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Pain: As Real as Reality Gets

December 9th, 2007 · Posted by Hugo · 11 Comments

What is it that lets you know you are alive? Are the elves in The Lord of the Rings really and truly “alive”? I’m not so sure.

Well, yesterday morning, I took the opportunity to go and prove to myself I am alive, in the reality sense: getting out there in the “real world” and doing something absurdly physical. I joined family and friends of family on a handicapped race up Jonaskop, near Worcester. The Big Ascent. A 15km trip with a total altitude gain 1180m. But the pain of going up was simply not enough for me.

I had the honour of taking the longest time of all 22 people taking part. It took me nearly two hours and three minutes. I managed to beat my professional-sportsman cousin thanks to a good 58 minute head-start. Yea, 58 minute head-start. He did it in 1h08. Maybe if I do more than two practice rides of 10km and drop some 15kg of my thesis-gut, I could get away with only a 30 minute head-start. ;)

I will upload my altitude profile later, plotted over time rather than distance because I couldn’t find cable-ties at 3 am, but in the mean time, here is my cousin’s speed/elevation/heart-rate plot against distance:

Notice a downhill just after the 13km mark. Now take a look at this photo illustrating the low-visibility conditions:

Now add to that the knowledge that that downhill shortly after the 13km mark was quite steep, quite slippery (though tar), that I have some reckless genes I inherited from somewhere, that I recently reached a point where I have a dangerous lack of fear, and that the tar road makes a sharp turn at the bottom, to avoid a steep downhill through the fynbos, and the stage is set for feeling truly alive.

The sacrificial gloves, a lifesaver. I must wonder if I should consider full-length fingers for my next pair. Hello lower leg. Get well soon.

The primary anchor thrown that day, was the arm. We hope the elbow enjoys masochism. Bye bye cycling shorts. Thank you for your sacrifice in saving my butt somewhat.

Oh, and here’s me, keeping going, by visualising triangles and tetrahedrons in my mind, and tracing the edges around and around in varying sequences:

I cannot be certain whether throwing anchor with my body was a conscious choice, an unconscious choice, or merely a loss of control. When I noticed I’m going way too fast to stay on the tar, I turned sideways (sliding back wheel out) and gently went and laid down on the tar. At speed. Instinct? Reflex? Lack of experience to know how to best deal with such hairy situations? (For example, if I didn’t go for the slip/slide route, would I have been able to stay on the road? Not sliding gives you more traction, but if it wasn’t enough, I’d maybe have ended up doing gymnastics, cartwheels, through the fynbos.) Who knows.

The doc did a good job of patching me up:

A decent job around the front arm, which had the deepest wound. The doctor was not sparse in his application of gauze and elastoplast.

I want to go to Stellenbosch Gemeente tonight, I hear they’re showing a piece from The Matrix, hehe. Now my upper thigh wound is still oozing a little. I’m not sure what to do about it. I’m thinking maybe put a piece of wood between my teeth and spray on some Merthiolate. The doctor offered me some Myprodol. I thought I had some at home, turns out I don’t. I do have some Gen-Payne, probably from the first time I tore my ankle. I wonder if that’d help. On the other hand, there isn’t that much pain when I’m not busy upsetting the gravitational equilibrium, e.g. going from a horizontal position to a vertical one.

Anyway, for the more official take on the race, take a look at Jonaskop, The Big Ascent on my cousin’s blog.

Categories: Personal · Sport
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11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Hugo // Dec 9, 2007 at 10:33 pm

    The Merthiolate was kinda an anti-climax. Sure, it burned a little, but I thought it’d be worse. I was told Merthiolate burns much more than Mercurochrome.

    I see Mercurochrome is no longer available in the USA. It predated rigorous testing, and has a high mercury content. A Google search for Mercurochrome gives an interesting article on The Straight Dope. Key facts are corroborated by Wikipedia, the article title is Merbromine.

    It seems Merthiolate may have gone the same route, based on the Merbromine article. Hmm… I wonder what alternatives there are for a “quick fix” for blisters in a multi-day endurance race? Experience has shown me injecting Merthiolate into your blisters gets you good-to-go extremely quickly (at a price, of course). Nothing else I’ve tried has been able to achieve such a miracle…

  • 2 Al Lovejoy // Dec 10, 2007 at 12:19 am

    Besides pissing in your boots to soften them up properly – Merthiolate injected directly into a blister – is any soldier’s best friend on a route march.

  • 3 Steve // Dec 10, 2007 at 8:52 am

    Since I’ve already seen your injuries, my comments are about your cousin’s graph.

    Heart rate over 150 bpm for most of an hour. That’s fitness. I’ve never really read up on it, but I didn’t think that was sustainable that long. However, he’ll probably say if you’re really fit you can do that for 4-5 hours?

  • 4 Hugo // Dec 10, 2007 at 9:25 am

    Absolute heart rate does not mean much, you need to compare it to your maximum. In fact, you need to know where your aerobic threshold is. Only with that info can you see whether “150” is a good thing to maintain for many hours.

    In my case my maximum is surprisingly high (still above 200). And that doesn’t mean anything on its own, I believe. It feels like I can maintain 170 bpm for a long long time. And that does not mean I’m fit. It might mean I’m unfit. Maybe if I’m fit, I’d need to put in much more effort to keep it there, or maybe I’d be able to maintain 180 bpm for a long time. (On a 1 hour trail-run last year, I found I start running out of breath at 183, so that’d be above my aerobic threshold, I guess.)

    Anyway, I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but I know you have to look at relative heart-rate. For Dan? That heart-rate graph shows he is fit, yes. But that graph for me would not show that I’m fit.

  • 5 Albert // Dec 10, 2007 at 10:25 am

    The thing about the heart rate graph that fries my noodle is that his heart rate seem quite independent from the elevation. That’s fitness.

  • 6 Steve // Dec 10, 2007 at 10:26 am

    Erm. Your last two sentences confuse me. Surely the graph either does or does not show (indicate, if you wish) the person is fit, regardless of the actual person?

    Aerobic threshold – that’s interesting.

  • 7 Hugo // Dec 10, 2007 at 10:45 am

    Steve, no, I’m not so sure. There is more information missing, some context, which is necessary in order to determine whether it means “fitness” or not. Again, relative. Not absolute. Training with heart-rate is something you do over many many sessions, to get to understand how your own heart responds to certain loads and fitness levels. While there are some guidelines, every individual is different.

    What I do find interesting, is Albert’s suggestion about expected correlations between heart-rate and altitude…

    To summarise: things are usually more complicated than they appear. ;)

  • 8 Steve // Dec 11, 2007 at 8:28 am

    Sure. But what you’re saying in my language is simply that the graph “does not show fitness for anyone”. However, your cousin can use the graph with his knowledge of his body and conclude fitness. The graph on its own doesn’t do the job, but it’s a chain in the reasoning, as old Sherlock would say.

  • 9 Hugo // Dec 11, 2007 at 8:30 am

    Ah, I see. Yes, that sounds right. Thanks for clarifying, Steve.

  • 10 I Will Burn in Hell // Dec 12, 2007 at 9:51 am

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