I took my weirdly swollen ankle to the Doctors the Monday after UTA50km
The results confirmed a loose bone fragment (Betty) with it’s little jazz hands, having a party of it’s own – well away from the rest of my ankle bones.
My Doctor told me that the rounded edges of the bone fragment meant that it was an old fracture that hadn’t healed.
He asked me when I could have done it.
I remembered the soccer game – the first and last I ever tried to play in Melbourne. We were 75 minutes in, I had scored, we were winning. I was one on one with the goalie. Then bang, someone else’s foot pushed the position of mine awkwardly enough for that all too familiar right angle an ankle shouldn’t make.
Golly. Like nothing else, no other sprain.
I knew it was bad.
There was one problem – my Mum was watching.
The first (and last) time she had watched me played soccer in Australia, she had watched me dislocate my shoulder, then watched my twin sister relocate it. Then sat in the Emergency Department waiting to see whether the tingling in my fingers was nerve damage.
No no, just a Hill Sachs lesion in the humerus.
Back to the game, I was half carried off the pitch – my mum hadn’t seen me go down. Ice. Elevation.
She made her way over, and I was up, walking. Limping slightly.
“Have you injured yourself?”
I shook my head, “old injury.”
We walked to the car….straight to Ikea…then carried 17 packs of flat pack laminate flooring up four flights of stairs.
The doctor told me it would always be fragile now, and likely to flare up when running.
I rested – given that it was my first 50km my body wasn’t actually capable of any form of….movement, anyway.
The next few weeks the familiar pre-UTA lethargy also continued and I went back to the docs. Bill and Bob – my parasites – were still there.
The antibiotics hadn’t worked.
I lost a small mental battle at that point – parasites and a weakened ankle. I’m pretty sure I allowed myself one day to wallow.
But I know, other people have gone through far worse – far worse – and picked themselves back up. And come back stronger.
I continued to train, allowing for the 8-9 hours’ sleep my body now seemed to need.
I also recently acquired two new foster cats – supposed to be a shy pair of sisters.
Shy, they told me.
I was woken around 3.00am by Trudy (the tiger) wanting to play, then sit on my neck, then poke me in the face. I didn’t have the heart to kick her out.
6.00am – my alarm went off long after I had woken up to feed them, and play with them. Tired? Of course, but definitely good for the soul, and great for pre-race nerves.
I ate the usual sweet potato and eggs, had coffee, then more coffee. Cooked my potatoes, counted my gels. Packed my race gear, repacked my race gear. Mobilised my body.
As I approached the You Yangs I became excited, love this place.
I walked to the start, the familiar feeling of being in a place I belonged, with people whom I belonged with.
I hadn’t raced this distance before. I had thought long and hard about pace – not as quick as a half and not as slow as a 50km. Surely.
I checked myself, feeling at around 80% of myself. But no pain from my ankle.
Caffeine gel. Focus.
We lined up, and started. I began running, and suddenly I realised I had brought the wrong race vest – the one too big for me. It bounced up and down on my shoulders as I ran.
I laughed. It was all I could do.
I managed to take two safety pins off my race bib and safety pin the vest together to fit better. It seemed to work.
We were on fire trails – flat, fast. An out and back. I looked at my watch. 4.10min/km. All my unfavourite things.
I wasn’t sure my legs could sustain this pace for 30km, I prayed for hills, for Flinders Peak. That was my jam.
We continued and turned back on ourselves, and I saw the females in front of me – I counted three but couldn’t be sure.
w more km, fast and furious (everyone else, not me) and we hit it – the most beautiful part of You Yangs…undulating single track.
I squealed and flew, my lower body moving with the hills, jumping, running, skipping, climbing.
So. Much. Fun.
I had joined a pack, some guys in front of me, pacing me.
I overtook one of the girls, third female.
Another gel, whilst trying to run. Clearly out of practice. Choking ensued, and stickiness.
We left the single track, back onto fire trail, a long stretch of open, fire trail.
The pace picked up again.
We were on 12km and my legs were not doing so well – some sort of weird pain and tingling in my right thigh. I pushed it away.
I knew I wasn’t in peak shape, and the negative self-talk began: why hadn’t I trained harder, faster. Or even trained less, and rested. I threw so many what ifs through my head to try and understand why I was struggling. The parasites? I wasn’t sure.
I kept going.
Another female over took me – a different one, back to third. I tried to maintain her pace, 4.10/km again. If she could do it, so could I.
One of the pack.
“how you pulling up?”
“I’m over the flat ness”
He laughed. “yeah, this is fast and flat hey”
It wasn’t just me.
