Sunday, May 15, 2005

Ron-o-matic vs Big Basin: Pyrrhic victory?

I should be in San Francisco right now, having finished Bay-to-Breakers, however the race yesterday in Big Basin has left me somewhat incapacitated. But let's start at the beginning.

I was so pumped-up about the race that I had difficulty sleeping Friday night. With a big cup of coffee in hand and sports drink, I was out the door at 6:40am and I'm glad I left a bit early because I didn't get to the registration desk until 8:30am and the race started at 9. The forest was beautiful and there were hundreds of runners milling about. Somewhere above the treetops it was a sunny day, but the shadows made us feel cool and protected -- sunscreen was definitely not necessary this time. I noticed a handful of very very fit-looking very serious-looking runners. When they raised their hands indicating they were running the 10.5 mile race with me, it was in a way a relief to know I didn't have to worry about winning this one. I was just going to do the best I could and maybe get in the top 10 or even top 5.

The race coordinator got us to where we needed to be, gave us instructions, counted down and "go!", we were off! One of these extraordinarily in-shape runners literally sprinted from the group. I think he took off faster than a runner on a flat 10K and here we were going to run 10.5 miles in tough mountain trails! "Crazy!" I thought. About 5 other runners took off with him. I couldn't help myself and I started off faster than I thought I should so I entered the trail head in 6th place, I think. That leading group was so fast, they were out of sight within 20 seconds. A big guy in front of me who I suspected started out way too fast had already started
slowing down, so I passed him in the first quarter mile. After that, I was alone -- no sight or sound of anyone in front of me or behind me. It felt good to be cruising along the trail. I felt strong! I knew we had 1 mile uphill and then 4 miles of downhill, so I was willing to spend the extra effort on the first mile and making up for it on the downhill.

The trail was quite technical compared to what I'm used to and even compared to the Pirates Cove 20K. I had to duck under huge fallen trees, jump over small logs, and watch the trail very carefully. The course was very well marked and there were mile markers as well. Once again, the Redwood Trail Company had done an excellent job. I checked my watch at mile 2 and I was averaging 7 minutes 15 seconds for the first two miles and felt good about it.

Somewhere around mile 2.5 to 2.75 my thoughts wandered and I think my gaze left the trail to look up at a big fallen tree I was approaching and in a small fraction of a second several things seemed to happen at once. There was a searing pain in my right ankle, my right leg gave away, and some part of my brain immediately began calculating the ramifications -- I had really hurt my ankle. I fortunately was able to get my left leg under me in time to avoid falling and I stopped and leaned over against a large fallen tree. So many thoughts flooded my mind. "#$%@!! Damn it, I just hurt myself! Did I hear a loud cracking popping noise? Was that my ankle? I hope that was a branch or something. I'm not going to be able to run Bay-to-Breaker's tomorrow! I'm only on mile 2 of this race! I was doing so well! I can't believe I've hurt myself! You idiot, why weren't you more careful? Did I
break anything? Can I walk?" I gathered myself and limped forward a couple of steps. I had just happened to read about Scott Jurek on Friday, an amazing ultramarathon runner who is not just a vegetarian, but a vegan. He has won the Western States 100 six times in a row and set the course record on his last attempt. One of the times, he severely twisted his ankle at mile 50 and continued on for the remaining 50 miles. "Should I go back to the beginning and have all of those runners run by me? Can I go forward?" I thought of Scott. "OK, I don't think it's broken. I paid like $30 and spent all this time getting here, so damn it, even if I have to walk the
remaining 8 miles, I'm going to see the waterfalls and this trail!"

So, decision made I started limping forward. "@#!!" after one step on my right foot. "%^@#@!!" another step. I was a jogging sailor. I started running, with my left leg taking a full stride and my right leg taking about 3/4 of a stride because I could not bend my foot forward, away from my leg. But I was able to bend my foot back, with my toe coming towards my knee. So I quickly learned that I could go uphill almost like normal. Downhills were much more difficult and my left leg was getting fatigued with having to do so much more work. I ambled on. I passed a couple of people doing the marathon. I passed one guy who I think may have been doing the 10.5 mile race but had stopped at the base of the first waterfall, looking very out of

So I struggled on in various degrees of pain from miles 3 through 7. I tried landing on different parts of my right foot to see if that helped. The only thing that really mattered was whether I was going uphill or not. Flat or downhill terrain, I could not extend my foot and so could not take a full stride, so I had this awkward gait. Around mile 7, two runners passed me. Around mile 8, I could almost run like normal again and was limping much less. But that was temporary and by mile 9 I was hurting and by mile 10 I could hardly wait to finish, but I did. I ambled on in.

It's kind of funny how I was able to run 8 or so miles on a twisted ankle, but after stopping and sitting down for a bit, I could hardly walk at all and had to take limping half-steps to get some food and to talk to the EMT. He had me sit on a bench next to another guy who had sprained his ankle. He got me some ice in a plastic bag and gave me some instructions and asked some questions. He wrote down something on a pad of paper and if was a list of injuries he had treated, then there were 4 or 5 people, although I only saw the one other guy. My outer side of my right ankle looked like it had half a plumb stuck underneath the skin.

I decided to get home as soon as I could so I could start treating my injury. I had at least a 1.5 hour drive and I knew the mountainous roads were going to be painful because of all the breaking and accelerating on the curves. But first I had to get to my car. I was parked maybe a half mile away but I flagged down someone and told him I had hurt my ankle and asked for ride. His car was full, but he said I could sit on the hood of the car. Worked for me! So I got a ride, thanked him, and set off for home.

The pain was pretty bad. Gripping the steering wheel hard, biting my lip and cursing seemed to help. I started to feel nauseous. But I made it to Saratoga and then driving was easier. Thank goodness for cruise control on the freeway!

Anyway... it's good to be back home. I feel bad for being a burden on Jennifer now; she's been great. The results were posted online today.

So I came in 6th place out of 110 runners. I don't quite understand the line-up because 2 people passed me but the next two runners in front of me on the list have much different times. I'd like to think I had a shot at 2nd place if I hadn't injured myself, but most likely I would have been 4th or 5th because there was such a gap between me and the front runners.

So, I guess I "won the battle" with the Big Basin trail although at a big cost. I'm not sure when I can run again. Optimistically, I'll be running a little bit in a week. Certainly in 2 weeks I hope I'll be back, although I've read that I need to be real careful and let this fully heal or it will become a chronic injury. I injured the same ankle the same way about 10 years ago so I think I know what to expect.