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First (and Last) Trail Race

Last weekend, I did my first – and last – trail race.

This is my friend Kolby doing the same race I didn't finish. - still smiling at Mile 11.

This is my friend Kolby doing the same race I didn’t finish – still smiling at Mile 11.

To date, I’ve completed five half marathons (road races), and I was looking for something different to change it up a bit. Plus, one of my personal goals is to get more dirty, so the idea of running along dirt trails and through streams seemed like something I’d enjoy. Years ago, I did the Phoenix Summit Challenge – seven mountains in one day – so I have some experience doing speed work on trails. I figured this would be more of the same, just a little bit faster.

I was wrong.

I signed up for the Xterra Black Canyon trail race – a half marathon just north of Phoenix. The finish line is right next to the Rock Springs Café, one of the most popular pie shops in Arizona. We parked at the finish line and buses drove us into the desert to the starting line. I was excited to tackle this new challenge, but that excitement vanished in the first mile when I rolled my ankle.

I knew it the moment it happened. There weren’t any pops or snaps; I felt the ligaments in my right ankle stretch like a rubber band pulled to its limits. I kept running, hoping the pain would dissipate in a few minutes. That hope turned into anger with every step as the pain persisted. There were only four aid stations in this race. Thankfully the first one was at Mile 2. As I rested for a few minutes, I told the volunteer I was injured. He told me they could get me out and that there was another jeep at the next aid station.

I didn’t want to end my race at Mile 2. I got up before dawn and drove an hour to do a trail race, damn it!

Knowing that the next aid station was only 2 miles away, I pushed on – sometimes walking, sometimes jogging. I was so pissed – angry that I wouldn’t be able to finish the race and angry that I was injured. I warned the runners around me, “I’m going to scream. I promise it’s not about you.” And I proceeded to scream and curse for the next 2 miles whenever my frustration bubbled over.

My ankle hurt with each step. Despite the pain, I considered finishing the race. Then, I remembered something Rocky told me years ago. He reminded me not to kill myself while I was training when the goal was a bigger event. This was supposed to be a fun race, and I had other things on the horizon where I needed my foot to work. So, at the next aid station, I dropped out of the race and hitched a ride back to the finish line with the volunteers. By the way, riding on a bumpy road with a swollen ankle is not fun either.

I have no intention of doing another trail race. It’s too bad I don’t like trail races – everyone I know who does them, loves them. I’ll stick to running on the road and hiking in the mountains – once my ankle heals.

It’s been a week since the injury, and I can walk again, but my ankle still hurts. I hope I’ll be pain-free and running again in another week.

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