Back in the fall, I volunteered to help at an aid station for the Foothills Frenzy 50k. As a thank you, I was giving a free entry to the Wilson Creek Frozen Feet 50k. This was pretty exciting since I’d run Wilson Creek before and had a great time. Two years ago when I ran it, the conditions seemed rough. It was -7° F (-22° C) at the start which was colder than any of my training runs by about 10°. That said, because it was so cold, the ground was frozen solid which was preferable to the year before when there was 6″ deep mud in some sections. Once I started running, I warmed up quickly, had a great race and have been looking forward to running it again.
Training for an ultra takes a lot of time. I had been slowly building my base miles while getting longer and longer runs done over the weekends. I was feeling pretty good about my training and felt that a week on a boat in the Bahamas wouldn’t be optimal for racing, but wouldn’t be too bad. I was running until the day before we got on the boat and ran the two days after. I was ready with only one week before the race. It was going to be a good run.
My first day back at work, the roads were a little icy and I was still used to warmer weather, so I opted to ride my scooter. Less than half way into work, I went around a corner, hit a patch of ice and the bike slid out from under me. I went down. (Yes, mom) I was wearing my helmet and wasn’t going fast enough for any serious injuries, but the wind was knocked out of me. As I started to stand up and assess myself and the bike, the first thought that went through my head was, “I hope this doesn’t impact my race.” I checked to make sure I wasn’t bleeding and that the bike was ok. The only pain I felt was on my right chest which was odd considering the bike tipped to the left. It hurt but wasn’t too bad, so I tried to go about my day.
When my chest was still hurting two days later, I self-assessed it and decided I probably had a cracked rib. (No, mom) I didn’t go to the doctor or hospital since I knew there was little they could do other than confirm that I did indeed have a cracked rib. They might even tell me not to run, so why bother?
Friday night, it was still hurting and I had to decide what to do. I could stay at home and accept a DNS (did not start) or I could head out there and see how it feels. I knew I’d be annoyed if I decided not to do it and woke up feeling fine. Plus, the ultra running community is so wonderful and supportive, I decided to at least go to the start. It still hurt to breathe deeply when the gun went off, so I told myself I wouldn’t push so hard that I was gasping.
The first two miles felt (relatively) fine. There was minor pain but the excitement of running masked it. Soon, the trail started to climb and I slowed to a walk to keep my breathing under control. When we reached the top of the first climb, I was ready to start jogging again, but the pounding of downhill running quickly brought a new, but similar pain to my ribs. I was now about five miles into the first loop and couldn’t run uphill or down, but still felt fine when I was walking. I weighed my options: turn around and walk five miles back to the start or keep going and finish the first loop, 20 miles in total. I wasn’t going to set a PR, but could keep moving, so onward I went.
Around the eighth mile, there was a steep climb up to the top of Wilson Peak. I still couldn’t run up or down the hill and now it was warming up enough that the ground was getting muddy and slick. Unconsciously, I started walking with my left side slightly forward so if I fell, I would be less likely to land on my rib. When I realized my gait had changed, I tried to bring it back but soon decided that might be a good strategy as I continued to slip on the mud.
Soon, two friends from the Boise Area Runners, caught up with me. One was having a good race, the other was not, but they stayed together. Without discussion, we agreed that the two of us having difficulties would look after each other, while the other continued her race. By mile 15, we made an odd pair. I was hobbling along with my left side forward and trying not to breathe. She “gracefully sat” (some less kind people might have said she fell) in the mud three times in rapid succession. We agreed that we would drop at the end of the loop. It was still a long way to go, but we continued on.
With less than two miles to go, we started to see the humor in the situation and our spirits brighten. The trouble with that was that when we finally rounded the last corner and strolled into the aid station, we were in a good mood. I let the aid station volunteers know that we were dropping and they pointed out that I didn’t sound convinced of my decision. We still had 10 miles to go and my rib hurt, but if Jenny had wanted to continue on, I probably would have finished the race. I decided that 20 miles was enough for the day and realized that every step was exacerbating my injury. I was ready to accept my first DNF (did not finish). I even convinced myself that it was “the smart thing to do.” Of course, if I really wanted to do the smart thing, I probably should have taken the DNS six long, painful hours before. Too late for that now.
Looking back on the race with almost three days to reflect, I’m glad I did it. It was great to get out on the trail with all the other ultra runners and enjoy the Idaho landscape. Through the pain, the mud and the cold, the main thing I remember was the beautiful sky at sunrise. Now, it’s time to heal before the next race.