(Not) feeling sorry for myself…of races, sprained ankles, and spring flowers.

This morning, I sat down to write an inspirational blog.  I was going to focus on the Run Melbourne 5K Race from last weekend, and yesterday’s wonderful Plenty Gorge 17.6K Trail Race.  I began writing, reporting the details, but I couldn’t feel my usual exhilaration.  My voice was missing.

After the race yesterday, I decided to take my son for a quick 5k run, to have some time to bond with him, to reinforce that we still run together even though his big race is over.  I knew it was a bad idea to run again after such a big race, but it was only a short run.

I was tired from Plenty Gorge.  We had run 17.6km on gorgeous single track, much of it technical, some of it muddy, a lot of it punctuated by short, sharp hills.  The course included four river crossings, where ropes were strung across for us to hang onto, and we waded across against the flow of the current.  Wonderful,  muddy, slippery, alive moments.  I planned to give you a blow-by-blow of the race.

But, in the course of that silly little 5k run with my son later that same afternoon –  on a smooth, wide track down by the bay, on the only slightly technical section on the whole run, while coughing, listening to my son describe Clash of the Clans, and running down the stairs – I managed to sprain my ankle.

You know how it happens, kind of in slow motion?  A false step, a twist, a sense of oh no, and then the falling as the ankle gives way. I swore out loud, not because of the pain, but because I knew what it would mean.  Weeks of recovery, without my life-sustaining running.  For a moment, I thought it wasn’t too bad, but I couldn’t run on it, could barely walk the 2k we had to get home.  Limp, limp, limp.  Here is where you’d expect to see a photo of my swollen ankle, but you’ve seen those photos before and they are gruesome.  It is sprained.  That is all.

So, when I sat down to write this morning, I was feeling sorry for myself.  Poor me.  Can’t run. Can’t carry the laundry basket up the stairs.  Can’t run.  Ow, it hurts.  Can’t even go to the gym.  I began to write, but got so fed up with that pitiful voice in my head that I gave it up.

Here’s what I did instead.  I cleaned my daughter’s bedroom.  Threw out the accumulated trash of the last three years.  Emptied her dresser and vacuumed it.  Moved the furniture, and cleaned it all, all the surfaces, vacuumed the carpet.  I got rid of the baby clothes that were far too small, that had been used within an inch of their lives.  I put her precious jewelry and hair ties in neat boxes on her newly cleaned dresser, and marvelled at how lovely her room had become.

I planned to sit down and blog then.  Only my neighbor called.  She was offering to buy me groceries, offering to help if I was completely incapacited.  She laughed when I told her what I’d been doing.  Fairly predictable, what sort of patient I’d be (an impatient patient!).  For a change, I wasn’t too busy to see her, wasn’t at the gym, or coaching, or out for a run.  She came over for a cup of tea, and we talked, something I haven’t made time for in a while.

After lunch, the sun was out.  It was spring-like, and the roses I hadn’t cared for all winter called to me.  I went to prune them, but under the profusion of weeds that had sprouted in my absence, I could barely find them.  I spent an hour uncovering them, balancing precariously on my good ankle, pulling weeds, discovering that my tulips were indeed coming up but had been hidden by all the other growth.  It was kind of like uncovering myself.  My hands were full of mud, and fertile dirt.  Once pruned, the roses looked poised, ready to spring into life for their summer blooming.  The tulips, when they finish growing, will now be visible, in their vibrant reds and yellows.  My cats circled me as if to question my presence in their garden after all this time, as if to welcome me home.

I came back inside, and noticed I was happy.

My ankle is still sprained.  I still can’t run for a while.  But the time-out has given me the space to be at home today, to re-awaken to some of the things I have been missing while running so far.  So, with a clearer heart, I will tell you of these two races.

Run Melbourne was my first race with my 9-year-old son.  It was magic.  We’d spent four months training together, me teaching him about hill repeats and pacing, running shoulder-to-shoulder and talking in a way that was impossible at other times.  We ran the race together, ducking and weaving around the hundreds  of other runners, following our race plan.  My son finished in 26:33, his faster 5k ever.  I was slightly slower, because I wanted to be behind him to see him cross that finish line.  The sight of him, sprinting off, passing grown-ups, giving his all for that final burst of speed, is a sight that will stay with me forever.

