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Training Restarts as the Virus Retreats

Aside from one aborted “raw lungs with coughing fits and wiped out afterward” ride back on March 22, today is the first day back on the bike since a virus made its way into my lungs. A two week lapse.

But let me digress first: about 10 years ago I had a case of viral pneumonia (“a lung full of pus” according to my doctor. Pulse oximeter down to the low 90's, minor exertions being major efforts. Took three months to recover and the left lung had some presumed scarring.

So now when a bad virus gets into my lungs, where does it head? Straight into the left lung with its damaged tissue. I can feel it set up shop with each and every pulmonary infection. These are infrequent, and my body usually kills it off quickly. But virii just love hanging out there and sticking it to me, and this latest nasty bugger started whole body first, then finally set up shop in the lungs. It is a definite physiological weak area in which my body clearly has a hard time killing off the intruder. A real risk with the wrong virus—I suspect that I have an increased risk of mortality from pneumonia later in life due to this weak area. But we all have our issues, don’t we? :)

So I’ve been mending slowly over the past week, and I felt well enough to ride today. Small airways perhaps at 60-70% of my usual function (my own estimate based on pulmonary tests over the years), with noticeable impairment so that any effort over ~240 watts couldn’t last very long without inducing asthma-coughing (yes I am treating with an inhaler every day). I expect that it will take 2-3 weeks for the lungs to perform without griping, as the inflammation recedes.

The good news is that I completed a 80 minute ride at decent wattage (210 watts), the legs felt OK and I wasn’t worn out by the effort. With the weather lovely and balmy, what a treat.

The disappointing angle is that as far as the 2013 Everest Challenge, it is pretty much impossible to make up missing the three solid months of base miles and double centuries that I had done by this time last year. But if all goes well I should be able to complete it, even if not realistically aiming for top-5.

James T writes:

I had my first case of viral pneumonia back in 1970 after riding a motorcycle across the U.S. - almost nonstop. Spent a week in the hospital. Now I get it pretty easily. My first year of teaching elementary I "caught it" thrice. Boy, talk about sick.

Fortunately the bicycling seems to have strengthen the lungs although I've got plenty of scar tissue (which my doc keeps an eye on . . . just in case). My doctor is an avid bicycle rider – to from work daily – and does as many centuries as he can find time for.

Since you've already experienced the joys of pulmonary issues I won't say more. Let's just say I was delighted to hear you're back on the bike and working on getting back "up to speed."

DIGLLOYD: I agree on both counts:

  • A prior pneumonia damages lung tissue with internal trauma resulting in overly sensitive and not entirely happy lung tissue, and possible scarring.
  • Vigorous physical exercise strengthens lungs in general; over the past two years of vigorous cycling my lung function as tested at a pulmonary specialist shows small and large airway function to be at a 20-year peak.

So I suppose that one could argue that cycling or any form of regular vigorous excercise is a preventive measure against lung problems in general. Not a guarantee, but at least moving the odds in a favorable direction.

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