It was time to get ready for Ragnar, and I was excited. My sister was on our team this year, and she, my husband and I headed into Chicago to meet up with the team. It was good to see our old team members and to meet the new ones (our team captain Marty had the unfortunate role of putting together not one, but two Ragnar teams. That is a HUGE job.)
Trampoline shoes and I be-bopped around that night, decorating the vans and having fun. We drove up to Madison and went to bed at a decent hour. The next morning we got up and headed to the start line. It was, as always, a good time. I had a good long wait in store that day–as Runner 12 I did not expect to start until dusk.
Both teams had the same start time so we sent our runners off and our van, Van 2, headed out to Exchange 6. Where we waited… and waited… and waited. I got to meet Megan from Nuun, who has been organizing all our Hood to Coast shenanigans. We got feedback from Van 1, who were having… well, we will call them Navigational Issues. Finally we were up.
Things went pretty smoothly for our first legs. Tim is our captain from last year and became our de facto captain once we started the race, since Marty was on the other team. He is big into support, and so we made sure to see each runner at least once, and we all walked to every exchange to welcome our runner in and send the next out. Trampolines Shoes were excited to make each of those treks with me. Kiss, kiss, trampoline shoes.
My first leg was 6.7 miles, and I can’t let the story of the shoes interfere with me telling you about how utterly bizarre this run was. It is on a trail through with Wisconsin, which was once a rail line but is not a well-maintained recreational trail. Woodlands surround it, but you are often within sight of or even right next to a road. Trampoline shoes and I set off on the leg. It was flat, the sun was setting, and the weather was perfect.
Within the first 1/2 mile, I saw a man on a bike, who we had seen earlier on the course, and who clearly knew what Ragnar was and what we were doing. And yet, on a bike, he should have been far ahead of us at this point. It made me slightly uncomfortable to see him out there still, but I knew there were enough runners coming behind me that he was probably no threat. Around this time, I passed a still pond and happened to notice, among the vegetation, a dead bird floating in it. Ew.
Things would get creepier still. But first, I got passed by a couple of fast dudes, and I hated to be the roadkill, but I was having a good run so I didn’t really care. Nothing I could do about it. Then the bugs attacked. These tiny little gnat/fly/moth things were every where! And drawn to my headlamp, even though the sun had just set and it was still quite light. They swarmed my face and I had a few as an unintentional snack. I put my head down and ran on, wondering if this would last the rest of the leg (it didn’t).
As I came up on a road crossing at mile 3.5 my van was waiting for me. I saw some people and heard my sister yell, “Is that a mermaid I see?” I laughed and yelled back, feeling good and happy.
Mile 4, there was a water stop manned by cheerful volunteers, and then I came to a more wooded area of the trail. That was when I saw a figure headed toward me. A Male. Who was shuffling–no, limping! I turned off my music and pulled my pepper spray off my waistband. And as I got closer, I could see, he was wearing a hoodie, jeans, and a backpack. This was no recreational walker or Ragnar spectator. And while he had every right to be walking this trail, the guy looked… out of place. I passed by him and picked up the pace. As I did so, I also called my husband and put him on speaker. “Hey, I just saw a creepy guy on the trail; I’m fine but wanted someone on the phone just in case. Just stay on the line with me.” I looked back and did not see the man, but did see what appeared to be a male Ragnarian with a headlamp coming up behind me. I got off the phone with my husband and asked the runner, “Is that guy still going the other way?” He said “Yeah I think so,” and went on. I’m sure as a male, he probably didn’t think twice about seeing that guy on the trail, but I’m pretty protective of my person, so I’m glad I had my phone and my pepper spray and my wits about me. (side note: my other plan during a Ragnar, should something happen, is to turn around and run BACK on the course, because there will always be runners behind you, but you may not be able to catch anyone in front of you, and going forward only puts you further away from safe people. Learned this from Caroline.)
Okay, so are you ready for the next part? About a quarter mile later, I saw something else. From a distance, I could tell only that it was dark and inanimate. As I got closer, I saw, on this tree-lined, beautiful recreational trail that so deftly showcases Wisconsin’s early-summer beauty… a black rolling office chair. With an old computer monitor sitting atop it. And it occurred to me: I am not running a Ragnar. I’m being Punk’d. I’m starring in a David Lynch movie.Something. Because it was all too bizarre. I would’ve stopped to take a picture, but I really just wanted to be back around people at that point.
It was newly dark by the time I got to Exchange 12, and the place was ablaze in headlamps and headlights. I got passed by with about 200 meters to go by two guys who were just flying, and I could not catch them. But I picked up the pace and finished strong, and felt good. I’d just ran my first leg at goal pace and hey, Hoodie Guy hadn’t killed me, so really, what was there to complain about?
I won’t go into all the details of the race from the standpoint of a recap, but there were typical overnight shenanigans: navigating, eating, trying to sleep. Also, a sudden craving for pickles and french fries (which I think calls for a new game: Pregnant, or Ragnarian?), waiting at McDonald’s for coffee at 3AM (new, new game: Out Carouing, or Ragnarian?), and so forth. But overnight, Trampoline Shoes dealt me a blow. Somewhere in that first leg, they’d decided to break up with me. And they wanted to hurt me doing it. As the night wore on, I could feel my right leg get tighter and tighter. “That’s weird,” I thought. I stretched out my leg in the van, tried to get it to loosen up. No dice. It got worse. It felt even worse-worse when I tried to bend it. I had already planned to wear my ASICS for leg 2, and I put them on. I also taped my leg with KT Tape for IT Band, just because it was tight in that area.
