Sep 03 2016

An Endurance Life: Real Life, Work, Athlete & Staph Infection. Unexpected Collisions

An Endurance Life: Real Life, Work, Athlete & Disease: How bad is a Staph Infection and Will I be able to Run 100 miles in 24 hours in 2 weeks? A personal expose


This is an account of some personal issues that have occurred in the last couple weeks, more as just a place I'm writing down my thoughts, recollections sort of as a journal. This is what happens in real life in the journey of not only an athlete, but full time worker, full time graduate student, family obligations and living in a foreign country. Many of you know I don’t share much of my personal side, and choose to selectively share running related topics that occur sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, sometimes less often. But we all know that running and being an athlete is not a job, not a life, it’s barely a fraction of what goes on; and we all know that work and the other parts of our lives affect our athletic side and training or competition.  Now in my 7th year as an ultramarathon runner (and never having a running injury, nor being overtrained) I have begun a graduate program in Sport’s and Health Science, Exercise Science and Sport Performance. I have come to realize that through my training and lifestyle, I really am an ‘elite athlete’ in comparison to most of the world, and most fit people, most runners, and even most ultra runners. Yes, this is a bold statement, but through what I’ve learned in exercise science, measuring my body, and applying what I’ve learned in 7 years (literally 7 years of sports nutrition and exercise studying) to the last year or so, I do feel I’m in the top of what would be considered an ‘athlete.’ Anyways, I say all this because, it is only a tiny fraction of my life, maybe 5-10% of my energy. I work full time, support a family, and even until this February I was doing night and shift work, and have still managed to move into the upper levels of ultramarathon competition, and ‘elite athlete’ status.

For anyone who Google’s me or checks out my LinkedIn profile, technically I’m an intelligence analyst, though I still consider myself a pretty good IT guy – tech engineer, a master writer, and a national security or international relations expert. The intelligence stuff is what I do to pay the bills, to get by, and it’s always a struggle. I do intelligence because other opportunities have not opened, and well, I’m good at it too. In the intelligence world we are always intertwined with the military, and the culture is not a typical corporate work environment, but quite high tempo, push hard, always complying with rules and security procedures and policies to get through the day.  I do that here in Korea, but here, I am in a situation commuting 110 miles a day, and usually walking quite a bit in rain or shine. It is what it is. I’m fit and in shape, and have taken it all in stride. My car will get here one day, bur for 6 months it has not; so I carry a 25 pound pack of daily food, change of clothes, study materials, etc… during the walk, bus, train, taxi or whatever to commute for the time being. This probably has nothing to do with what I’m intending on writing about, but it may, you’ll see.

On the completive side of things, as mentioned before, I still have managed to train somehow, and got myself into pretty good shape, and this year I’ve finished higher up in races than I ever have before. Though Korea was horribly hot this summer, I took it head on and got myself adapted to the heat and plowed right on through, knocking out some good weekly miles usually 70-90 miles a week while being in Korea. I listen to my body very well, always extremely sure to never allow myself to get overtrained, or injured (from running to fast). All went very well. All is still pretty well physically. I still have never been injured or overtrained as a ultrarunner. There’s been times things started to happen, I back off and take a few weeks off.

Through a set of fortunate circumstances, I was able to find two cheap races to compete in: a 24 hour near Perth, Western Australia on August 13, and another 24 hour in London Sept 17.  Both had unexpected cheap tickets and coincidental help funding to get there. These two are my primary race targets for the rest of this year until something else comes up.

August 13-14, I was able to run 96 miles (154km) in the 24 hours in Western Australia – with the amazing help of master crewer Shaun Kaesler. I believe had I not spent 13 hours on a plane there the day before and dealing with exhaustion and jet lag I’d have easily gone over 100 miles. But I looked forward to resting up, and preparing for the next race just 5 weeks away. Australia was amazing, especially the hospitality of the wonderful running community there.

But the travel back to Korea would take 36 hours, arriving in Seoul, then down to my place by 8:00pm on a Tuesday night. I still had to work Wednesday morning, and after quickly unpacking, off to bed, was up at 4:30am to begin the 1.5 mile walk to bus, and ultimately 12 hours till returning home. This was done for 3 consecutive days, 12-13 hours away, walk a lot (after a 96 mile race remember, very sore), and carrying the pack.  It’s just part of my daily life and I make it work. I know most people would be exhausted after one of these 12 hour days, with the commute, and working out, and being an intelligence analyst, and studying for school, etc., let alone trying to stay competitive. Through the timing of everything, I only got the Saturday off – one day to sleeping over the course of 17 days. Seriously, no joke. Worked the week of flying to Australia, 4:30am everyday up, travel, race, travel back, more work, 1 day off, and 6 days working in an underground tunnel. What?

