The Human Body is a Strange Machine

Let’s start with two key messages, one, I am not a medical doctor and everything in this post is for entertainment value only, two, and with that said, if you ever experience chest pains err on the side of seeking higher medical care. My diagnosis (talked about later) was only possible using equipment available at a well equipped facility like a hospital. With 20/20 hindsight I would have gone to the ER sooner.

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Not Happy, getting oxygenated in the ER

Rewind around three weeks and you find me preparing for the AMS Radar conference in Japan as well as giving an interview at WTTW on Hurricane Dorian (I am now somewhat of a regular on the show, we have a great relationship where I am using my skills as “chief weather explainer”). The day after my appearance I developed what can only be described as “body soreness”. I had felt this before and, after some difficulty breathing had developed, back in February, I was diagnosed with Pleurisy likely stemming from a lung infection (a diagnosis, it would turn out, that was false). My first mistake was not going to the ER when the chest discomfort first started, opting instead to seek my insurers permission to go to an out of network urgent care. This would end up being a mistake on so many levels, but it was my Australian side which made me want to seek a less extreme solution first as not to burden the system. With a diagnosis (false) of GERD and possible gallstones (very false)  I headed home to heal up in time for my travel to Japan with antacids and antibiotics.

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Designing a course in open radar science from a hospital bed….

Now, let me continue by laying out some truths: We all do things for a reason. What is sometimes perceived by others to be irrational can be completely rational and justifiable to the individual carrying out the action. In my case the upcoming trip to Japan had a very high cost of cancellation. The trip had high professional and personal value. Professional as  I was establishing our open science agenda on a whole new continent, personal as Louise, who has deep connections to Japan, was accompanying me, my first time mixing a work trip with personal time in my 10 years at Argonne.

So it was with great distress, with 8 days to go before our travel begun, I headed to the Emergency Room at Hinsdale Hospital due to unbearable pain (referred to my left shoulder, a symptom that screamed heart issues). Now is a good time to re-read the statements at the start of this post!

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Remaining active. Very careful walks (monitoring heart rate using my Apple Watch) around the amazing Nara shrines kept me sane, and along with Alcohol avoidance, even led to some good weight loss on travel. Huge thanks to Louise for putting up with my snail like pace.

On admission to the ER the ruling out of conditions began. EGC normal, CAT scan shows no sign of lung related blood clots (scary! Symptoms include sudden death). No fluid build up around the ankles (sign of congestive heart failure). Chest X-ray did show some signs of fluid on the lungs and, a key symptom, my Blood O2 was hovering around 84% saturation leading them to put me on Oxygen. I was admitted to the Hospital with suspected pneumonia. Here is where the hospital care system kicked in and was very good. You got assigned a primary care physician who can then call on experts. My primary care physician assigned a Pulmonologist and a Cardiologist. This is where my try journey to a diagnosis began as I started an set of comprehensive tests. BNP test came up negative, lowering the chance of congestive heart failure, ultrasound showed normal flow but showed some minor build up of fluid around the heart leading to a diagnosis (that Louise had theorized doing some Google-MD-ing) of Pericarditis.  Pericarditis is a nasty little affliction caused by inflammation of the surrounding tissue and fluid of the heart. It is actually correlated with increased exercise! A final test, a brutal two hour heart MRI, saw me discharged after a two night hospital stay with some very powerful anti-inflammatories. And four days later I deemed my health good enough to travel (see early statement on rationality). What followed was a successful but very carefully executed trip to Japan where I took very keen care of my health. Over time the good days have become more frequent than the bad days but the condition has lingered and I am heading to the Cardiologists office this afternoon.. When you read the literature about Pericarditis you can read a lot about “What” but precious little about “Why?” or “What the hell do I do to stop this debilitating thing happening?”…

I Would Bike 100 Miles…

August starts a health kick. I managed to loose over 40 pounds in April/May in a lead up to the Barry Roubaix 2019. Unfortunately I put 15 of those pounds back on as I transitioned to a new management role and also got very busy with proposal development. Louise and I made a blank chart for tracking weight and I started using the two techniques I know work for me for weight loss: T

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Leaning in front of the future home of Aurora 21 the Exascale computer. 

racking calories (religiously) and cycling. Luckily the start of August saw a change in the weather in Chicago, gone were the rains here were low humidity sunny days.. When I

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Rolling into the weekend.

first moved to the are I bike commuted every day of every week. I have fallen out of this habit which is good for me and good for the planet. So the week of the 5th I committed myself to doing the commute (8 miles each way) every day even if I started to get tired and sore.

