Sunday, February 20, 2011

The one in which I strike a blow for dope-free age-group sport in Nova Scotia

So, I got some of those blood-results back and whilst I'd like to keep the clinical chemistry and endocrinology data to myself for now (the amount of bacon I eat and my method of birth control are my business alone), I don't mind putting up my blood values.

Yup, following such luminaries as Brad Wiggins and Ivan Basso, I'm putting my haematology on-line for all to see. This way you can all be satisfied that my coveted 2nd place overall in the 2010 Run Nova Scotia 40-44 age-group was on the basis of hard work, natural ability and talent. Or large amounts of bacon, beer and luck. Let us not also forget, of course, the ability to suffer, or as Phil n' Paul would have us say, dipping into the suitcase of courage. Of course, I have less of a suitcase of courage as a purse of wussiness. It's a particularly small purse of course, more a clutch really, and very tastefully decorated with sequins. Your choice. I know Anne Gripper just said that putting your blood-work on-line wasn't worth the hassles of armchair haematologists pouring over it and coming up with elaborate conspiracy theories, but I'm an armchair haematologist who loves conspiracy theories, so here goes!

The print-out looks like this;

Yes, it's pretty small and blurry, so the pertinent numbers are

WBC (x10^9/L). 5.1
RBC (x10^12/L) 5.01
Hgb 158 g/L
Hct 46.9%

My haematocrit (Hct) is tad high, 47%, a mere three points off a two-week holiday courtesy of the UCI for the benefit of my health. Still, it's better than that time I did a DIY Hct in the fish physiology lab at the AC and came up with 51%. Twice! From two different fingers!

Lest you think I'm microdosing CERA to stay under the testers' radar, the haemoglobin concentration (Hgb) is right in the middle of the accepted range. White blood cells (WBC) at 5.1x10^9 cells per millilitre are 0.1% of the red blood cells (RBC) at 5.01 x10^12 cells/mL. They didn't do reticulocytes, since they were doing health check on a sad, fat 41 year-old referred because of his age and not a ProTour (sorry, World Tour) cyclist referred for the suspicion of nefarious, performance-enhancing short-cuts, so we can't do an off-score. Nevertheless, the Hgb and the RBC:WBC are pretty good indicators I'm not doing EPO (no extra haemoglobin) or transfusing red cells (no extra red cells) but I can't conclusively rule out an autologous transfusion of whole blood without the off-score. However, I invite you to come around and check my 'fridge. Plus, my hatred of 18G needles is greater than my hatred of running a 10k at full tilt.

We still have to explain the somewhat elevated Hct. The conspiracy theory is I'm using my erstwhile contacts in the research world to keep me supplied with rEPO and have done so since before the DIY Hct test in 2008. There have been no anomalous changes in Hct over the years, so the BioPassport folks are just peachy. Either that or I just have a high-ish Hct; perhaps I'll need TUE from the RNS competition committee before I can do Cabot Trail again! Or maybe we can invoke Occam's Razor and say it's maybe just due to dehydration. It didn't work as an excuse for Pantani or Landis, but it's worth a shot. Speaking of shots; JD? Just kidding. Or perhaps the twin I swallowed in utero is making a come-back. Just remember, as silly as it sounds, those last two have been legitimately offered as a defence for an adverse analytical finding! Or maybe we just need to invoke the silly; living at altitude! The condo is, after all, on the 12th floor; live high, train low and all that.

Anyway, there's my haematology in it's raw, naked and bloody glory and I hope I've demonstrated that however slowly I may run, I'm not using PEDs to do it.

Rami? Over to you?


Friday, February 18, 2011

Maître Jacques

You'll remember a few months ago I revisited the old myth that you "shouldn't buy a cycling magazine with Lance Armstrong on the cover" and how this was linked, in a small way, to me stopping buying CycleSport magazine. It was a multifactorial discussion and the Lance-factor was minimal compared to the magazine's cost, the internet ( and in particular - free, so very free) and the fact you couldn't beleive anything you were reading any more.

