2009 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  SPRING COMES EARLY@ HUNTSVILLE STATE PARK

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 27

 

"Well, the storms last night developed and progressed almost exactly as we (and others) had
forecast. The squall line reached the IH-35 corridor around 10:00 last night, packing
wind gusts over 70 mph. There were quite a few reports of minor structural damage in the
Waco area, from downed trees and power lines to roofs being blown off buildings. The strongest
part of the line moved through parts of Hamilton, Bosque, and Hill counties, where we
received several reports of wind gusts over 80 miles per hour. In Hillsboro, the winds overturned
an RV with an elderly man inside, who fortunately wasn't injured. The wind also overturned a
semi on IH-35 near Bruceville-Eddy, causing police to shut down the highway for a short time . . ."

- recap of 2-10-09 storms in central TX from the KWTX News 10 Severe Weather Blog

  
 
You noted the part about the overturned RV, right?? Fortunately, it wasn't us -- we were farther south of that area -- but severe weather is an RVer's nightmare.

In the last entry I mentioned there were severe storm warnings, including the possibility of tornadoes, for the Houston-Huntsville area the night of February 10. We took the forecast seriously after hearing on the news that eight people were killed in Oklahoma that afternoon. A weather system had developed that was unusual for early February: seasonal frigid air from Canada was colliding with unseasonably warm, very moist air from the south and east, spawning the type of tornado super cells that are more common in the spring.

Nothing much was happening in the Huntsville area when we went to bed around 10 PM but we'd discussed heading to the nearby, more sturdy bathhouse if it looked like we might be in danger in our 5th-wheel camper during the night.

Well, it's harder to get out of a nice warm bed during a driving rain than it sounds when you're awake and thinking rationally!

IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT . . .

Around midnight the storm hit the park with a vengeance. I woke up after the rain began pouring down, missing any early signals that the storm was imminent. It would have been so much easier to dash over to the bathhouse before the deluge began.

I woke Jim up to tell him the storm had arrived and we should get over to the bathhouse ASAP. He was groggy but made it clear that he wasn't going to get up, period.

The roar of the wind and rain motivated me enough to get up, go down three steps to the living room, and hunker down under my sturdy oak desk (that sucker is heavy) -- but not quite motivated enough to get all wet in transit to the safer bathhouse a couple hundred feet away.

 

Map from the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center website

I readily admit I was scared. I've never been in a hurricane but I've had a tree land on my house during a tornado when I lived near Atlanta. It's unnerving, to say the least. Here at Huntsville State Park our camper is surrounded by 80- to 100-foot pine trees (next photo). There is still evidence of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Ike's incredible winds five months ago; park personnel continue to cut up and haul off downed trees, including a few in our campground.

While I was under the desk I envisioned those news ferrets' photos you always see of destroyed mobile homes after a tornado rips through the Plains or the South. And here we were, camping in a unit made of even flimsier fiberglass! I was frightened recently during the high winds that greeted us at Mustang Island State Park, but at least we weren't sitting under any big trees at the beach during that storm.

So I remained curled up in as little of a ball as I could, under my sturdy oak desk. I wasn't about to go to sleep. Cody snuggled close to me. He rarely shows any fear of lightning or thunder, but he was mighty alert that night (and probably wondered what the heck I was doing under the desk!).

Jim finally came downstairs after about twenty minutes. The wind and rain were still howling outside and he wasn't able to go back to sleep. Fortunately, no trees had crunched our little abode (yet).


Wide-angle camera lens required to include the tree tops!

I know Jim thought I was being a drama queen but I convinced him that we should take Cody and make a run for it to the bathhouse. Since it was a Tuesday and we were the only people in the Prairie Branch campground except the hosts, we headed for the women's side (I knew it was clean) and found a seat on the hard wooden bench in front of the showers. Jim may have felt a little silly in the women's bathroom but Cody didn't mind! As long as he was with us, he felt safe.

Of course, after we got over there it took all of about three minutes for the wind and rain to abate and I was the one feeling a little silly: had I over-reacted? When it appeared the worst was over, we returned to the camper, dried off, and piled into our warm bed. I finally got to sleep about 2 AM, wondering what the trails would look like later in the morning.

In retrospect, I don't think that I over-reacted even though it turned out that the storm wasn't terribly violent in our immediate area. It could have been. Texas, like other nearby Plains states, certainly gets some nasty winds and tornadoes. I think we would have been smarter to get our butts over to the bathhouse as soon as the rain and wind hit because we didn't know how bad the storm might be. Pine trees are notorious for having shallow root systems and they are usually the first trees in the forest to topple under high winds. In addition, these been further weakened by Hurricane Ike.

