From peak to pool

Lately I have become part octopus, part mountain goat and part fish.

The octopus part of me has been juggling tasks at work like crazy. I spent the last couple of months organizing a big festival while also having a bunch of other programs to design and lead. One weekend I was teaching a nature-sketching workshop, the next a toddler class on toads. When I am done typing this post I need to practice my guitar for an upcoming campfire program. I have longed to come home and do something relaxing after this whirlwind, but that is not in the cards this summer. What is on the agenda is Rainier and I need to use every spare minute getting my body ready for the climb.

This leads me to my mountain goat side. Just about every weekend, Doug, his dad and I have climbed a 13,000- or 14,000-foot peak. Each time we do one of the hikes, we have been increasing the weight in our backpacks. Our last hike took us to 14,141-foot South Mt. Elbert. The hike was around 10 miles round trip and I was able to carry 45 pounds with 4,500 feet of elevation gain. I felt really strong and was ecstatic with the accomplishment because this is similar to what I will have to do on Rainier. I still have just over a month of training time before the trip so the plan is to keep doing hikes of this nature, including a few overnight trips, so that we can begin to move more quickly and efficiently on steep terrain with heavy packs. Some evenings after work  I have also been going up to the Flatirons in Boulder, CO to hike some shorter and lower (though still steep) peaks.

On the summit of 13,5751 Rosalie Peak on May 26, 2013.
On the summit of 13,5751 Rosalie Peak on May 26, 2013.
Sneaking in a 7 mile hike of 8,144' Green Mountain after work on May 30, 2013. The sun was quickly setting!
Sneaking in a seven-mile hike of 8,144-foot Green Mountain after work on May 30, 2013. The sun was quickly setting!
A few days later on June 2, 2013 we made it to the summit of 14,141-foot South Mt. Elbert.
And tagged 13,588' Mt. Cosgriff on the way down.
We tagged 13,588-foot Mt. Cosgriff on the way down.

So far, my joints have been doing great through my training regime. Part of this has to do with the comprehensive physical therapy program I am on. Between my shoulder, hip and Achilles exercises, I spend about 45 minutes most days on physical therapy. It taxes my schedule and makes me stay up later on some nights than I would like, but the benefits have been huge.

The other reason I think that my joints have been doing so well is that I discovered a new exercise: deep-water running. Hiking one or two big peaks each week with a heavy pack is hard on my joints, so in between I have decided to skip running, climbing, zumba and even biking to train as these all make my Achilles tendonitis flare up. I know I will return to all these activities when I get back from Rainier as my Achilles is basically already healed. However, for now I just don’t want to risk re-injuring it since things are going so well and I am able to hike long distances with elevation gain again. I had tried swimming to increase fitness, but the repetitive arm motions aggravated the avascular necrosis in my shoulder. I knew that I had to complement the long weekend hikes with something in order to get enough cardiovascular training in mid-week. But what activity?

I took to the internet to get some ideas and there I discovered the perfect training activity: deep-water running. Doing this exercise would help me build up cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength while giving my joints a chance to rest from the long hikes I was also doing. A quick Google search revealed several instructional videos on deep-water running. and it looked pretty easy. It basically involved putting on a floatation belt, going to the deep end of a pool and running almost like you would on land.  The running form ends up being slightly different, but the videos provided enough guidelines that I felt confident to give it a go.

The first time I ventured to the gym to try the new activity I felt awkward because I didn’t travel very far when running in the deep end of a pool. On land, when you increase your running speed and intensity you generally travel a much greater distance. In the the pool, I can run as hard as possible and only travel 15 feet. It reminds me of crazy nightmares where I am being chased by ghosts, monsters or bandits and I am running really fast to get away but not getting anywhere. When I exhaust the length of the deep end, I turn around and head the other direction.

Suited up and ready to go in my floatation belt.
Suited up and ready to go in my floatation belt.
With the belt keeping me afloat, I mimic the running motion I would do on land.
With the belt keeping me afloat, I mimic the running motion I would do on land.

Running in small circles in this way doesn’t feel very interesting compared to running on a scenic trail, but I have to remind myself that it is really no different than running on a treadmill. However, the cardiovascular benefits are huge. Deep-water running really gets the heart rate up. Not to mention that the resistance the water provides has helped me build muscle–and not just in my legs. I move my arms underwater just like I do when I run on land, but because the resistance is so much greater, I have noticed my arms are getting a lot stronger too.

As on land, one has to pay attention to their running form in the water. I find that if I am getting lazy about form, I will start treading water instead of running. Treading water is not nearly as strenuous as running and does not get my heart rate up to an adequate training level. To make sure I am keeping my form, I will actually close my eyes and picture myself running on a trail or road and try to mimic that movement in the pool. Another trick that works well for me is to pick a stationary object on the edge of the pool and pretend it is another runner in a race that I am trying to catch. Both of these things help ensure that I stay in good form and keep my heart rate up.

