I am not invincible. I know most people realise this in their mid twenties when they return to their alma mater and try to replicate previous drinking practices only to awaken the next morning slathered in vomit and a raging headache. Clearly I am a slow learner in that it took until age 31 at Grindstone 2010 for me to recognise that I am not invincible. I guess I should drink. But wait, I have already gotten ahead of myself.
In my original 2010 race plans, Grindstone 2010 was going to be a fun science experiment. I would have finished UTMB at the end of August and just a short four weeks later I would race another mountainous 100. Needless to say, my plans were changed by the extreme weather and subsequent cancelation of UTMB 2010. Instead, I had two hard weeks of back-to-back 4-7 hour days of running in the Alps. I came back to states more tired than had I just run UTMB. For the interim four weeks I slept and did only 10 hours of running a week.
Toeing the starting line at Grindstone, my rest had been judged successful in that I felt a swarm of energy coursing through my body looking for an outlet. I had my super brother Eric crewing for me and I had already spoken to fellow race participants Ty Dranney, Jason Lantz, and Chris Reed. Andiamo! (“Let’s Go” in Italian- a common encouragement shouted at UTMB). With that we were off and I was comfortably in the lead pack of ten guys. After a half-mile the singletrack running forced us into echelon. I was behind two people that scared me with poor foot placement reminiscent of someone just transitioning between road racing and trails. I decided to zoom around them and my judgement was confirmed within ten minutes when I heard each of them crash. What an arrogant fool I was. I identified that these two were moving too fast over the variable terrain for their safety, yet I, the experienced ultra runner would never fall victim to the same problem. What hubris! The mythological God’s alerted to an act of hubris by a mere mortal, decided to clip my Icarian wings about an hour later.
In the meantime, our lead group raged-up the first significant climb. By this time darkness reigned and I was reliant upon my main headlamp and ultra running Barbie headlamp around my waist. As an aside, at the prerace meeting, Clark announced that he was raffling a Black Diamond headlamp and shortly thereafter I was the winner. As Clark had four girly headlamps and one stout, manly headlamp, I saw him look at me, then look at the manly headlamp, and then award me the girly headlamp. Thanks Clark! Do you think I look good in pink? What a vote of confidence. I am a little girl. He should know, I think Clark has three little girls. Still, the ultra running Barbie headlamp was brighter than my intended second headlamp so it usurped pride-of-place around my waist.
After a short descent from the summit, we started a technical descent over a slag heap. This slag heap consisted of rocks about 60cm in length, 30 in width, and 30 deep, arranged in a random heap and freely mobile over one another. Footing was precarious and the darkness magnified the danger. A cautious runner would have controlled his descent over the heap and then increased speed later. Not the invincible me! I seemed to float over the slag heap, like a winged Icarus flying toward the sun, and then they ended. I made it unscathed and I had gained five minutes on the lead pack behind me in just two or so miles. Wow. Descending is cool. I breezed into the first aid station a wellspring of energy. As Clark and Horton told me I was two minutes ahead of Karl’s pace last year, I should have read caution in the tea leaves- instead I said “Cool!” and reenergised rocketed-off.
Sensing hubris, the God’s did not immediately melt Icarus’ wings- no, they let him get farther and farther toward the sun and then let him hang his own noose. Me too. Emboldened by the praise of Clark and Horton, I kept-up an unsustainable descending pace. A mile or so after the aid station, on another technical descent, my hubris caught-up to me and I placed my foot underneath a rock only to keep moving forward. My foot severely plantar flexed and inverted (foot was pushed down and the ankle rotated inward) causing instant pain and a crash back to earth. While I did not literally crash to earth, I did have to walk for a minute or so and assess the situation. I sensed burning pain on the anterior and lateral surfaces of my right ankle, but I could still bear-weight on my ankle. My inner voice thought “Perhaps this was just a warning sign that I should be more cautious!? Why not continue running?” Great idea David. So, ever the optimist, I took off at a slower pace and waited for Brian Schmidt (eventual winner) and Ty Dranney to catch-me-up.
