Five weeks - thirty-five days - is all that sits between me and my fifth attempt at the Superior 100. A finish gets me a third buckle, a 60% finishing rate at the race, and like every 100 miler, catharsis from a year of training that has had its great highs and miserable lows.
The good of the 2016-2017 running season is my great training in December 2016, January 2017 and the first two-or-so weeks of February 2017 when I put the treadmill in my basement to good use and did hikes at various inclines, 3 min interval sets, and 8-10 min threshold sets.
And then the week of February 13 came. I was reading a bedtime story to my then-four-year-old, and swung my right leg off his bed when I was done. The inside of my right ankle struck the top of a white wooden step-stool, and it shot instant pain through the inside of that ankle.
My training cratered after that, with two doctor visits and starting a course of PT providing the answer: I likely hit a nerve on the inside of my foot - my best guess is the medial calcaneal nerve - and it set off a chain reaction that messed with that right foot and ankle to some degree even to this day, even as the symptoms slowly lessen. The impact irritated the nerve, causing a protective muscle spasm of the muscles in the area. That muscle spasm - an involuntary tightening of any surrounding muscles - then slightly angled my foot with the inside (medial) side feeling slightly raised as the muscles pulled one side of the ankle, but not the other. This imbalance then caused other issues, such as swelling on the front/top of the ankle to compensate (which started in earnest in early May 2017, in part forced my withdrawal from Bighorn, and has since gone away without returning). Add in my imbalanced pelvis that every once in a while needs to pay a visit to my PT and you get a recipe for no training. That was the bulk of April, May, and June.
But running resumed, slowly, with doctor OK, at the end of June and I slowly worked my way back to a more normal mileage of 50 mpw. July was 202 miles in a month in 24 running days, with four zero days forced by work obligations an stress, and I am on track for and aiming at 250 miles in August. I've had a pair of PT visits so far, two more on the calendar before Superior 100, and two more after the race to deal with the inevitable issues that will rear their head post-event.
Which leaves me looking at Superior.
Unlike in past years, I don't have the bulk of training I would desire or even a bare minimum I would prefer. What I have are my past experiences on the trail, the visualizations and memories of what I should see and feel, and when I should see and feel it. The thought of rounding the corner on the top of Mystery Mountain, seeing the group campsite, and hearing the Poplar River knowing that the finish is a mere 1.5-or-so miles away still makes me tear up. I know I can finish this, I know a smile and positive attitude will be what gets me there, and I know that I will do whatever it takes once 8 AM on Friday, Sept. 9, 2017 hits to get to Lutsen before 10 PM the following day.
Expectations are a mere outcome goal: Finish, preferably in the daylight (Goal A) but I'm not picky (Goal B). I'd like to feel as comfortable as possible under the circumstances of the race, a process goal, knowing that I don't have the training I would prefer and don't want something to go haywire despite that fact that I know, we all know, something will at least once and likely more.
And when in doubt, go into grind mode and manage a brisk walk and minimal aid station time to get it done.
Sunday, May 14, 2017
I am withdrawing from the Bighorn 100. Withdrawal is the best of a series of bad options. Withdrawal is discretion over valor, the desire to live and fight another day.
There are two interrelated, but at this point, independent reasons for this.
First, I sprained the posterior deltoid ligament on the inside of my right ankle in mid-February. Since then, I have potentially re-aggravated it twice, once by running Zumbro and withdrawing after tweaking it going down Ant Hill (after getting medical clearance twice to run the race, the second time agreeing to pull the plug at the slightest change in ankle circumstances). The second aggravation came on May 5 after I had run a couple days to test the ankle - a kind of "if you're going to run Bighorn, you need XX many hours/wk for X weeks before race day" mentality to see what I could do physically. After 3 days of slow 90 minute trail runs, the ankle did not appreciate me and had swollen in the front - a new location - and I decided to shut training down, do only ankle exercises, and wait for the sucker to heal.
Second, I have not run consistently since about mid-February. This was caused by issue number one, but I did try several times to consistently hike or otherwise be active. I eventually shut this down on May 5 after a series of three runs left my ankle swollen and stiff in areas not initially injured.
My plan was before today to shut down training for the rest of May, and see how I felt and wait as long as possible to make the decision to start or DNS. But doing that shows no respect for the course, other runners, or the race directors and their volunteers. Bighorn is a mountain 100 that starts a 3,000 feet and spends much of the race at or above 7,000 ft. I live and train at 900 ft above sea level. It is a qualifier for Hardrock - the board of which having tightened their standards in recent years - for a reason. I have not paid my dues to run this race in 2017.
Regardless of the condition of my ankle now or on any day for the next five weeks, I am in no shape to attempt toe the line at Bighorn. I lack the requisite physical fitness and preparation my mind demands of me, and that is but one more hole in a 100 mile racer's armor that the course and conditions will exploit with every step. I will not subject myself or my family to a race I have no expectation of finishing (of course, excepting the Barkley Marathons here...).
What other options were there? 1) Do nothing and race if it felt good on our departure day, the Sunday before the race; 2) Do nothing and pick an arbitrary other day in June or perhaps May by which I needed to make this decision; 3) Train more and risk re-injuring the ankle? None of these are particularly palatable. Throw in my planned family vacation to coincide with this (going to Mt. Rushmore and Black Hills, and in/around Sheridan and the Bighorns etc. in the week before the race), and you add more complexity to this - my decision affects myself and my family, and I don't want them left holding the bag for a DNF. It is a long drive back from Dayton/Sheridan, Wyoming to the Twin Cities metro area.
What other potential outcomes were there? 1) start and finish the race with no ankle complications. This outcome was not viewed as likely; 2) start the race, DNF for ankle injury, or even finish with an ankle injury. This outcome was viewed as much more likely, and it risks throwing out my entire season, or worse, putting me in this same situation for Superior 100 - being healthy, or believing I'm healthy, but without a summer's worth of training to show for it. None of these options was good.
What's next? Back to the doctor, me thinks after I have taken four full weeks off of this ankle. I fear he'll either a) tell me to do nothing until I can do certain movements without discomfort, however long that takes; or b) send me for an MRI and then who knows what the radiologist will say.