Feeling High and Dry

High Desert Country.

This pretty much sums up the climate and elevation of our new hometown of Green River, Wyoming: the city sits at a lofty 6100 ft (1859 m) above sea level and is a green oasis surrounded by scrubland, sand dunes, and the Red Desert. To put this in perspective, nearby Denver, Colorado – the so-called ‘Mile-High City’ – rests at a mere 5280 ft (1650 m) above sea level.

During the drive cross-continent from Ottawa, Ont. (Canada) we didn’t notice any dramatic increases in elevation. Unlike crossing the Canadian Rockies or even the Washington Cascade mountains, we didn’t experience much ear-popping or other signs that we were radically shifting altitude. We kept tracking the elevation gains on the GPS and it said we were regularly inching toward the sky, but we still couldn’t feel it physically for the first few days.

We felt the change in humidity first. We had just left a hot, muggy summer in southern Ontario where you constantly felt damp. Three days into the trip we arrived in Cheyenne, WY (elevation around 6000 ft or 1828 m). I woke up at 4:30am with massively dry sinuses and steamed up the bathroom to get some relief. Doug’s cuticles began to bleed. Both of us were afflicted with the dreaded knife boogers.

Day Four we arrived in Rock Springs, WY – Green River’s neighbouring city – and checked into the Hampton Inn. I had continued training during the roadtrip, using the stationary bike at the hotel in Lapeer, MI and going for a jog in Des Moines, Iowa. After all, there were only a few weeks left until the CIBC Run for the Cure and I needed all the training days I could get!

Feeling pretty confident about my fitness level I went down to use the Hampton Inn’s gym my first day. Oh. My. God. I had read about altitude sickness and some of the difficulties athletes and mountain climbers encountered when rapidly shifting elevations. Up until that point, though, I had mostly been driving. It wasn’t until I started jogging that I fully realized we weren’t in Kansas anymore – it felt more like Mount Everest!

As per internet advice, I drank twice as much liquid and ran half as fast. All the discussion forums I’d come across said the key was to go low and slow. So I set the incline at zero, jogged barely above a walk, and somehow managed to complete two 25-minute sessions during our stay at the hotel.

Next step: out into the real world. When we moved into our townhome in Green River there was tons of physical activity involved. We had the Uhaul to unload, heavy boxes and purchased items to carry up and down stairs, and never-ending errands to run. Now, Doug and I are not Olympic athletes, but we can usually handle pushing a grocery cart up a small incline without huffing and puffing!

The real test came when it was time to resume our training activities. The first two jogs out we almost died (no controlling the incline out on the streets of Green River!). Our first tennis game felt like we were playing on Mars (because the ball bounced so much) with cystic fibrosis or emphysema. I regret all the times I took for granted the ability to breathe. It really is a wonderful thing.

Aside from the elevation’s impact on our bodies, it also affects cooking and baking. Water boils faster (which means it doesn’t get as hot) so cooking pasta, rice, etc takes longer.

I also haven’t quite gotten the hang of baking, as you can see from the photo of the chocolate chip ‘cookies’ at right. Doug thinks I should just come up with a clever name for them and pretend like I meant to do it. Apparently flour is drier at higher altitudes so you need more liquids, less leavening power (baking soda/powder), and sometimes higher baking temperatures.

I was never a chemist and so don’t really fancy fiddling around with measurements in the hopes of coming up with the perfect combination. Instead, I think I’ll just buy a copy of Pie in the Sky: Successful Baking at High Altitudes. I’ve also found some recipes on the internet – including one for chocolate chip cookies that shouldn’t turn out like flat tires!

Wish me luck!

Pagmetchen Tennis Update

Since my last posting on Doug and my tennis championship series, I have finally started winning! He veritably stomped me at the courts by my parents” place (which, I must say, are not as ghetto as they used to be. My apologies to the municipality of St-Emile!). Since then we”ve played a couple of matches at our local court in Ottawa, though, and To date, Leader Obama's the main individual person receiving mobile casino campaign cash, then Heller, Berkley and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. I”ve won two out of three!