For the next hour or so, Brian, Ty, and I had a great time running together. We uttered encouragements and worked together to better motor along. Eventually my ankle could not take the pace and I slowed the pace again and waited for Chris Reed to catch-me-up. By this time, Chris and I about pulled into North River Gap. Beside my ankle, the body felt great. Chris and I tanked-up on fuel and off we went up the feared Grindstone mountain ascent. Chris was my tugboat in so far as my ankle was increasingly painful and he did all of the hard pulling. I gutted-the pain-out and stayed on his tail. Chris is a rock star! Unfortunately, by the time we pulled into Little Bald Knob at nearly 44miles, I could not cruise the flats as fast as superstar Chris. My ankle hurt too much. At this point, I lost contact with Chris and had to start running my own race. I do 100pc of my training alone, not necessarily out of choice, but I have yet to find other ultra runners in Pittsburgh. I am used to running alone, but running with superstars like Brian, Chris, and Ty makes ultra running far more enjoyable and fast. So it goes. Speed ahead to the Reddish-Gnashing-Reddish knobs sequence and Brian, Chris, Ty, and I were all within one minute of each other (me the lantern rouge). Descending Gnashing knob I completed the thrashing of my ankle. Once again, I planted my right foot underneath a rock and continued to run forward. My right ankle was now totally buggered. I walked for a few minutes and assessed that I could run the flats and uphills, but had to walk the downhills.
Survival mode. Every ultra runner knows what this means. I entered survival mode about mile 52 in a mountainous 100. Not good. As I stated above, my survival mode involved running, read jogging, the flats and uphills and walking the downhills. This survival mode was mentally tougher than the survival mode entered secondary to energy problems. Energy problems are usually temporary problems- too little sugar, too little electrolytes, too hot, too cold, etc. Once solved you may continue on as if nothing had happened. Not so with a physical malady. This ankle was not going to heal by going slower. Damn! My mind was castigating myself for not slowing down while my inner demons were castigating me for not unleashing my pent-up energy and taking-off- “Too hell with your bloody ankle!” Later, these demons transitioned into the “You should just abandon now” crowd.
Situations like this teach us something about ourselves that could never be revealed without facing significant adversity. History gives us many examples of adverse situations bringing-out heroic characteristics, but in our current risk sanitised world, we see less and less of this. My current situation was reduced to ignoring my ankle and pushing-on to the finish. I did not let the adversity overwhelm me to the point of folding and losing track of my goal. Nothing else entered my mind. Job, bills, future plans, etc. had to wait. I was living entirely in the moment. I had achieved a tranquil sense of clarity. [I attain a similar state when working as an anaesthesiologist during a crisis, but this state is work related and therefore not pure. Outside of running, the capitalist machine has moulded me into a machine that can enter this type of state to achieve an economic end, but again this is not pure. This is simply economics. Sorry to be so cynical about health care, but once you finish training as a health care provider; all you see in the health care industry is a naked rush for dollars]. Running is pure in that nothing beyond my own personal satisfaction is at stake. Not money. Not power. Not sponsorship. I run for myself and nothing else. This allows me to take calculated risks and achieve a sense of adventure in my life that is otherwise filled with mitigating risk. In a previous lifetime I would have joined an expedition to a new world and taken adventurous risks, but sadly the capitalist machine has pounded this foolish risk taking out-of-me. Now I must take risks and achieve adventure by paying money to enter events that the public views with disdain as senseless acts of self flagellation. How sad that western society has changed from glorifying risk taking and adventure to creating a nanny state of fear where children are not even allowed unaccompanied to play outside.
Back to the race. I was now running my own race and forgot about leaders and goal times. I was going to finish albeit not as I intended. Just when I thought I had my body under control, the God’s through another thunderbolt at me. Slowing down had decreased the temperature of my internal furnace and I was getting cold. When I get cold and experience heavy vibration, like on a run or the bike, my corneas become oedematous and my vision becomes cloudy. I know that my ophthalmologist father is cursing the day I underwent LASIK, but I experienced this while downhill skiing long before I had ever thought of having LASIK. Damn. Now I have cloudy vision and a buggered ankle and am running a rocky course in the dark. The internal demons were screaming “Time to stop. Now you have enough excuses.” Oh no. I continued on. In the next few hours I managed to fall five times, once even rolling about 5metres down a hillside, because I could not exactly see where I was going and my right ankle could not compensate for any missteps.