It's depressing to watch those old cycling videos from the late 90s, the height of the EPO era, and hear Phil and Paul's commentary and realise how in ten years they haven't changed! They still steadfastly ignore doping and still prefer to believe that great changes in "form" are always, but always, down to hard work and natural talent. I mean, listen to them commentate on the 1999 LBL and talk about Festina barely mentioning the mere trifle of a fact that ten months previously they'd been kicked out the TdF before it started because Willy Voet was caught with a car-full of drugs. They tried though and their commentary might lead the uninformed to believe that Willy was a rogue pedlar of PEDS operating outside of the system. And these people are the English languages voices of the sport?

It feels like the chain has turned full circle. Yet now it's hard to even open a website (sorry, Cyclingnews) for the same reasons I couldn't part with my hard-earned $12 CAD a decade ago. The European racing season has started, and we're on a countdown to the Spring Classics. No offence to the Grand Tours, but the Classics arguably offer the best month of racing. No sitting in during these races, they're all raced to be won and let the devil take the hindmost.

Yet everyone is leading with Contadoper's acquittal and then return to racing; on subsequent days no less. This story managed to relegate Retirement 2.0 down a couple of lines, but it's still all there. I steeled myself an opened a "reactions to Armstrong's retirement" story. Cedric Vasseur was quoted as saying the haters are motivated by jealousy and that "it's easier to support the second-placed rider - just think of Poulidor".

What, Armstrong is our generation's Anquetil? Puh-leeze! Any more of this drivel and I'll just have to get my cycling news from Cozy Beehive!


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Run that body down

Decrepitude, senescence, degeneration. Call it what you will, it all seems to be happening to me right now; the events of the past few weeks have left me feeling that I'm living Paul Simon's Run That Body Down!

On a macro scale, this weekend was three years since that slightly alarming vertigo/collapse/vomiting episode at the running club that Sunday morning. Or to use the succinct analysis of a running buddy, on that day "you scared the living crap out of us" . It took me a while to come back from this; not so much physically as mentally. The labyrinthitis (for that is what it was) cleared in about a week, but then there was the matter of the pericardial effusion and falling through the health-care system cracks and I was essentially scared off running for all of 2008.

When I finally came back, a couple of things happened. In the very first race I did, the first 'cross race of 2008, I decked out hard on a gravelly corner and got those stitches. Yey!

Also, I found that the ca. 9 months I taken off had taken a toll on my recovery time; it just took a little longer to recover from a hard work-out or a race. When I was 20, sleep was an Etchasketch. Tough race on Sunday? Go to bed tired, and one quick shucka shucka shucka and on Monday morning everything was back to normal. Race? What race? I know the physiological basis for this but it always seems to be that a prolonged time off exercise (in the order of months off, rather than a day off) accelerates the deceleration of recovery times!

Finally, it seemed in 2008 my running buddies all took huge leaps forward in their training and started to hit some truly amazing times. I was always barely hanging off the back of this group during my "good days" and when I came back, the elastic was so much longer and was snapping far more often. The French expression for dangling off the back is jouer le accordeon. In English we call it yo-yoing because it's easier to say yo-yo when you're dangling off the back then finding the extra puff to squeeze out the addition syllables in accordion!

As a consequence, poorer recovery and getting shelled out the back a whole bunch more, I'm running a tad slower that I used to. This is most evident in the marathon where, although I'm still running open-men BQs (usually), I haven't broken 3hrs since I came back; 3:05 is the best I've managed I think, a good seven minutes off what I was running and a shocking 13 minutes off my PB. I think the half suits me more now, but even there I'm a minute or so off.

So this was where I was living until this past fortnight, with the 25km+ Sunday runs beating me up more than they ever used to. Then I took a blow to the head last weekend (eight days ago) in a silly prat-fall at home and I took myself off to ER to get checked. It looks like early February is my ER time! They saw what was originally called an anomaly on my lateral c-spine; a small broken-off bone-spur around C5. The radiologist however said this wasn't anything to due to the fall; it was just a "degenerative change", a normal part of the aging process and within the normal range of someone my age.

