I've been somewhat quiet on MTBR over the past few months, which is rather unusual for me. But it's with good reason. For those of you who aren't on my Facebook list, you probably don't know what's been going on with me...so I figured I would share with my MTBR friends. If you've already heard the news on Facebook, you can skip the thread.
It all started on Halloween weekend. In fact, it was just after the Rage Halloween booze cruise that I started to feel bad. I came down with an intestinal attack -- cramping, diarrhea, more cramping -- something I've been getting on-and-off for the past 4-5 years. Whenever these attacks came on in the past, I would slug it out for 7-10 days and then it would be over. I've always attributed this to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) since these attacks never involved nausia (which is symptomatic of food poisoning).
Well, as the week progressed, things got worse...so I toughed it out for a second week. By mid-November I was still sick and got to the point where I couldn't sleep at night because of all the bloating pain and diarrhea. I stopped riding...stopped working out...and was losing a lot of weight. I even dropped out of the Tour de Tucson.
So I decided to go to the clinic and get tested.
They first tested me for the usual suspects -- parasites, salmonella, e-Coli, amoebas, etc. All of those came back negative.
The following week I went in for more tests, this time for Chron's disease, colitis, Celiac, and some other strange diseases. The Celiac test came back positive.
All along I still had the horrible cramping and diarrhea. On Thanksgiving day I hardly ate anything, and I rode the Flight of the Pigs and felt like crap. Everything I ate just made my stomach do flip-flops. And I felt so weak. By the end of November I had lost about 12 pounds, which is a lot for somebody who weighs 150.
On Dec 6 I went in for a test called an EGD, which is basically an endoscopy and biopsy of the small intestine. It's done to verify a positive blood test for Celiac disease (which I had the week earlier). An EGD is not a very fun test as you are sedated and they put a long tube down your throat and into your intestine. I went home that day feeling really bad from the sedation, and it took a few days for me to fully recover from it because I was just so weak.
Well, the biopsy test came back positive, which means I am confirmed to have Celiac disease (Celiac sprue). For those of you who haven't heard of Celiac, it's an auto-immune deficiency where your body attacks the small intestine when it is fed gluten. There is no cure for Celiac except to go on a 100% gluten-free diet. I won't die if I eat gluten...it just makes me feel sick.
So, for the past 2 weeks I've been on a gluten-free diet, which means NO wheat, barley, rye, or oats....or ANY food with any of these ingredients in them. This is VERY hard to do, especially when I travel on business (almost every week), as wheat and barley are used for fillers in most any food...and "malt flavoring", which is made from barley, is in a lot of foods you would never expect (like RIce Krispies). And here's the killer -- NO BEER! Yes, they make gluten-free beer, but it's impossible to find, it's expensive, and it tastes like ass.
It took about 10 days on the gluten-free diet for me to finally start getting my energy back, and today I would say that I am 80% of the way back to feeling "good". Hopefully by the end of the year I will be there 100% and can start really riding and working out again. They told me my small intestines were damaged and that I was not absorbing any nutrients, but as I give the gluten-free diet some time, my small intestines will heal and I will start getting nutrients again. I've been taking a lot of vitamins and supplements to make up for the inability for my body to digest most foods...and that has been helping too.
I am still down about 10 pounds and haven't been on the bike much at all in December.
So what does this all mean for me going forward when it comes to MTBR and group rides?
Well, for starters I have to eat gluten-free, which is very hard to do on the bike (mainly because almost all energy bar has gluten). Some gluten-free energy bars exist (like Larabar and Hammer), but they have never sat well in my stomach. So I will have to make sure to be creative with my own food and bring enough of it -- no bumming from others as it could be bad news for me.
Second, my post-ride activities will have to be without beer and gluten. This is going to be very hard for me, as there is nothing better than a big fat burrito or hamburger after a long hard ride. And there is nothing better than to wash it down with an ice cold beer. Of course all of this is now off-limits for me. And since the MTB lifestyle revolves so much around beer, it's going to be a constant temptation for me.
Anyway, I'm trying to keep a positive attitude through these changes. I've never had to deal with anything significant when it comes to my health, so I am still trying to find my way through this. At least now I know why I've been sick and can deal with it head-on. My goal is to be back to 100% both on the bike and in the gym by spring time.
And BTW -- I'm not looking for any sympathy from anybody. I just wanted to share this with you all so when I join an MTBR group ride you understand why I will have to refuse a beer...or take an extra long time to order in a restaurant because I have to figure out what is OK to eat...or pull out some rice cakes on the trail. So yes my eating and drinking habits are going to be different, but rest assured that I will still be the same fun-loving smart-ass that you've grown to love.