These shenanigans reached a comical peak in the North River Gap area where a balmy 2 degrees C made my corneal oedema even worse. Keith Knipling had passed me about two minutes outside of the North River Gap aid station. Unbeknownst to me, he collected his similarly attired, blue Virginia Happy Trails t-shirt wearing pacer, Sean, at this point. As I left the North River Gap station Keith turned into a blurry two Keith’s! Boy was I buggered. Was I bonking? Was I hallucinating after sleep deprivation? Was my corneal oedema blurring my vision that badly? Why were there two Keith’s bounding along the trail? I decided that I better not examine myself further for fear of deciding I was totally barmy! Why not just run after the two Keith’s! Perhaps you get extra places if you pass TWO Keith’s!? The mystery was solved about an hour later when the weather had warmed enough for my corneal oedema to regress and I could tell that there were not two Keith’s- no, Keith had a pacer! Duh! This realisation surely prevented years of pharmacotherapy and counselling to palliate my hallucinations!
Well, now that I could see again, old Peg-Leg could navigate the course without falling anymore. I kept on moving and told myself to be patient and stay in the moment. I would finish. These feelings kept me warm inside. In the mid 90’s, Jason Lantz blew me away. I was so happy for Jason to see him running the kind of race he wanted and is capable of running! I knew that Jason had been plagued by injuries for some time yet always had a positive, gracious attitude. Even though Jason could not contend for another victory in the Old Dominion 100, he came to the race and graciously cheered-me-on over the entire course. What a humble, outstanding person. It must have taken a huge amount of courage to deal with injury and then cheer-on your competitor! His courage was exemplary and taught me how to be a better person. I was ecstatic to see Jason achieving and killing the course. As he strode away from me, he embodied happiness, strength, and perseverance. His triumphal image carried me over the last few miles. Witnessing his joy has added to my love of ultra running and it’s special community.
At the finish, I was warmly embraced by my brother, Clark, and Bobby Gill. I had achieved personal satisfaction in that I was able to stay in survival mode for about 48miles and finish against significant adversity. Moreover, I still managed to finish 6th and 45min faster than last year in 22:18. Not bad for a Peg-Leg.
Now the part everyone is waiting for- what did my right ankle look like? Well, as I took-off my gaiters and shoes, my right ankle was slightly swollen. Within ten minutes of losing my shoes, my right ankle was the size of a grapefruit and I had the fattest foot and toes ever! My right foot looked like a dodgy farmer had injected a litre of saline into a pigs-foot to make it weigh more for sale. Fortunately, the rest of my body somehow avoided any damage (despite the multiple falls) and I could compensate for the bad ankle. As a stubborn doctor, I have not seen any of my colleagues, but have read extensively on ankle injuries. I think that I have a grade 2 tear of my anterior talofibular and calcaneofibular ligaments. I am resting, icing, compressing, and elevating. Now two days later the oedema is subsiding and I can make limited range-of-motion exercises with the ankle. We shall see about Ozark Trail 100 on 6 November. Thanks to Bobby Gill, you too can see what my ankle looked like after the race. A special thanks to Bobby for calling it a cankle! Come-on Bobby, you know how sensitive I am about my fat legs! Laugh!Chapeau Clark and his entire race crew [Chapeau is another term I learned at UTMB. French for “tip-of-the-hat”. A congratulatory compliment]. Chapeau Bobby Gill for exhaustively photographing the race weekend! Chapeau to my super brother for lovingly taking care of me and sharing in my joy! Racing would not be nearly as fun without sharing my joy and sorrows with him! He even forgave me for bear-arsing (see Will Ferrell in Old School) his cooler box at mile 51 when I needed to exchange running shorts for tights! What a brother! Eric. Mental note. Remember to clean the cooler box before bringing to future events. I do not think that was mud on the lid.