OK fine, Jason and I got married, but that’s not triathlon related.
Anyway, triathlon season isn’t quite here yet in the mid-Atlantic, so there hasn’t been much to write about.
Until Sunday, when I posted my first ever Did-Not-Finish at the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach.
Obviously it wasn’t without cause.
I’d noticed some very minor ankle soreness earlier in the week, yet felt nothing while running, so I thought perhaps I had some soft tissue stiffness, and addressed it with a lacrosse ball, some heat, and even a massage appointment. It felt best right after an hour or so of biking, which comported with my suspicion of stiff muscles and tendons, so we set off for Virginia Beach midday Saturday, where I hit the ankle with alternating heat and ice and hoped for the best. A pain level of 2-3 out of 10 was something I could handle; a pain level of 7-8 meant I had to stop because I was probably doing permanent damage – whether it was a stress fracture or a torn muscle, localized pain at that level is not OK.
I woke up Sunday morning with no pain in my ankle, did the normal pre-race routine, and checked out the weather forecast, which called for temps in the low 40s, drenching rain, and 20+mph headwinds for the first half. I stayed inside as long as possible, and then went out for a short warm up jog before lining up for the start.
It’s notable that I felt absolutely no pain in the ankle during my warm up jog, though, this might just be because the cold rain was numbing it. With that done, I waited for the start with other soaking wet, cold runners, and took off at the start.
The first half of the course was into a nearly relentless 20mph headwind, and despite that, I was holding PR pace without straining at all. The pain in my ankle crept up to a 2 or 3 by the time I got to mile 3, but that’s not really anything to be concerned about. Random pains come and go while racing, being able to tolerate them is part of the game.
We turned onto a substantially cambered road during mile 4, and while my pace got better, the pain did not. The pain was increasing and decreasing in waves, and I considered stopping several times – but of course, every time I had the thought, the pain would subside.
Mile 5 brought some steady pain, as did Mile 6. I stopped right after Mile 6 and told a course marshal I thought I might have a broken leg, he asked if I wanted medical attention and if I understood that meant my race would be over. The 90 second stop killed off the pain, so, in a moment of stupidity, I decided to try running again.
Just half a mile later, I knew something was very wrong, stopped my watch, and started walking to the next course marshal.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t as hard for me to call in my first DNF as I thought it would be. Maybe it’s because this wasn’t a big goal race for me, maybe it’s because I knew in advance this was a very real possibility. Either way, there weren’t any tears or anger, just annoyance that I had to drop out before I got the advantage of a tailwind.
Luckily, the course marshal I flagged down had a car, and he kindly turned on the heat for me while I waited ALMOST AN HOUR to be picked up by a race vehicle. Had I been stuck out on the road without a car to shelter in, in cold rain and wind, I’m not sure what I’d have done (besides possibly make myself severely hypothermic). Once the car arrived (along with 3 other DNF’ers), it navigated through the race, dropped us off at medical, where I was evaluated in 5 minutes and told “Yup, something in here is broken.” I was then told I could go to the hospital or walk myself half a mile back to my hotel, in a jury-rigged splint that was cutting the skin on the back of my heel, and “no, we can’t call your husband, even though he raced and has his phone on him and we have his phone number in our database, so, you have to walk by yourself.”
(In case it isn’t obvious, I’m not exactly impressed with race’s preparation to support medical situations.)
I had a few doubts about dropping out immediately after jumping into the car. Then I tried to flex my foot and it hurt like crazy, so it was definitely the right decision. I was able to see a doctor about the situation the next day, and they confirmed that this was most likely an early stage fibular stress fracture that I could have turned into a full break had I tried to finish the race.
That’s something I’m willing to break my no-DNF record for.