My age! MY AGE? I don't feel my calendar age, I don't look my calendar age and I sure as hell don't act it! X-rays are, apparently, no respecter of age and told the (ahem) naked, unvarnished truth. Bastard electromagnetic radiation. I hope the inverse square law makes you feel inadequate. I was free to leave ER, with a clean bill of physical health but with my ego, unlike my vertebral discs, ever so slightly crushed.

Good things come in threes, naturally. So in hindsight, that appointment with my GP for a flu-shot wasn't a good idea. He looked at me, looked at my file, did the needle-in-deltoid thing, looked back at my file again, did the math and said "so, 41 eh?". Before I knew it, I was leaving the office armed with a requisition-form for blood-work, essentially cholesterol, HDL/LDL and PSA, all based on no pathological indicator other than my age. See comment above about the radiologist.

Sigh. So it begins, the indignity of male middle age. Routine blood-work is so, well, routine, but how long before statins, ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers become part of my repertoire?

Here's the thing. As with the degenerative bone-spur on C5, the harder you look, the more things you'll find. I believe studies have been done on this. Good job they didn't image my knees last Sunday, or they would have booked me into ortho stat! For example, I altruistically had a routine cardiac echo for a study on bike-riding and cardiac function, they found a PFO. Nothing life-threatening, 30% of the population has one, but most of them don't know it and it never bothers them as it's a post-mortem finding. Anyway, just another finding, albeit thirty years early and it was a cardiologist, not a pathologist, who made the note in my file.

The human body is an amazing thing. However, it's fanatasitcally complex, in part because if you stop to think about it, it's almost haphazardly put together. If it had been intelligently designed our chests or abdomens would look more like a car engine, with laid-out straight lines and tubes that clearly go where they should with a minimum of deviation or wastage. We'd all look exactly the same, with I suppose, some allowance for scale. Oh, and if we were designed our retinas would have the photoreceptors on the outside and the nerves on the inside rather than having to reverse engineer in a punctum caecum and have to do some fancy processing in the visual cortex so we don't see the hole. While we're at it, the recurrent laryngeal nerve wouldn't loop itself around the aorta as it goes back to whence it came either, but like the recurrent laryngeal nerve, I digress.

So, instead of being ideal physical specimens, we merely approach the Euclidean ideal of an ideal body. We exist, as a species, on an anatomic and metabolic continuum. Given my recent history of outlying radiological findings (the echo could technically be considered a radiographic finding, even if no tungsten nuclei were harmed during the production of the image) my worry, quite naturally is how does my approximation of the human body match up with the Gaussian standard metrics of the human body? Which lets face it, were probably drawn 50 years ago using white male farmers from the American mid-we (who needless to say, have contributed little to my genotype. At least I'm a guy!). Will my cholesterol, HDL:LDL and PSA fall within 2SDs of the norm? And what does that norm mean anyway?

Here's hoping I can put a stop to the rot, for now. If not, the next stop on the senescence train is bifocals!


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Elgar, Parry and Michele Bartoli

Someone from Montreal asked me recently if I saw much live music in Halifax, he'd heard the live-music scene here was amazing. The Symphony I said. Well, it's live, our other running buddy said! I've seen three live acts in the past five days. Last Thursday la Belle and I saw Heart at the Metro Centre, which for a night was liberally drenched in estrogens! Not quite the Symphony, but they did all their classics and knocked a couple more years off my hearing. Job done in other words. The next night, after the tinnitus had subsided, we saw Dutch Robinson play with the Symphony at the Cohen. A much mellower night. It was an experience to hear a full orchestra get funky with Lets Get It On. Last night I heard Nova Sinfonia's recital of the Enigma Variations. This always puts you in a bit of a patriotic mood as you nearly always go from Nimrod... Jupiter... Jerusalem.

Rule Britannia indeed.

Anyway, there was some very unBritish weather this morning. For the benefit of our British reader, the thermometer looked a little like this this morning.

