Arrowhead Recovery

The two questions people have asked most about the Arrowhead have been "Will you do it again?" and "Have you recovered?"

The answer to the first question is an emphatic "yes." The answer to the second question is "maybe."

I have definitely "recovered" psychologically. The race was a high point in my life, and the five weeks since finishing have been great. The interest of so many people – near and far – in my race has been unexpected and wonderful. And while I am very thankful for every bit of that interest, I think I would have just the same sense of accomplishment had none of it occurred. Finishing that race in those conditions has given me a very durable – and maybe permanent – feeling that I can do stuff. Not that I couldn’t before (college, grad school, marriage, children, career), but the Arrowhead was such a distinct thing to have done that I now have a very different sense of what I can make myself do – if I need or want to. This is not at all an aura of invincibility. In fact, it’s more like the opposite: with enough preparation, care, and determination, I can do some really hard things, and enjoy them.

As that clumsy paragraph suggests, I have had difficulty thinking and writing about the psychological effects of finishing the race. The physical effects are both easier and crazier to describe.

The main effect of the race was of course physical depletion. I never did crash and sleep for 12 hours or whatever (or, worse, get horribly sick), but for at least a couple weeks my body felt very emptied-out – my legs especially so. I still went to the gym, but the workouts were quite a bit more difficult. I still commuted on my bike, but the pedals seemed much harder to push. Over the five weeks since the race, I’ve steadily felt better and better, and I would say now that I’m probably 85% of the way back to how I felt physically just before the race.

A huge part of my recovery from the bodily depletion has been simply eating everything I can – like the six servings of cheesy mashed potatoes (a thousand kcal, give or take) that I’m eating as I write this. Even now, five weeks to the day after I finished the race, I am floored every two or three hours by a wave of hunger that’s as strong as what I used to experience at 4:30 in the afternoon if I’d worked out at noon, had a decent lunch at 1, and then skipped a snack. It’s like being 16 again, only with better facial hair.

I thought at first that this ravenous appetite would naturally wane as I filled the calorie hole dug during the race, but now I think that the stress of that long effort kicked my metabolism (which has always been high) into overdrive. Possible proof of this: my gluttony hasn’t led to any weight gain. After some initial fluctuations while I replaced the water lost during the race, my weight has settled at a point about 2 or 3 pounds lower than where I had been before the race. Except for the cost of all the food I’m eating, I don’t feel too bad about being such a pig. And what’s money, anyhow? Just a way to get pizza and Coke! And then more pizza.

Unlike my raging appetite, other physical effects have mostly disappeared. My frostbitten nose healed disgustingly but rapidly, and is now back to normal in both appearance and function. That is, it’s still "very big" (according to the girls) but doesn’t get especially chilled when I am out in the cold. I am sorry that anyone had to see my nose repairing itself. The process was pretty gross.

My fingers and toes also got mildly frostbitten. The fingers are fine now, but my toes continue to feel somewhat numb, as if they’re perpetually waking up after "falling asleep." I debate whether this numbness is due more to the extreme cold or to the fact that I wore the same boots for something like 30 hours, but either way, I am still dealing with it. I think that the numbness is gradually diminishing. I sure hope it is.

One somewhat odd effect, or perhaps side effect, of the race is how comfortable I feel on my bike right now. I’ve always felt good on the Beast, but my riding position – long, deep pedal strokes; a slightly hunched back; hands wide on the bars – is now familiar and pleasing, as well as comfortable. Some of this comfort is physical, but some of it is also psychological: this is how my body survived those hours and hours in the middle of the night…

Two final and certainly weird physical effects of the race have been that my hair has changed texture, getting much more coarse and stiff (perhaps from being basically frozen for 30 hours), and that I lose a bunch of eyelashes every day. I can’t quite understand how I have any left, given how many fall out every time I wash my face! Truly, the body is a wonderful machine – which is now demanding more food and drink.

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