I don't know how high the winds got that night in the park (research on weather websites shows gusts of about 40 MPH in the town of Huntsville), but it doesn't take a lot of wind to knock down whole pine trees or large limbs that could have seriously damaged our camper -- and us. As I ran and walked the park trails in the days following the storm I picked up numerous limbs and branches so I wouldn't have to jump over them the next time. These were the only trees I saw that came down during the February 10-11 storm:

I took that photo on February 12 (two days post-storm) on the CCC Trail on the far side of the lake. This was part of the Rocky Raccoon 100-mile course. I know the trees weren't down during training runs on the CCC Loop that I did before and after the race. I would guess there were other weakened trees that came down throughout the forest during the storm that I didn't see.

We've been able to miss several winter snow storms on this trip and now we have to watch out for dangerous early spring wind storms. Once again, we were on the edge of potential danger but escaped any harm. Whew!

That's not the type of adventure I seek. If I'm gonna die getting hit by a tree in a storm, I'd rather it be out on a scenic trail run in the mountains than sitting inside my camper!

The older I get, the less risk I'm willing to take with my life. So I'll continue to lobby to either seek safety earlier or skedaddle out of Dodge if we hear of another warm air/cold air collision heading our way. I don't care if that's construed as being a weenie. It's one advantage of living in an RV -- we can pick up and take our house with us when we choose, sorta like an armadillo or turtle.

SPRING HAS SPRUNG

Despite what sounded like a deluge of rain during that storm, only about half an inch was officially measured in nearby Huntsville. It made a visible difference at the park within just a few days, however. Much of Texas has been in a drought this winter so the ground and plants were very thirsty.

Raven Lake was noticeably lower between the time we left the park in early December to the time we arrived in early February. I took this photo of one section of the lake on February 4:

The rain from the recent storm has made a difference. The lake level is a little higher from all the water flowing downstream into it. (Perhaps more rain fell farther north?) The next picture is at the same location along the lake on February 12, two days after the storm:

The rain also brought out the armadillos!

Before the storm the soil was very dry in the park and leaves were starting to wilt. Soon after the rains came, the armadillos were actively rooting around in the now-soft dirt and leaves along the lower Prairie Branch Trail near our campground for worms and grubs to eat. This is my favorite trail in the park because of its peaceful lake and wetland views.

As soon as we saw the disturbed leaves (below, which reminded me of wild boar activity in North Georgia) and mud (above) on the lakeshore we figured out it must be the armadillos. Park rangers confirmed it. I thought maybe those phantom park alligators disturbed the mud on the shore but rangers say they are still in hibernation. 

The photo above is from February 12. The trail wasn't like that during race weekend when it was still very dry. The armadillos kept it dug up the remainder of the month (light rain fell several more times) and I had several sightings of the little guys. I'll relate a funny story or two about Cody and the armadillos in the next entry.

More and more tiny green leaves and flowers popped up all over the park after the rain. The difference between the time we arrived (February 2) and left (March 2) is interesting. For example, here are two photos I took twenty days apart at the wetlands near the lake inlet:

Marsh area on February 4 (above) and 24 (below)

Every day on the trails brought new surprises. I usually had one of our cameras with me to record some of the changes. [I've had some digital camera problems throughout this trip. A new Canon 10-megapixel PowerShot had to go back to the store when the lens stopped working properly; it was identical to another one I ruined before leaving home and could not return because it was my own carelessness). Then my old Nikon 7-megapixel Coolpix lens died recently and all I had left was the old 4-megapixel Coolpix I used on the AT trek 3+ years ago. Good thing we brought the old Nikons with us. Gotta get a new camera when we get back home and I have a better internet connection to research options. Fortunately all these cameras have been relatively inexpensive compact digitals, not pricey SLRs.]

After a chillier start to our winter trip than we expected, we've really been enjoying all the sunny days in the upper 60s and lower 70s this month in the Huntsville area. Temps have been above average more than below; average is in the mid-60s during the day and low 40s at night. We're glad we made the decision to hang out here four for weeks.

Or maybe not. By the third week I was feeling pretty miserable, couldn't sleep well, and wasn't able to get out and run, walk, and bike as much as I'd planned. Was I sick or . . .

ALLERGIC TO TEXAS?

This is a post I sent to the internet ultra running list a couple days ago:

I've been reading the posts re: people getting laid low with the flu recently and commiserating because I've been miserable the last nine or ten days, too. My symptoms haven't been those of the flu, however. I thought I just had the cold from hell -- runny nose, lots of mucus, very sore throat, chest congestion, laryngitis, uncontrollable coughing, very shallow breathing -- not as serious as fever, chills, and aching joints but enough to keep me down. What's odd is that I rarely get a cold or other illness and I kept getting worse, not better, after a cold should have run its course.

It all began right after a nice 4-hour run at Huntsville State Park in TX, where Jim and I are killing time between Rocky Raccoon and MS 50. We'd already been here for over a week with no problems. The trails are wonderful for running and cycling, the campground price is low, and spring has sprung -- violets, daffodils, redbuds, azaleas, little leaves popping out all over! I love spring, especially when it comes in the middle of February. (That's why we aren't home in VA right now.) We figured Huntsville SP would be the ideal place to train for the MS 50, as the terrain is similar.

