Altitude. Heat. Humidity. Pollution!

Over the last three weeks I have been in China. Where in China you might wonder? How about Beijing, Dunhuang, Lanzhou, Xining, Xi’an and Shenzhen? And yes, it was frantic three week trip to visit all of those cities!

The first stop was the capital. Like every Westerner that visits China, I too saw The Great Wall, The Imperial Palace, The Summer Palace, and Tiananmen Square! My hotel was in-fact very close to the Forbidden City and I found a nice 5 km loop to go for a run. Running three loops was a good start to the day. However, I tried this run next day after visiting attractions. Big mistake!

The temperature late in the day was almost 30C. The air was also heavily polluted. After my run I coughed and spluttered for 20 minutes… no wonder they call it the “Beijing Cough”! The pollution hit 194 AQI. That’s 21 times worse than what I’m used to!

Fortunately I recovered from the ordeal and went to Dunhuang, a city famous for the Mogao Grottos, Crescent Lake, and The Whistling Sand Dunes! I too saw these attractions. I also went for a run in Dunhuang. This was the first time that I had ran at altitude (1200m) and 25C+ heat! No problems.

We then travelled to Lanzhou to visit some of my father’s friends. Lanzhou is not known for attractions but infamously known for once being China’s most polluted city. Fortunately, Lanzhou has since changed and is no longer as polluted as it once was. Running along the walkway by the Yellow river ended up being a trip highlight! A lot of locals are there too, walking, whip cracking, playing with diablos or just dancing! Oh and Lanzhou is one mile above sea level!

The next two stops involved even greater heights. Although we were not there for long, I was dead set on running at Qinghai Lake. At 3200m above sea level, this is in high altitude training territory. Despite gradually building up to this altitude over several days, I had a slight headache while at Qinghai. But it was now or never! The first kilometer of the run felt odd. The air was noticeably thinner as was the cool temperature. However, each stride became harder and harder. Soon my legs were completely dead and called it quits after a mere 4km!

Humbled by the high altitude experience, we headed back to Xining. At 2200m above sea level, my run in Xining was fine albeit slower than my usual pace. I enjoyed the cool climate and the much cleaner air!

Next we headed to Xi’an, one of the great ancient capitals of China. And just like the other thousands of tourists, I too visited Xi’an to see the Terracotta Army! Another interesting relic of the past is the 15m high, 14km perimeter long city wall! A perfect place for a run? Although the air was not smelly like it was in Beijing it was visibly polluted. I ended up doing two laps of the city wall on a day that was warm (23C), hazy and heavily polluted (174 AQI). I think I also got Bronchitis from this run. Was it worth it? Ask me after I recover from it! Cough splutter cough…

Finally the last city we visited was Shenzhen. Known as the “Sillicon Valley of Hardware”, 90% of the world’s electronics are made in Shenzhen! There are literally five story buildings packed to the rafters that just sell USB cables for iPhones! In order to preserve my lungs from the polluted air I decided to run at night, where it is usually cooler (low 30C!) and less polluted (<100 AQI). One night it was 33C. Suffice to say when I got back from my run, my tshirt was drenched in sweat!

Altitude, heat, and humidity! Whether you are after altitude training (right up to crazy 2+ mile high runs!) or just curious to see if you can handle running in the mid thirties with high humidity, China has a city for all environments.

Runner be warned! Many cities in China are badly polluted, as I’m sure you already know. So caveat emptor, if you’re in one of China’s large, polluted cities, choose another sport!

Pedal Bite, Rest and Recovery

It’s been a long road to recovery but I’m now back and better than ever! Today’s track session consisted of 6x 1200m intervals with an average time of 3:57 (3:55, 3:56, 3:57, 3:59, 3:58, 3:57)! There was a 400m / 3 minute rest between each interval. This is a solid workout for me.

Six weeks ago I tried mountain biking for the first time. What’s the worst that could happen? As my confidence grew on the beginner tracks so did my ego. Sure enough I was now on an intermediate track, hurtling down it with gusto! I approached a sharp right-handed turn with a steep descent. But just before the turn, my right pedal snagged a tree root, putting me off balance. You can guess what happened next!

Life was now played in slow motion. I recall bailing all but my left leg; the bike and all its pointy bits lands on my leg! Embarrassed and brought down to earth, I got back on my bike and gingerly rode the rest of the track.

Aided with the help of my friends I assessed the damage. My leg was covered in blood but had clotted. Unfortunately, the bike’s metal pedal made quite an “impression” on my lower leg! It made a large and deep gouge that would require stitches!

I’ve just received a “Pedal Bite”!