I think the main difference between then and now (besides being older) is I ride a lot harder.. I started riding on a Kona Dew commuter set up with panniers and a simple garmin now I ride a Trek Madone, carry the bare essentials for work and have a top of the line power meter (well it was.. the Vectors are showing their age)… A sunny week of great weather made riding the 143km

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Pristine conditions at Palos. Demoing the bike I ended up buying

very pleasant.. And to top it off I finally decided on my new mountain bike purchase (more on that

later) leading to 25km of fun times at Palos on the weekend.. So 168km or 104 miles.. Nice consistent miles. How do I feel, well I have already lost (back) 5lb despite enjoying a few craft beers on the weekend. Fatigue is really kicking in but I am finding by moderating my commuting efforts (telling myself it is ok to ride at 150W) I can start to actually recover on my commutes.

Most noticable is the drop in my resting heart rate.. Ever since I had my blood pressure medication reduced my resting heart rate has been around 60.. Now I am back down to around 56 overnight. And waking up feeling great… Now to keep it up as I get busy again. The most notable number is, according to Strava, I burnt 5126 Calories the bike.. Now you can go nuts reading websites on how calorie deficit you need to lose a pound but commonly the answer is around 3000-3500 calories.. So, an extra 5126 calories burnt getting me to work has me feeling fine!

 

 

Scooting through Scipy2019

Quick blog post! I am just finishing off Scipy2019. I will post in more detail later on this but IT WAS AWESOME.50jgvhEbRsmUxsmJNJsm%A I was a bit slack with my hotel booking so I ended up at the Sheraton ~1 mile from the conference center.. I had planned to do a mix of Uber and walking. But something happened since I was last in Austin… There are these scooters EVERYWHERE. So after dropping my bag off at the hotel on the first day and heading to the reception dinner I decided I needed to give it a go. It was all integrated into my Uber app and super easy.. Took me a while to realize the motor does not kick in until you get it up to ~3-4 MPH by scooting.. Here are a few take aways, first the negative:

  • They most definitely are a form of visual pollution.
  • Finding safe routes were tricky.. If I was on the bike and doing 12-20mph I would be happy to integrate with traffic anywhere. On the Scooter I was doing 6-15mph and there were certain streets my velocity difference was too great to the traffic.
  • Took a while to get the hang of braking.

Now the positives:

  • They are fun.. honest to goodness fun. Great for mental health.
  • Being able to walk out, grab a scooter, ride it, park it anywhere was crazy liberating. This is the way of the future. I could see something interesting and finish my scooter ride.. Check it out, walk a while and pop on another scooter. This, in my opinion, will mean folks will range further and be good for business.
  • I replaced all commuting with scooting.. My carbon footprint from this trip will be reduced (albeit small compared to flying from Chicago).
  • A big advantage of scooting over share bikes: No sitting on a seat.. No dirty greasy marks on pants etc..
  • I got just the right amount of exercise. Scooting off, powering along, occasionally scooting up hills to help the power assist meant heart rate hovered between 90 and 120.. I did sweat, it was 95+ degrees, but it was not a full on work out..

In a nutshell: I am a fan.

It’s Wet. And The Lakes Are Full of Water.

WTTW Chicago tonight gave me a yell asking about the record lake levels. I have been watching the evolving large scale forcing behind the recent rains.

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Irene and Vidya (SAVEUR Scientists) pouring over a map of Chicago identifying key areas to study in Chicago

It is nice as my work on the NSF funded SAVEUR project (Collaboration between Argonne, Northwestern and the University of IL) gives me a little freedom to do this given our focus on Chicago and the region.  In a nutshell: It’s complicated. This time of year we are not particularly strongly impacted by ENSO (Weak but persistent El-Nino) or NAO. But it has rained. A LOT. Chicago beat its all time may record with 8.25 inches (sorry about the old money) of rain.. This is over double its mean rainfall of 3.68 inches. Furthermore the rain has come from a series of torrential persistent (organized) downpours. This has allowed the soil column to becomes so wet it looses the ability to soak, store and evaporate the rain leading to increased run off.