My son and me, side by side.

My son and me, side by side.

My son crossing the finish line.

My son crossing the finish line.

My smile is because I've just watched my son cross his first finish line!

My smile is because I’ve just watched my son cross his first finish line!

And Plenty Gorge?  That was one of the hardest races I’ve run in a long time.  I’ve forgotten how to run slowly on these medium-distance races.  For long periods at the start, I was going so hard, I couldn’t catch my breath.  But I wanted to go that hard.  I wanted to sprint and chase, to dash, to go as hard as I could.  I don’t know why.  I made sure to glance up to see the gorgeous gum trees, but not often, because much of the trail was treacherous, and required absolute attention.  The sharp cold of the river crossings lingers with me, the feel of mud slipping away under my fingers as I climbed ashore.

No matter how often I passed, or was passed, the same three or four people were clustered together.  I seemed to be faster uphill, and they were faster downhill.  All went to plan until one of the volunteers shouted to me, at about the 15k mark, that I was in the top twenty women.  Wow!  Me?  But I didn’t want to know this; I was running as fast as I could, and I felt this meant I needed to chase down some of these other women.  I suddenly wanted to be in the top 15.  It was hard going.  I could see two women in the distance, and they were fast.  I passed one, then she passed me, but the final uphill allowed me to get ahead.

Then the man I had played cat-and-mouse with for most of the race passed me one more time.  Most who pass in trail races do so with words of encouragement, and thanks, allowing plenty of room, and running far into the distance.  But this man passed, every time, with an air that I was in his way, damn it, and I should move.  I only passed him again anyway, on all the uphills.  Never once did he acknowledge me, and he never really pulled in front.  Perhaps he was shy, or out of breath, but in the heat of the last kilometre, I didn’t really care what he was feeling, just how I was feeling about him, so I blasted by one last time, and because I was chasing the women, I finally stayed ahead of him.  I always tell myself to run my own race, that if I am faster than someone, that is just how it is, and there is no sense in pushing it.  But I felt slighted by this man, judged on the downhills when he huffed by me, and it was with a great sense of delight that I noted I finished several minutes ahead of him.

Now that I am back to myself, I feel I should apologise.  Perhaps I was in his way; perhaps I read more into his scowl than was really there.  Perhaps he felt the same way about me as I did him.  Blah blah blah.  I’m still glad I beat him.  And I’m glad most trail runners are so polite.  In reality, I don’t think he even noticed me.  I said, “well done” to him when I saw him at the finishing area and he didn’t seem to even know who I was.  Go figure.

When the results came in, it turned out I had come third in my age category, and the 16th woman overall.

Which brings me back full-circle to this injured ankle.  Will it come right fast enough to allow me to run the 21k Sylvan Reservoir Race in August?  I really hope so.

In the meantime, I am going to enjoy what is, and try to lean into this temporary set-back and let it teach me what it will.  When I have sprained my ankle in the past, it has always been at a time of emotional upheaval, a time when things were changing very quickly, or I was dealing with some dark emotion.  This is true of this injury as well.  There is much healing going on in me at the moment, at many different levels.  But that is a blog for another day.

There are still some rooms I have yet to clean in my home, and it is time to put my ankle on ice for a little while.

Oh, and I’ve just read an article about AlterG treadmils, how they can allow you to run at reduced gravity when injured.  Hmmm.  Obsessive?  Me?

12 thoughts on “(Not) feeling sorry for myself…of races, sprained ankles, and spring flowers.

  1. Thanks for this report, I also did Plenty Gorge 17.6k yesterday and am feeling it today. I am nowhere near the pace of yourself (I finished in front of only 6 people) but also had the group bonding, me passing on flat and down hills them passing me up the hills, even at the tail of the field. I lost a lot of time at the first river crossing (that km took me 15 mins) as I was stuck in a queue and then had the same experience as yourself with a number of middle course runners blasting past without an acknowledgement. What happened to the trail politeness? I also helped one guy up a hill who had done his calf and he told me that he’d struggled for 2k before I came along to offer help, not one person asking!!! He was in bad shape as he left in an ambulance!!! That added a few more minutes to my time. But hey I didn’t run it for the time, it was for the experience, the mud, the hills, nature – similar story to your own. Hope to catch you at Sylvan Dam – best wishes for your ankle.