For workouts, I usually deep-water run for about 45 minutes to an hour and then soak in the hot tub for 15 minutes which feels amazing on my joints. I have been deep-water running 2-3 times a week. A lot of people may be wondering if this influences my ostomy appliance wear-time. I find that being in the pool and hot tub this much does not affect my appliance’s ability to adhere. However, I change my appliance every three to four days regardless of what activities I do. Perhaps if someone was trying to get a seven-day wear-time, swimming might shorten it a bit.

I also do not have to do anything different to get my appliance to stay on in the pool. I basically jump in with my wafer as is (my wafer method is pictured in this post). Some people who have had issues with their appliances staying on in the water have great luck with products such as Sure Seals and Coloplast Brava Elastic Barrier Strip. I have tried both and they work well. I just find that my appliance sticks fine without them for the amount of swimming I do. If I were to take a beach vacation or a trip to a water park where I was in the water all day I would definitely use these. As far as swimming attire when I am deep-water running, I wear a variety of tankini tops with swim shorts and then an Ostomy Secrets Swim Wrap which covers the part of my pouch that sticks out above the low-rise swim shorts.

If you are looking for a gentle-on-the-joints exercise to gain strength I would recommend deep-water running. I only wish I had discovered this activity sooner after surgery. It would have been a great low-impact way to get back into shape once my incision was healed and I could return to water sports.

For now, it has become this octopus-mountain goat-fish’s best option for getting in shape for Rainier. It fits into the busy work schedule, is easy on the joints, and gets the heart pumping. I am feeling more optimistic then ever that as long as the weather cooperates for our ascent, I will be strong enough to stand on that summit.


13 thoughts on “From peak to pool

  1. I am sooooo envious -I always had hoped to do Rainier, (did Whitney 3X a number of years ago but am now 76 and had a urostomy this past December), so Rainier is not going to happen.

    I’m back to hiking here in Flagstaff, AZ and yesterday led a group to a 1944 plane wreck at ~11,000′ and then managed to make the saddle on the San Francisco Peaks-11,800′. Maybe next week I can do the top, (12,643′).

    Anyways-I know you will make the summit of Rainier-what are the dates-I’ll pray that you have perfect weather for the climb.


    1. Thanks Les! I hope to climb Whitney someday too. Your hike to the old plane wreck sounds really interesting. I bet you will make it to the top of the peak on your next hike no problem! I will email you the dates of our Rainier climb this week. Thank you for thinking of us! Prayers for a safe climb are much welcomed.

      Take care,

  2. Hi Heidi

    I have a bag emptying question for you. I want to get back into hiking but have been put off a bit lately.
    I run a community smallholding. There are no toliets on the field or nearby, so I find myself driving back home everytime I need to empty, (several times in my morning at the field!!). I’ve tried emptying in drainage ditches, but I can never get the angle and then the wind will catch the fall out and splatter it all over the undergrowth. What do you do.
    I know you have spoken about your device and that sounds great, but I’m thinking more about do I empty into a container or something?!! Don’t you just love these detailed conversations!!


    1. Hi Rachel,

      Driving home to empty would definitely be a pain! I have a few suggestions. First, for emptying outdoors, I bring a small garden or backpacking trowel and dig a 6-inch deep “cat hole”. Then I kneel down as close to the hole as possible and empty. Then I fill in the hole with dirt and pack out my used toilet paper in a double-layer Ziplock (I don’t like leaving TP behind as it tends to get dug up by critters and then becomes an eyesore for other hikers. It takes longer to degrade than people realize). If you haven’t already seen it, here is a video that describes this method.

      If I can dig a hole in front of a low log or rock, that is a bonus as I can actually sit on the rock or log and then empty my pouch between my legs like I would on a toilet. If you fast forward to 18 minutes 24 seconds in the video below, I talk about sitting on a rock to empty.

      As a third option, you could use a two-piece ostomy system with closed-end pouches while you are out in the field. In this method, you simply pop off the full pouch and then snap on a clean empty one. Bag up the used one and pack it out (I like to pack out a full pouch in an opaque black doggie poo clean-up bag that I then double bag in a Ziplock). You can just toss the full pouches in the garbage when you get home. The downside with the closed-end pouches is that you would go through a lot of them if you used them everyday for work. That could get pricey. I tend to only use them once in a while when hiking or climbing in places where it is really tough to dig a hole and use a drainable. You could also try to drain into a bag and then pack that out. I have had horrible luck with this method though and every time I have tried it, I have ended up making a big mess (similar to what you are describing with the splatter). If the wind catching the output isn’t enough of a problem, the bag I am trying to empty into either blows over in the wind, or I get poo on the outside of it… I finally just gave up on that technique altogether but I know other people who have success with it.

