Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Killer Achilles Tendon, and other stupid sports injuries

It all started with a walk. I walked about half a mile down the street with a friend from Japan who needed to experience a Wahoo’s burrito and American Starbucks. My left heel was on fire. Well, this is strange, I thought. I’d jogged maybe nine miles the day before, done a one-hour interval workout on my trainer and jogged a few miles down the beach that morning. Those are not weird workouts. But here I was, with my foot on fire, wondering what the hell went wrong.

Oh yeah, there was also the Birkie, a 54-kilometer (that’s 33.5 miles, Americanos!) cross-country ski race held annually in Wisconsin. I had written about it for Outside, and decided I couldn’t give up the opportunity to see real-life people who talk like Frances McDormand in Fargo. I had never ever cross-country skied before, nor had I worked out much in the last five months. A fitness-crushing bout with mono (diagnosed post-mono) made it almost impossible for me to move for more than 20 minutes without being overcome by sleepiness. And that’s when I could actually get out of bed.

Maybe two weeks before the Birkie, I started feeling better. I’d been running through the mono anyway, because I had no idea what was going on, only that I didn’t like it or agree with my body’s decision to play Sleeping Beauty. The week before the Birkie, I covered a nice hilly 2 hour 45 minute loop in the Santa Monica mountains. I declared myself good enough for America’s biggest XC ski race. I was an idiot.

Coachubby and I hoped the Birkie would take us 6 hours. After the first 5K, we realized we were off. We crossed the finish line of the hilly course, after several faceplants, in 7 hours and 20 minutes. (Story to come.)

Besides a mildly sprained wrist that I’ll attribute to faceplant #2, I seemed to make it out of the event unscathed. But the stress from 7.5 hours of cross country skiing on flat feet took its toll on my Achilles tendons, making them ticking time bombs ready to explode under any additional pressure. The bike interval/beach jog did them in.

Now it’s less than five weeks before the Boston Marathon, an event I qualified for at the Rock N Roll San Diego marathon last June. I’d hoped I could best my qualifying time of 3:33 by at least a minute. (I’d have hoped for more, but the mono made me scale back expectations long ago.) Now I just hope I can run by then.

After an entirely injury free build up to Ultraman Canada last year (story still to come. Sorry!), and a subsequently injury-free race (the only thing that got injured, apparently, was my immune system), it’s a frustrating place to be. After more than a decade of competing in sports, I look back and realize that very often, I am still an idiot. I like to go long and hard, and have a difficult time telling when my body is telling me not to because it’s literally going to break, or when it’s telling me not to because it’s being a wuss. 

So if you see me spinning slowly down LA’s flat Strand, please don’t challenge me to a race, because my mind will tear my Achilles’ apart to hang onto your wheel. Especially if we’re on a Strava segment.