Running and Racing: A Test of Strength and Endurance!

It seems that I have taken on a new activity. It began as a test of my fitness with my first race, the 2019 Vancouver Sun Run in April, which is a 10 km race with 41K+ participants this year, I believe. I had never run 10 km, not as a youth nor with my dogs. The maximum I would run with my dogs at any point was 8.5 km, but even then reduced that to 5 km to keep us all running and walking more often. It seemed more rest and days off were required for our older bodies if we ran too far. But from the way I train on a regular basis I believed I had the strength and endurance to run for an hour, which is what I thought it would take, given my experience with running my dogs.

AS the date of the race approached I was struggling with my allergies to grass and cherry tree pollen. Due to my excess mast cell activation I was struggling to breathe at times as a result. Rather than withdraw; however, I sought out a mask that was designed for running and that would both filter the air while allowing me to breathe sufficiently. I was fortunate to find an excellent mask from an excellent company, the Respro Ultralight; with a hepa filter and valves built specifically for running, which I ran with once prior to the race. And it worked well and made the run possible!

In addition to the pollen in the air, I knew body heat from running could become a major issue for me. I react to excess body heat with excess histamine release and mast cells dumping chemicals to call on my immune system, causing a host of issues including inflammation, which for the 10 km distance could become a major problem for me. Fortunately the weather was on the colder side (In fact I started in hail and cold rain) which enabled me to keep sufficiently cool throughout the race to keep running for 10 km.

My First Race

So when I set out to run the Sun Run I figured I would run to the 5 km mark as I always did with my dogs. Fortunately it was a good cool day and I felt pretty good when I got there. The plan after was to just run another 5 km, 1 km at a time and setting a target of each 1 km marker along the route. That strategy played out very well for me and I ran the first 5 km in just under 30 minutes and the second 5 km took just under 31 minutes . Very close times and a fairly even pace over the entire run. I finished the race in 60:53, which was an excellent time for my first go at racing and running 10 km!

To follow that up my friend Karin in Calgary, who had recently take up running and was being coached by her daughter Lynsey (and who placed 1st in the 2019 Scotiabank Calgary Half Marathon), suggested I run the 5 km race at the Scotiabank Calgary Marathon on May 26th. For a while I considered running the 10 km race as it started early in the morning, but never having raced that early in the day created a whole st of challenges I was not ready to face so I decided to risk a warm race day and noon start to the 5 km race. A few weeks before the race I committed to running the 5k and registered.

I had learned a lot from my first race, including to start as far forward as I could since I spent a lot of energy in the 10 km Sun Run running around people. The whole race I ran sideways to get around people, sometimes in groups even holding hands as we crossed the Cambie Street bridge in the last kilometer heading to the finish line. Just before I started the race I realized I should be at the front of the group I was starting in, but I should have been starting a few groups forward as I ran around so many people.

For the Calgary race I started up near the front and had a goal of 26 minutes based on the shorter distance, more actual training prior to the race and the fact that I would not be spending so much energy running sideways. I Was a little concerned about the higher altitude, but I didn’t let that dictate my strategy at all. The race went very well; I had a good start; ran strong throughout the race. I did not have as much energy to push faster as soon as I had hoped approaching the finish line. The race was mostly flat with the exception of an underpass in the first and last kilometer of the race.

Fit and Strong; Running Man!

That was quite the draining experience and the dry air and growing grass actually caused substantial swelling in my throat, which made sucking in enough air difficult and created a challenge to swallow. I couldn’t swallow for a short while even and looking back probably should have been wearing my mask and carrying my own emergency supplies, my epipen specifically. But as I approached the finish line I Was able to push harder for the last few hundred meters and was completely drained when I stepped on the finish line.


But on the good side, I began to recover almost immediately and felt really good shortly after finishing. I felt great after the race knowing I had run as hard as I could and was completely happy and a bit surprised by my results. My running time was 26:13, official time 26:19 (from the starting horn); I had met my goal time!

And to my surprise I finished 3rd in my class out of 37 men 55-59 years of age; 104th overall out of 2022 participants. And that is how the addiction begins. The result was pleasant surprise. The outright effort to put everything into it was the actual addiction. Pushing as hard as I could for the entire distance and leaving everything I had on the course was very rewarding and a great test of my strength, which is my ultimate goal.

