First of all, the course was changed from Afton State Park to nearby Afton Alps Ski area, since the State Park was closed due to the MN state budget fiasco. I was feeling absolutely fantastic the morning of the race and was ready to go. I’d really like to say THANK YOU to John Storkamp and the entire staff of Afton Trail Run to make this event happen.
We received our pre-race instructions, and John advised us to “go out slow”. This is opposite to his normal advice of “Go as fast as you can, for as long as you can”. I would heed his advice and sit back on this one. He started us off with a sneak attack “Go” and we were running. Most of the first mile was easy and there were some areas that opened up so that the pack could sort out. We went down a service road, through some good water puddles and mud beyond the Meadows Chalet. Then there was a bit of single track trail to the left of the service road. I visited a bit with Eve Rembleski, who I knew would run well and I planned to keep running in her vicinity today. We got all the way around to the southeast part of the property (I believe it is called the Southern Switchbacks) and we had our first major switchback in the open ski runs. I could see the leaders and was able to count the runners. I was in 13th place with Eve right behind me. I thought a little about not being superstitious, but just to be safe maybe I should slow down on the next uphill and have her pass me.
I had just crossed an open ski slope and there was a slight uphill with a light pole just where the trees started again. The light pole had a switch box and junction box near the bottom of it. As I planted my right leg near the pole, I felt a very intense shock that came from the left and jolted me in the meat of my calf muscle. My calf muscle cramped up into the most intense cramp I have ever felt. I took one step off the trail. Eve asked what happened and all I could say was “I got zapped”. I tried stretching it out but the cramping would not let up. I just stood by the side of the trail, cursed a bit a watched the entire field go running past me. Runners kindly asked me if I was OK. I really didn’t know what to say. I started walking slowly downhill to get to the service road. Walking was extremely difficult and slow. I discovered that if I used just the forefoot of that leg and kept the knee bent, it didn’t hurt as much. But I was not able to let my heel touch the ground. I experimented a little more and found out that slow running hurt less than walking on it. After a total of 15 minutes of going nowhere, I decided to go back to where I left the trail and continue on with the first lap. I ran nice and easy and caught up with my sister JojaJogger. I visited with her a little bit and continued on. I was holding out hope that the cramp would subside a little more, and maybe I could start running a little faster. It did seem to let up a little bit, but the full flexibility never did come back. It hurt too much to let my right heel drop to the ground. With this altered running stride, I knew that I would end up injuring something else if I would attempt to finish the entire 50K.
I was now committed to finishing the first 12.5K loop. I kept running easy and passed a lot of people. There was one time where my leg cramped up intensely again and I had to stop. I tried to stretch it out and about 8 people passed me again. I kind of felt like a fool, as I was wearing my Arizona Road Racers pace team singlet that day. It says “PACER” in big red letters on the back. Some kind of pacer – towards the front, all the way to last, then passing people, stopping, going again…. What an idiot!
Got towards the end of the first loop and caught up with Mary. She was doing OK, but was not enjoying the run at all. I told her she was doing fantastic, especially on the downhill sections! We came down to the bottom of the ski slope and were treated to another climb up. This hill has a really steep section that was the toughest of the loop. My calf muscle hurt a lot on this climb. It loosened up a little bit on the slalom drop down to the start/finish area. I finished the first loop in 1:33 and turned in my ankle bracelet. A little bit later, Mary came in and told me she was done also.
I talked to John and Shari Storkamp after I came in and they became quite concerned about what happened to me. I explained the shock I felt and where it happened. They had me ride out with an Afton Alps maintenance worker and we taped/rerouted the path by that light pole. John also saw to it that Daryl and Lynn Saari took a look at my leg and checked me out. RICE was their recommendation.
***10 days post-injury update***
I did go to the doctor, and he is convinced that the “zap” I felt was either my plantaris tendon rupturing, or it was the quick tear of my gastrocnemius muscle. Or maybe even both. Being in the vicinity of that light pole was merely coincidence. Now, I feel like a fool for thinking I felt a strong electrical shock, but that is really what it felt like and where it happened. Today my gastrocnemius is extremely sore and still cannot run (or even walk very well). I will continue to rest, ice, compress, elevate and gently stretch the muscle so that it heals properly. The continued pain tells me that it was a gastrocnemius tear. It makes sense that I was able to run up on my forefoot with my knee bent, as the soleus muscle controls plantar dorsiflexion with the knee bent. The gastrocnemius controls plantar dorsiflexion when the knee is straight (like lifting the toes up on the trailing foot when walking). Right now I’m down…. But not out!!
Lessons from Year 40 of Running
3 weeks ago