Thursday, September 7, 2017

Occasionally... Insecure

"Success isn't how far you got, but the distance you traveled from where you started."
-- Steve Prefontaine, running legend

Jambo! It's officially been a month since I made it to Stella Point on Mount Kilimanjaro, so I figured it's high time I update this blog accordingly. Yes, friends... I did make it to the "roof of Africa," albeit not as far as I had planned or hoped. I wrote several detailed blog posts about my adventure on my personal blog here and here, so I won't rehash that story again on this blog. What I will do, however, is use this as an opportunity to reflect on what actually happened on that mountain... and what I'm trying to learn from it. 

If you read those posts, you'll learn that I suffered from a few physical and mental setbacks during my hike in Tanzania. I only have myself to blame for the asthma attack on day one. I had studied the hiking itinerary religiously for the 8 months leading to our hike. I planned all of my practice hikes to best simulate the distances and elevation gains of each day, understanding that the altitude wouldn't match past Day 2. Day 1 was listed as an 11 km hike (~6.9 miles) with an elevation gain of ~3,900 feet. I did several similar hikes to prepare for this, and figured I'd be in good shape. I had hiked with a lot of the girls on my trip before, and knew my pace to be on par with them. And we'd be going "pole pole" (slowly), according to our guides. This should've been a piece of cake. 

Surprisingly, I rushed myself on this hike. I was never at the front, but I did try to keep a pace that was faster than one in which I could comfortably breathe. I also talked too much. I expected the stairs, but didn't expect them to impact my knee as badly as it did. When we finally stopped for a break,  I was in a full blown asthma attack - partially brought on by anxiety and partially brought on by the thick, humid air. My guide, Aboo, was very attentive. A fellow hiker sweetly offered to stay back with me and helped greatly too. But I was embarrassed. I had trained for this! I have lived with my heart and lung issues for over a decade, and I know how to control them. What was my problem? Why did I let this happen? And could I actually overcome this? I felt so defeated at the end of the day. 

The next morning, I was asked if I'd like to hike early with a guide and another hiker. I was embarrassed but I agreed. And although the other hiker decided to not join us, it ended up being a pretty terrific day. In fact, it was my favorite day on the mountain! My confidence, still shaky, was better and I started feeling more like myself again. I started to feel like I could actually summit this thing!

Over the course of the next three days, however, my emotions were in turmoil. I'd struggle on seemingly easy areas of the trail, and then speed right along on the trickier, rockier areas. For every confidence building moment, I'd have two or three that would knock me back down again. It was frustrating, humbling... and lonely. I spent so many hours awake at night fretting over how I could have done better during the day. I wanted to bond with the rest of the group, but found it difficult to do so. I didn't really get to hike with most of them, so it was hard to relate with their day. I really wanted to talk about what was happening with me, but it was hard to do that too. I finally broke down on summit night at dinner, crying at the table because I was so tired. That 5th day was rough for a variety of reasons, but the hardest on me was the lack of sleep. I forced myself to eat, and fell asleep at 8.

Summit night was the hardest thing I've ever done. They told me it would be. Because I was in the slow hiker group (a decision I was really struggling with the previous day), we were awakened at 11pm to begin our hike a little after midnight. I know I talked about this in my other post, so I won't belabor that event again here. What I will explain, however, are the reasons I ultimately decided to stop at Stella Point - a decision I do not regret, but still breaks my heart today. 

As I mentioned on my personal blog, I felt no effects of altitude sickness prior to summit night. In fact, my pulse, temperature, and blood oxygenation were better than most. I really thought I'd be able to make it up without any issues outside of exhaustion. I was wrong. I started having a really hard time breathing after about 3 hours. At some point, I started dragging my pole. My friend asked if I was ok, and I then realized I couldn't feel my arm. I could feel my hands and fingers... but my arm was limp. As I continued, I realized my leg was dragging too - I could feel it, but could not lift it. During our breaks that followed, both Nelson (my summit guide) and Teddy (my summit porter) took turns massaging my arm, but to no avail. By the time we got to the last scramble before summit, I had to rely on Teddy to physically lift the left side of my body to propel it forward. I blacked out completely at least twice before summit, Teddy catching me the last time. As we got higher, my nose began to bleed. I could feel my heart racing at some points - and periodically stop at others. Tachycardia is scary, y'all.