I have never run for the sake of running and I don’t think I compete for the sake of running, but I do like how hard it is and how hard I have to push myself. I love the challenge of putting everything into it for 26 continuous minutes of effort. 5 km is an excellent distance for me it seems. I don’t know if I will run longer distances, although I do plan to run the 2020 Vancouver Sun Run and set a new personal best in that race. And I will let the future decide which challenges I use to test my strength and endurance.

I do know that race led to the next 5 km race at the Sotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon and 5k this past weekend. I immediately jumped at the suggestion to run the race with a charity team; running for Cassie and Friends; a Foundation for children with Juvenile Arthritis and other Rheumatic Diseases. Once again pushing myself to the limit! And that I did once again.

But I’ll save that story for my next post!

Rowing: Keeping My Back, Shoulders and Hips Working For Me!

Like for everything else I do, it seems that my obsessive need to learn is showing itself when it comes to the work I do in the gym. Spent my evening tonight learning more about rowing in particular. Dumbbell and barbell rows, cable rows too.

I started with Tony Gentilcore’s post: “5 Dumbbell Row Mistakes and What to do Instead.” And that led to “The Best Way to Row, Period!

But of course this also means other back and core exercises are required for creating a strong core and back that is necessary for the heavy lifting I like to do (“Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?” and  “Exercises to Save Yourself From Low Back Pain“). And both my shoulders and hips are critical and I work on them regularly. Flexibility and strength  in my hip hinge (“Master the Kettlebell Swing“) is particularly important for the lower back exercises, like dead lifts and squats.

So far my hips feel great and are strong and have good flexibility. And my lower back is strong. I plan to keep them this way and paying attention to technique and my form is important toward that goal.

As I continue to add weight and push myself harder; it is critical that I utilize proper form as injury can be just one sudden mistake away. I always practice my form as I warm up so I know I am ready when I add the real weight I want to push or pull.

One thing I like about strength training though is the total focus on the task at hand. Another is the detail and precision required. Both are traits I excel at.

I am not doing exercises simply to look good while doing them or to be throwing the heaviest weight around; but to make the most of the work I do and become stronger. So far so good, but my work is far from done!

Joint Pain and Inflammation with Mast Cell Activation Disease (MCAD)

Everyone deals with joint inflammation at some point and most certainly it is fairly common knowledge that heat causes it to increase and cold can cause it to decrease, or stabilize.

So many times it just happens. All of a sudden a joint doesn’t work as it should. Yesterday it was my left hip. Sudden pain, can’t really move my leg while trying to pick up sour cherries off the ground. Usually this behaviour is equivalent to a deadlift or squat one would perform in the gym and it was very likely directly and indirectly related to “leg day” the previous Saturday. Third day following is usually the day when the muscles are sore and tight. Inflammation in the joint is the cause, but it is not because I have injured myself in this case.

It is just what happens to me and something I have to be careful of. It can spring up in any joint any time. Last time it was my right knee. But I am careful to monitor my body and especially my joints as I follow my post workout rest routine. And although this can occur to anyone; it is much more common in my body and those like me with Mast Cell Activation Disease (MCAD).

Irritation of some sort; heat alone or in concert with irritation or injury cause inflammation. Exercise causes inflammation and is one reason why we need recovery.  Cardio work with repetitive motion is an obvious cause we deal with. The building of muscle through strength training intentionally injures muscle so it is rebuilt stronger. Joints involved in every case do experience overheating and irritation during exercise and daily life.

Mostly it is unnoticeable until there is an injury or soreness, pain. For me it can just spring up anywhere. What is fine one day can suddenly be painful, with or without getting swollen, then be gone again shortly afterwards. There is no doubt that the running of my dogs and the exercise I do in the gym pushes this on me. But there are other significant factors in my case.

My understanding of the uniqueness that is me has enabled me to become fit through regular physical exercise now despite the fact that it has disabled me repeatedly in my past. Unlike most people, my mast cells are anything but normal. Mast cells are the cells throughout the body that detect injury and respond to repair it; referred to as the innate immune system.

If you bang your knee, the bruise is triggered by mast cells. If you cut yourself, the pink that begins to show is from mast cells responding, they gather at the site of the injury and dump granules filled with chemicals that signal the immune system to repair the damage. This is the inflammatory process. In my case those mast cells over react to everything that stimulates this process.

Normal activities, even non strenuous activity can and does stimulate them to respond. They over react in my body and degranulation is excessive causing many things to occur. Some part of this reaction impact systems throughout my body through Histamine receptors of a variety of types. H1 receptors in skin and cardiovascular systems, H2 receptors in the GI tract, H3 receptors in the Central Nervous System and H4 receptors in Mast Cells, which unfortunately act to stimulate and amplify the over reaction.

