High in Colorado

High in Colorado
Photo: Mandy Lea Photo

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Lessons Learned?

As I begin to write this post it’s past 11PM on a Friday night. I should be thinking about going to bed soon in hopes of waking up refreshed for a 20-30 mile morning mountain run. However, I just pushed play on “Unbreakable: The Western States 100” (for what has to be at least the tenth time in the past few weeks), made a cup of hot cider, and settled into my spot on the couch to start typing. Why do you ask? Because I am an idiot…

Let me explain…Two weeks ago my roommate and I went out for a night run up Flagstaff (a run that I do every day). We held a fairly casual pace throughout the run so the thought of an injury never really crossed my mind. On the descent we stopped at Panorama Point to take in the nighttime view of Boulder (sometimes it’s still hard to believe I actually live here now). Since the Viewpoint Trail had a reasonable amount of snow cover, which helps illuminate the trails, and it’s a trail I run every day I decided to turn off my light and run down in the dark (mistake #1). 

The first ~1/4 mile of the Viewpoint descent has a few rocks and stairs that are somewhat hidden by tree cover when it’s dark. I decided to play this section safe and slow down a bit, which allowed Justin to get some distance between us. Once I cleared the tree cover I decided to pick up the pace a bit in an attempt to catch him (mistake #2). As I reached the last switchback before hitting the end of the trail I caught up to Justin and made some comment about catching up with him (mistake #3). As soon as I made the comment I stepped on a rock hidden by snow cover, rolled my right ankle, and heard/felt it snap (mistake #1 + mistake #2 + mistake #3 = FML). 
mistake #1 + mistake #2 + mistake #3 = FML
At first I hoped the snap was just my Microspikes breaking, but when I looked down the spikes were still intact. I was still able to run the last section of trail down to the road and catch up with Justin. Initially, there was no pain, I was still able to run (kind of), and it seemed as though disaster had been avoided. However, as Justin and I walked the last minute or so to the apartment the pain began to set in and I was certain that my ankle was royally f*cked. Once at the apartment I realized that my ankle had already swollen to about 1.5-2 times the original size. 

The pain was pretty intense once the swelling set in. After a night of icing and sleeping with my foot elevated it was a great feeling to wake up to a significant reduction in both swelling and pain. I spent the next several days tracing the ABC’s with my foot and doing other exercises to work on mobility. 

Six days after rolling my ankle I decided to go out for a test run. I headed towards Settlers Park and began to make my way up Red Rocks only to discover that the ascent hurt somewhat. So, I decided to head back down to the Boulder Creek Path and stick to a relatively flat run on the dirt beside the pavement. This run was 3 miles with minimal pain at about an 8 minute/mile pace. 
Still had some bruising and slight swelling when I started running again
After taking the next day off I went back out for test run #2. This run was a 5 mile run on the paved creek path at about a 7:40 minute/mile pace. This run felt fairly solid. I decided to see how I felt the next day and let that guide me on whether or not to hit the trails. The next day my ankle felt great, which meant I was headed to the trails! As I started to initial ascent I was anxious to see if the pain would come back. It didn’t! I maintained an easy pace to the Flagstaff summit and carried out an even easier pace on the descent. 

Naturally, I was somewhat timid on the first few trail runs after my injury. My ascents were pretty much the same, but I ran much slower and much more cautious on the descents. I used the descents to test my ankle as I planted it in different ways on uneven terrain. For the most part it held up quite well. However, there were a few instances where I would get a slight twinge of pain on an awkward plant. 

The slight twinges seemed to go away after three days or so of running up Flagstaff. Of course, I decided to use this as an opportunity to get back to the summit of Green, which has eluded me for most of January. My legs felt pretty strong on the run (likely a result of taking almost a week off to recover). As the run progressed, the idea of PR’ing the Flagstaff and Green ascents slowly started creeping into my head. I made solid time all the way up Flagstaff and covered the 3 miles and ~1,600 vertical feet in 35:08 (PR by 10 seconds).  After putting on my Microspikes I made my way down Ute to ride out Ranger to the Green summit. Most of Ranger was a sheet of solid ice, which my new Microspikes had a surprisingly hard time piercing. Looking back I’m surprised at how much of this section of trail I was able to run given the conditions. After a solid effort, I covered the 5 miles and ~3,300 vertical feet to the Green summit in 1:09:40 (PR by 2min24sec). 
Green Summit PR run (before re-injuring myself)
After admiring the sunset for a few minutes I headed back down the mountain for what should have been a casual descent. However, I quickly began racing the clock in an effort to PR the roundtrip ascent of Green via Flagstaff/Ranger (I did manage to stop a time or two for some pictures). 
Looking back at Green Mountain on the Flagstaff descent (about 3-5 minutes before re-injuring myself)
This was a perfectly fine decision as long as the trails were solid ice like on Ranger. However, once I hit the lower sections of Flagstaff the ice/snow was non-existent, which meant that trails were rocky and somewhat technical. Right before the next-to-last road crossing on the trail I started to get way too careless. About 1.5 miles from home I stepped on a loose rock and rolled my ankle again. Same scenario…Roll, snap, swell, limp…Goddamnit…

Limping 1.5 miles home in the cold, windy, dark on rocky trails with a bum ankle while wearing nothing but short, shorts and a thin shirt isn’t exactly the most fun in the world…Especially when your only source of light is the iPhone flashlight app. When I finally made it home my hands were too numb to even unlock the door. Fortunately, my roommate heard my attempts and opened the door for me. 

This time around, the swelling was much worse than before. It’s now two days later; the swelling is still pretty horrible and extends from my mid-calf to my toes. My chiropractor friend was nice and taped it up with kinesiotape tonight to help it heal faster (fingers crossed). Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.  
The re-injury
Michele's awesome tape job that hopefully has magic healing powers
So once again, here I sit…It’s now almost 1AM on Saturday morning, “Unbreakable” is just ending, my cider is all gone, and I’m almost done writing. I guess the main question is, “Have I learned anything from the past two weeks?” As much as I would like to say I’ve learned all about patience with recovery, being over-ambitious and doing too much too soon after an injury, being realistic with myself when my body just isn’t ready, etc., etc. I honestly can’t right now. At this point, all I can say with absolute certainty is that as an ultrarunner it’s difficult, nearing impossible, to walk out my front door every day, see Flagstaff mountain, and not throw on my shoes to charge up it. 
View of Flagstaff from my apartment's front door
Lessons learned? Only time will tell…

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