Race Report: North Country Trail Relay v2.0

aka "It's going to take more than a sprained ankle to stop this running freak!"


June 12 dawned MUCH too early for 6 Michigan runners and their "hired" driver (my hubby, at right...he has some rather obsessive issues with LED lights, as this photo at right demonstrates).

3 runners and said driver shared a room at the Cadillac Days Inn.  At 4:00 sharp my cell phone alarm alerted us that it was time to rise and, uh, shine.  Thank heavens for adrenaline, as 6 hours of sleep would normally have me brewing a minimum of a quart of STRONG coffee to survive the day.

Eryn always showers before races...this I do not understand, but she doesn't do caffeine (this I also do not understand).  OK.  We ate a bit, dressed, and by 4:45 we met the rest of the team in the parking lot of the hotel to load the last few refrigerated items and our gear bags into "Ruby," the team vehicle (Heather's Honda Pilot).

By shortly after 5am we were on the road for the 20 minute trip to the race start at a roadside park.  It was a dark and FOGGY drive.  Luckily the fog cleared a bit by the 6am start, but it was still semi-dark, especially in the woods.

Don ran our first leg.  While he ran, the rest of us loaded back into the team vehicle to drive to the first exchange point.  While he ran most of us also looked for places to pee.  This is the one disadvantage of drinking coffee.

Don handed off to Jeff and we were off again.

At the second exchange point I readied myself for my first leg of the day--a 7.2 miler rated "gut buster +."  The ONLY leg of the race with a +.  That leg did NOT have a + last year and only recently (after I'd made all of the leg assignments) did I notice that little addition.  Sheesh.

Leg 3 was not really as difficult as I had anticipated...I think leg 4 (which I ran last year) was MUCH more difficult...it's also scary, as there is a section on top of a high ridge with STEEP ravine on either side.  I am afraid of heights and tend towards vertigo, so that section scared the bejeezus out of me last year.  This year I gave leg 4 to my best friend...heh.  With friends like me, who needs enemas? *snort*

What made leg 3 a gut buster + was the first mile.  Runners go a very short distance before going straight up a very steep hill.  At the top of the hill is another steep hill.  After this first mile most of the hills are more moderate and this leg really would have been fairly pleasant--had I not sprained my left ankle 2.75 miles in.

There were many factors that led to this sprain and I can't blame the roots and small stumps, alone.  It was very wet and fairly slippery from the rains of the previous night...with lots of wet leaves concealing foot-grabbing roots.  I also wasn't adequately warmed-up prior to this leg.  That first mile was so tough that I didn't have any chance to ease into the run.  I also didn't run the day before, which goes against my usual practice of running a few easy miles the day before a race; instead taking the day 2 days out off.  Friday was too busy with our son's last half-day of school, then getting on the road for the trip up to the relay area.

But the biggest factor working against me was likely my lack of trail-specific training (aside from the one 15k trail race I had done 3 weeks prior).  I have concentrated so much on biking that I didn't feel the ambition to drive to good training trails.  Plus I didn't purchase a state park sticker this year and kept putting off doing so.

So all of those ankle support muscles in my lower legs have been pretty neglected this year.  I have relatively strong, flexible ankles that I will roll from time to time, but have never suffered a sprain.  On this first leg I rolled it mildly once before the big roll that included an audible snap and instant swelling.

For a split second I believed I'd broken it...the pain was intense.  But the pain dissipated quite rapidly and I was able to bear weight.  After walking a bit I picked up the pace and gingerly finished the 4.5 remaining miles of the leg.  By the end the pain was really minimal and I didn't have much trouble walking on it.  After reaching the team vehicle I sat for a while with my leg elevated and an ice pack on the affected area.

The ankle was surprisingly not all that sore.  I did take a few 200mg ibuprofen to help bring down swelling and took it easy for the next couple of hours as others ran.  I had handed-off to my best friend.  By the time she finished her leg she had a sore foot (later we figured it was some irritated tendons), so I again handed-off to her--this time the ice pack.

