Im a happy camper in this photo, because today I completed my first feasibility walk. It was only a 2.5 mile walk, but I tolerated it reasonably well without a break. Assuming I don’t have any setbacks, I should be able to complete the rest of these test walks and render an opinion within a week or two.
Test walks, Feasibility walks? What the hell is he talking about?
For those not familiar with my story, Ive had wickedly bad asthma all of my life and these past 2 and half years have been some of the worst yet. With one exacerbation after another, I couldnt catch a break. Something like 12 hospitalizations and 10 intubations in that period just about did me in. Conventional treatment wasn’t working anymore, and the high hopes I had for an experimental biologic drug were dashed when I ended up having a weird reaction to it just 3 months into the therapy.
My doctors were frustrated as well, and I got the sense through their comments and actions that they didn’t think Id make it another year. Paranoid of doing anything that might make my breathing worse or put me back in the hospital, I started withdrawing from the world around me. I was suffering from depression and didn’t even know it. But what a difference a few weeks can make. We’re now a few months into 2018, I haven’t had a multi-night hospital stay in nearly 2 months and I seem to be finally getting that most welcome break. Whether it lasts a few days or a few months, I’ll gladly take it!
Today without high doses of steroids surging through my body and altering my thinking, it occurred to me…. for someone who supposedly has one of the worse cases of asthma ever seen in a human being, and who has accomplished some pretty amazing physical feats despite it, why not push the boundaries even further? The reality is, I’m going to suffer severe exacerbations for as long I exist, so why lay low and play it safe until the inevitable cycle starts all over again. That’s not living, that’s being held hostage. When I’m feeling well(and that’s a relative term), I want to participate in life on a broader plane. I don’t want my good days centered solely around hospitals and medical crap. I want to get out there and have fun. I want to get sore and banged up in good ways. I want to amaze myself again. I want every good breathing day to count for more than just getting through another day. I want my suffering to count for something.
That said, Ive been toying around with the idea of possibly doing another race. I’m very curious to see, given my tenuous health, if it’s even remotely possible for me to push myself that hard anymore. Ive had brief comebacks before, but it’s been nearly 4 years since I did a race, and a lot has changed since then. With my current lung status and endurance level, I have a hard time walking a mile once or twice a day without struggling to breath, so how on earth would I tackle much longer distances. That, plus I’m not getting any younger. If I decide to do another race, I’ll be 64 years old at the time. (Actually, the age thing is good because the field of participants in that age bracket is much narrower than the younger age groups. In other words, my crappy finish time wouldn’t be so noticeable. But that’s for another post.)
Yeah, sometimes my desire to do something crazy like walk a 10 to 26 mile race is totally out of proportion to what my body will actually agree to, even with proper training. So, in an attempt to make a more informed decision on whether I should pursue these types of physical challenges, I came up with a plan a few years back using objective criteria that would provide me with at least a hint of what’s doable and what’s not for my particular situation. I call it my “Marathon walking feasibility plan” or feasibility walks for short. Now, if you’re healthy and free of disease, this kind of pre training vetting is not really required. I for one, firmly believe that given enough time, ANYONE in any physical shape can finish a marathon. But, for people like me with messed up lungs, we’re still pretty much in uncharted waters. You can be in excellent physical shape in every other regard, but if you can’t get air in or out of your lungs, you’re not gonna get very far, and could actually put your life at risk. I wish it was as simple as saying, YES Im gonna do a marathon, or no, I’m not going to do one. But it doesn’t work that way for me. Anything involving prolonged physical exertion, such as marathon training, takes a lot of advance preparation and an iron- clad commitment. So before even considering something like this, I need to be reasonable sure that I will succeed, or at least not crash and burn while trying.
The actual walks are just one part of the process that I use to determine my odds of successfully training and/or completing a marathon of half marathon distance event. I usually have to do 4 or 5 of these walks to get a good sense of how my body might react to the training that will be required to pull of a race. Each of these test walks is a different distance ranging from 2-4 miles, over a different topography (flat and hilly) and at varying paces. I do this to see how my body, especially my lungs, will react. During these test walks, I check my O2 sats and PFs before, during and after. I keep a diary of my symptoms and how much medication Im requiring, etc.
In addition to the physical assessments gleaned from the test walks, there are other considerations that factor heavily in my decision of whether or not to pursue training for a race. Probably the biggest one being… how badly I want to do it! How much effort and discomfort am I willing to put myself through in order to obtain that goal, especially one as transient as a half day race. Then there are the medical implications such as, can my lungs handle this? Will I have enough time to recoup if I get sick or am hospitalized while training? What do my most current Pulmonary function tests look like?, and am I healthy enough in other ways? Lastly, there are the practical considerations like, how much training will I require, when and where will I do it? ( Im allergic to almost everything in the enviroment). Will I be able to work my training schedule into other aspects of my life? When and where will the venue be?, How will I get there?, How much will everything cost, including shoes and travel expenses? Will I need someone on the course with me? What happens if I get sick during the race?, And the list goes on.
But first things first. For this latest quest, I need to get out there and go beyond my current comfort zone (which is 1-3 miles a day with rest breaks) and see how I do, and this is what these test walks are for.
So lets see how far I get with this current pipe dream. (Insider tip….. if you ever want Steve to do something difficult, just tell him it can’t be done.) Stay tuned!
Great attitude Stephen! I hope you can do it. I regret not staying in better shape before my asthma got worse because I am not able to do much now. My goal next week is to walk 5-15 minutes at least three times and build up my stamina, hopefully not getting a full blown attack while doing it. Small steps. I agree with you about life. It’s a different lifestyle but life is meant to be lived. I really hope you have fun in what you do!
I’m inspired and awed by your physical and mental challenges. But as you said you thrive on being told you can’t do it. GO GET ‘EM, STEPHEN!
Great post! Inspiring! Very glad to hear that things have settled down a bit. You really have had a rough time. I think anyone who can do any kind of physical activity like this at nearly 64 is doing well, regardless of any heath issues. Just a thought to share, aren’t the feasabiloty walks also an end in themselves. The process is the product. I love the quote from Robert Louis Stevenson; “ To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”. May you travel hopefully in your walks!
Great quote , thank you! Yes, even the experimentation has been exciting. These kinds of test walks are important, because I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew. Im using them to gauge how far I can push myself safely. I have no doubt I can do distances up to 10k with minimal training, but 13 or 26 miles is a totally different story. Training for a marathon is much harder than actually doing the marathon. …lol
Love these and LOVE you!