Death by Inhaled Insect

Sweat Bee

Running down my favorite rainforest trail in southern Thailand I was thinking about inhaling bugs into the lungs because there were quite a few in the air.

We’ve all sucked bugs into our throats, but I think few of us have taken measures to prevent it from happening again.

When I remember to do it, I use a special breathing technique I’ll bet many of us use, some without realizing it. I put my tongue on the roof of my mouth so it blocks a straight shot down my trachea. As I ran down the mountain yesterday I was thinking about writing a post here about jamming the tongue up there while you run and pant open-mouthed, but then I figured most runners already do that. You do, don’t you?

Then my mind drifted off to something else. Ten minutes later the Perfect Storm. I was running fast down the hill, I came around a bend and I thought I saw a floating beasty in the air. I then felt this sizable insect shoot straight into my trachea. It stopped my breathing. I’m not sure whether it was the involuntary closing off of the trachea that happens when someone is drowning, or whether in my panic, I tensed up the muscles in my neck and stopped breathing so I didn’t inhale it further. At any rate, I was hosed.

Since I had very little air in my lungs I tried very gently and slowly to inhale to see if I could get any air that would help me cough more forcefully. I couldn’t get any air in. I hunched over and tensed my stomach muscles so hard that I actually pulled them way down into my groin. I felt the sharp pain of it this morning a couple times already.

After a few violent coughs I thought I saw something hit the dirt and leaves in front of me. I frantically searched for it to see what it was. I found a little sweat-bee covered in mucous and I figured that was the culprit. Then, despite the bee being out of my throat, I realized it probably stung me when it was in there. It probably stung me in the throat.

While I’m not particularly allergic to bees. Well, I mean, I haven’t been allergic to them ever in my life, but I had never been stung by a sweat-bee in Thailand before.  I thought there was a good chance it stung my throat and either my lungs would fill with fluid, or my throat would swell up and prevent air from getting to my lungs.

Rather than panic, which I know is always the worst thing, I thought of my chances to get help if the body did start to shut down.

The chances were mighty slim. I was still 25 minutes away from the bottom of the mountain. I had just ran hard for close to two hours, climbing 2,300 vertical feet and 6 miles of trail in 95°F very humid rainforest.  I had seen nobody on the trail during my run. I usually don’t.  I didn’t have my mobile phone, choosing instead to leave it in the car so I didn’t need to wear a waist-pack. I had no camera so I could record my dying words… I was truly screwed if my breathing shut down.

As I considered dying on the mountain there, I wasn’t really afraid of death. What a great place to die, right? But still, it isn’t time man. Not for another 30-40 years, maybe longer. There are a lot more trails to run and hills to climb.

As I ran down the hill very gently, slowly, and breathing easily, I just waited for my rarely present asthma to kick in, throat to swell, or lungs to fill up with fluid. It was a tense 25 minutes down the trail.

At the bottom of the hill I realized I wasn’t stung by the bee. I was going to live.

It’s funny that something so innocuous could turn into a life-death situation. I follow some of you guys and gals running around the mountains of Colorado and all over the world, and I think about your safety. You’ve likely thought some already about bears, mountain lions, and lightning. The normal threats.

Have you thought about a simple bug flying into your trachea? 

Just in the couple years I’ve been on this trail I’ve inhaled three bugs. This being the worst experience by far. I guess it’s time to wise up and start wearing a bandana around my head, under my nose. I’m supposed to be in the middle of my life at age 48, not the end.

Take a few minutes today and see if there might be something you can change about your runs, your bike ride, whatever it is you do, to make it a little bit safer.

[Image by Barbara Eckstein at Flickr]

Personal Record Running Up the Mountain – Ngorn Nak, Krabi

Top of the mountain in Krabi, Thailand called Ngorn Nak. Great hiking and running trail there for beginners or those that enjoy moderate difficulty while running technical trail.

Yesterday I woke up, excited to go do a run up my favorite mountain around here. It’s called, “Ngorn Nak.” It’s located in Tub Kaak, Krabi, Thailand. It is 500 meters high and is extremely technical. Roots and loose rocks, as well as a couple of scrambling sections that will get you on all fours running up like a monkey.