In addition to Histamine there are a number of other chemicals involved in the degranulation that impact a variety of structures and functions. This is not well understood for the most part, but it does lead to what has been referred to as food sensitivities.  However; they are not sensitivities! They are allergic reactions stimulating degranulation and the immune system inflammatory response, without the mediator, Immunoglobulin E, which most Doctors consider necessary. They are wrong!

Things I am allergic to; both IgE allergies like grass that is currently the culprit, and non-IgE allergies like cherries and nightshades plants, cause a spike in the reaction of my mast cells which results in a highly amplified level of degranulation and a cascade of responses to occur throughout my body through all types of Histamine receptors. This has meant many unusual and unexplained symptoms I have mentioned to my doctor previously, but have generally been ignored until this past year.

Now that these allergies are under some control thanks to my newfound awareness; it has enabled me to see the result of combining them with the excess body heat I create during exercise. Not that I have intentionally done so, but the grass grows and I cannot stop breathing the pollen as of yet; although I do have masks and can filter some of it as it is creating a massive one-two punch in the effects of my mast cell over activation and degranulation.

Histamine release and mast cell degranulation occur with increases in body heat in everyone. But once again this is massively amplified in my body. Exercise causes it and I have to be careful to manage it. I control how much I exercise, how long, how much weight I push, how long I run, even how big the muscles are that are doing the work all influence how much heat I produce and the degree to which my mast cells degranulate. I have begun to understand this process and how it impacts me.

Now the combination of the two, excess heat and an allergic reaction, produces even more spectacular changes that most do not have the pleasure of experiencing.  In my case it causes sudden and unexpected joint pain for one. I can’t work through it at all. This will, and certainly has in the past, result in injury and permanent failure. No, I don’t push through it. I manage it; I stop working and often utilize one of the many ice packs at my disposal.

And if I do manage it and wait and rest, it will disappear as quick as it came about and I will be back in action once again. If I push through it; the problem gets worse and I break!

But it is the combination of my over active mast cells, my allergic response of those cells to something I have breathed in or eaten (or absorbed) and the increased degranulation and inflammation that results from exercise that combine to throw my body over the edge without what would seem to be any corresponding event to cause the sudden pain and mobility issue I might experience in one of my joints, when there were no signs previously.

My Fitness and Health: In the Beginning

In 2017 I was determined once again to find a way to lose weight and exercise and find my way to a healthy state. I did not know that many of the healthy foods I was eating were actually making me sick and preventing me from achieving my goal.

Back in May 2017 I had been trying to eat more healthy, but really was not getting anywhere. I just did not have the mental fortitude nor the right diet at the time despite eating a lot more healthy vegetables. Turns out they were the wrong vegetables.

More baked potatoes, more bell peppers and tomatoes, lots of spicy foods, cayenne too, supposedly great for digestion and of course lots of intermittent fast food when making my own was not convenient. Too much alcohol, too much sugar, too many empty carbs and too many vegetables and fruits I was actually allergic to.

Plants contain many different anti nutrients, substances like sapponins, lectins, salicylates, oxalates, phytates, and more – natural compounds to make eating them less likely, toxic to insects.  And of course, heavy metals like nickel too. Although most people can tolerate these anti nutrients, there seems to be a significant number of people who do not.

As it turns out that since my separation and divorce that I changed how I ate. Partially the batching process of making large pots of stew, chili, spaghetti sauce and more became even more common once my dog Dylan became seriously ill and I had no choice but to stay home with her for long periods. Unable to just run errands, I ate big pots of food I made, unfortunately containing mostly nightshades plants, tomatoes, potatoes and peppers in particular, continuously for days, even weeks at times.

As it turns out, now that my memory is much more clear and the brain fog I experienced has lifted, the effects of eating these plants it turns out I am allergic to, primarily caused serious cognitive difficulties including complete memory loss to the point that I could not recall words or memories and could not form new memories. I could not maintain attention on anything, losing my train of thought hundreds of times in a day.

So many different symptoms from migraines and other headaches, visual aura’s, to memory and attention loss, mood swings, depression, manic episodes. Gastrointestinal, cardio pulmonary symptoms, itching and burning in my hands, feet, face and elsewhere. Inflammation in joints, my spine in particular. Needless  to say, the start of any health plan must begin with a healthy diet, both to make sure proper nutrition is maintained, but also that metabolism is maximized and mental strength is capable of the fortitude necessary to uphold the new diet and exercise regimen.