Yup, -13.3C. Now this was taken last week, and -13C was the air temp, but it wasn't windy. It was about -8C this morning, but a brisk north wind dropped that to about -20C. Even die-hard bike commuters were likely looking at their options this morning. Apart from Ian Loughead, who I'm sure rode over the bridge.

It should be pretty obvious that I'm not riding outside when it's like this! Hell, walking outside to get the car sometimes makes me feel like Capt. Oates. So I've been hitting the turbo instead. Can't say it's "fun" as a nice ride in the country would be, but I do have some bike-related goals this year and I suppose I need to keep my legs in the habit of turning circles. As with many, I try and dull the mental Turbo pain watching movies or some-such. The past couple of daysI've knocked off a Liege-Bastonge-Leige and a Fleche Walloon. Unfortunately, my only videos (as in your actual VHS) are from the late 90's, both of these races were the 1999 editions, the height of the EPO era. This makes watching them an exercise of the upmost cynicism. Having said that, I watched the '99 Fleche for a reason; the weather was miserable in that race, rain and snow. Watching the pros slog through that made me think an hour on the trainer was actually the cushy option!

You can't help but feel the only guy not on drugs was that fat Belgian bloke half way up the Mur de Huy, you know the one with a Duvel and a paper cone of double-fried frites and mayonnaise. The jury is surely out on everyone else. You can watch Bartoli and Vandenbrooke's duel on La Redoubt but over-dub Phil n' Paul's amazement at Bartoli's ability to attack twice and Vandenbrooke's ability to still drop him with your own, more cynical version.

We know Vandenbrooke was on the heavy water, after this it seemed he spent as much time suspended or under investigation as he did riding. To the best of my knowledge, Bartoli has never been accused of doping, but his name did allegedly crop up in the Operacion Puerto lists. To me Bartoli always looked perfect on his bike; that nightmare of a Mapei kit notwithstanding!

I had a mate who looked a bit like that; lean and smooth. Effortlessly aerodynamic. Perfectly positioned on his bike. He had a lower position on his road bike than I had on my aerobars, or it felt. Always made me feel overweight, lumpy and upright! Git. Before you think Dazza was some kind of bike-God, I had to pull him out of a couple of ditches in our time and I pushed him home once (on our bikes; it was a like a 20 mile hand-sling). Of course it was a two-way street and he pushed me home once too! Cheers Dazza.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Scrambled glia

Hmm, had another one of those weird anxiety dream-type events. I dreamt I was at a triathlon with an out-and-back swim. Which is odd since I don't swim any more. Anyway, I did the swim in the race, which was odd since I was the TD. Afterwards the RD, someone in the TNS community (who shall remain nameless) told me I'd cheated and cut the turn. "We're not having Andrew doing any more of his shit" was the phrase I heard in my dream. Which was odd becasue the RD was also racing. Plus, I'm pretty sure that even though the red-mist descends when I race, I'm fairly scrupulous about keeping not only to the rules, but to the spirit of the rules.

So all-in-all, none of it made sense. Maybe the blow to the head I received yesterday scrambled a couple of circuits (well, OK, scrambled a couple of circuits even further).

In better news, Joshua (my eldest) did his longest run ever on Saturday at Leah Jabour's "Ugly Sweater Run" on Saturday, at the grand age of 12. Just under an hour. Poor lad, on Sunday his legs hurt! First time ever too! I won't be entering him in any more 10Ks any time soon. This was a one-off given it was billed as a long, slow social run in an ugly sweater. He's 12, fer goodness sakes, surely the Athletics Canada LTAD restricts kids like him to 5Ks!

This was the view at the start of the run, and that's quite some display of ugly sweatery. Interestingly there were two hockey jerseys, with one person thinking an Oilers' jersey was the epitome of "Ugly" whilst the other went with a Leaf's jersey. Such hockey sectarianism aside, some of the sweaters looked like ones I would have worn quite unironically in my youth.

Thank goodness for changing times!