run time from last year. After that run I pretty much gave up hope on that, until the start line where I met Geoff who normally runs a similar pace to mine, and who basically pulled me to the finish line in 1:11:59, about 50 seconds faster than last year, even though I was in great pain and pulled a few wrong muscles.
That makes 4/4 in PRs this year - a marathon, half-marathon, 5 miler, and a 10 miler… Let’s hope there will be a few more of those in the fall.

Add comment May 30th, 2008

Photography in Nepal

I had many thoughts about taking photos, as well as photo equipment during my Nepal trip, so let me summarize them now…
So I came home with something like 1200 photos, 800 of which I post-processed and posted on my site. To most people they seem really good, and even I have to admit that a few are pretty damn awesome, but that’s bound to happen given the opportunities and the surroundings I was in.
However, about 3 hours into the trip I realized that I won’t take as many photos as I normally would on another trip. In Kathmandu, even in the tourist locations, I was more comfortable just working with one lens, and bothered to stop and do a lens swap only in quiet places. Not that I felt really threatened or worried that I’d get mugged, but I never got completely comfortable playing a role of a tourist wielding all this fancy equipment in front of the locals, and getting in their faces to take photos. But it is hard to be subtle about taking pictures because if you’re white you stick out, and if you have a long white lens, you stick out even more!
So I had to settle for long lens shots from a distance (70-200mm Canon f4L, or shooting from the hip with a wide-angle (my 10-20mm Sigma), in places that weren’t pure tourist attraction shots.
While on the trek, I only took two lenses, the very versatile but sometimes not wide enough, and often not long enough Canon 17-55mm F2.8 IS, and the 70-200 beast. I carried the long lens in my daypack the first few days, but then quickly realized that I rarely felt like stopping to pull it out for several reasons - loads of dust, slowing down the progress of the whole group, and then just pure laziness, being that any kind of breathing or extra movement at higher altitudes were difficult. So about 90% of the shots in the mountains were done with the 17-55, with the long lens being used only in camp, and on some special days that I knew I’d want it with me. I also didn’t make any side-trips or traveled off the path too much to get that slightly different shot, again because of general fatigue, and I quickly settled for taking regular tourist snapshots, but hopefully with somewhat better angles and exposure (which can be tricky at times with the bright snow and ice).
If I had to pick an ideal one lens camera setup, I’d say a Canon 5D paired with the 24-105mm lens would be ideal, as on a full frame camera it would cover most of the range, and with stitching and cropping could pretty much handle most situations I was in.

1 comment May 30th, 2008

A happy ending

Well in a sense - as this trip is nearing its end, and we have less than an hour of flying to JFK, I’m fondly remembering my first paid-for massage experience. Evan and I had some extra Bhats and lots of extra time at the Bangkok airport, so we decided to get a full body 45-minute Thai massage. It was a bit weird as we were sweaty and smelly, but they do give you one-size-fits-all PJs, wash your feet with a warm towel, and then proceed to beat the crap out of you. These two tiny Thai girls kept giggling while they flipped us around and inflicted pain (the good kind) to each muscle. They thought we were brothers, possibly because of the beards - do all white guys look the same to Asian people?
Yesterday morning, which seems forever ago, and now definitely half the globe away, we had morning tea in the chill back yard of the Pilgrims bookstore, then said goodbye to good old Kathmandu.
I’ve definitely grown fond of Nepal, and shed a tear or two on the plane when leaving it. Nepal and its people will definitely stay in my heart, and I feel differently than when leaving prior destinations I’ve seen as a tourist. Possibly it’s because I spent more time than at any other place outside of Croatia and the U.S., possibly it’s because the way I’ve seen and experienced Nepal - slowly, by foot, accompanied by the locals, actually getting some understanding of their complex society and culture, and seeing firsthand how difficult life is for most Nepali, who yet somehow still appear happy and friendly.
I don’t know when the next time will be when I get a chance to visit it, and under what circumstances. I am fairly sure that it will be quite a bit different though, as witnessed by all the construction in cities and the mountains. All I can say is that I wish Nepali people all the best with coping with political and economic changes (progress?), a rapid boom in tourism that’s inevitable, and all the environmental and social issues that will come along with it.
This concludes this portion of the program, which turned out to be my most valuable travel experience so far, and until next time, NAMASTE…

