08 June 2011
23 November 2010
Runner overcomes obstacles
Bend’s Ryan Ness deals with health disorder while competitive running
By Amanda Miles / The BulletinPublished: November 23. 2010 4:00AM PST
Two just might be Ryan Ness’ lucky number.
Two months ago, Ness moved to Bend for the second time after spending a few years in Portland.
And last month, he won the Columbia Gorge Marathon in his second time running the Hood River-area event (and in the race’s second year, no less).
Or maybe Ness, 35, is just plain lucky. Lucky enough that when he discovered in 2006 he had developed hemochromatosis, the diagnosis was made before the disease — a disorder of iron metabolism — appeared to have caused any lasting damage.
Running is not the only sport in which Ness participates. He also cycles and cross-country skis, and he races in multisport events. Don’t ask him to pick which of the sports he likes best, though, as it tends to vary with the seasons.
“If I had a favorite, I might try to just do that (sport) more,” Ness says. “I just like fitness and keeping in shape and endurance sports, really.”
Growing up in St. Cloud, Minn., Ness was always active. He ran cross-country in high school and also cross-country skied, but he says he did not win many races — he was a middle-of-the-pack type of kid.
But it was more about the lifestyle than the results for Ness. He took to heart the examples of some influential coaches, and of his marathon-running parents.
“I had that ingrained in my head that that’s what I kind of wanted to be like when I grew up,” he says.
So Ness kept training and got better, fitter, faster. He ran marathons, competed in Midwest nordic ski races, did triathlons.
In 2003, he even completed the Ironman Wisconsin triathlon — a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile (marathon) run. He finished 64th out of about 1,800 participants with a time of 10 hours, 39 minutes, 5 seconds — a respectable mark for a first-time Ironman contestant.
That has been his only Ironman to date, though by his own design.
“It was fantastic,” Ness says. “I had a really good experience, so I kind of think that maybe I’ll just turn that page because if I go back and do another one, it might be horrible because you have that chance of having a horrible Ironman.”
His athletic lifestyle made Ness a natural fit for a place like Central Oregon, where he moved with his wife, Laurie, a nurse, in 2004, telecommuting for his job in computer programming.
Ness continued to compete in endurance events. He even placed in the top 10 in the elite men’s division of Bend’s multisport Pole Pedal Paddle race in both 2006 and 2007.
It was during the year between those two PPP races that Ness was diagnosed with hemochromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes the body to store too much iron, which can lead to health problems later in life such as arthritis, organ damage, or failure of the liver, heart or pancreas.
Hemochromatosis affects roughly five in every 1,000 people in the United States, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse website.
The diagnosis came almost by fluke. Ness’ younger brother, Kelly, had gone to the doctor for an unrelated illness. But when his blood work showed high iron levels, Kelly was diagnosed with hemochromatosis.
Upon learning of his brother’s diagnosis, Ryan decided to undergo testing as well. And those tests revealed that he too had hemochromatosis, though he was not yet manifesting any symptoms.
No one else in Ness’ family has been diagnosed, though he suspects one of his grandfathers — who died in his early 70s after suffering from arthritis and heart disease — might also have borne the disease.
Ness’ treatment was simple. To remove the excess iron from his body, he had to have blood taken until his iron levels fell to an acceptable range.
The hard part was that he had to do so weekly for about 30 weeks in succession.
“It’s not the funnest thing to do every week,” he says. “It got really draining, not only going there again and getting poked. I think I recovered pretty quickly from them — but just week after week after week of getting this blood out of me. I was really tired.”
Not long after his weekly blood draws ended, Ness moved to Portland. He had decided to shift from computer programming to a career in engineering. He and Laurie, who is also from Minnesota, moved in June 2007 so Ryan could attend an Oregon Institute of Technology satellite campus in Portland.
Life in a bigger city proved to be an adjustment for the couple. And something was missing.
“(Portland) wasn’t all bad because it’s not cold in the winter, but we both grew up in snow, and we like to be closer to the snow, so that was hard,” Ness explains.
A job in test engineering with PV Powered gave Ness the opportunity to come back to Central Oregon. He and Laurie returned to Bend this past September.