I figure we”ve got a few more games left before either we move to Wyoming or the snow comes (not sure which will come first). Hopefully my record continues to improve. Although now Doug is training in the off-hours with the Wii tennis game. This is getting serious….

Small change(s)

I started fundraising a couple of weeks ago for the CIBC Run for the Cure and thanks to my generous sponsors, I have already raised $125!

Doug and I have also started a change-for-change jar. We started out with a good chunk after a garage sale this spring, but have also been regularly emptying our wallets and pockets the past few weeks. We are now up to $100 and we won’t stop until the jar is full! Then we’ll cash the change in at our bank and donate it to our fundraising coffers.

If you’ve got some change lying around that you’d be interested in donating, please go to: https://www.cibcrunforthecure.com/html/participant_search.asp and put in Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail or Doug Pagnutti. No amount is too small and we would really appreciate your support!

In other run-related news, I just finished Week 6 of my 5km walk-to-run training programme. Yesterday morning’s session was pretty brutal: I had been out late the night before and I kept getting these cramps in my belly during my jogging intervals. I still managed to finish the prescribed number of minutes running, though! Sometimes it pays to be stubborn!

Tomorrow I start Week 7 and will be jogging a total of 20 min, four times a week. My family and I will also be doing a practise 5km walk in the next week or two. We’ve mapped out our route through St-Emile-de-Suffolk, QC (my parents’ town) and it should be great!

Halfway to 5k!

Tomorrow I start into Week 6 of my 12-week walk to run program. By October 5th, I’ll be able to run 5km for the CIBC Run for the Cure. When I first began the program I was only jogging a total of 3 minutes. Now I’m up to 16 min. By Week 12 I’ll be able to run for 40 min!

I am so happy that I chose to start out slowly and do interval training rather than trying to run until I collapsed. This would, of course, have left me totally demoralized, sitting on the ground rocking with my arms around my new shin splints. Instead, I’m letting my body acclimatize slowly and, surprisingly, I’m not only doing well but enjoying the process!

I always believed growing up that I just wasn’t a runner. I could, however, manage short bursts of speed and I decided I was the human equivalent of a polar bear. My parents gave me those wildlife fact files and each month a package would arrive containing little files on different animal species. One day, I received the polar bear file and was pleased to discover that I wasn’t the only animal in the kingdom that couldn’t run long distances. In fact, I was in the company of one of the world’s largest and most fearsome predators.

I wasn’t the most athletic child and I have painful memories of many “participation” badges from those standardized fitness tests. Unlike my skinny, long-limbed classmates who bounded across the finish line like gazelles, there were no golds, silvers, or bronzes for me. And, living in the Ottawa area, I wasn’t likely to encounter a seal I could put my polar-bear moves on. There was no justice in the world.

Now I realize that running, like any sport or activity, takes a bit of training to be done properly. I would hope that a gym teacher wouldn’t throw a kid in the water who didn’t know how to swim (although I’m sure it would be tempting to chuck one of the little brats in sometimes) or send him down a ski slope without lessons! Why, then, did they take someone like me – who didn’t play any sports – and force me to run without any training?

Getting over those deeply-ingrained childhood experiences is pretty major. It gets me to thinking: if all those years I thought I couldn’t run and it turns out I can, what other untapped potential do I have?

I will ponder that question while I go find myself a gold badge!

Pagmetchen Tennis Series ’08

Wimbledon. French Open. Roger’s Cup.

These tennis events are synonymous with the best of what the sport has to offer: tough competition, drama on (and off) the court, and athletic prowess. As always, though, it is among the ranks of amateurs playing out of the spotlight where the real action takes place!

This is where the co-ed Pagmetchen series comes in [Pag = Pagnutti and Metchen = Metcalfe-Chenail]. There may only be two players involved, but they are pitted against each other in an on-going, life-or-death battle!

