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.

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