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Map of Great Lakes watersheds from Environment Canada

“But wait!” I hear the hydrologists amongst you exclaim, “Only a fraction of the Chicagoland region is in the Great Lakes watershed”. Well you are correct random hydrologist! The figure to the left (from Environment Canada) shows the watersheds of the great lakes. However, take a look at this site from NOAA which shows almost every area around the lakes has received much greater than average rainfall. Furthermore, it has been cold and damp and the lakes themselves have been cold thus inhibiting evaporation. The lake levels (or more so the rate of rise of the lake levels) is the solution to a simple budget equation: The rate of rise (or fall) is water in (Rainfall and diversions from some watersheds in) minus water out (flow into Atlantic via the St Lawrence River plus water lost from diversions away from the lakes plus evaporation). Each of the terms on both sides of this equation involve very complex physics and geopolitics. For example did you know that far less water is diverted away from the lake in Chicago (to the Mississippi) than is added to the lake on the Canadian side? But there is a hard limit to how much extra flow can be added at each point (to the great relief of those living in Montreal). So with well above average rainfall, very wet soils (see this calculation from NOAA with runoff around the lakes at the 95+ percentile) limited evaporation an already modestly full lake system is now breaking records.

Climate Differences

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-11F in Utqiagvik

What a difference a few months makes. Back in January I was visiting Utqiagvik as a guest of Argonne’s Education and Outreach team. When we arrived it was -20F and lets just assume the dewpoint was -20F. img_3192Today I went for a run in Nanjing, China with a (5am) temperature of 70F and a dewpoint of 65F. In China each kg (roughly a cubic meter has 13.37 grams of water in the form of vapor. In Utqiagvik it was a mere 0.35g. From the dry to the dripping wet!

Barry Roubaix 2019

The Barry Roubaix is the worlds largest gravel bike race. It sells out at 3,500 riders. 2019 was my third time racing the Barry. I first rode it back in 2016 when my fitness was good and my weight was “ok-ish”. 2016 was when I was training for Ride Across Wisconsin, a 175 mile road ride. My time for the 36 mile Barry route was 2:35 on a dry, warm and dusty course. I had a blast! I signed up again in 2017 but bailed as it was 35 degrees Fahrenheit and raining. In 2018 my health went downhill in a big way.

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Weight loss chart. First period was tracking calories and resulted in a weight loss of 0.17 lb/day. During Mapril we did not consume alcohol and, with a rigorous workout regime I ended up loosing at an astonishing rate of 0.55 lb/day.

Stress, over eating, drinking too much (self medicating) all leading to frankly disgusting weight gain. In 2018 I had a blast riding Barry but clocked in at 3:01 26 minutes slower than 2016. When entries opened for the 2019 edition I decided to target the ride. Having two times meant I had a great metric and a goal to aim for. Starting in November last year I started tracking my weight and I used the only weight loss technique that works for me: Religiously tracking calories. In addition Louise and I decided to do a month without consuming alcohol in the lead up to the April 13th event, something we dubbed “Mapril”. In addition I rode, a lot. Starting indoors on the trainer (Wahoo Kikr) on Zwift and, as the weather allowed, increasingly outside.

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Performance Management Chart. Black dots are “stress” of a day of training (some times multiple rides) as measured using a power meter. Red dashed line is acute stress showing how fatigue I am from recent training. Green bars are long term training impact showing form. The final ride is Barry itself. The aim is to get good form on race day with minimized fatigue. You do this with a taper to race day.

As the event drew closer I did multiple three lap rides of Waterfall Glen (9.3 mile crushed limestone loop) a similar distance to BRX. This allowed me to mentally prepare for a solid 2-3 hours in the saddle riding at race pace. And using a power meter allowed me to both manage my effort and ensure I kept the power up. As training progressed it got easier and easier to hold a power around 210W for extended periods. Periodically my Garmin head unit would prompt me to update my FTP (power sustainable for an hour, basically power at over which you start consuming energy reserves, your lactate threshold). I estimate I started training at 225W FTP and finished at 256W. I also lost an astonishing 39lb. This meant my power to weight ratio went from 1.8 to 2.3 W/kg.