Ah, I was so excited about my second leg. It started on the north side of Racine, Wisconsin, and I was to run along Lake Michigan and into Exchange 24. It was just past sunrise and beside Lake Michigan in a summer sunrise is just one of the prettiest places you can be. I got out at Exchange 23 and got ready to run. My leg was tight. It hurt. Tim remarked that I looked mad (I always look mad if I’m not smiling). I told him I wasn’t mad, but I was worried.
David came into the exchange and I took off. My right leg immediately started barking angrily at me. By .35 miles I had sharp, shooting pain down my right leg. I ran some, walked some, and tried to process what was happening.
Now, I am not fast. Never have been. But I have always, always, been able to go, for forever. I don’t peter out often, and if I do, I can generally take a short break and just keep going. I’m also not a wimp. I’ve delivered two babies–one with a 28 hour labor and one with 7 hours, with no drugs. This leg was 4.7 miles and I could. not. run. it. So when I tell you I was shocked, truly, I was in shock. It came out of nowhere, and in a matter of 8 hours I’d gone from being at one of my strongest, fastest points, to reduced to hobbling.
I made it to .7 miles and I pulled out my phone to call my husband. Before he could even answer, the van happened to turn the corner and pass me. They hit the brakes and tumbled out of the van. “WHAT IS WRONG?” they said, with a mixture of concern and surprise. I looked at them and said, “I can’t run. I can’t run.” “Get in,” they said. And then they mobilized. My husband popped out of the van and said he’d take the next 2 miles. Off he went. My sister took the last two. I got in the van and tried to shove my anger down inside of me, as it would do not good now.
After my heroes finished up the leg, we had time off for food. We went to a breakfast joint in Kenosha, and while we waited on a table, I foam rolled in an empty lot next door. I still wanted to try to run my next leg. Since I was out of commission, I drove the van, too. We came up with a plan for me to try and take Tim’s shorter 6-mile leg and for him to take leg 36, which is 8 miles.
We got to exchange 30 and I went to medical for ice. I foam rolled some more. I tried to stretch. I already suspected that Trampoline Shoes were breaking up with me. Like, over text. So cruel, but I kept them on because the ASICS had been even more painful. I made it a mile into my third leg. It didn’t hurt until the mile mark, but it did hurt, and was getting worse. The van was waiting for me, and David was outside. I gave him the thumbs down, and he came over to take yet another set of miles for me. My sister traded off with him halfway through, and so we finished up my doomed set of Ragnar legs. We headed to the finish line, and I took my medal, even though it is still very hard for me to look at it–I don’t feel like I ran a Ragnar.
I haven’t run in Trampoline Shoes since. They seem unfazed by our sudden and tragic breakup, and by the pain they have caused me. Best I can tell, they caused me to rely on my ITBand more than I was ready for. And I’m still paying the price. It is extraordinarily frustrating. I wonder if I’d broken them in more slowly, would it have been better? Or would it have accumulated anyway? I also wonder, since I’m no longer running in those shoes, and have bettered my form, why does it still bother me? I know the MO of the ITBand is: once inflamed, it will stay inflamed for quite some time. While I no longer have active or acute pain, and I can run, I just know it’s not 100% better, either (it gets achy after I run).
So, here’s what I’ve done so far this summer, in no particular order: Cross training with the bike and rowing machine. Active Release Therapy and Fascial Distortion. Chiropractic. Rest. Massage. Form work. Ice. Compression. Some running.
Here’s the plan for now:
1. Do the PT exercises I have found everyday, not to ‘strengthen’ the IT Band, but to strengthen all the other muscles I need to be using in order to not rely on the IT Band.
2. Core work every day.
3. Foam rolling twice a day.
4. Upper body weights three times a week.
5. Swimming 4-5x a week starting next week when I can get back in the pool (I had an ingrown toenail removed last week so I’m forbidden to swim until next week. Yes, this is also a source of frustration.)
6. Sleeping in my compression pants.
7. Icing 3-4 times a day. I am taking another complete rest from running, biking, and rowing for at least two more weeks.
8. Staying far, far away from inflammatory foods. I already avoid wheat and dairy and most processed foods. But I have a sweet tooth and intend to limit, if not cut out, sugar entirely.
The plan above allows me to strengthen what is weak so I can rely much less on the ITBand when I do run, while still maintaining my cardio fitness level. My plan is to be able to complete my miles at Hood to Coast without worry. I think the plan above will allow me to do that. I modified my pace goal online so that I don’t have to worry about pushing the pace at the race. And even if painful, I will push through. Afterward, I am prepared to take another complete rest from running if necessary. I’m not going to push through any sort of training right now, though, and risk Hood to Coast. I’m going to show up happy, healthy(er), and, while possibly somewhat undertrained, ready to do my part to run the race and share the Nuun love.
As for Trampoline Shoes? They are in my closet, buried beneath a pile of other shoes that have not caused me nearly so much grief and pain. But I confess, I sometimes catch a glimpse of them, laying there benignly, looking so pretty with their wings on, and I think, “What if?” Deep down, I still love them. I still miss what we had together: speed. lightness. happiness. They were cruel in the end, but for a time, they were…perfection.