Then Nick called off. Sick, he said. Damn. Then I looked out the window and saw the weirdness. Low clouds or fog, maybe it was mist. Just plain weird. We have about two days a year like this in Krabi. You never know what it will mean, a light rain falling all day, or no rain at all and eventually it clears up.

I got prepped and was ready to head out. Nick SMS’ed me: BBC news just said clouds over Krabi are remnants of Hurricane that devastated Philippines. I sent back: FML.

Then about 2.5 hours later, when I was sure I was just going to work on my books all day, I took another look out the window. It looked worse. Darker clouds. But still, no rain. I SMS’ed Nick: WTF, it’s either the most perfect day EVER for running on the mountain, or the perfect storm is brewing out there and it will be the worst. I’m going…

And I did. I fired up the motorbike, drank half a can of Red Bull. At the 7-11 I grabbed two 500 ml Gator-Ade bottles and a water, and was at the base of the mountain around 11:30 am. It had barely warmed up at all, the temperature was about 72 degrees. That is one of the coldest days I expect in the next year, so I was hoping my body could handle a hard run. I left one of the ‘ades in the motorbike seat and took one and one water bottle. I tried to assess how I felt. I had done some great workouts in the week leading up to this. That might mean my legs aren’t ready for an all-out effort. Or, it could mean they are. I never know until I get started.

I jogged a bit, loosened up a bit, careful not to stretch anything. I clicked “Start” on the IronMan watch and took off. I felt good. Then I felt really good. I hid the Gator-Ade behind a tree to save some weight. I headed up for a good 5 minutes and reached the split in the path where, if I arrive under 5 mins, I’m on a great pace. I was at 4:57. That was very good because I wasn’t really trying that hard yet. I was definitely ready to push.

The next section is a pretty good incline, some parts are barely runnable, some just are not. I did the best I could and approached the first major steep climb. That one takes 90 seconds to get up, and if I go too fast, it zaps me by the top and I stand up there sucking wind. I took it cautiously. Quick and cautious. At the top I felt OK and charged ahead, running for the short slight incline down and then back up some steep sections, then to the flat… then another gradual climb, and then bam, steep climb number 2. This one only takes about a minute if I go quickly, but sometimes I’m already out of juice to go quick. On this run I was able to get through it to the top and keep going without any breaths rest. A great push.

The next section is a lot of flat. Maybe 1/2 km, 550 yards? Something like that. I pushed hard and felt great.

That was basically how the entire run went. I pushed hard and felt great.

After the last vertical climb is a patch of maybe 350 m flat, but technical terrain. I attacked it and pushed harder than I ever have on that section.


I knocked off 2 minutes off my fastest time there ever. An amazing run.

What do I attribute it to?

The weather mostly. Usually I’m running this trail in 92 degrees F. 72 was a godsend.

I did also push very hard, but it was because the weather was so cool that I was able to do so. I have lost some weight, and down to 76 kg (167 lbs) so i am feeling, and now getting faster. It’s a great feeling.

So that’s it – just a personal record that i’ve been looking to beat for 2 yrs now. The best time previously was during a race up that mountain where I got 41 minutes to that same point at the top. To think that I got 39:07 without having anyone there to push me, is really phenomenal. I think during the next race in March, I should be able to do a little better than 39 if I have a good day and keep losing a little bit of weight. Would be nice to get down to 72 kg for that race.

OK then – cheers, and here’s some advice…

Take advantage of the cool and dry days. I never feel better than when I’m running at 84F or right around there… because we just don’t have days like 72F very often. Usually it’s raining hard when the temperature is that low here. The difference between running in 95F and 72F is at least 4 minutes. That’s my guess. That’s up a mountain over a 4 km trail.

Best of luck out there, hope you set a PR on one of your favorite runs by the end of the year…

3 Days – Trail to Peak, Flat Concrete, Stairs

Exceptional views at the top of this 500m mountain.
Exceptional views at the top of this 500m high mountain.