The day of the event was cool, a little windy (15mph out of the west) providing a bit of a wardrobe challenge. The event is, as always, run spectacularly well. Its no easy feat organizing 3,500 gravel grinders keen to ride! The course conditions were great, a few areas of mud but the ground was generally very firm and fast. And I felt great! I went out to hard as usual smashing the three sisters. Eventually I dialed it back keeping it around 200W on the flat, rising to ~300W climbing with the occasional coast and recover on the downhills.

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Riding up the First Sister.. Looks like I am breaking away! Truth was the folks behind me were hauling and hauled me in pretty quick 🙂 Thanks to Rob Meendering Photography

Pacing was great.. I passed 1/2 way at just over 65 minutes. Two great thing about Barry is the landscape and the people. The landscape is rolling and wooded, the people on the bikes are all characters and good natured and those off the bikes were cheering and creative! I rode the most technical part of the course, Sager Road, probably the best I have, only putting a foot down twice (and one of those was because some one fell in front of me). Sager is full of sand traps, rutted stony climbs… Awesome! The MAD WALL is the last (and hardest) climb but also signals that the 36 mile route is coming to the end.. I felt good so I upped my power to ~220W.. About 5 miles out the legs were really signing, at risk of cramp but I got tied up in a killer paceline (22+mph).

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Sprint for the finish.. This mountain biker was a great wheel on the ride into the finish!

In the end I finished at 2:20:16, a remarkable improvement on my 2:35 in 2016 and another world compared to my 2018 result. Even more remarkable is I ended up 42/74 for my age group (40-42) compared to being 68/73 in 2018. Next year, sub 200lb, and 270W FTP and I will see amazing results.. What a blast.

YouTube highlight reel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSUntacj0PA

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/2287126842

One Hell Of A March! Training for the Barry Roubaix.

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Performance management graph. Red is Acute stress (Fatigue) and green is chronic stress (fitness).

Ouch! I am SORE! March was an epic month for training despite a cold that knocked five days out of the month. Plot to the right shows a performance management chart from Today’s Plan. Each day is given a Training Stress Score which is an integral of a function involving power and your functional threshold power. Basically the longer you spend at higher percentages of your FTP the greater the TSS. A TSS of ~60 is a good workout, 120+ generally needs some good recovery time, and 200+ is epic! Yesterday I did a 68km ride in wind and cold and hit 210 TSS.. I was toast.

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Monthly Distances thanks to Strava

From the above you can see the 491km I did in March was nit just big for March, it was big for the pathetic 2018 I had! In a nutshell March was a good training month. Now here comes the kicker: in order to be ready for Barry Roubaix, which contains lots of climbing (The Sisters and the Killer Wall!) I am also loosing weight. I have been calorie counting since the 22nd of November last year (starting at a disgusting 270lb) and in order to supercharge fitness, weight loss and wellness I am abstaining from alcohol for the month leading up to the ride. That’s right! Since bedtime on the 12th of March I have been 100% Alcohol free.

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Weight as a function of time. Yellow is a day when any alcohol was consumed, green is totally alcohol free and blue is a day I did not log. Solid line is a fit from the 22nd of November to the 12th of March, dashed red line is from the 13th of March to today.

The plot above shows my weight as a function of time. You can clearly see the change in gradient when I started abstaining from Alcohol. Now the astute amongst you will exclaim: a gradient of -0.59 lb/day is dangerous and unhealthy! I concur completely and I am as shocked as you. But be assured I am consuming at least 1400 calories a day, aiming for 1700 a day. However, I am getting an obscene amount of exercise.

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Feeling good!

For example, according to Garmin, I burnt 2010 calories on yesterday’s ride (solo ride = no one to hide behind). I consumed 2641 calories (indulgence: two delicious brats for post ride refuel!) leaving a deficit of 1069 to my target of net 1700.. Now 1700 allows 600 calories a day for weight loss (1lb ~ 3000cals, note 1cal -> 1kcal) so I had quite the calorific deficit.. What is a sustainable calorific deficit? You will find as many opinions as web pages on that! In any case I am gaining in power and loosing weight. I updated my FTP from 223 to 246W (at the urging of Garmin) two weeks ago so now my FTP power to weight ratio has gone from 1.8 to 2.25 W/kg! A hell of a March indeed! I need a beer 🙂