And the very next month, on a scenic marathon route along the Columbia River, Ness pulled off one of the biggest accomplishments of his athletic career.
He knew going in that he had a shot to win. He had placed third in the marathon’s inaugural edition in 2009, and neither of the men who had beaten him had entered the 2010 race.
He started out conservatively, and about four men passed him early in the race, he recalls.
But Ness had a plan.
“I knew the course because I’d ran it the year before, so I kinda knew the race wasn’t going to be won in the first six miles, so I didn’t start out fast,” he explains.
The course for the Columbia Gorge Marathon begins in the town of Hood River and heads east toward Rowena before eventually looping back on itself and returning to the start. It is challenging and hilly. One climb is especially grueling: From the eight-mile mark to about 14.5 miles, the course climbs roughly 800 feet.
Hence, Ness’ patient start paid big dividends, as he took the lead with about six miles remaining.
Ness had never previously won a marathon because he typically ran in bigger races such as Twin Cities and Portland (where he set his personal best of 2:53:54 in 2004), marathons with massive fields and often won by professional runners.
His first win was in doubt until the very end.
Unbeknown to Ness over the latter stages of the race, another runner he had previously overtaken was hanging tough. With the marathoners blending in with participants in a half-marathon race being staged simultaneously over much of the same course, Ness did not realize until about half a mile from the finish that the runner in second place was only a few seconds behind him.
“I didn’t have a lot left,” Ness says, “so that’s why I was surprised and scared when I saw him, because I knew if he was coming fast, it would have been hard for me to react to a kick at the end. When I saw him, I just kind of went as hard as I could for the rest of the way. And he was kind of probably in the same situation as me, but I didn’t know that at the time.”
What Ness had left turned out to be just enough. He held off Win Goodbody, of Portland, for the victory in 2:57:13.4.
He won by 8.6 seconds.
“I haven’t won very many (races), so it was really cool to win it, and it gives me more confidence for the future,” he says.
Ness is not sure what his immediate future holds regarding his competition schedule, though he plans to do some cross-country ski racing this winter, make his return to the Pole Pedal Paddle next May, and likely go back to Hood River next fall to try to defend his marathon title.
Perhaps more important, he is definitely back to his old self, as fit as he was before his diagnosis. And his treatment these days is much less rigorous: He has to have blood drawn only two to five times per year.
“There’s a lot worse things that could be wrong with people,” Ness says, “so I feel kind of fortunate in that respect.”
Or to put it another way, just a little bit lucky.
Amanda Miles can be reached at 541-383-0393 or at email@example.com.
10 November 2010
01 June 2010
08 April 2010
04 April 2010
In the week leading up to the Vernonia, the weather forecast was for a big storm coming into the PNW with low snow levels of around 1000 feet. I'd never been to Vernonia, but a co-worker of mine lives there and he said the elevation is around 600 feet, so all week I was mentally preparing for battle with rain. Car-pooling to the start with Jerry M, we decided it was a good idea that we left 15 minutes before our planned time, because we were actually getting into some snowy driving conditions. We drove by the finish area, which looked pretty snowy, more like a springtime scene common around central oregon, not Vernonia. We were going to a running race and not a nordic ski race right? The race is point to point, and you get bussed back to the starting area after you finish (sorta like some big midwestern ski races - vasaloppet, birkie).
We made it to the starting area with plenty of time, and although it wasn't snowing, it was damp and low to mid 30s. Not sure how many people there were, but it was alot, They said it was the biggest vernonia 1/2 ever despite the rough weather conditions. The race started and it promptly started to snow! There's a short out and back section for the first 2 miles and then we headed out to Stub Stewart State Park rails to trail trail.
The first 6 or so miles was like running on the springwater trail except there was a feeling of being a bit more back in the woods. As we progressed the snow got a little deeper and although it wasn't snowing or raining hard, it was a steady precip most of the way, with alot of drops and snow clumps falling from the trees. Right around miles 8-10 is where it got more interesting. The pavement turned into a gravel rail bed, and there was mud, snow and big (unavoidable) puddles. it was possible for a while to keep the feet from getting drenched, but after a while the straight line mentality took over and just running right through was the most efficient (and most fun) choice. I was impressed with how my new Nike Lunar Glides drained water though! The last few miles included a steep downhill, cross a road and then a steep uphill in the snow slickened loose gravel, and then a gentle descent to the state park where the finish line was, but not before one last but very unexpected climb in the last 1/2 mile up to the finish line.
