Thursday, February 12, 2015

More Science! A Sequel.

Last time we spoke I told you about the time I volunteered to be a research assistant and then puked during the process. Now, we discuss the follow-up meeting.

Quick review: I signed up to volunteer as a research participant. I had to run as fast as I could on a treadmill while wearing a tight mouth/nose covering-mask-thing. I threw up, despite having fasted for about 13 hours beforehand. Masters Student said I could still participate in the research.

On Monday I went for my first "real" meeting/test with the student. I was a little apprehensive and skipped breakfast due to the "incident" of our previous meeting. Before we started the physical portion of the research, many measurements and tests had to be completed. Blood was taken from my blood-donation vein, the circumference of my thigh and the length of my leg between two specific points were measured, and the student put Sharpie dots on me in strategic places. To be truthful I don't know the purpose of each measurement, which I should had inquired about because I like learning. I also stuck my index fingers into things and had some sort of blood flow measured, and then had it measured again when the circulation was mostly cut off in my left arm. He told me to sit still as the measurements would reflect any movement. I moved once during each test (very slightly!) because I wanted to see what would happen.

All of this went well as I am good at laying down and sitting on chairs.

Finally, the real test came. I would have to run downhill on a treadmill. I would then return each of the following three days and have all the other tests done again. Then, the following week, I would do the entire thing again. I would be placed into one of two groups, one being a placebo/control group, the other group would take some sort of pill thing. The follow-up sessions would be used to determine if the pill made any difference in recovery. Or something like that... I'm slightly filling in the blanks.

The treadmill was propped up on the back so it was at an incline of 12 degrees. It didn't really occur to me that 12 degrees would be steep. I had flashbacks to geometry class and drawing angles using a protractor. You couldn't really draw anything less than 10 degrees because the lead of your pencil was too thick, so 12 degrees must be just enough to be measured, or something like that. In retrospect and now using the aid of the internet, 12 degrees is pretty steep for running up or down. But don't take it from me, take it from Lance Armstrong and his friend L. T. Davidson: "For reference, the maximum permissible grade on most Interstate highways is 6 percent, while the average grade of the 7.6-mile Mount Washington Road Race, one of the most popular uphill running races in the country, is about 12 percent. For most people, running form deteriorates markedly at inclines greater than 10 percent, while 5 percent is generally challenging enough for moderately fit runners and walkers." While this discusses uphill running, let's just assume downhill running sucks too and I'm pretty sure it's just as difficult, if not more difficult, than uphill running.

I hop onto the treadmill a bit nervous. While sitting for one of my tests I noticed something on a whiteboard that said "Treadmill 1 hour". That couldn't be me, right? Of course not, that level of running would had been discussed before hand. I stand on the still treadmill waiting for the student to get a few things hooked up.

"How long am I running for?" I asked him.

"Forty minutes," he replied, like that wasn't a big deal.

Forty minutes of downhill running. I felt like a kid in a "teacher writing a report that is 1000 words is impooooossible and so loooooong" way.

Bit of background information about me: I am not a runner. When I run I feel like my legs are two different lengths and my feet were accidentally attached to the opposite ankle. I run when playing ultimate frisbee, but might "go for a run" once a year. I completed two 5-km races around the 30-min mark long ago, which I was happy with. I'm not comfortable running, I don't enjoy it, and the idea of training for some sort of long distance race is just incredibly hilarious, awkward, and a bit uncomfortable. You might wonder why I signed up for this. I didn't know the running requirements in terms of time required, and unemployment is starting to make me depressed and mood and I find doing things helps with that.

So now I was supposed to run downhill on a treadmill for 40 minutes. I had flashbacks to when Shannon, Keri, and I first moved to Edinburgh, Scotland. We lived downhill, first in New Town, then in Canon Mills, even further downhill. For the first couple of months I had painful shin splints which, if I'm remembering correctly, were most terrible when going downhill. I also flashbacked to the two times I had went up the Eiffel Tower. Both times I had taken the stairs because it's cheaper and feels more heroic. Both times upon descending I had to sit down on a bench and let my legs vibrate and watch my muscles freak out. ("Jen, this is not heroic, stop doing this to us on ten-year intervals.")

The treadmill starts. I panic. There wasn't really a warm up (although I think there was supposed to be but it was a weird in between walking and running speed and it was awful) so I start "jogging". By "jogging" I mean loudly stomping my feet downhill with a terrified looked on my face and holding my hands awkwardly. I felt like a penguin. Little useless legs and scared to move my hands in case I lost my balance.