Since 2001 Doug and I have played tennis against each as soon as the weather warms up and the snow melts from the courts. That first summer, he was miles better than I was so I got the two-bounce rule (i.e. I couldn’t get to the ball fast enough and so was allowed to let the ball bounce twice before hitting it. Yes, it was probably wussy-girly of me but I don’t care – it was the only way I could stay in the game). By our second season, that rule was changed and I had to learn how to get my butt to the ball in time. Doug figured out if he did a drop shot over the net I couldn’t get to it and there was a lot of red-faced cursing on my part and unadulterated glee on his. To gain an advantage, I sacrificed a goat. When that didn’t work, I put a laxative in his OJ (just kidding – but I did think of it!).

From 2003 to 2005 I was always really weak at the beginning of the season and then we would slowly become more evenly matched. I realized that if I kept putting nice, boring shots over the net eventually he would try and get fancy … and then screw up. I was not as fit or as strong as him, but I could strategize. Then in 2006 I got really tricky and signed up for tennis lessons at UBC. The game was on.

Last summer both of us were in horrible shape and in an effort to smoke me at the beginning of the 2007 season, Doug threw his back out. Not only did I lose the game, but I lost my 25-year-old husband for a whole weekend. Who was this 90-year-old man in my bed who had trouble getting up to go to the bathroom?? With our theses, my travelling back and forth to Ottawa, and the small number of free courts in Kerrisdale the season was short. Also, I didn’t want to have to get Doug a bedpan for the whole summer so I thought we’d better take it easy!

Now another season has begun in earnest. The first two matches were played in downtown Toronto. My pre-season workouts have really upped my fitness level and now it is Doug that is huffing and puffing. The first match Doug won 6-3: both sides were pretty awkward and just getting back into the swing of things. The second match we went to deuce almost every game but Doug still won 6-4 (but immediately went home for a nap).

The last two matches have been in Ottawa. #3 went all the way to tie-breaker (after which we both went home for a nap). Yesterday, we played two matches and I was sure that it was all building toward a glorious finale with me as winner, which is how it would have happened in Hollywood. But alas, that is not how it went down. Instead, he fairly whomped me on the first game and then I should have won the second, but somehow didn’t. I think I left my killer instinct in my other purse yesterday morning.

The next round of matches will be played in St-Emile-de-Suffolk (Que.) on what we have fondly dubbed the “ghetto courts.” This will be old-school tennis on an asphalt surface with pot holes the size of P.E.I. There is a very good chance a group of locals will come to watch the out-of-town yuppy fools run after a little pink tennis ball. They will smoke, they will spit, and yes, they will mock us.

But what they don’t realize is what is on the line when one competes in the Pagmetchen Series. There may not be a cash prize, international glory, or even a trophy but nothing feels better than putting one’s thumb to one’s nose, waving one’s fingers and getting to go “nananabooboo” to one’s spouse while doing a victory dance.

Omigod I’m going to run 5km!

The move to Wyoming means Doug and I will not be in Ottawa for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation’s CIBC Run for the Cure on October 5th. We have both signed up as members of my mum’s team (Mighty Mary’s Miracle), though, and we will be running 5km on October 5th. I have never been a runner before, but since finishing grad school and finding out my mum was going to be ok, something clicked in me and I have become much more concerned with health and fitness. I have started a walk-to-run programme and by late September I will have completed the 12-week course and be ready to rock a 5km (even with the change of location!). Doug is going to record our route on the GPS and we will post it along with photos of the route and us in our PINK running gear (I just bought a top in dayglo neon pink!).

If you would like to contribute to our fundraising coffers we would be very grateful. We’re putting aside all our spare change these days to donate. Every little bit helps, right?! I really support the CBCF and I know first-hand how research dollars affect the individual: I truly believe that if it weren’t for the amazing advances in breast cancer treatments over the past few years, my mum and many women like her would not have had the same fighting chance.

To donate to Doug or I please go to: https://www.cibcrunforthecure.com/html/participant_search.asp and enter our names and “Ottawa-Gatineau” location in the appropriate boxes.

Thanks so much for your help!
© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.