  
Bright yellow jessamine (L) and purplish redbud flowers (R) contrast nicely with dark green pine needles.

Since my cold developed, however, I haven't been able to run. My lungs are too congested to breathe that deeply without going into coughing spasms. So I've been walking or cycling about an hour a day the last nine days instead. Afterwards I've felt worse, not better. But staying in the camper all day when it's so pretty outside would just drive me bonkers. I have a race to train for!  I haven't done any really long runs since ATY eight weeks ago so I've been trying to gradually increase my miles to prepare for this race and the ones beyond.

With inadequate miles under my belt the past week, however, I considered withdrawing from the MS 50. It's only ten days away now.


This morning I had had enough of feeling crappy and worrying about whether I was going to end up with pneumonia or something. After the sixth straight night sleeping in a recliner (so I could breathe) and my throat getting increasingly raw, I knew I had to see a doctor. That's not easy when you're traveling. It's even harder when you have a brand new insurance company after being with the same one for 30 years. But we finally located an urgent care center where I could go without an appointment this morning and my insurance will pay as if it's an in-network provider.

After listening to all my medical history, current history (including running at Huntsville SP), and symptoms, the doctor looked into my nose and throat. "Oh, my!" she exclaimed. "You don't have an infection, you have an allergy!"

My response: "So I guess I'm allergic to Texas!"

She laughed and said that was close. "You're allergic to whatever is in the air at the state park right now."


New little red leaves almost look like flowers on some of the trees. They'll turn green eventually.


The doctor explained that this is the time of year in southern TX when people flood medical offices with allergy symptoms. I used to have mild allergic reactions in the spring when I lived in Atlanta (which sometimes has outrageously high pollen counts) but nothing like this. I never even needed OTC medications to handle them. I briefly considered allergies when I first got this crud but really thought I had some nasty bacterial infection that was getting worse.

This is a good news-bad news situation. I'm glad to discover it isn't a viral or bacterial infection because Jim might have "caught" it, too. And I pride myself on staying well and would hate to admit that a cold laid me this low! 

But an infection would be easier to clear up once and for all than an allergy will be. I have concerns about what this means to my running -- not so much short term, but in the long term. I know some people develop new or worse allergies as they get older. What if I'm allergic in the spring, or longer, no matter where I am? What if the meds don't work? What if I have to limit the time I'm outdoors? I live (not a typo) to be outdoors running, walking, cycling, gardening, whatever. Just don't coop me up!


A type of phlox along the CCC Trail

The doc prescribed some meds to combat my new allergy(ies) -- a shot in the butt at her office to kick start the treatment, a prescription for antibiotics (generic Z-Pak), and an OTC generic version of Afrin-D (decongestant), for which you have to show a driver's license (used to make meth or something??).

It'll be interesting to see if they work as fast and as well as she says they will. She said there should be noticeable improvement in 24 hours. I don't know if I'll be
able to get in another long run before the MS 50 but I've decided to remain in the game. My goal is to muddle through the 50K as best as I can. At least the time limit is generous so I can walk if I have to.

If you're a seasonal allergy sufferer or have professional medical knowledge of same, could you respond on or off-list to let me know how it's affected your running? I hate taking meds so I'm curious to see if these help me get back outside comfortably or just exacerbate the situation. This doc isn't a runner but she seemed sympathetic to an athlete wanting to resume training (we didn't get into the "ultra" part of running, just running).

Meanwhile, it's 76 degrees, sunny, and I'm itchin' to run but the meds haven't kicked in yet . . .

CORRECT DIAGNOSIS AND A FAST CURE

Well . . . knowledge is power and allergy drugs are awesome!

By evening I was already beginning to feel better, in part because I finally knew what was wrong and could stop worrying. I was still coughing too much to sleep in bed, but it was my last night in the recliner.

I was almost a new woman within 24 hours. The meds worked quickly to significantly reduce the congestion, coughing, runny nose, and other symptoms. I could breathe so much deeper the next day that I was able to run well for over an hour with Cody. Running had been nearly impossible for over a week. If only Jim or I had realized sooner what the problem really was it would have saved a lot of discomfort and money (my insurance "covers" the medical bills, but it will be applied toward my deductible = it will come out of our pocket).


Another beautiful sunset over Lake Raven  (2-23-09)

I got some great responses both on- and off-line from other ultra runners who regularly deal with allergies and have found acceptable coping mechanisms (mostly drugs). Joe Lugiano made a great observation that makes a lot of sense to us, one of those "ah-ha!" moments: "Usually you adapt to whatever allergies are in your region but since you guys are in new places frequently you will not be adapted to them." 

With that in mind, we'll keep some saline nose spray and a good decongestant with us at all times when we're traveling around the country, especially if we return to this area again next February for Rocky. And if we get any symptoms that mimic these, we'll think "allergy" before "cold" and treat for an allergy first.

Next entries: conclusion of our memorable month at Huntsville SP (more stories, observations, and photos)
 

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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