Every so often the student would had me the vomit mask (new name) and take a few readings. At one point the readings weren't working so he told me to straddle the side bars until the readings were coming in again. I stood there and my left leg was shaking. It was, like, minute thirteen. I still had 27 more minutes to complete. I started running again and wondered if my leg or hip would give out as that has happened before. The student looks at my stride and asks about my pain. My right leg hurts, but in a more normal way. Apparently I run on my toes a bit on my right foot (makes sense, am running downhill and have high arches i.e., no middle foot), but it was consistent. My left leg was flailing about like a fish flopping around on dry land (my words, not his). I don't know at what point I stopped, maybe 20 minutes in total, but I just stood on the treadmill with my legs shaking. The student turned around to enter some things into his computer. I stepped off the treadmill.... and basically tipped over and crumbled to the ground. He turns around and asks with concern, "Did you fall?!" and I was sitting on the floor somewhat stunned. I stood up with shaking legs and try to lean against a bed that was there for doing some of the measurements we had done earlier. The bed was on unlocked wheels. It started to slide away and I almost fell again. So I sat on the bed, did the final two tests, and then went home. I contemplated taking the elevator up the one floor to the building's door but figured that was a bit silly.

Later that day, after some thought, I quit the research project. The idea of doing that same run again next week makes me whimper and want to hide. My legs have been limpy and so weak the past two days and the slightest incline when walking makes me feel like I have no control over my legs and I'm going to tip over. I go up and down stairs one at a time and my legs ache in the morning after being still all night. However, today, three days later, I might and be able to go up stairs without gripping the railing like my life depends on it. I think I'll be able to get out of a chair without grabbing four things for support.

It's funny, I signed up for the experiment as being unemployed was getting me down and the days at home were leaving me a bit lonely and filling me with self doubt. By signing up for the experiment I would be forced to get up in the morning and feel like I was contributing something useful to the world. But now I'm left sitting at home feeling like I have pudding for legs. Today I may test myself and walk somewhere.

Moral of the story: if you sign up to be a research participant ask questions. Don't make assumptions. If you feel unsure about something request clarification. Ugh.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The One with the Science Experiment

Hi friends!

I'm still unemployed because boy-oh-boy I love giving people I don't know the ability to stomp on my self esteem. I find keeping busy lessens the likelihood I feel poorly about myself, so with that in mind, I signed up to participate in a research project by a grad student at UPEI. Today was my first of nine sessions, a sort of intro session and likely the chance to determine if I wasn't a good candidate for the research. Without going into detail on the purpose of the research as I don't want to run into any privacy issues, I shall tell you about today's adventures.

Things started off well. I had my finger pricked to determine blood things. I guess my blood was fine, which is nice after my recent denial from Canadian Blood Services as a donor, as we then advanced to the blood pressure checking phase. Blood pressure was also fine and consistent on the extreme low end of the normal range. Next up was getting my height and weight which was easy as by virtue of existing I have size and mass.

Side note because when you're unemployed sometimes you need to make intelligent side notes to help you feel like you still have a brain: allow me to remind you of the important difference between mass and weight. While not relevant on Earth, should you become an astronaut and travel the solar system it will be important. Your weight changes based on gravity and is a measurement of gravity's pull on you. Mass remains constant regardless of what planet you are on as it's essentially a measurement of matter. In a nutshell.

The next step was to find out how hard I can push myself running and at what point would I max out. This was done by wearing a heart rate monitor and a mask around my mouth and nose to measure oxygen output... or something like that. I started on the treadmill for a few minutes of brisk walking at a speed of 4.0 treadmill measurement units (miles per hour, I believe). After the warm up the speed was increased to a light jog at 5.0. Then it was gradually increased until you thought your lungs would explode and legs would crumble. This determines your maximum output and is used in the follow-up sessions as a guideline for determined 50 percent output, 75 percent output, etc.

At this point I must admit I don't know the right words for a lot of things related to this research.

I got strapped in to my gear and hopped on the treadmill. Prior to starting I wondered if anyone had ever vomited Biggest Loser style while wearing the oxygen max thing. It was strapped on super tight and could not be removed in a hurry. I thought about it, because I think of vomit consequences more than the average person, and determined you would just have to bend over and let the vomit run into the tube. But that would never happen, right? Right.

My warm up phase went well. The light jog went well. The running as fast as you can was going well and as it started to feel a bit hard my stomach did a wee 'poof!' I know from playing ultimate frisbee that sometimes I just need a tiny burp in the initial phases of running. I figured I would be fine as it was around noon and I had been fasting as part of the research for about 12 hours. However, the stomach movement seemed to be a bit more than a burp. I jumped onto the sides of the treadmill and waved my arms at the student and pointed at the mouth piece. He popped it off and I told him I thought I was going to vomit... but I would probably be okay.

And then I ran to the waste bin and threw up the 4 tablespoons of food I had left in me. The student seemed a bit flustered as he none of the previous participants chucked up their supper. I tried to explain that I probably throw up more than the average person, and no, I don't usually vomit when I exercise and I wasn't at my maximum output.

I offered to bow out of the research as I understood that I hadn't reached my maximum output thus the follow-up sessions could be off. Well, luckily he needs participants, so he needs me to return. So hurrah for me! Potential research outlier. Hopefully the follow-up sessions will have fewer surprises.