Me: "It's my ankle...I'm used to it."
Camera Man: "Let me see.....that is swelling quite a bit....tell you what...take this trail straight down...it is technical but you look like you can handle it...you will be at the start in no time."
Me: "We are only a few miles from the finish, I am fine...I am not going to DNF."
Camera Man: "You really want to see this thru? Ok...I can't believe you are smiling."
That was the conversation I had with the trail camera man a few miles from the finish. I thought I was over this little ankle problem...apparently not.
I could not have asked for a better course for my first race of the season. The conditions were perfect. It was a little on the chilly side (22 degrees or so) but that kept the trails frozen solid...which made for very fast running. The first mile had decent grade change and really got everyone warmed up. I could not help but smile....so many little ups and downs....it just felt so good to fly thru the woods like that. Being single track everyone was piled on top of each other for a while, but I don't think anyone really minded...everything around us was just too beautiful.
Nice little course map from TOPO
After the first mile we crossed the street and began what would be close to 700 ft of grade change over the next 4 miles or so. Basically we ran up the trails (noting 8 switch backs along the way)...around and then came back down. Since the city had closed these trails for the winter they were in amazing condition and provided some spectacular views. I wish I had taken pictures, but I was not about to stop....
Or was I?
Things were going really well on the climb up and around...it was on the decent that I felt a "oh so familiar" pain. I had just jumped a little log and started to change my stride to tackle a downhill turn when it happened. That horrible pain I felt a few weeks ago had returned. That motion that I could not stop....that unpreventable ankle "pop" followed by a string of "($*%#(*$%$#" . This time the pain was much worse. I knew exactly what I did and the swelling started immediately. I was pissed. I looked around and realized that I had a few miles left to finish and started to slowly run on it. Kilian Jornet I am not....why slow downhill transitions are my downfall is beyond me...
I was relieved to find that I could put weight on it. As I started to make my way down I ran into the camera guy for the first time. He recommended I DNF, but that was just not an option for me. I knew where I was....I was very comfortable where I was...I was not worried at all about being injured in this environment. I needed to finish. I needed to prove to myself that I could do it and I needed to spend more time on these trails...in these woods. They were too peaceful and beautiful to leave. Yes, it hurt like a bitch...and yes...I was shocked to hear myself whimper a little on some steep sections...but I could not help but smile because I was just so happy where I was. I can't explain the feeling. I just felt very comfortable and natural...I just wanted to stay there. It was like the trails were going to guide me safely to the finish....I just had to trust them.
Now, it is not like I was just out in the woods alone. Everyone who passed me knew I had injured myself and they all asked if they could assist. That is the amazing thing about the trail running community. Once they knew I was injured, time and racing did not matter....nothing was more important than a fellow runner injured. One runner even volunteered to carry me down to the finish. While this would have made for an awesome time, crossing the finish line "piggy back" style, I wanted to do it on my own and told everyone that I was fine. Some hesitated, but I guess the fact that I was still smiling and commenting about how beautiful the trails were let them know it was OK to go on.
I am happy to report I finished on my own....and was not the last one (not that it matters). Yes, I cried when I crossed the finish. I cried because the ankle hurt...but also because of the beautiful time I had in the woods. I got to see so many wonderful things because I was forced to slow down. The race ended with a familiar arm thrown over my shoulder and the best words of the day: "Let's get you some ice."
I can't really say I am upset to be injured again. I need to learn to listen to my body. I am sure this will slow me down for a while, but it won't prevent me from getting out on the trails. I will still get out and enjoy them....maybe not at full speed...but I can walk and jog them until the soft tissue heals and the swelling goes down. Perhaps it will open my eyes even more to all the wonders of nature....it may bring even more enjoyment. Plus...it is ski time...soon I will be in the snow...running and skiing in a softer environment :)
Thank you everyone for the advice...both the comical and serious. When I was walking thru the parking lot an older runner came up to me and said he had suffered from sprained ankles for 15 years. While I was not excited to hear that...he did let me know that the natural motion of swimming helps heal the soft tissue. I may give that a try. I was also told by a FB friend that this kind of injury takes longer to heal. Since this guy spends his time chasing life in the mountains, I view him as very knowledgable and will try by best to be patient with myself. Sometimes it is hard to listen to "common sense" when it keeps you from doing what you love. To listen to the mind and not the heart may sound simple....but it is not. At least I have my new issue of Trail Runner magazine here with me. I have been busy looking at all the races I want to do in the next few months :)
What a great community!
The ride back...before she started to change color :)
A very tired me post race...with a very good beer :)