Add comment May 10th, 2008

Fulfilling last tourist obligations

This morning my roommate (formerly tentmate) Evan and I decided to hit the last big tourist destination we haven’t seen yet.
We took a 30 minute taxi ride from hell (during Nepalese rush hour) to the medieval city of Bhaktapur, some 20km away from Kathmandu. Foreigners (other than Indians) are charged a hefty $10 fee to roam through the city and see more old temples than you can count. Lonely Planet says there’s no traffic in the main squares of Bhaktapur, but I think there’s just less traffic than in Kathmandu, just enough to get a false sense of safety before almost getting plowed by a motorcyclist.
Saw a couple more Shiva temples with nicely carved Kama Sutra art. Pornography in general is banned in Nepal, but that’s OK because you can learn everything from ancient temple carvings.
We did see a few white people wandering the streets, but most of the tourist crowds seemed to be nicely dressed Hindus (from India or elsewhere in Nepal) posing for millions of photos in front of every temple, the kids inevitably riding every lion or elephant statue.
The only remaining thing for us to do now is spend the rest of our rupees on dinner and souvenirs, to support the local economy as much as we can.

Add comment April 23rd, 2008

Back to the big city

After an early morning flight from Lukla (downhill takeoff, mints and cotton served after the takeoff, quite a bit of turbulence), we were back in Kathmandu, with all the smog, crazy traffic, and the relentless shop owners trying to sell us crap. Instead of dodging yak crap and yak horns on the trail, we’re back to dodging cars, motorcycles, animals and hash dealers.
Still, Kathmandu is very charming, and I found enough energy to actually shop for some souvenirs.
For dinner we selected this sorta secluded place that has “beer garden” in its name. At least half of it was true, because despite all of two crappy beers offered, the garden was quite nice, had excellent Tibetan/Bhutanese/Nepali food, and for a couple of hours I felt like we were somewhere in Europe.
Oh, I think when I was going through security check at the Lukla airport (no metal detector, hence they normally look through your bags), the police officer was trying to by my headlamp - when I pulled it out of a backpack pocket he kept asking “how much”. They also asked me “which country” as I think they were writing down in a notebook where everyone was from. I said “Croatia”, they repeated “U.S. ??”, to which I just said “OK”.

Add comment April 22nd, 2008

The official wrap-up

Not much to mention today, had a quick walk to Lukla where we’re spending the rest of the day. Needless to say not much happening in this place. The highlight of the day was a two year old girl on the street repeatedly shooting us with a water pistol, which was cute. Gave me a good opportunity to actually take pics of kids, which I’m normally not that good with (at least the unknown ones on the street).
We are also sharing a lodge (sleeping inside, with an attached bathroom, which seems like a real luxury) with some mixed expedition that will attempt to climb Makalu. Also found out form some trekkers that went to the Ama Dablam Base Camp that there’s a Croatian expedition there! Wish I had known before, but I will have to keep track of their progress…

Add comment April 21st, 2008

This is the last time…

Today was a day when we heard a lot of “this is the last time” - we’ll see Everest, sleep in a tent, etc.
As happy as I am to actually be going home soon, I am more than a bit sad to be leaving this place and the trekking lifestyle we enjoyed for the last two weeks.
We left Namche this morning (another place I really liked and will miss), and are now camping in Phakding again. We had a special dinner tonight (which was like a regular dinner, but with cake), we gave our tips to the staff of 17 that catered us these 2 weeks (a leader, sirdar, cook, 3 assistant guides, 4 kitchen boys, 5 porters, and 2 yak drivers). A short celebration consisted of some dancing and singing (tourist participation awkward yet obligatory). We did get to try home-made chhaang (rice beer) which came in a big blue bucket. I sort of liked it, and could definitely get used to the taste.

