I've been thinking about what I want to say in this recap for the past day and I'm having a hard time writing it out. Thinking about what happened on the course yesterday makes me a little emotional. I've been shedding some tears here and there since then and even though I did finish the race, I had an incident halfway through and it was tough. My experience went from good to bad to ugly, but I ended up finding some willpower I didn't know I had. Here's how it all happened.
Like I mentioned in my previous post, I was so excited about starting this year's race season, especially on the trails (this race being the longest trail race I've done!), and was anticipating running such a beautiful course among wildlife and the most grand views. I got my gear ready the night before and laid everything out on the floor so I wouldn't forget a thing. The forecast was going to be warm. At the peak of the day, it hit 80° and I later found out that this year was the warmest it's ever been on Antelope Island for this race. Usually, temperatures average 50° at this time of year. With the heat in mind, I brought my hydration vest, equipped with a water bladder and a front bottle.
On the morning of the race, I woke up and ate avocado toast and drank my usual glass of nuun before heading out the door. While Geof drove, I ate some apple sauce and took a quick nap in the hour it took to get to the island. We parked near the backcountry trails around 7:20 a.m. At this point, it was already 60° out. We took a port-a-pottie break and sat in the car before Geof lined up to begin his 50K at 8 a.m. I had another hour to spare before the start of the 25K, so I stood around the fire, chatted with some fellow runners and then headed back to the car to grab my hydration vest and take one more port-a-pottie stop. At 9 a.m., everyone lined up and we took off.
The 25K course has an elevation gain of 2,000 feet, so knowing what was ahead, I started the race steady and was excited at how good I felt at the beginning. The first 2.5 miles were straight uphill with around 600 feet of gain. I was able to keep a steady, even pace all the way up. I surprised myself by making it to that intersection at mile 2.5, because in all of our prior training runs, Geof and I had to take a couple of walk breaks. It just shows how much race day determination can kick in and make your motivation skyrocket. Anyway, I kept running, taking in some amazing views and headed toward the Junction Trail. This is where a bison came so close to the runner right in front of me and a couple of us had to slow for a second in order to let the bison cross the trail. It was pretty cool to see one that close.
I hit 5 miles at the end of the Junction Trail. We had to take a left turn here and head up a super steep hill. I hadn't stopped to walk yet but walked up this entire section, as did every other runner. This portion has 200 feet of gain in about 0.2 miles. One thing I've learned from trail races is to walk up the really steep sections in order to conserve energy for the rolling hills, flats and downhills. I wouldn't have been able to run up that thing without tiring out anyway. Just speed hiking up that hill made me winded and tired. I began running at the top of the hill and Geof and I crossed paths as I headed toward the Elephant Head aid station and he headed away from it (he was on his way out of the Split Rock loop). This was the sole aid station in the 25K course, but you end up hitting it twice—once on your way into Split Rock and once on your way out. We gave each other a quick high five and because I still had enough water and nutrition, I just ran by the aid station and down toward Split Rock Bay. I felt my momentum came back on the descent down but knew what was ahead. This next part of the race is the toughest—in technicality and elevation. You gain 600 feet in a little over 2 miles and it's a lot harder than the start of the race with how rocky and loose the terrain was. I was alternating running with some walking, but everyone—including me—began to walk when we got to the switchbacks leading to the top. After I had reached the high point in the climb, I began running again.