When we arrived at Stella Point, I collapsed on a rock and cried. My head hurt, my ribs ached, and my nose continued to bleed. My friend asked if I wanted to continue, and I responded in tears that I couldn't. I took several hits off my rescue inhaler, and attempted to defrost my hydration bladder. After a few minutes, I could feel my arm again. I asked my guide if he thought it was safe for me to see the glaciers, and he nodded that it would be ok. It was then that I noticed that I could see the Uhuru sign from this point. I gave it a quick thought, but ultimately decided that my symptoms were too scary to risk the additional hour and a half at that altitude. My guide nodded, helped me take a few more pictures, and we headed down. 

The descent back to base camp was grueling, but that was my fault. While my guide attempted to help me descend more quickly, I was so shaky and scared that I could only go down at my own pace. It took us forever - so long, in fact, that I had just laid down in my tent when we were called to lunch. The rest of my descent was equally slow... sometimes at my request, and other times at the request of the guide accompanying me. It was nice because I really got to know the two guides I hiked down with, but it did nothing to boost my confidence.

Several hikers from other tours congratulated me on my "summit." Yes, I still put that in quotes because it's still hard for me to accept. Still, their kind words helped a lot that day. And the kindness and congratulations from my fellow hikers and guides at the Mweka gate were equally uplifting. 

I said before that I don't regret my decision to turn around at the "the point of no return," aka Stella Point. And a month later, I still don't regret it. I went to the doctor after returning to California, and was advised that I likely suffered from hypoxia on the mountain. This caused acute kidney failure (the pain in my ribs I experienced) and likely caused the dizziness and numbness that I experienced. My blood pressure was also very, very low (and I say this as someone who reads an already low ~105/65). My doctor prescribed me a combination of diet and medication for both, telling me I was very lucky. I am... and I'm doing much better today. 

Despite all of this, I am still struggling with confidence following this experience. I haven't hiked since I returned to the states - partially because my doctor advised against it for two weeks, and partially because I am not sure I'm ready mentally. While I have been very proud of my accomplishments over the last couple of years, I can't help but be reminded that the last three major accomplishments all came with terrific setbacks as well. I got injured doing my runDisney challenge last November, had an anxiety attack doing Badly in May, and now all of this on Kilimanjaro. Perhaps I have tried to do too much too soon? Maybe I'm not training enough? Or training too much? Or maybe I'm looking at training wrong altogether? 

I have a lot to think about. In the meantime, I welcome your suggestions. And if you're in my neck of the woods and want to meet up for a hike, please let me know. I'd be so happy to have your company. 

Until next time... stay safe out there!


NOTE: I have had several people tell me I should be proud of my Kilimanjaro summit... and I am! Please don't mistake this post as a petty pity post about not making it to Uhuru. I share this mostly so that others can be aware of what happened, and so that others who face similar setbacks don't think they're alone. I'm lucky to belong to a supportive hiking community where we celebrate each other's successes, both big and small. I mostly get words of encouragement and celebration, and I think that's really great! Still... I needed to get these words out and in the open. Like I said, I've struggled to talk about this as openly as I have here. It may take me a while to recover mentally... but I'm still stoked to have made it as high as I did! 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Self Care, What is That???

Hellooooooooo!  It's been a little while eh?

So, "occasionally fit" doesn't even begin to describe the lack of activity and dedicated crap eating that I've been up to.  Some of it was enjoyable, some of it, not so much, but it's time to get back on track.  At school we completed an activity where we were supposed to write a letter to our future selves to remind us that we should be engaging in self care.  Well, sure enought, that shit came in the mail over the weekend and I've been doing such a poor job at it that I didn't even want to open it up.  This letter was well timed though, because I had been thinking of how to do better.  Five days of 12-14 hour shifts will do that for you.

They always say that you should put on your own mask before you try to help someone else with theirs.  Nowhere is this procedure more absent than at the hospital.  I have frankly been alarmed at the way that some of the hospital PAs and nurses work.  No wonder healthcare workers are in such poor shape!  High stress plus mostly sedentary work and long hours is no bueno.  It didn't take me long to look at that set up and say "Oh hell no!"  These people truly care about their patients and want to do a good job, but I can see burn out on the horizon.  How do we avoid this?  The only thing that I can think of is mindfulness and meditation.  If we try to take care of everyone, we won't be able to take care of anyone.  This is true personally and professionally.

So today, eveyone take a deep breath, take a long break, and step away from the McDonalds!  It's easy, and comforting in the moment, I know.  It's not a good long term survival strategy, IJS.  Oh, and the letter that I didn't want to open says this:

"Remember to keep time for yourself and your family and remember what's truly important."

Apparently my 6 weeks ago self was a little more in touch with reality than I have been these days. Here's  hoping that we can all come back to the middle, at least once a day, to gather our thoughts and renew ourselves for the next one.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Um... hi?