Yes. After the 96 mile ultra, and working the long days, here in Korea I’d be supporting an effort that required me to be working 14 hour days in an underground facility. That’s kind of where this whole story and infection thing started. But the background probably adds to it, physically, personally of what I go through on a daily basis, and then coming into this 14-hour day environment. Here’s how it worked and what happened.

Sunday morning August 21 I’d traveled up to Seoul to check into a hotel for the next 2 weeks while this special case work occurred. Spending a couple hours in the underground facility wasn’t that bad on Sunday. When I got back to the hotel, I still wasn’t really planning on running much because I was in active recovery, so I would spend my extra 20-30 minutes in the gym lifting weights heavily. We worked 14 hour days though, traveling to the underground facility, doing a 12-hour shift, and traveling back.  Not too bad, it’s life, and what needs to be done. But on the human real side of it, there are nearly a thousand people who all converge from all over the world to take part in this two-week drill. While efforts are made to keep the place as tolerable as possible, it’s still cramped, poor air circulation, and not the best environment for any health conscious person, or anyone in fact for that matter. Not seeing the sun, or getting any fresh air, being sedentary day after day, eating processed junk foods. But it’s work.

During the 14 hour days, again, it wasn’t that bad, and when I arrived back to hotel at 8pm I’d go to the gym for 20-30 minutes lifting weights and trying to get some kind of exercise after being cramped up in the underground facilities all day. 14 hour days are still exhausting, tiring, even if you’re sedentary, there’s real life going on, and work is always intense.  The gym was my rest time to unwind, and get ready for the next day starting at 4:30am.

Luckily I had the full weekend off, August 27-28. Traveling back down to my place via train, I’d later return Sunday night to Seoul hotel, and proceed with only 12 hour work days the next week. Still resting and recovering and trying to get caught up on family matters the weekend was alright without any exercise or much of anything in particular.

Sunday evening, I commuted back to Seoul and wanted to get in a good run as I hadn’t been able to in over two weeks since the 96-mile ultramarathon.  I went out running in the evening, and actually had a wonderful run, wonderful time out at sunset along the paths of Seoul down by the river. I was surprised I was able to keep up a sub 9 minute mile pace for a full 10 mile run. It felt great. But in the first mile when I started, I had a slight chest pain/shoulder pain that kind of felt like ‘growing pains’ nothing in particular, and a bit of hard time getting a deep breath. I didn’t think much of it, kept going, but was always experience a dull pain in the chest/shoulder, up to the back of my ear. I thought maybe I wasn’t breathing properly (in running there’s the whole science of proper breathing, and once athletes master their breathing, they can be quite efficient and fast, but most of us are sloppy breathers until trained to do it right).

That evening I couldn’t actually sleep because when laying down the pain up to my left ear was pretty intense, connected to my chest, it was all bizarre. Monday morning reporting to work for a 12 hour shift, I was exhausted and tired from not sleeping much, but still had the pain that didn’t subside, and was having a very hard time getting any deep breaths. While researching, it seemed very similar to what one describes when having a blood clot. So finally in the afternoon since I was there in Seoul, I went to the US run military hospital on base, even though I was very hesitant because of insurance reasons.  I’m not really supposed to use it, but the ER cannot refuse someone, however they can still charge the crap out of my insurance and I have to regardless pay exorbitant expenses for whatever the hospital charges. I think this may have been the first time since fracturing an ankle in 2009 that I went to a ER.

The hospital eventually hooked me up to an EKG, took 6 blood vial samples, did a chest x-ray, and monitored me for a while, but all the results came back with nothing wrong, no issues. In fact I looked so healthy, and the readings were so good, they didn’t know how I could be experiencing any of that chest pain and breathing pain. They discharged me, and I went right back to work to finish my shift. Over the next 2-3 days, I still experienced the chest pain, and trouble breathing, but still did my 12 hour work shifts, in the evening just walked around, and rested, because it hurt to even try to run or anything like that.  

Separately, on Tuesday or Wednesday I had noticed a lump in my groin area, not like a hernia (I had one 11 years ago in the Army), but like a bacterial infection.  This is the pretty personal stuff I’d normally never write about. But in any case by Wednesday and Thursday it was breaking out into an open sore wound that was very painful, and thought maybe this could be connected to the chest pain and other issues. The more research I did, the more I thought it was a lymphoma issue (being right on the main lymph node and with how it was looking).  Finally, Friday evening after more research, and the lump being quite a large olive sized boil and full of puss and not scabbing over, but remaining an open sore, I finally realized what it was: a staph infection.  