The Vernonia 1/2 was definitely a battle this year. There were not very many PR's here today, but I'm sure that everyone that ran Vernonia this year had some pretty good stories. It was definitely a run I'll remember for a while and I'm sure you'd agree if you were there. I managed to run it in 1:25:24 which I was really happy with, considering the conditions. I was shooting for 1:22.5 which would have put my pace faster one of my friendly rival Sean's winning pace at yakima marathon the week prior.
On the bus ride back to Vernonia, the bus driver told us how high the water got during the major flooding the area went through this area a couple of years ago. It was astonishing (it was a really major flood), and aside from some houses that appear to have been raised up, you wouldn't know it. All of the folks helping out were very friendly and the soup at the finish was hot! THANKS VERNONIA! see you next year.
20 February 2010
On the way to the race I had to get gas, and during the fill up with the engine off, i left the car lights on. Upon attempted re-starting the engine, it barely turned over, and I thought, oh crap, come on car!! so after I shut off the lights and waited a few seconds, it still turned over real slow, many times, but eventually fired and i was on my way.
After getting through Forest Grove, I missed the left turn on to scoggins road for Hagg lake, oh crap and it was no big deal, because I wasn't late. And I arrived with plenty of time to chat with the local crowd and jog a little bit. The race started, and the out and back was short, and then we hit the trail. I think I took a wrong turn in the first spot it was possible to take a wrong turn, and didn't lose much time, but it was kind of a bummer. I also realized while trying to make up time, that I have not been racing on trails much and you can't just put it in cruise and hammer out miles like you can on the road, you have to pay more attention on the trail or you'll fall down. So even though I didn't fall down, I attempted to miss a couple of significant mud puddles and pretty much completely failed, getting both shoes wet on the first half.
The second half on the run around the lake I was going OK, and had lost all hope of trying to keep the feet dry, and was monster trucking straight through the mud sections, which was great for the mentality and enthusiasm. But then I missed another turn, and didn't really go too far off course, but did add some distance. You'd think this was my first lap around Hagg lake, but it was actually my 5th (counting the last 2 years).
With about two miles to go one of the dudes in the 50k that we were passing told me I was the 10th one, so I decided to hold that position. Or try to hold that position. I could hear people behind me, but was feeling pretty good as running through the mud (instead of trying to awkwardly avoid it) was great fun. Then on what I thought was a huge mud section (that I didn't remember from years past) with about 1+ mile or so to go, I was racing through it, and it was deeper and stickier than I thought and I lost a shoe. I went a couple more strides before I could turn around and retrieve it, but this thing was buried, and another 25k-er was right there. So I left it and continued with one shoe. I got about 40 yards, and figured out that it really was awkward running with one heavy mud soaked shoe so I took the other one off too, and went minimalist style (socks only) for the last maybe 3/4 mile into the finish, holding off the dude who passed me when I lost the shoe, for an official finish of 9th.
Then, as a slight reward, I was handed the medal for the age group winner for the 30-34 age group!!! wait, I'm 35!??!?! I tried to say, "Well I'm 35" but I think they used the age that you were, when you registered, which I apparently did when I was still 34. So that was pretty cool, even though the dude that I out raced while barefoot in the final mile, who was 10th, was actually really 34 years old and probably should have got the medal, so it was a bit awkward, but the race people told me to keep the medal so I did.
Anyway, it was fantastic weather, and even though I lost the shoe deep in the mud, it was a good race. My next race is officially the shamrock run 15k (thankfully on the road, probably closed roads to boot), but I might go to silver falls next saturday for a low key trail run, and then I hope to run the April 3rd Vernonia half marathon. I will have a busy couple of weeks with important work meetings, job interviews and finishing up two classes at school, so the schedule is a bit up in the air, but the shamrock run is 100% on.
Here's the shoe that made it:
The other one will probably become fossilized and the next civilization will find it in a million years.