Once I straightened my diet out for my unique requirements, my mind finally began to gain strength and clarity. With some simple, but absolute rules and a basic diet of meat and vegetables, no artificial dyes nor flavours, no fast food, no candy, no filler carbs, no alcohol. It turns out I have some very specific and unique restrictions. For more details on food I react to, I maintain a separate post of my current diet and the many reasons I eat or restrict specific foods.

Food I eat and the poison I don’t!

After starting my new diet at 230 lbs back in Aug, of 2017, I have successfully navigated the first two phases of my health plan.

For specific reasons that heat and the histamine and chemicals released as a result that cause me trouble; and I release far more of these than a normal person does, I needed to lose weight first. I needed to lower my weight so that when I did exercise, there was less load to carry and in fact less insulation which would prevent the heat loss I need when I exercise.

Keeping as cool as possible is essential for me since it causes increases in histamine which translates to signalling my mast cells (cells of the immune system that reside all over the body) to dump their contents and signal an immune response that occurs throughout my body, including within my central nervous system (CNS). This response creates the symptoms I have struggled with that have led to failure of every other previous attempt to exercise.

I am allergic to exercise, but thanks to my new knowledge, once I dropped to my first goal of 185 lbs, having lost 45 lbs, I began working out. My next goal was 170 lbs, but I new that with exercise this would be a slower process. But as I did in the first phase, I have been able to significantly increase my bodies metabolism.

In the first phase of weight loss only, this meant varying the amount of food I ate daily. Some days I would eat very well. Some days I ate small amounts all day long. Other days I did not eat at all. Also in that phase I only allowed moderate exercise. This allowed my body to heal in many ways now that I was no longer ingesting food that my body could not tolerate. But the variability in calories ingested and activity levels was still essential.

If the body believes we are not going to get enough food, it will shut down metabolism and conserve resources. This is the opposite of what we want. We want it to feel free to burn fat. To do this the body must believe it will get food at some point. Although activity was required, I found it easier to resist eating and endure hunger if I did not overdo exercise. And enduring hunger was required and why my regained mental fortitude made it possible to succeed.

Once I reached 185 lbs, I started doing longer and harder dog walks for cardiovascular exercise. My dogs pull hard and we walk fast. Once again my unique situation means I have to be very careful of creating extra heat, but this knowledge has helped not to manage my exercise and I have grown these walks throughout the 2nd phase to where in one hour I walk about 8 km (5 mi), running a good portion of it, average pace of 8 km/hr and a maximum pace of 15+ km/hr (~10 mi/hr).

My work in the gym I limit the duration of my workouts and keep them shorter than I have in the past. But once again my plan has been to get metabolism going as much as possible and varying the intensity of my exercise from killer pushing to my limit and exhausting myself in shorter hard working bursts, followed by more moderate levels of activity, but never really resting.

I have been successful in this as I feel my body burning calories all of the time. My body burns not just when running, walking or pushing weights. It burns calories while sitting and while sleeping. And I continue to vary what I eat, except that throughout the second phase and currently now that I am no longer trying to lose weight (3rd phase), the goal is to feed exercise and muscle growth with higher levels of protein in particular. when activity is lower such as on rest days, I reduce what I eat and can allow fat burning as needed.

Phase 2 – Exercise and weight loss.

At this point I don’t know what my final weight will be. My goal is to continue to reduce body fat, although I do plan to maintain a healthy layer. Given that I can get sick and stay sick and that GI symptoms can prevent eating. Exercise itself can cause stomach cramps, bloating and heartburn and even leaky gut to a level that prevents eating and further activity.

I intend to continue to build muscle and improve my cardiovascular fitness. The latter is going to be essential in order to maintain exercise this coming summer when heat will begin to  be a major issue for me. I may not get as much benefit, but I will be able to walk long distances without generating as much heat. Summer is likely to be more of a maintenance period. Excessive heat disables me. It has caused failure of my fitness plan in the past, but once again the knowledge I now have will help me manage my health and fitness much better than any time in my past.

I am looking forward to continuing on this path. I am not worried about regaining weight as I don’t ever see myself ever being able to nor wanting to go back to my old ways. This was a permanent change I am enjoying immensely.  Some are worried I may become obsessed with losing all of the fat on my body, but I also know that won’t be the case.

My goal is and always has been better health and fitness. It has never been just about weight loss and body fat. And I am going exactly as planned.