I’ve been working my way up gradually to competition level fitness. I stopped doing triathlons, running, and bike races around age 31 as I just didn’t have time for the long training anymore. Now I have the time again, and I’m being smarter about it. I’m training for some 10k, and half marathons on trails coming up in 2014 and I’d like to not suck, considering I’ve never sucked at any of the sports I trained for in the past.

I’m 47. For the past 6 years I’ve done nothing but stair climbs. My stair climb of choice is a 900 foot high elevation block of limestone in southern Thailand close to where I live. There are 1,256 steps up the side of it. The steps average 8.75 inches high, much higher than a normal stair height. So, it’s a nice challenge to do in 95F heat and high humidity. I’ve climbed it over 1,200 times now – way over 100 vertical miles. It feels great to have done it, and I was happy doing that 5 to 15 times per week as I had time for. I knew I was just training my anaerobic system and my body was burning pure muscle glycogen as I climbed, but again, I wasn’t competing so there was no problem. I felt like I was in good shape. My heart rate was down to 45 BPM most times I measured it, and I had no health problems except I was gaining weight since my mid 40’s.

Today I’m ramping up to longer trail runs of 6 miles to 13 miles. I hope to do a marathon and some ultra runs in 2014, but even just a marathon would be a great milestone reached.

So, I found a 3-day program that I really enjoyed doing. I’ll share it here.

The problem with working up to running every day is that my joints are only ready to walk up and down stairs. There is no variety in the angle of the steps, no roots, no stones, no sand, no dirt. My main focus is trail running so I started out my 3 days of intense workouts with a trail run up 1,500 feet of elevation on a mountain trail bordering the ocean. It’s a wonderful run, very technical, and I bust my ass to get up in 41 minutes. Then I turn around and run halfway down, then back up to the peak, and finally down to the bottom. Bottom to peak, it’s 3.7km, though my GPS has tracked it as between 3.7km and 5km. I think it’s closer to 4.5, but it’s just a guess. Anyway, that’s my first workout. It takes about 2.5 hours to do it, and I’m trashed at the end of it – but could still run on the flat some if I had to. It’s my favorite run, by far.

The next day I run at the park near the river. It’s a 1.1 km perimeter run around the park on a concrete trail. It’s flat, with 2 little bumps just to aggravate runners. I do 8-10 km. The first 3-4 km go pretty fast (for me) at 8:30/mile pace. It’s so funny to write that. When I competed I was doing 6 minute miles for races, and I never did try a one-mile to see how fast I could go. Under 6, but no idea what my fastest pace for the mile would have been.

I feel good after that, and tired. The next day I head up to the stairs and do 1 to 2 climbs. The first – quickly in 13-14 minutes. The second, slower in 15-16 minutes. By the end of that I still have energy, and could climb a couple more times on most days, but the following day is a rest day and I know I need to curb my enthusiasm.

My goal is only to work up to running nearly every day at 5-6 miles per day. Then I’ll ramp that up and add a long-run and some intervals into the mix.

So, this schedule works for me. It may work for you if your goal is to run up mountain peaks on trails. My times on the trail have been dropping considerably since I’ve combined these three exercises, and it doesn’t even feel like much work. I’ve also lost 8 lbs, so it’s like not carrying a gallon of water up the mountain. Feels great.

By running my favorite trail up the mountain first – I can do it at speed and with all the effort i can put into it. That makes me feel emotionally, spiritually happy inside. That’s essential. The next day is basically recovery by running on the flat concrete at the park. When I can I move over to the grass if it’s flat enough. That helps. Day two at the park, though I run 5-6 miles, feels like an easy day. The next day is another hard one up the stairs, but it only lasts a short time for both climbs. In 1 hour, I’m finished and on my way home.

At the moment there is this one nice trail leading to a peak around here. I hope to add another, very nice climb to 4,300 feet elevation once I can get a guide to go up a closed trail with me to scope it out and make sure it’s safe to run on. There was a landslide there two years ago which killed about 18 villagers below during a wicked rainy spell.