Add comment April 20th, 2008

Civilization (sort of)

This morning we found out the truth about the dogs - they were definitely not the same one. Apparently every dog in this region looks the same - black with a white spot on the chest, and the same size, we must have sen at least a dozen. My theory is that at least a bunch of them come from the same litter.
Tengboche monastery was interesting, but pretty small. Like all the Buddhist holy places, you can visit them as a tourist as long as you take your shoes off, don’t interfere with any ceremonies going on, and dress and act decent (seriously, one sign said “no kissing”). The monastery was established only a hundred years ago, but has since been destroyed in an earthquake, and burned down, so this third iteration is only twenty years old.
We got back to Namche today, where hot showers, Internet, and shops are readily available. Although the elevation is almost the same as last night, because this is Nepal, we had to descend about 600m first, so we can climb them again later.
Apparently there was a potential incident at the Base Camp (some Tibetans are actually in the Indian military climbing expedition), so Nepal now has soldiers in the camp preventing anyone from even entering the icefall (apart from Sherpas carrying gear up to camp II).
They also started searching trekkers’ gear at the national park entrance, I guess in order to confiscate any “free Tibet” shirts or flages. That’s too bad because you can buy them within the park in Tibetan owned stores.
Speaking of the national park, a couple of us picked up surveys in order to help with feedback about our visit. The surprising fact was that the entrance fee is only $15 and most of us would be willing to spend more. According to our guide, that won’t help, because the Nepali government harvests the money and doesn’t put nearly as much into this region or park services, as they advertise.
My main gripe (my group had similar thoughts) is tons of trash everywhere - by the trail, and in rivers and streams. Even when they “dispose” of the trash properly, like out trekking company does, it consists of burning anything that will burn, including used plastic kerosene containers, which can’t be that good.
Over the last two weeks we learned some basic Nepali words and phrases, but the one that gets the most usage in bad jokes is “dudh” or milk. So you can have “a little hot dudh” in the morning, or get “some chocolate dudh in you before bedtime”…

Add comment April 18th, 2008

A dusty descent

Took us 6 hours to the 1100m lower Duboche.
We can not freeze tonight for a change, and don’t need to stop for breath between *every* bite. The ccampsite is nice, with a view of Everest and Ama Dablam, and surrounded by pines and rhododendron. Tonight we dine inside of a lodge, and can maybe play cards without gloves on.
Right before entering the campsite we saw what must have been the same puppy from Phortse from 6 days ago! The other village is only about 2 hours walking from here, and the dog loked the same, had same puppy teeth, and was very playful and wanted to be petted.
Tomorrow morning we visit the Tengboche monastery, where our head guide Thupten spent ten years as a monk.
This day ended with quite a happy ending - several shots of sunset hitting Everest, and a return of appetite and solid pooping!

Add comment April 18th, 2008

Conquered the Base Camp

The night was long and the morning cold. My diarrhea woke me up at some point, so I knew it was snowing. Someone measured 20 degrees Fahrenheit in their tent during the night. We had about an inch of snow by the time we got up, but the sun warmed things up quickly and melted the snow.
A 2.5 hour “flat” hike gets us to the Base Camp (there is no such thing as flat in Nepal, even if the altitude change is minimal, there are many ups and downs to get to any destination). The camp is a little tent city, holding almost 30 expeditions, but nothing is flat either so things look somewhat chaotic. We heard that they have to move each tent every couple of weeks as the glacier moves and cracks form. The Khumbu Icefall was also very impressive and scary looking, but everyone has to traverse it to get to the next camp. We even saw (from a distance) a Puja ceremony for an Indian expedition, which gets them good favors with the gods of the mountains, and without which Sherpa clibers won’t go anywhere.
Overall, I was very impressed, and the whole thing was surreal and unbelievable, just like the previous days. After a total of 7 exhausting hours of walking, we’re back in Lobuche, and tomorrow we start descending.

Add comment April 17th, 2008

We did it!

Climbed the 5550m (18,200ft) Kala Patthar, that is!
The morning didn’t start off so hot, with more diarrhea which is not fun at all. After a rocky 3 hour walk to Gorak Shep, we went up the “hill” and 6 out of 7 of us made it to the top. It was a race against the clouds that were rushing to obstruct out view, but we made it just in time to still have some awesome vistats of the whole valley surrounded by the tallest mountains in the world. Our camp at Gorak Shep is also surreal, it’s on this huge sandy beach, although it’s snowing out there right now.
Temperature swings here are crazy, during the morning when it’s sunny and not windy, it’s almost short sleeve weather, but then by the evening it gets really cold that all my clothes can’t warm me up (I’m sure altitude and fatigue have a bit to do with that too), and in the night ice crystals form on the inside of the tent and on our sleeping bags.
Tomorrow is an even longer day with a trek to Everest Base Camp which seems to be quite a little tent city in the distance…