Hello, friends! I say that knowing that most of you have already forgotten about this blog. I blogged a lot between November and May, but given where my heart and head were during that time, I decided to not publish any of them. Writing is, and always has been, therapeutic for me... so sometimes it ends up being just for me. I'm sorry about that.

So, you might be asking yourself - What's been going on with Becky and Natasha? Well, Natasha has been treading water while trying to manage school, motherhood, and clinicals on her road to becoming a Phsician Assistant. Becky, on the other hand, has been working, traveling, and training, training, TRAINING! What does this mean? Let me fill you in.

Since the Lumiere's Challenge debacle in November, I have taken a bit of a running hiatus. The Lumiere's Challenge was incredibly humbling for me, but I'm glad I experienced it. And, in hindsight, I'm really glad I finished it. Running is such a mental game, and I'm pretty proud that I didn't give up after my fall. I do apologize for never following up with a better review about that race - I'll try to rectify that sooner than later.

Although I swore off races in 2017, I have completed a couple of races since Lumiere. I did a half-marathon relay with Maggie in December called "Santa to the Sea" that I really enjoyed. This fun Christmas-themed race took us from the farmlands of Oxnard to the Pacific coast. The city really came out to show their appreciation for the runners, and I ranked it as my second favorite for all of 2016. And despite not training for it, I nearly PR'd racing it! I haven't committed yet to doing it in 2017, but I'm teetering :)

I completed another easy 5K in Culver City in February (the Screenland 5K). It was just too cute to pass up, and I was able to get the Awesome Anushika to complete it with me. This was such a fun race! I also tricked Anushika into a rainy warm-up on the Culver City Stairs, so that was fun! If they have this race again in 2018, I'm totally there.

The rest of this year has been filled with hiking! I had the opportunity to lead or co-lead my hiking group for three group hikes this year, including hikes at Wind Wolves Preserve, Mill Creek Trail, and the Westridge-Canyonback Trail. While I served as the sweep guide for Wind Wolves and Westridge-Canyonback, I had great fun leading the pack through the many water crossings of the Mill Creek Trail. Leading, instead of sweeping, was so encouraging. Perhaps I'm not as slow as I always claim to be?

Hiking through the springtime greens of Wind Wolves with GWHLA

Watching the back of the pack at Westridge-Canyonback 

Leading the girls through my favorite hike in Kern County - Mill Creek!

I have hiked at least once/week for the entirety of 2017 so far, and I have loved every single step. I grew up with parents love to hike and spend time outdoors, so I guess you could say it's in my blood. I didn't get to hike much after graduating college and starting my career, so I'm very grateful to have found a group that encourages and supports this hobby of mine. It has truly been transformative for me physically and mentally. And it has led to so many adventures! Below are some quick highlights:

Enjoyed a cloudy morning hike with my bubba on his birthday!

Managed to hike Wind Wolves 9 (!!!) times this spring, most solo. Loved it!

GWHLA Malibu Wine Hike
The first time I got to meet most of the other moderators, 
and I got to pet and feed zebras and a giraffe!

Early morning sunrise hikes with Diego at Hart Park were awesome in the spring!

Finished a solo hike with bub in Morro Bay. Beautiful (but hot!)

Faced my fears and tried bouldering at the REI Force of Nature event in May

Completed the Towsley Canyon hike with some of my favorite ladies! <3

Overcame fear and anxiety to summit Mt Baldy with the Climb for Heroes
(I raised over $300!)

Hiked Unal Peak in Sequoia with my bestie in May <3

High above the clouds on a 2-peak summit hike with GWHLA in June

Two days of hiking with some of my favorite kiddos in Colorado and New Mexico during the 4th

In addition to the above, I completed two Whole30 challenges (losing 30 lbs) and finished my annual "Streaking with the Cool Kids" run challenge in June (over 70 miles in June!). 

Man, I owe you guys soooooo many updates. I suck! I am counting down to Kilimanjaro, with less than 22 days to go until I board my plane due east to Africa. For the next 22 days, I have joined a 4 Week Shred that was developed by another Girls Who Hike member, Erika (aka @mysocaledlife). I finished Day 2 today, and it is a butt kicker! Thankfully, I am doing this with my friends, Sharron and Courtney, so hopefully that will keep me on top of it!

I'll try to remember to update this blog more often. No promises that it will get done before my African adventure, but I'll see what I can do. In the meantime, I hope each of you is happy, healthy, and safe! I have a lot of living and training to do this month, so wish me luck! I appreciate all of you!

Until next time...