      Hope this helps!


      1. Hi Heidi

        Thanks for the feedback. A few things there for me to think about for sure. That’s really appreciated.


  3. I just switched back to convatec to hopefully combat the leaks I’ve been having just around the edge of my stoma, causing horrible skin breakdown. I now have the mouldable wafer and am hoping this will work. When I was fifteen I also used convatec and took the life guarding course…three full days in the water. The wafer stood up wonderfully. I am thinking after my next surgery I will do the deep water running to get back in shape for work. Can’t wait to hear about the climb!

    1. By reading your blog, it looks like the Convatec system is working out for you. I love their wafers. Even though I trim the tape off and add my own that my skin likes better, they still stick so well. I have never tried the mouldables as my stoma is too extreme of an oval shape for them. Even though they stretch, the opening sizes still don’t work. The large size is too wide on the top and bottom and medium too tight on the sides. I wish I could use them as it would make changing appliances in the wilderness simple with no cutting. Oh well. Also… do you know about Convatech’s Natura+ drainable pouches? They are made out of more traditional tan fabric-covered plastic like some of the other brands. They have a “Lock-it Pocket” where the bottom of the pouch turns inside out on itself to flip into a pocket which shortens it and conceals the tail (hard to describe). They fit on the same wafer as the older pouch style. I like the new ones, though I still prefer the old opaque tan plastic ones with the white backing as they dry a lot faster after swimming. Anyway… if you haven’t seen the new ones and want to order a sample, the product number is #416420 (this is the 2 1/4 inch size).

      Now that I am back from Rainier, I don’t have to be so paranoid about getting injured training so I have started Zumba and rock climbing again. Still, I love deep water running so much that I am going to still stick with that as one of my main workout activities too. My hubby just got me a tiny Ipod and waterproof case w/ headphones so now I can listen to music while I jog away. It makes it more fun.

      My schedule has been packed since returning from the trip, but I did have some time to go through some video clips and photos last weekend. I hope to get some time to make a video and post more details about the adventure once the calendar gets a bit more open in a week or two.


      1. I did not know about these pouches! I am going to check them out right now though. I hope they are also available in Canada, but I’m pretty sure most things are the same between you and us. I do like these pouches for swimming as well so it would be nice to have some of each depending on what I am doing. My flange is 1 1/3 or whatever so I will have to check out the number for that one.

        Have you done any hiking/camping in Canada? I highly recommend Cape Breton although I’m a little biased. I haven’t been to the Rockies yet but that is top on my “when I get better bucket list”. I have a feeling if I go I won’t want to come back! I also can’t wait to get back on the slopes this year. Can’t wait to see the videos and pics!


      2. So I just spent the last two hours looking for this product! It isn’t available through convatec Canada, but I found a website that ships American products to Canada so I have phoned them to make sure there is a way to claim insurance when ordering from them. I am assuming I can just take the receipt and dr script to blue cross. Hoping to hear back from them soon. Thank you for telling me about this!

      3. Sorry to hear you are having trouble finding them. I am surprised that Convatec isn’t promoting the Natura plus pouches more. I first found out about them at my local ostomy association meeting when a Convatec rep came to speak. She was saying how proud Convatec was of the new pouches and how much research went into them through talking to stoma nurses and people with ostomies, etc. That was over a year ago. I still keep waiting to see some big advertisement about them in the Phoenix magazineor something but nope… never a word. The product is tucked into the back corner of Convatec’s website, barely noticeable amongst their other pouches. Had that rep not talked to us about them, I would have never known they existed. Fortunately, when I inquired about them at my supplier, they did indeed carry the product. I wonder if Convatec is still waiting to do some marketing campaign on them? Maybe eventually they will be more widely known and supplied in Canada too.

        Anyway– hope you have luck getting some to try out. I too like having different types of pouch styles to pop on for different circumstances. I occasionally get ulcers on my stoma (docs can’t figure out exactly why but they don’t seem to be anything serious as Crohn’s didn’t show up in biopsies) and I sometimes like to put a clear pouch on during those times so I can keep an eye on them.

        I have done some hiking in Canada but only in British Columbia (Whistler and Squamish) and Alberta (Banff). I grew up in Wisconsin and we took a trip up to the part of Canada just north of Lake Superior when I was a child. I have never been to Nova Scotia though. I just looked up Cape Breton and it looks amazing!!!

        So excited to hear that you will be getting back on the slopes this winter. I just bought some ski passes yesterday for this season. Am going to cut back a little on the snowboarding this year though because I want to get back into ice climbing, cross country skiing, and I want to climb more winter peaks. So few weekends and so much to do!

        I was reading about your upcoming surgery on your blog. I hope it goes well and that you have a speedy recovery.

        Take Care,

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