Then my race turned upside down. At 8.6 miles in, I took a slight turn and landed weird on a rocky section. My left ankle rolled outward and I felt it pop. I thought I could shake it off if I kept running, but I took a couple of steps and knew immediately I had to stop to walk. Any uneven terrain made my ankle feel like it was popping and though I tried to run off and on, I couldn't without wincing in pain. I started to cry thinking about how bad it hurt and that I would probably have to walk the rest of the race. I started to think this might be my first DNF. A few runners who passed me asked how I was doing. One guy offered me a short piece of tape to try and wrap my ankle (I didn't know how to tape it so it didn't work very well). One girl noticed my gait was off and felt sorry and wished me luck. One person asked what happened to me and I told her I thought something snapped in my ankle. She didn't say anything and ran off. I felt awful. I silently cried and wiped away the tears as I kept walking. I think I was just in shock at what my race was starting to become. I've never sustained an injury so suddenly from running. I must have looked pitiful but it's not like me to give up, so then and there I decided to only think about what to do next. I decided I would walk to the Elephant Head aid station and see if anyone would be able to tape up my ankle there.
At mile 11, I made it into the aid station and asked if there was any tape. They had duct tape and while one volunteer refilled my water bottle, another one sat me down and taped my ankle up. He asked where it hurt and said he had pulled that area in his ankle before. I asked him if he thought I would be able to walk the rest of the race or not. He said yes and that I would still finish in a decent time. He said the tape might not help fully, but it should alleviate a little bit of the pain. That was so encouraging and I thanked the two volunteers. I was still in shock and I feel like I rushed out of there after he had taped me up, but I really appreciated them for helping me when I needed it the most. This was a pivotal moment in the race for me and I began to feel a little better.
I knew walking out of the aid station that I still wanted to finish, even if it was slower than I wanted. I walked for another half mile or so and then found I was able to run on the more smooth, flatter sections of trail. I walked the uphills and uneven areas but was able to alternate some running and walking until the finish. For the last few miles, it was getting hot and I was getting hungry. I was too worried about my ankle that I didn't take in as much nutrition as I should have. I tried to keep drinking water though. My ankle still hurt and at times, I felt stronger jolts of pain in there, but was amazed that I was still moving and was able to finish the race. I don't know if it was all the adrenaline that pushed me through or if taping had some sort of placebo effect, but I think it helped me.
The race ran long. It ended up being 16.55 miles (more like a 26.6K) and I finished in 3:27. I felt a little sad because I really believe I could have done a sub 3:00 (my initial goal) if I didn't wreck my ankle, but that was already in the past. I was handed my finisher mug and they filled it with bison stew. I ate that on the grass while watching the runners come in. I was kind of moody and was thinking the worst about my ankle. It was starting to tighten up the longer I sat and was beginning to swell and bruise. I grabbed some ice from the finisher tent and sat back outside to ice it.
It was so inspiring to see all the runners come in. People who were running the 25K, 50K, 50 mile and 100 mile distances were all finishing in the same area and it was so cool to watch. Geof came in around two hours after I sat down and finished his first ultramarathon! Ahh! He did such a good job, coming in at 6:20. I stood up to congratulate him. He was in pain too but more so from having to run the 25K course twice for his 50K. By now, it was 80° and he had run out of water several times in the race before making it to the next aid station, so he was parched. He refilled on water and grabbed some stew while I headed to the car. I was having a hard time walking now and was limping around trying to make it back. I wasn't able to put much weight on my foot and that worried me.
We headed home, I took a shower and went to the doctor to get my ankle looked at. The diagnosis? I have a grade 2 ankle sprain/partially torn lateral ligament. That initial pop I felt on the trail was my ligament partially tearing. How terrifying is that? I'm in an ankle brace now and can't run for at least two weeks. I'm scared because I've heard that if you sprain your ankle, there's a higher likelihood of it happening again and unlike broken bones, they don't come back stronger after they've healed. I love trail running so I do want to get back out there but I'm a little fearful. I'm on the RICE treatment now and just hope I can heal fast.
One thing I did notice about trail racing is how nice everyone was. So many runners smiled or gave motivating remarks as they passed. Road races can be like that, but generally there's a more laid back approach to trail running. It's not as competitive, but it's more about enjoying yourself, your environment and the people around you. I love that. I was a little sad after this race, but now I think I need to come back in the future and try it again.
Have you ever gotten injured during a race? How did you come back from it?