20 November 2011


Can you tell something's amiss? Right, the finisher's swag!
Three words or an acronym describe my third consecutive Dizzy Fifties participation: "Did not finish" or "DNF". However, as much frustration as this has caused, there really was nothing I could have done to prevent this. I was properly trained and ready to attempt a new PR and my first sub 5 hour 50K race. Unfortunately, things turned out very differently.

I set my alarm for 4:45 AM on race morning, planning for enough time to enjoy my pre-race coffee and pack my running gear. This year had been a great running year for me so far. I completed my first two 100 mile races at Rocky Raccoon and Georgia Jewel this year after having to drop at mile 60 of the Pinhoti 100 last year due to injury. I PR'd at almost every distance I ran this year, including a 19:45 at the Spooktacular 5K, my first sub 20 minute 5K after trying for 2 years. I completed the Goofy Challenge and a bunch of other fun events. So with that in mind, I decided to refocus my training for not just a new PR at this year's Rocket City Marathon (3:36 in 2009), but for a possible Boston Marathon qualifying time of 3:14:59. My marathon specific training has been on track the last 6 or 7 weeks, I'd been putting in lots of speed work and tempo runs on roads, consistently hitting the target pace as required by my training plan. Dizzy Fifties was going to be my last long training run before Rocket City in 3 weeks. I felt ready to get my long run in and to break 5 hours as well.

The weather was perfect, a little on the chilly side in the high 30s or low 40s. I had made my way to Monte Sano State Park by 6 AM, plenty of time to sign the sign in sheet (see pic below). I was going to try a couple of new things at this event. First, I wasn't going to take in any food other than one Honey Stinger gel after every hour (and SCaps as needed). I carried those gels in the pockets of my shorts and my handheld bottle. I planned to only spend the time it took to refill my single hand bottle after each half loop (4-5.5 miles) and to keep a steady pace of 9:30 minute miles early, giving myself enough time to take it a little easier on the one climb on the north loop the second and third time around.

I put 1 check next to my name before the race, but the remaining 3 for "loops completed" never came.
The race got underway as scheduled at 6:30 AM and I lined up in the second row. I planned to stay somewhere just behind the top 10 runners. My goal was to run my pace and not to get sucked in early. I managed to do that and by mile 3, I was hitting my overall target pace for the early hours. My mind kept circling back to what I planned to do today. I felt good. I knew that would change later in the day, so I kept reminding myself not to increase my pace beyond my target pace. It was during one of those moments of thinking about my race strategy that I took my focus of the trail surface. Something that hadn't happened to me since I started trail running a little over 2 years ago. I rolled my ankle. I heard a pop! and felt a warm sensation going up the outside of my ankle just outside and midway up my calf and just like that my race was over before it really began. I tried to walk it off, just to roll it again. The pictures below and above are courtesy of James E. Hurley. He somehow managed to capture a picture of me running, even though I only ran for little over 30 minutes during this race.

James Hurley somehow managed to capture me running.

I started thinking about all the plans I had that had just been shattered in an instance. Since the Huntsville Grand Slam was officially "retired" last year, I had decided to attempt in anyway. I figured, I didn't need a jacket to proof that I did it, I would know and that was enough. Don't get me wrong, I love any type of race swag, but once I realized that they no longer held the Grand Slam as an official challenge, I decided to stick with it anyway.

Regardless, that challenge had come to an end. Furthermore, my BQ attempt was now in serious jeopardy as well. And what about the Mountain Mist and the Fuego y Agua in Nicaragua early next year? I was distraught. I decided to push all of these thougths aside and to wait until I was able to visit one of the doctors at SportsMED here in town. By 8:30 AM the following Monday morning, I was sitting in the waiting room, anxious to find out were I was going from here. First, I was sent to get an x-ray of my right ankle taken and not even 5 minutes later, the doc walked in to discuss my problem (I'd like to say that this has to be the fastest I have ever been seen by a doctor, thanks for that!). He said that he noticed an old ankle fracture at the bottom of the tibia that, while healed, might require surgery to remedy any discomfort I might experience.

Thankfully, I dealt with that fracture over 15 years ago and I hadn't had problems or discomfort since. After examining my ankle and discussing the symptoms with me, he made his diagnosis: "Severe strain of the peroneal tendons." Well, that sounded a lot better than what I was expecting, but I still felt that I probably did more than just strain the tendons. Either way, past experience taught me that there really isn't a treatment even for tendon tears other than rest, which is not a concept I'm familiar with anyway. Now it was time for my burning question: "When can I start running again?" His answer did surprise me. "You should be okay to run as long as you stay on even roads. Let the pain be the guide and come back to see me in 3 weeks."

Wow, much better diagnosis than I expected. Next, he had an orthopedist or tech come see me to fit me for an ankle brace that should allow me to run without risking another ankle roll. I decided on the one brace that would actually fit into my running shoes. I had previously worn a similar contraption after my ankle fracture, when I started to play soccer again after the cast came off. The doc's final recommendation was over the counter Ibuprofen to deal with the inflammation. I was good to go. Now all that was left to do was to decide when to hit the pavement again.

P.S.: Thanks to RD Jeff Kyser for putting on another excellent event and for checking in with me after to make sure I'm okay, it was/is much appreciated! Thanks to all of the volunteers as well. I know you took great care of all the runners once again.

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