We ran together, entering some more single track – heading up towards Flinders Peak.
First, a long steep climb. Time for some aggressive lunging.
I looked at my watch. Potato time.
I took them out of my race vest, out of their sandwich bag and tried, in between gulps of breath, to eat the potato.
I guess you could liken it to trying to eat food during burpees. It wasn’t my wisest choice to do It during the climb, but I knew I needed them for Flinders Peak.
Ooooo, Flinders Peak.
I got excited.
Flinders Peak is 1.5km of mountain, peak, steps, rocks, climbing. Heaven.
I began the ascent- others walking. I ran. This was freedom, this was my jam.
I climbed the steps – two at a time where I could.
We were greeted by some of the 50km and 100km runners, we cheered. Legends.
Three females passed me on their way down already, I had miscounted. I was forth.
Could I catch up?
I picked up the pace.
The top, the views, the feeling. My favourite place – usually because it’s where I would stop to have food and refuel during long runs.
I’ve run the descent many times before.
I began. Fast at first, trying to make up some time lost on the flats.
Flashes at first, my ankle.
The downhill impact was too much? I shook my head. No, not possible. Not now.
I slowed. Landed more on my left foot.
The female I’d overtaken before, overtook me.
I couldn’t give up hope, I couldn’t slow any more. I could not let my head drop.
I know it’s these times, these moments where I try, really try, to remind myself to run my own race and not other people’s. I shouldn’t care where I was, I shouldn’t care that I was fifth. It was about the running, the moment. Where my feet were.
Deep breaths and a mental slap around the face.
Pipe down Jess, just run.
I continued down. Carefully.
More 50km and 100km runners on their climb up – and more of the 30km runners heading on their way up.
I was grateful again.
Suddenly I was at the bottom, and we turned back on ourselves at the bottom – into single trail again.
My legs….were heavy from the ascent, but the pain in my ankle had lessened.
And oh the trails.
We descended again, down towards the bike trails for the second half of the run.
I knew them well, having rode (into trees) on them quite a few times. I was excited. I picked up the pace.
I was with the pack again, a few new members. And glimpses of the woman in forth ahead.
Easy Jess, run your race.
One of the guys up ahead I’d ran with earlier, walking.
I ran past “come on, let’s move”
He ran, we ran.
The trails were….they’re better on a bike – more zig zags and corners than hills.
But god damn it was beautiful.
Heavy legs, heavy.
My right thigh tingles were back.
I managed for 2km.
At 25km I knew I was hitting a wall. Maybe I’d gone out too fast – too fast on the fire trails. Maybe it was the Mexican I’d had last night, or maybe it was just Bill and Bob kicking around in my stomach.
I slowed to a farmers shuffle. I wanted to stop.
Almost, I almost stopped.
I choked down a mini sob, it wasn’t supposed to feel this hard.
The only time I’d felt like this was on the third day of the four day Lara Pinta race – I hadn’t warmed down or rested enough the day before, and everything was hurt and effort.
That was the now. I was back there, willing there not to be 5km left. Willing for that extra energy.
“Move, we run together” Same guy I’d told to move.
A god send.
Another guy, in a blue shirt was behind us, with us.
“Let’s pace each other”
And so we did.
I cranked up my music, Skrillex, Slash, The Prodigy.
Gel. Another badly taken gel. But I didn’t care.
I imagined I was just out for a casual 5km run, in the You Yangs – did I mention it was my favourite place?
I remembered my gratefuls.
I got to run this.
I nodded to myself, and picked up the pace. Caffeine and sugar kicking in.
We came off the trails, back onto fire trail – and I was finally grateful for them. I knew where we were.
2km to go and everyone we were running with knew, it was almost the finish.
We ran and we laughed, we encouraged and we cheered. How could we not?
The last 500m.
I could see the finish. I sprinted – or tried to. Rock solid legs. Sprinting with rock solid legs.
Everything hurt, but I picked up the pace.
Usain Bolt (probably not)
I laughed, probably manically. And shook the hands of those I’d run with.
They had no idea how grateful I was for them, all my thank yous and high fives could not convey how they had saved me. Had picked me up and thrown me over the wall.
I sat, legs shakey, tingling.
Sugar. Snakes – all of them.
I watched others come in, some of them the 50km finishers, others were 100kms doing another lap, amazingness.
I was grateful.
A team duathlon involving two 4km runs – in the You Yangs.
And then? The 50km running next to my twin sister. The excitement and pride is….hard to explain.
Oh…then the OCR World Champs in England.