After a few rounds of, “Where should we run on Saturday?” “I dunno,” our long run last weekend brought us back to Elk Meadow Park – and Too Long Trail – where my poor little knee met its 10-day demise. I had a feeling we might end up back there; so I was sure to get to bed earlier the night or two before and to mentally prepare to be ready for it in case we did.
And we did. I felt focused and just a touch apprehensive on the drive. Once we reached the parking lot, though, I was determined to feel better once I reached the parking lot at the end of the run than I did when I reached the parking lot three weeks before. Here goes. . .
I started out strong, felt good. So far, so good. Just watch your step! To my surprise, I continued to feel strong two miles up the road. I knew the steepest mile was the third, though. The hardest part was yet to come.
And then, out of nowhere, I stubbed a toe and lost my balance for a second. I caught it in time to land safely on both feet, but it caught me off guard. I took a minute to catch my breath, let the momentary shock subside, and refuel with water and a salt tablet. The trail gods were there. They wanted me to know that they were watching.
The rest of the way up went very well! It may have been the strongest I’ve felt of all of the times I’ve run up Bergen Peak Trail. I had much more energy than that last time I reached the peak three weeks earlier. Score: Melissa, 1; Elk Meadow Park, 0.
Once I reach the top of the steepest section of a trail run, I typically think, “Hard part’s over. Going down is the real fun!” On this day, though, burning legs, gasping for air, and talking yourself into climbing continuously without walking or stopping were only a warm up, only the beginning.
The real test of this day would be on the way down Too Long Trail: Reaching Meadow View Trail and finishing the entire run fall free.
On the way down, I kept thinking back to the day I fell and how I could avoid a repeat performance. And then, I started looking for the spot where I fell – in part because I wanted to know that I passed it without a fall to make up for it, in part because I was a little scared of falling again.
Was that it? I think so. No, maybe not. The switchback sent me the opposite direction, and I was able to relax until the next. Once I got there, though, I was constantly scanning the trail, trying to remember what the trail was like at the spot where I fell so that I could approach it cautiously. OK, I think that was definitely it. Or was it? Maybe not. Guessing and second guessing was getting me more and more anxious.
My speed workout two days before proved me pretty much right where I was at this point in the same marathon training plan last year, and I was happy with my Pikes Peak Ascent time. I made it through a knee injury and was still on track for a strong race. The thought of another fall, of not running for another week and a half, maybe longer, made me incredibly anxious.
Were that to happen, I may as well kiss my time goal for the marathon goodbye.
Careful, careful. Watch your step. You’re OK, you’ve got this. And, I did. Until I stubbed my left toe this time and headed downward. I caught myself, landed mostly on the heels of both hands. I tripped, yes, but didn’t fall like last time.
Woah, that was close. And, it was. Closer than I realized at first. I turned my hands up to inspect their heels – just a bit of stubble, mostly dirt. I looked down at my legs. Left knee was dusty with trail. Right knee. . .bore a new gash of torn skin, the beginning of a dark red pool of blood slowly surfacing mixed with dirty trail.
Same trail, same exact spot on the same knee, injured again exactly three weeks later.
How could this possibly happen AGAIN?! Last time, the trail gods shoved a rock up through the ground like a game of ‘Whac-A-Mole.’ This time, I saw the rock that caught my toe.
I stood for a second and assessed the situation. It didn’t hurt nearly as bad as my first fall – This was nothing to make me stop so far. I took off my hydration pack, unzipped the pocket in the back, and pulled a baby wipe out of a sandwich bag to dab my knee. It looked pretty gross but didn’t feel all that bad; so I did the only thing I knew to do. I kept running.
If it starts to hurt, I’ll walk. I don’t want to run on it any more and make it worse if it’s hurt again. And, as I had hoped, it didn’t. OK, keep going. Only four more miles to go for today. With the exception of stopping about three or four times to dab my knee with the baby wipe – the first of these including the chunk of skin that used to be part of my knee, gross, I know - I didn’t need to stop for the remainder of the run.
Despite feeling better running after this fall than the last, my knee felt stiff again back at the car just as it did the first time. Dakin only shook his head. JD confirmed what I already knew: “Oh yeah, that’ll scar.”
My agenda for the rest of the day? Rewritten: Got home ASAP; scrubbed my knee with soap and water; prayed that the hydrogen peroxide didn’t burn as badly as I anticipated it would – it didn’t - doused the wound in Neosporin and covered it with not one, but two Bandaids – one wasn’t enough to completely cover it – then prayed even harder that my training wouldn’t be interrupted for another ten days. . .or longer. . .
Tally for the training season: Elk Meadow Park, 3; Melissa, 1. I’ve got a score to settle, no doubt. Maybe I’ll wait to do that until after the race, though.
Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.