We rode back to the front office and my leg received Steri-Strips and a temporary dressing. We then head back and complete more trails. I even went for a run afterwards!

Late Saturday afternoon. I turn up to the A&E but its full of people. Lesson #1: pick a better time to be injured! The A&E was full of sick infants and people with sports and alcohol related “injuries”.

Shell shocked from the cacophony of whining children, I eventually see a doctor. He numbs the wound, vigorously scrubs it then sews fives stitches. Luckily the lacerations do not expose the dermis and are on an area that only has flesh and bone! I collect my medication (antibiotics and pain relief) and head home.

Sunday and Monday I’m bedridden. Was this my body’s immune system working overtime to mend the wound? Was I experiencing side effects from the antibiotics?

True to the doctor’s orders I skipped a week of running. And just as well. I’d been as sick as a dog with a slight fever and a nasty cough.

I head back to A&E for my fourth dressing change. The nurse took one look at the wound then ordered a swab test. The wound was warm, puffy and was still weeping. It’s infected, she said!

The swab results come back and it was indeed infected with a “heavy growth of Aeromonas species”, also known as flesh eating bacteria!

What’s more unsettling than the Google images of “Aeromonas leg infection” is the knowledge that the bacteria was resistant to the Penicillin-based antibiotics (Flucloxacillin) I had been on for the last two weeks! I’m immediately prescribed Co-Trimoxazole which is effective against the bacteria.

I make regular trips to the A&E to get my dressing changed and request a doctor to monitor the wound. My dressing has now been changed by three different nurses and they all apply completely different types of dressing! Lesson #2: there is no standard way to treat a lower leg wound!

One of the nurses also managed to unsettle me. He states it could take four months for the wound to heal. Four months! That’s because lower leg wounds take a long time to heal, and in some cases, don’t heal! Yikes!

I was three days into the Co-Trimoxazole and the wound already looked markedly better. It was no longer puffy or weeping and was mending well.

Four weeks after the “Pedal Bite” a doctor was concerned that the wound had become “lazy” and was taking too long to heal. He referred me to a plastic surgeon who later scrapped the newly formed skin off my wound to promote faster healing. It bled a bit and felt like a step backwards. Fortunately, the doctor was right. Lesson #3: removing the scab off a wound can help it heal faster!

It’s now six weeks since the ordeal. I no longer require dressings and my wound is a fraction of its original size. It is going to leave a large scar. What I thought was a minor injury turned out to be a major inconvenience. I’ve only regained my fitness in the last week. Two weeks ago I barely could do 3x 1200m intervals (with times of 3:59, 4:03, 4:10).

I suspect most of the damage was not from the “Pedal Bite” but from the nasty cough I caught from the two and a half hour wait at A&E. This cough lasted for about four weeks and from my own diagnosis of the symptoms I had, it could have been a mild form of hospital acquired pneumonia! However, the “Pedal Bite” could have ended up much, much worse. Thank goodness for modern medicine!

Onwards and upwards!

Skin folds test #4

Yesterday I had my first skin folds test in three years! I’m now an estimated 7.2% body fat. The detailed results:

Measurement 23-Feb-14 13-April-17 % change
Weight (kg) 81.6 75.0 -8.1
Triceps sf (mm) 5.3 7.0 +32.1
Subscapular sf (mm) 9.5 7.7 -18.8
Biceps sf (mm) 3.0 2.3 -23.3
Iliac crest sf (mm) 20.5 9.8 -52.2
Supraspinale sf (mm) 11.0 7.1 -35.5
Abdominal sf (mm) 15.5 9.7 -37.4
Front thigh sf (mm) 8.3 6.8 -18.1
Medial calf sf (mm) 7.5 5.7 -24.0
Sum of 8 (mm) 80.5 55.9 -30.6
% fat (Yuhasz) 8.6 7.2 -16.3

So what’s happened since my previous skin folds test? I’ve changed my workouts from swim/bike/run to just run. However, I suspect the biggest contributor to my loss of weight (and subsequent loss in body fat) is due to the orthodontic braces I’ve been sporting for last two years!

Wisdom teeth

It has become a rite of passage. In your senior years of high school, out come your wisdom teeth and on come the braces. All for your pearly whites! Unfortunately my teeth have always been “straight enough” and getting braces would have been a waste of money!

A few months back at a routine checkup my dentist takes an X-ray of my teeth after I suspect I need fillings. I was right – I had three cavities and needed fillings! Out of curiosity I have a look at the X-ray. To my alarm, there appears to be some teeth lying horizontally! I learn that these are my wisdom teeth and my dentist recommends that they be removed.

