Ran and Failed

I ran my first trail race over the weekend.

I wasn’t particularly well prepared for the event to be honest. I was a ring-in. I happened to be at the right place, at the right time, seven weeks out from the race, when one of my classmate’s friends pulled out of their team.

I had toyed with the idea for a few months before I was invited to run. I had just started writing for an outdoor adventure travel magazine and we covered trail running extensively. I thought it was the right thing to do as the deputy editor for my magazine, to fully understand these events by way of submerging myself in them, and partly out of genuine excitement for them. But I had kept these thoughts largely to myself.

I was never a great long-distance runner growing up, I was more of a sprinter in my school days, and can still hold up my own pretty well in my 30’s. But trail running is something that I can imagine myself getting involved in. It provides that sense of adventure as well as a certain extreme element that feeds my male ego. In my mind, it is one step below fighting off a bear in the wilderness.

Preparation was somewhat limited, I got in two trail runs, and a bit of road running. Not that that is a real issue. I am a fairly fit guy and I knew I had the stamina for the race. What I wasn’t prepared for was my body’s own biomechanics.

The first 9 kilometres of the 30 kilometre race was a breeze. I was comfortably sweaty and even felt rather constrained by one of my teammate’s lack of pace. But then at the 9.9 kilometre mark I could feel that niggle. It started at the outside of my left knee. Slowly but surely the niggle got worse and by the 15th kilometre mark, I was no longer able to walk down hill. The pain was excruciating, as if the tendon – or whatever it was – was under immense pressure, to the point where it felt like it was almost going to snap.

This was not the first time I felt such pain. I knew what the problem was. My Vastus Medialis Oblique (VMO) had once again deactivated, this, together with too many squats in the gym resulting in a tight Iliotibial Band(ITB), meant that my body was pulling my knee cap outwards, so that it was no longer in line with my gait. Do this enough times, as you would going for a long hike or a trail run, and you develop swelling and inflammation, which tells your body that it needs to stop by way of pain.

As I approached the next checkpoint, I knew I had to make a call. I could either push-on, and try to make it up, and down, the next two peaks with the risk of causing more pain and injury. This would also mean that my teammates would need to slow down even more than they already had and wait for me. Or, I could swallow my pride and desire to finish, and call it quits.

I called it quits.

I felt the weight of disappointment from some of my teammates, but not from repugnance.
Trail runners
I rested for a little while consuming some much-needed calories and pondered what to do next. The thought crossed my mind to get up and keep going. To push through the pain and finish it solo. Finish slowly, but just finish it. Twenty minutes had passed when I decided to get up and walk a little further to reassess.

I couldn’t.

My body had cooled down sufficiently for me to really feel the full brunt of the inflammation. By now, I could not even walk down a single paved step without pangs of pain shooting up my leg. Though I did eventually – crab walking my way down towards the road where I caught a cab back to civilisation, determined to fix myself for next year.

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