how (not) to run a ragnar*

i trained diligently for the ragnar northwood trail run i ran last weekend.

i bought trail shoes after hours of research. i ran on the trails at st. john’s for a month and a half before the race, dodging rocks, fallen logs, and rivets, and running up hills that i didn’t want to run up.

the two weekends before the run, i tried a couple variations of the distances so i’d know which order to run in. the first try, i did the seven mile-loop first, and the following loops were horrible because my legs were no good. the second, i kept my 7-mile for last and it was good.

i ran at night on the trails, my headlamp bobbing along. nighttime 4-mile was my jam: i regularly ran a 12:30-minute or less mile. 

i thought i was ready.

i thought wrong. 

before the storm. it looks so peaceful.

before the storm. it looks so peaceful.

the first indication that this was going to be rough was the 10-day forecast: 80s and humid with a heat index in the mid 90s. sure, we’d be in the forest, but that doesn’t make the humidity go away. 

second was my first loop, the 4-mile. it should’ve been fantastic. instead, it was so hot that i got mildly dehydrated even though i was drinking water nonstop. second, my stomach was upset because of my water sloshing around. and third: no running on the st. john’s trails could have prepared me for the trails that were in the 9-mile forest. 

the st. john’s trails are old logging roads scattered with rocks, gravel, tree branches, the occasional rain rut, and regular inclines and declines. 

the 9-mile forest trails are bike trails full of rocks, tree roots everywhere you look, and switchbacks instead of a steady upward climb. and bike trails? there’s no way your foot is landing solidly. a bike trail is carved into the ground like a U.

when i ran at st. john’s, i’d have to pay attention most of the time, but i could take a break now and then to take in the scenery. at 9-mile, there is NO taking your eyes off the road. ever. it is 100% vigilance. 

so my 4-mile sucked. (actually, it was closer to 5 miles.) i fell once during the run, scraping up my hand a little bit and possibly ruining liz’s water bottle. i was so disappointed in it.

but i was slightly vindicated with my 3-mile run, which i headed out on around 9 p.m. it was cooler, the sun was down, and i ran in a group with two other women: an ultramarathoner and an iron man finisher. for their history in running, they were running a pretty slow pace; it was a little bit slower than i would have run if i’d been alone. but slow was good at this point. i didn’t fall once – only a couple wobbly moments, and i finished the 3 mile in 50 minutes. a normal 3-mile for me is about 36 minutes, but we stopped to let runners go past, and i helped the ultra get some kleenex out of her pack to clean up her hand. so my pace was probably 13.5-minute mile when i think about it. 

then i went back to the tent and tried my darnedest to get some sleep because the 7 mile (really 8) started in the wee hours of the morning and i needed to carb/caffeine up before heading out on that one.

liz rolled in from her 4-mile a little after 6 a.m., when the sun was just starting to grey up the sky. i clipped on the bib belt, turned on my headlamp and knuckle lights, and headed out.

the first quarter mile of all loops is the same: they ease you into it with a wide, easy grass path. SO IT WOULD SEEM. not even close to the red trail veer off, my ankle, which had been a little wobbly to begin with on this run, gave out, and i rolled it massively on the right side. down i went. 

got up, tested it out. i thought about turning around right there and finding someone else to finish my loop, but i felt like that was a giant cop out. so i started running. and it was reasonably ok. 

until i got to the technical part.

here’s the thing about running on a newly rolled ankle: it wants to keep rolling. and rolling. and rolling. every time i tried to run on the technical part of the trails, which was rocks, rocks, rocks everywhere, my right ankle would turn out and cause more pain. i was so irritated with my stupid, weak ankles (still am, actually). 

finally, i gave up and decided to walk during the technical part of the trails, and when it evened out to flat areas, i would run. ok.

meanwhile, the sun came up and lightened up the landscape. the leaves looked great among tall pine trees. the temperature was probably the best of the entire time we were there. i had trained weeks for this. and i had a bum ankle. 

i stopped for everyone who needed to get past me so they could get past. at the water station, i stopped to fill my water bottle and eat a gel pack. i asked the volunteer what would happen if i needed a ride. then i took a couple more drinks and filled my bottle again. procrastinated, pretty much. then headed out. 

the last mile or so of the red trail was pretty even, flat, and wide, which was such a relief. i walked up all the hills, but ran as best i could on the rest of the trail. as i pulled in to the last quarter mile, it was such a great feeling to know the end was near. i’m REALLY glad i finished it, even though it ruined my ankle. 

quinn was cheering for me as i pulled in to the runners’ station, and i handed off the bib belt, ready to head back to camp to pass out. quinn took off like a bullet (really, she was the fastest of the team. good thing, too!)

i checked the time as i left the runners’ station – 8:20. i had finished nearly 8 miles, walking technical parts, running on a bum ankle, stopping for every tom, dick, and harry who had to pass me, and taking a prolonged water break, in 2 hours and 10 minutes. that’s about a 16:30-minute pace. i can’t walk that pace. i ran that almost-8 mile at a faster pace than my 4 mile.

i knew that if i had gone slower, my teammates would have had to run in hot weather, and i think that pressure made me book it as best i could. this is why i don’t play team sports.

i got back to camp and unwrapped my ankle. (i had taken precautions, even! i had taped up my foot along my heel, then tape around my ankle, then an ace bandage over that. and STILL.) the ankle looked like a golf ball and progressively got worse through the day. i had a giant goose-egg on my shin, which i don’t remember getting. it must’ve happened one of the times i rolled my ankle and the pain in the foot was too much to register the shin pain. elevation and ice were the name of the rest of the day. 

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this is actually not that bad. the next day i looked like i had elephant foot.

today, the swelling’s gone down, and i have bruises all over my legs and feet. the past couple days, my other leg’s muscles were killing me due to overcompensating for the bum leg.

but i’m getting antsy to get out running again. the weather is perfect for running, and the light is leaving us quickly; time is getting short for outdoor runs. and now that i know what a trail could be like, i am not complaining one iota about the st. john’s trails. i have the shoes. i have the ambition. i just need to get that ankle moving again. 

*next post i will talk about what the ragnar event is like.

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