Staph infections are caused by staphylococcus bacteria, and are highly contagious. They are very resistant and don’t die easily. And staph infections are usually contracted in hospitals, hotels, gyms, etc.  These places can can be cesspools of contagious bacteria. At the same time, we can’t go through life being freaked out and avoiding all this stuff. Part of being fit, includes eating healthy, maintaining a good exercise program, and keeping a healthy gut biome by eating nutritious non-processed foods. I pride myself in doing quite well in this area. Being healthy through foods, plus exercise. Through my Sports Science degree, and 7 years of studying nutrition and exercise, I’ve learned that one of the best ways for a good immune system is staying away from sugar, eating tons of fruits and vegetables, and also not being afraid to get out and get ‘dirty’ literally. Growing up in Alaska, living all over the world, drinking water from anywhere that any locals would drink be it Iraq, Croatia, Mongolia, Korea, etc., I have built up quite a strong immune system, probably showcased by my rare sickness time, or having never taking a sick day to an illness, ever in my life.

But I’m not oblivious to the strain that Ultrarunning, or ultramarathon competition puts on my own immune system. After every 100 mile race, or 24 hour, or big event, I do take it easy, monitor my body, and make sure I recover during the immune systems’ suppression post ultramarathon race.

I finally checked out of the hotel Friday, commuted back down to my place, and planned to go to a local Korean hospital (insurance covers this, but not really the US military ones). Being without a car still for six months, I biked the 7 miles to the hospital and showed them the staph infection. Yeah, it was pretty nasty. They could not drain it or do anything that Saturday, but gave me some antibiotics through an IV, said I might be dizzy, and to not exercise till after Monday when they would surgically clean out, and cut out the abscess. But I still had to bike the 7 miles home.  That’s where I’m at for now.  It’s all an endurance life; biking to and from hospital with a band aid over an open wound.  The chest pain has gone away, and by Friday 5 days after it started, I think it’s finally completely gone.  I’m not an epidemiologist but am good friends with one and a good doctor, and probably guessing that I contracted the staph in one of three places: in the underground tunnels with the thousand people converging there, in the hotel room – I’ve learned staph can live in pillows and sheets, but I hope they sure changed them before I go there, or the new gym at the hotel where I was lifting pretty hard each evening.


Monday I go in for the ‘minor surgical procedure’ to clean out the staph. It is still nasty, but I’m glad it can be dealt with. I’ll continue working long days commuting 110 miles aday, and getting around on foot carrying a pack. Will I be able to run the 24-hour race? I don’t know. Of course doctors and everyday people would say no, to rest, my body has been fighting a big infection and to not race.  But at the same time, I know there’s the standard American health system response to everything is to not exercise, take prescription drugs and all that.  I’m quite on the opposite end of US health care issues finding quite a lot of alternative methods to heal or deal with health issues.  This will all come out when I write my papers for Sports and Health Science, but for now I do plan on running, but have no expectations on performance, or trying to get 100 miles. I’ll just do as I always do in every 24-hour race, run what my body allows me to run on the day.  3 weeks ago in Australia was 96 miles and I was happy with that. Two weeks from now I might get 62 miles. We’ll see. In the mean time keep on resting, recovering, working hard, getting through each day. It’s an Endurance Life.

2016 – some ultramarathon results moving up compared to years past 5 Events, 716.23 km
13.-14.08.2016 Track Ultra WA 24h (Western Australia ) 24h
154.136 km Archuletta, Israel   Overall: 8 M: 6 Cat M35: 1
11.06.2016 TNF 50 Korea (PyongChang, South Korea) 50km
7:51:24 h Archuletta, Israel   Overall: 14/203 M: 11 Cat M35: 2
14.05.2016 Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 50K Ultra (Sharron Hill PA USA) 50km
5:49:46 h Archuletta, Israel   Overall: 5 M: 4 Cat M35: 1
13.02.2016 Black Canyon Trail 60 Km Run (Arizona) 60km
7:54:12 h Archuletta, Israel *Colorado Springs, CO  Overall: 22 M: 12 Cat M35: 2
28.12.2015-03.01.2016 Across the years, 6d (Arizona) 6d
402.094 km Archuletta, Israel *Colorado Springs, CO  Overall: 23 M: 15 Cat M35: 1

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