    • Good on you for helping the injured runner. I always ask if I see people struggling. And you are right, it is not about pace. It is about experiences. Thanks for your kind wishes on my ankle-hope to see you at Sylvan!

  2. Hi Patricia, lovely to meet you on Sunday and well done on your result, fantastic! I really enjoyed your report, I suffered a sprained ankle during the medium course on Sunday, at about the 6km mark and managed to limp for a km then run slowly the rest of the way to the finish line. Suffice to say, it had swollen rather badly by the time I got home! I’m trying to stay off my feet as much as I can, but I’m starting to really enjoy trail running and want to get back out there soonest! You’re an inspiration to beginners like me!

    • Lovely to meet you too, and congratulations on getting out on the trail! I am sorry to hear about your ankle – that would have been a long way to get to the finish line. It must have been a day for sprained ankles, as I did mine too, but not until later in the day when I took my son out for a 5k run. It is frustrating to get hurt, and be off the trails. I’m trying to use the time to clean my home, and make a solid recovery plan. I hope your sprain is not too bad. Do you have a good physio to help you with recovery? I’ve sprained mine several times over my thirty years of running, and have found physio to really help. Thank you for your kind words regarding inspiration – I love to share what the trails have taught me! Hope to see you at Sylvan!

  3. So great to read Patricia! I did the 12km & was almost shocked at how difficult it was, both physically & mentally. I fortunately only came across really lovely people. This was only my second trail run & I really loved it. I would like to be a little more prepared next time. Good Luck at Sylvan & with your ankle!

    • Wow, that was a tough run for your second trail run! I’ve lost count of how many I’ve done, and that one ranks up as one of the toughest technical sections in my 10 years of trail running. I don’t tend to run at the faster end of the field that often, so I suspect it is a bit more competitive than I am used to. Trail runners as a whole are a lovely bunch, and I would bet even the ones that seemed less so on the trail at Plenty Gorge are too – they were just going for a really strong pace. If you are doing Sylvan, you might enjoy training out there prior to the race itself, to get a feel for the course. If my ankle recovers in time, I’ll certainly be going for a scout around there. There is one massive hill to look out for. Happy trails, and thanks for writing!

  4. Hi Patricia, Great story, can sympathise with you regarding sprained ankle. I rolled my foot the week before the Plenty Gorge run and am still recovering. Hope to be up and running for Silvan.
    I did find plenty of polite runners in my first trail run at Studley Park as I actually tripped over and other runners stopped to help me, but I was ok and kept running.

    Hope to see you all at Silvan

    • I am sorry to hear about your ankle – a hazard of the trail, I suppose. Mine is healing – I was lucky to be wearing minimalist runners so didn’t have as far to turn it! Yes, the trail racers are full of great people – that’s one of the things I really enjoy. I’ve always got spare gels and salt tablets to share – I gave one to one woman on the North Face 50 who was really struggling at the end, and was delighted to see her recover and finish strong. People are always willing to help, with encouragement, or injuries. I hope your ankle heals quickly, and that you get some good training in before Sylvan! Thanks for writing, and your kind feedback!

  5. Enjoyed your story Patricia – I also did the long course and thought it was the hardest run I’ve ever done. Some encouragement for your ankle – I rolled mine during Run Forest 21k and got up to run at Studley Park only 3 weeks later so see you at Sylvan……

    • Thanks for your kind feedback Mike, and for the encouragement. That’s great news that you recovered so fast – that would have been tough to roll it at Run Forest as it seemed a pretty isolated course. I’m working on rehab now – after dreaming last night that I was running down the road, very happily. A good sign I think. See you at Sylvan!

  6. Pingback: “One day you might not be able to run,” she said… | patriciaabowmer

  7. Pingback: Salomon Trail Series at Silvan: the moon, the mud and me. | patriciaabowmer

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