I schedule an appointment with an oral surgeon. After a panoramic X-ray scan, the news is not good. All four wisdom teeth removed and the ones in the lower jaw are very close to the inferior alveolar nerve. Accordingly, the surgeon tells me that in my case, there is a much higher chance of nerve damage, with the potential to lose feeling to my lips and chin! He recommends that I leave the lower wisdom teeth in.

Upset, I rush back home and do some research of my own. I trawl through the web looking at gory Youtube videos of wisdom teeth removal and read of horror stories of operations gone horribly wrong. I worry myself sick with the prospect of having nerve damage post-operation. Although my teeth are not troubling me, I read that horizontally impacted like mine usually cause problems down the track. I also read that the likelihood of complications increases with age. Later on in life the teeth are harder to remove (they have fully developed), the jaw bone is a lot harder and takes longer to heal.

I decide it is best to get a second opinion. Fortunately, one of my colleagues knows of a really good surgeon. He makes an introduction and I am booked into another consult. This time a more advanced X-ray scan is done – a Cone Beam CT. I meet the surgeon who shows me the scan. A few clicks later the software highlights the nerve and gives a 3D rendering of where it runs in relation to the impacted teeth. It is close – quite possibly touches – but he assures me that there will be a low risk of nerve damage. He is also a very experienced surgeon and hasn’t had a patient with nerve damage. This is comforting news.

I bite the bullet. Surgery is scheduled for 8:30am, Tuesday 4th November 2014!

Since the operation is to be under general anesthetic, it is imperative that I have a caregiver pick me up after the surgery and be supervised for the following 24 hours. My colleague Grant generously offers to pick me up after the surgery and his parents even more generously offer me a bed at their place while I recover! I graciously accept their generosity!

Tuesday dawns and I catch the bus down to the clinic. Suddenly I find myself in the operating chair. An IV is attached to my left forearm and I soon fall asleep.

I awake with a mouth full of gauze mats and a couple of ice packs strapped to my face. Dizzy and disorientated, I start asking a lot of questions: was there any nerve damage? How many wisdom teeth were removed? How long have I been in recovery? Can I have a copy of the Cone Beam CT scan? The nurse advises me to stop talking and bite on the gauze. Persistent in my way, I ask for a notepad and continue my inquisition. Apparently I am the first she’s seen that asks for a notepad in recovery! My surgeon returns who confirms the surgery went well, gives me a CD of the scans and a small container bearing my wisdom teeth! Once the IV containing 100mg of Tramal has been consumed, we leave the clinic.

En route to his parents place, Grant picks up my prescription medication – painkillers (Panadol and Tramal), anti-inflammatories (Tilcotil) and antibiotics (Co-trimoxazole). I unpack my belongings and Grant’s parents place and rest upright on the couch. I later make my way to the bed and take a brief nap. I wake and spend the rest of the day in the lounge watching television, talking to Grant’s parents (Graeme and Margaret), and looking at photo albums!

My mouth starts to swell and by the second day my slender jaw line becomes flush with my cheekbones! Feeling slowly is restored to my lower face and I’m relieved that I have suffered no nerve damage. With curiosity, I maneuver my tongue to back of my mouth and ‘feel’ the wounds. I can feel the four sites where the wisdom teeth were removed.

It is now Wednesday and Graeme and Margaret note my perkiness and were surprised by my speedy recovery. One of the benefits of being fit! A meager 35 hours after the operation, I even find me playing indoor soccer!

Grant picks me up from Graeme and Margaret’s place Thursday morning. After two days off, I am back at work (albeit with a half day resume). Back at the flat, I explore the Cone Beam CT scan and manage to replicate the tooth-nerve rendering I recall the surgeon showing me. Fascinating stuff!

It is approaching a week after the surgery and so far so good. I am off the painkillers and have finished my dose of antibiotics. My teeth from time to time hurt, oddly the ones at the front! I have virtually no bleeding and cheeks are no longer swollen. Part of the gum on occasion gets between the second molars, something I’ll ask if I can get remedied at my follow up visit.

Getting my wisdom teeth removed was not nearly as traumatic as I was anticipating. This is bound to be specific to each case so mileage may vary! I am glad I sought a second opinion and believe that both the very experienced surgeon and seeing the CT scan myself gave me the confidence to go through with the operation.




