Tuesday, June 12, 2012

11 days and counting....

Year of the foot-2010

2010 started off quite well. I ran a bunch but quickly realized 50 miles was a bit different animal than 50k (31 miles). I had to adjust my schedule to running the Rucky Chucky roundabout 50k in March, the Silver State 50 in May and then the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in July.

I trained hard, but by myself. I ran a lot on the mountain by the house, and I ended up at the Rucky Chucky race in the best running shape I’d been in to date for an ultra distance race. The Rucky Chucky race was one I really was excited for. This would be my first time on the Western States Course. This particular race takes us from Foresthill to the American River crossing (miles 62-78 on the W.S. Course), for the most part its 16 miles downhill and then you turn around and go back up to where you started.

The race started well enough, I paced myself like I normally do on the downhills. Pacing while going down to me means, run as fast as you can to make up time because I suck at running up hill. At the time I was about 210 lbs and still carried quite a bit of muscle and fat from my skiing years. About 8 miles into the descent, I started to feel a weird sensation in my left foot. It did not hurt but it was going numb. My experience at the last 50k taught me that I did in fact need to eat and drink so when I got to the turnaround I stuffed my face full of everything I could handle. As I left the aid station, one of the staff asked me how I was doing. I thought this strange since no one ever asked me that before.

I said “oh I’m fine I’m really enjoying my first time on the W.S. trail, thanks for asking”.

The person who asked me the question was an ultra running legend who at one point was the oldest woman to ever finish the Western States run. “No problem”, she responded, “I noticed you were limping a bit and just wanted to make sure you were alright”.

I am? I thought to myself. I waived at her and started running again and sure enough I was limping a bit, nothing serious just favoring the left foot. I started climbing back up, and eventually reached the finish in my best time ever for a 50k. I was an hour and twenty minutes faster than my first 50k and I was super stoked. I got into the car with my girlfriend and we drove back home.

I woke up the next day in quite a bit of pain. I got out of bed, took my first step and realized something was very wrong with my left foot. I took my sock off to inspect it and to my surprise the second metatarsal was bent like a boomerang towards the outside of my foot. Now my toe has always been a bit crooked, but this was a whole different matter. It looked broken and hurt like hell. I also had this nasty pain on the inside of the ankle, most likely from over compensating for the toe.

That is my little piggy in all it's splendor, still bent like that to this day.

I've never really had great experiences with doctors so I’d not been to one in years. I went to the “doc in the box" urgent care center near my work and they told me I’d broken the toe and torn a tendon in my ankle. He told me I’d be out 6-12 weeks and I was not built to be running those kinds of distances. He offered a solution, “you look like a bike rider and maybe you should try cycling”.

“I can’t ride a bike on the Western States trail” I told him.
“well there are many other trails you can ride a bike on” he said .
"I want to run, how can you help me run", I asked him.
"I can’t", he told me. 

Based on my X-rays it was clear my toe was actually bent long ago but the impact of the running broke it. I've speculated that it was actually from shoving my foot into 2 sizes too small of ski boots and shoes for so many years. It was not until after my first 50k in 2009 I found out I should be in size 9 to 9.5 shoes. I ran that race in size 7.5 (like all my shoes at the time) Salomon XT Wings, and predictably got a ton of blisters.

The doctor then told me the only two procedures were to cut the toe off or insert a metal pin. Inserting a pin would render the toe unable to bend backward (something needed to walk or run uphill), and cutting it off might allow me to run but might not.

I was devastated, once again an injury was keeping me from what I wanted to do and once again a doctor is telling me I’m not going to be able to do what I want. This was the first time since I’d hurt my back that I’d let the “issues” I took from that experience surface. I was a complete mess emotionally and not much better physically.

I spent a couple of days moping around realizing I would not run 100 miles this year and generally feeling sorry for myself. I recalled the army doctor and his mantra. There must be a way I thought. Then I thought of my uncle, who for my entire life has been without a leg and arm which he lost in a motorcycle accident. He played so many sports with me when I would visit growing up. We shot pool, we played basketball, ping pong and he was able to do all those things with two limbs and usually he kicked my butt doing it.

I thought of all the disabled skiers I once knew and how they overcame great odds to ski. Then I looked at my toe and decided if I needed to cut it off, that’s what I was going to do, but only as a last resort.

I tend to think a lot, so much so I have trouble sleeping at night. I have, in many instances, been able to use this to my advantage. Generally if I can sit down and really focus, I can think for hours about the smallest aspect of almost anything. I was determined to figure out how I could run on my foot, toe or no toe. I spent days looking down at my foot while I simulated the movements of going uphill, downhill and across flat surfaces. I quickly realized that landing on my forefoot on a downhill was the culprit and extremely steep inclines also bent the toe in an unnatural movement. I quickly deduced that if I increased the range of movement of the toe and started heel striking on any decline, I should be able to make this work.

I spent 2 months in physical therapy and a total of 3 months out of running so the day I got released I went out and ran! I was actually still scheduled to run a 12 man 178 mile race around Tahoe and I had 2 weeks until the race started. I decided there was no time to build up in training so I’d go run the hardest leg that weekend and see how I felt.

I started the run that weekend in great spirits, I was finally running again. I’d been so motivated up to that point to run Western States, I did not realize the passion I was developing with just the act of running. I’ve really never actually like to run, but loved how it made me feel afterward. Now, I was enjoying the run!

This particular run goes up about 1800 feet over 6 miles and then down around 600 feet over 2 miles. A great training ground called Dog Valley, or leg 4 of the race I was slated to run in. I ran up and then back down. I got home and noticed I was favoring my left foot a bit but I felt pretty good. As the evening came I started to get sore, I went to bed early and excited. That excitement would last only through the night, when I awoke I realized I’d broken my toe once again. In hindsight, I was stupid to have run in the first place at that point.

Back again at the doc in the box, and again being asked why I ran. "I’m telling you Brandon you are not built for this type of running. You are a big guy and your feet are not structurally sound to run. Endurance cycling will probably satisfy your need.”

"That’s not acceptable I’m gong to find someone else", I told him. I crutched myself out of the office and began researching everything I could about how I could run with my foot the way it was. I was not quitting this time, I decided even if it took me 10 years to figure this out I was going to do it. I just had to get to the finish of that race.

I spent the next couple of weeks trying to figure out what to do, and then it hit me. Be part of the race, find other people who do this kind of running and seek advice from them. This might seem logical to you, but to me that’s asking for help. I just do not do that, I’ve always been taught that help was a sign of weakness and you do not display weakness in my family. The few times in my life up to that point I had shown myself to be vulnerable or weak in front of others, I'd left the experience ridiculed or scarred mentally in some way.

I decided I’d volunteer at an aid station at Western States. I picked the one with the largest medical unit, figuring someone there would be able to give me some sort of direction. That aid station would be at Foresthill, and ironically was run by a local running group here in Reno called the Silver State Striders.

What I found at the Foresthill aid station was just the medical help I had hoped for, but also so much more. In fact, that decision to go there would ultimately drive key decisions in my recovery and prove to be the reason I eventually got into Western States.