My next assigned leg was #7 (5.4 miles) and I felt OK to run.  My ankle was tender, a little stiff, and somewhat weak, but runnable.  This leg went surprisingly well.  It was described as "challenging," but I didn't find it any more technical than my "easy" leg last year--just longer.  I took it fairly easy and finished this leg (my last of 2) with my hubby waiting for me, Oberon beer in hand.  YES!!!

The rest of the day passed quickly.  The first 6 legs take up about half of the race distance and comprise the most difficult legs of the course.  Towards the later part of the race my MIL (her sister and brother-in-law are the race directors) and my 9 year old son met up with us and followed us to the last exchange and then to the post-race picnic/party.  Dane really seemed to have fun.  He's pretty accustomed to attending races and hanging out and cheering for sweaty runners.  I hope I can keep doing this for a few more years and that maybe someday he will show an interest in running and want to be on the team.  Doesn't he just LOOK like a runner?  Unfortunately he has 0 interest in any sports, aside from biking.

After the final hand-off we arrived to the finish party and waited for Jeff (one of Derek's co-workers), our final runner to finish.  Jeff's wife, Nicole, was also on the team and was our fast chick.  It was really wonderful to replace last year's speedy couple with another fast couple.  Eryn and Heather and I are all a bit "velocity challenged" and can use all the help we can get to bring up the team's average pace over the course of the race.  Don is still quite the jack-rabbit, even for a guy who is nearly my parents' age.  In his day he won several races and has taken his age group at most races.  With 2 good knees he would be even more of a machine, which is saying a LOT.

(L to R: Eryn, me, Don, Heather, Nicole, Jeff)

Just like last year, we weren't the last team to finish (our main goal is to have fun, run a little, and eat a lot).  A few teams after us started doing some concurrent legs in an effort to finish before dark.  When we left the finish area we were told that there were still 2 teams left to finish.  I felt sort of guilty not hanging around to congratulate them upon completing the race, but it was already going to be about 9pm by the time we returned to the hotel (the finish is over an hour from where we stayed) and we all needed some time to float around in the pool.

After pool and hot-tub time (I kept my left foot out of the hot-tub, since heat is contraindicated for sprains and other sports injuries--and dangled my right foot in) we returned to our rooms for showers and sleep.  Sleep came easy.

After a good night's sleep and breakfast at the hotel (I love that even low-end hotels do this) we packed up the Pilot for the return to life.  I kept my foot up on the dash with ice for most of the way home and have been keeping it elevated as much as possible, with icing every few hours.  As of last night it looked like this.

The swelling and bruising look far more uncomfortable than the injury really is.  While my ankle looks like a 2nd degree sprain, my actual physical symptoms and relative mobility suggest a 1st degree sprain.  So I am hoping I'm only out of commission for a week or two.  I am not planning to run for at least 2 weeks and as long as I don't have any increase in pain or other symptoms I'm not planning to see my doctor.  In the meantime I am babying it and planning to start doing some gentle rehabbing exercises today...tracing the alphabet in the air with my toes and doing some toe-scrunching stuff with a towel under my foot.  Pretty standard PT things.

The timing of this injury is not horrible, either.  I had already been planning to scale-back a good deal on the running miles and substitute more biking and upper-body strength-training.  I have no running races on the agenda until late Aug.--at the earliest.  I'm guessing that I can carefully get back on the bike maybe as early as a week from now, assuming healing continues to go well (I'm already less swollen today and it actually feels good to be carefully walking around the house a bit).

After I'm well healed I'm thinking about doing some "barefoot" miles every week.  This should help strengthen my lower legs, too, as long as I don't overdo it, especially at first.

Next year I may assign myself leg 3, again.  Just as Heather had a score to settle with leg 12 after last year's race and re-ran it this year, I want to show leg 3 that it cannot be the boss of me!

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