Add comment April 16th, 2008

Getting really high

Luboche - 4940m

We’re definitely in a different landscape now. Big boulders that the Khumbu glacier brings down, no vegetation, just rock, ice, and big mountains. The uphill climb wasn’t so bad, but we were still all wiped out when we reached camp by 1pm. It’s also getting significantly colder, which our bodies think is even colder due to this silly altitude. Unlike in the past 2 days in Dingboche, and some previous campsites, we’re not staying near a lodge, so our meals are not indoors. This means that any free time is passed either in the sleeping bag or in the dining tent. Right now there’s a mean game of hearts being played in the dining tent by a bunch of bundled up people with headaches.
The next 2 days are going to be really exciting and hard, we’re just not sure whether Kala Patthar or Base Camp comes first, it largely depends on the weather.
With as rocky and uneven as this surface is, I’m amazed they found a few spots even remotely flat to pitch our tents.
At this altitude we get only 55% of the oxygen as we would at sea level, which explains why I’m out of breath just putting clothes on, or standing up, or simply chewing.
Ahh, my winter gloves smell like Pablo!

Add comment April 15th, 2008

A shower with a view

Today we slept in until 5 (wakeup call is kitchen boys bringing us hot tea to our tents). Did a short hike up the hill to about 15,000′ and had a nice view of Lhotse, Makalu, and of course Ama Dablam.
People are feeling a bit better, but most conversations still revolve around words like diarrhea, stomach problems, Diamox, Imodium, Ibuprofen, consistency of poop, and similar.
Today’s highlight was definitely the shower - they set up a shower tent (a tarp wrapped around 4 poles, and a hand-pump shower with enough hot water). It is a bit chilly to stand bare ass naked and wet in the windy Himalayas, but in addition to the “almost clean” feeling, us tall people had an excellent view of Ama Dablam soaring about the shower tent…
I also visited the Internet cafe here, which felt more like a cave, with large gravel on the ground, plywood walls, tons of batteries ans UPSs powering several brand new laptops over a satellite Internet link. Two reasons to wrap up quickly - crazy prices ($1 per 3 minutes, as opposed to $0.50/hour in Kathmandu), and your fingers get cold since you’re just in this shack.
In other Nepali news, it’s looking like the Maoist party is going to win the majority and rewrite the constitution. According to people here, that’s a good thing, as these former terrorists (as classified by the State Department) will no longer lead guerrilla wars, but have a chance to fulfill their promises by being in power. The previous government didn’t do much in 13 years, so why not give these guys a chance, at least they won’t be in the woods, shooting people and scaring tourists. At least that’s the gist of the local sentiment, if I understood it correctly. I really would like to read what the rest of the world things of this, but will have to wait a few weeks for that.

Add comment April 14th, 2008

Dingboche (4400m)

Most of us had a rough night with multiple visits to the tiny toilet tent. The cook made us toast for breakfast, as most people can’t digest more than that.
The hike up to Dingboche wasn’t that hard or long (3.5 hours) but still wiped us all out. It must be the constant wind, the sun, and loads of dust blowing everywhere. Dingboche is a village that operates only during the trekking season, at other times people go back to lower villages.
Tomorrow we spend another full day/night here to acclimatize, with only a short morning hike, and we’re promised an opportunity for a warm shower…

Add comment April 13th, 2008

A rough climb to Pangboche (3930m)

Today’s “only 4 hour” ascent to Pangboche turned out to be pretty rough on the group. Five our of seven have so far had digestive problems (throwing up or diarrhea), and we’re all feeling really tired. My appetite and digestive system are still fantastic, but I do have some headaches.
Thupten took us to see the 600 year old Buddhist Monastery in Pangboche. Other than that there’s not much else to do, as the clouds are obscuring any views, it rains occasionally and it’s getting pretty cold.
Other than the views on the hike, the highlight of my morning was a happy, friendly puppy that followed us through the whole village of Phortse (which took us a while since it was uphill going) and wanted to be petted and played with. She even provided extra entertainment when she started chasing a baby yak…

7pm update
Make that 7 out of 7. I just hope the diarrhea doesn’t make me get up too often at night - it’s damn cold out there…

Add comment April 12th, 2008

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