Skin folds test #3

It has been nine months since I last had a skin folds test. Today I was (voluntarily) a “test subject” at a skin folds accreditation course. Over the four hours I was there, I was pinched and prodded with fat callipers. All in the name of getting a free skin folds test! The results:

Measurement 16-May-13 23-Feb-14 % change
Weight (kg) 80.2 81.6 +1.8
Triceps sf (mm) 8.0 5.3 -33.8
Subscapular sf (mm) 10.6 9.5 -9.4
Biceps sf (mm) 2.9 3.0 +3.5
Iliac crest sf (mm) 18.8 20.5 +9.0
Supraspinale sf (mm) 8.7 11.0 +26.4
Abdominal sf (mm) 14.2 15.5 +9.2
Front thigh sf (mm) 6.8 8.3 +9.2
Medial calf sf (mm) 5.9 7.5 +22.1
BMI 22.7 23.1 +1.8
% fat (Yuhasz) 8.4 8.6 +2.4


Skin folds test #2

A month or so ago I had a skin folds test. This is my second skin folds test, so I thought it would be interesting to see how the two compared. The results:

Measurement 16-May-13 19-October-12 % change
Weight (kg) 80.2 80.9 -0.9
Triceps sf (mm) 8.0 6.8 +17.7
Subscapular sf (mm) 10.6 11.1 -4.5
Biceps sf (mm) 2.9 3.4 -14.7
Iliac crest sf (mm) 18.8 20.3 -7.4
Supraspinale sf (mm) 8.7 9.0 -3.3
Abdominal sf (mm) 14.2 13.3 +6.8
Front thigh sf (mm) 6.8 7.4 -8.2
Medial calf sf (mm) 5.9 7.9 -25.3
BMI 22.7 22.6 +0.44
% fat (Yuhasz) 8.4 8.3 +1.2

I’m currently +1.2% fatter compared to myself 8 months ago. Much of a muchness really!


Neck pain be gone!

Since yesterday I’ve been taking some anti-inflammation pills, along with draping my neck and shoulder with a heated wheat bag for most of the day. Had a follow up this morning and got another neck massage and some acupuncture. To my relief, my neck pain has mostly gone away. It is still tender but at least I can now turn my head right with almost full motion.

The plan now is to take it easy the next few days and not to do any exercise that might aggravate it. I’ll do a quick spin on an exercycle today but have orders not to do any running or swimming for the next day or so. I am that this neck pain is gone and is almost back to normal. One could only imagine what sort of chaos this sort of thing could cause, should it spring up during the Ironman!

Tapering down and acute wryneck

For the past week I have been tapering down for the big event: The 2013 Taupo Ironman! I’m feeling fit as a fiddle and there is nothing that is going to stop me from being an Ironman finisher on 2 March 2013. Well, something almost did.

This morning was feeling like any other morning. Was sitting at work and flexed my neck. And then… all of a sudden… wham! An excruciating painful pain shot up my neck. I soldiered on for a couple of more hours at work. We have a big deliverable that I play a vital role in so I felt inclined to harden up and get on with it. Locking my head to one side helped but a few hours later and the pain persisted and I felt nauseous.

I left work to see a physio. She asked me to rotate my neck. To the left is all good. But the right… err. I can manage about 15 degrees before things get uncomfortable. She also notices that my head is slanted right and my right neck muscles are very tight. The diagnosis is that I have is an acute wryneck. These are quite common and can be unlocked immediately with a massage but may have residual effects for a couple of weeks. I would have got this from a poor posture at work, in particular soldering components to circuit boards with my neck in an awkward position for most of yesterday.

I explained the situation and also mentioned that I was competing in an Ironman in less than two weeks. She gave my neck a good massage and given the proximity of the Ironman, sussed out some prescription anti-inflammation pills (Diclofenac) for me. Let’s hope this wretched neck pain goes away pronto!

Off it comes!

I’ve been putting this off for a long time. But I have decided it is somewhat part of being a triathlete and will do it for the last month of my Ironman training. Today I shaved my legs! Although this isn’t a big deal for chicks or cyclists who routinely shave. But it took me a few days of deciding whether or not the leg hair comes off.

Originally my thoughts were to go out and buy a pair of hair clippers before cleaning up with a razor. But then I figured I would seldom use the clippers and just opted to go just with the razor. It required a couple of razors and then that was it! Once the leg hair was gone, my legs were oddly non-tanned. Perhaps shaving took off a layer of skin? It feels weird walking about without leg hairs, but I feel somewhat more belonging to the tri crowd.

Today’s run

It had been a while since I last did a lengthy run so I decided to go for a 30 km one this morning. No problems despite last week’s antics (the Taupo Enduro). Got sore legs in the last 10 km. I guess I’ve yet to fully recover and next run will be shorter to give my legs adequate time to recover.