Starting Over: Running Ultras Again

Starting Over: Running Ultras Again

On March 1st, I was cleared to run with full weight bearing status. My physical therapist cleared me to run for 40 minutes. I rode my ElliptiGo with my running partner, Jeff for almost 2 hours before we ran “my 40 minutes” to get a long day in the books. When it was time to run, we walked up the hill in my subdivision and stopped at the top. I stood in the street, petrified to take off. I hadn’t run for 18 months except for running 3 days per week on an Alter G treadmill in January and February. On the Alter G treadmill, I was hooked in and running aided, only running with a portion of my body weight. Now, I was cleared and physically ready. I had dropped as much weight over the last several months on the advice of my doctor to lose  (within reason) as much as possible. Every pound of body weight equates to 5-7 pounds of force on the knee joint. It had been 8 months since my last surgery. I had done EVERYTHING I was supposed to and NOTHING I wasn’t. My doctor told me I had a 60% chance to run like I once did prior to surgery. I had done everything to make my return as successful as possible. 

However, mentally a flood of thoughts and fears filled my mind. I was excited to get to run again, but stood in the street like a statue. It had been 18 months total since I ran. In that time, I saw 3 orthopedists, had 2 surgeries, and 18 months of rehab. I tried to stay positive, but many days my mind wandered to dark places wondering if I would ever run again. Here I stood with my Garmin green and ready. My running partner, Jeff was waiting patiently. Today was the day of reckoning. It was the day to answer all the questions that had been running around in my head for so long. Did my surgery work? Would running still be in my future? I wanted my legs to start churning, but my head was saying hold out a little longer. After what seemed like an eternity, I took the first step and hit start on my watch. My legs felt like lead. I tried to pick them up higher, but they were just soooo heavy. I wasn’t sure if it was because we ridden before running or if full weight bearing was JUST that hard. I sort of started off like an injured deer, favoring my surgical knee and loping along. I knew I needed to correct my gait, so I focused on symmetry. Man, this was hard. I knew I only had 40 minutes to run, so I pushed to take full advantage of the time. Eventually, my gait straightened out-ish. I decided not to look at my watch. The effort felt like 6 minute pace and I was worried I was running 11’s. I figured I’d be depressed at what the watch said, so I focused on arm swing with even trunk rotation, and listening to my foot strike for an even rhythm. When my watched beeped 4 miles, I told my running partner to tell me if we were at 40 minutes yet. He smiled and said no, and that I still had a way to go. I was happy I was under 10 minute pace, but was sooo ready to walk. OMG! This was hard. Why did I like doing this? Maybe I was over running. 4.9 miles later, Jeff told me to stop. 

I RAN AGAIN!!! 3/1/2020

My knee felt different when I ran, but not painful. It felt a little stiffer afterwards, but was normal the next day. On advice from my PT, I could run every other day and could progress within reason so long as any swelling or pain was gone within 24 hours. So, I progressed and ran every other day.  6 miles, 8 miles, 7.1 (2+local 5k race+2) miles, 10 miles, and then 12.

My next run was on 3/14/2020. I was registered for Antelope Canyon 50 miler in Page, AZ. I had originally registered in 2018 and deferred to run Jackpot 100 Road National Championship. I figured I’d just run it in 2019. But, in 2019, I couldn’t run because of my knee injury. I didn’t want to defer again in 2020, so I asked my PT permission to do it with the caveat that I would only try to run half of it and walk the rest. I would treat it as a fun day out and promised to drop if my knee hurt. Antelope Canyon 50 miler was a bucket list race and I wanted to see the course! The entire time I was in rehab, I used running races as a positive focus. My running partner, Jeff was coming back from a hamstring injury. Leading up to the race, we joked that we should have a betting pool with our friends, betting who would drop first and at what mile, but optimistically hoping we would finish and beat the cut-offs. 

I made a basic plan for us to alternate back and forth between running and walking.  I pulled some numbers out of the air, estimating run miles @ 11 minute pace and walking  miles @18 minute pace. I also planned extra time for photo ops at Upper Antelope Canyon, Waterholes Slot Canyon, and at Horseshoe Bend, as well as extra time at aid stations to get stuff from our drop bags. All this equated to ~13 hours. We had 15 hours to get it done. This was the first time I have ever looked at cut-offs seriously. We also loaded an app called Avenza Apps onto our phones so that spectators could see our GPS position for real time tracking. We wanted Mike and Michelle to be able to keep follow us, especially since neither of us was 100% sure we wouldn’t  have to drop. I denied having notifications and put my plane in airplane mode to save on the battery. 

A tone went off to signal the race start and my body reacted like old times. I instantly started running without hesitation for the first time, which made me smile. Maybe I should have been shooting a gun or something for the last 2 weeks so that I didn’t waste so much time standing around trying to get the courage up to “take-off” to start running. 

We had lined up about 15 rows of people back. That was a mistake. The course almost instantly goes to single track and we got stuck in a congo line. The course also goes up a short, steep rock in the first mile that people zigzag up and over. I had to briefly use my hands on it to climb up, which slowed things down as well. I was thankful Jeff brought a headlamp because it was dark. I thought the sun would be coming up enough, eliminating the need for one. I was wrong. As we approached mile 1, my phone startled me. We heard a women’s voice spewing running metrics out of my phone. We worked for the first 2 miles to get around people. Around that time, the course opened up to a double track section where we relaxed and got into a comfortable run pace. “You are at mile 2, 10:05 lap time, 23:47 total time, estimated finishing time: 9:54 minutes” my phone spewed. It was kind of annoying, but we liked the finishing time she was projecting early on. I tried to figure out how to turn it off when we got to the first aid station at 5.3 miles. Needless to say, I couldn’t figure out how to get her to stop talking without deleting the app. I kept it on so that Mike could track me. From then on, we just resigned to hearing from the  “Bitch in the Box”.

Around mile 4: Mini slot canyon 🙂
The climb up from the Mini Slot Canyon

We planned to run the first 7 miles to get a lead on the cut-offs. Then, we would walk for 4 miles and take pictures at Upper Antelope Canyon. After we left the aid station, we were in a wide canyon heading into a major headwind. We flipped our sunglasses down from our heads to keep the blowing sand out of our eyes. We had to come back through this section after our lollipop loop through and around Upper Antelope Canyon. We ran for about a mile in the headwind and I told Jeff, if we were going to work into the wind, I don’t want to waste walking this section back with the tailwind. He agreed. From that point, my basic plan of run/walk at certain miles went out the window. We decided to run/walk based on terrain, wind, fatigue, whatever. We were now just going with the flow. The basic plan still helped to give us an idea where we were based on our 13 hour estimated finishing time. We headed into Upper Antelope Canyon and stopped and took all the pictures we wanted. It was beautiful, but much a shorter length slot canyon than I had imagined. We smiled and posed together at one end of the slot. 

Jeff entering into Antelope Canyon-my favorite picture of the day
Upper Antelope Canyon
We got to see a couple light beams even though it wasn’t the ideal time of day to see them.
Exiting Antelope Canyon…sooooooo HAPPY

As we left and started running, it hit me. I wasn’t “racing” it, but I was DOING IT! Pure joy to be out running in world again. We started hiking up a climb up and around Upper Antelope. The Bitch in the Box started spewing again but it was different this time. As we ran past pink ribbons tied onto plants, she said, “Warning, you may be off course”. We laughed. It reminded me a little of “Danger, WIll Robinson, Danger”. She warned us again that we “might” be off course, then seconds later gave us our running metrics for the next mile marker. She would warn us two other locations that day despite obviously being on course, but the funniest thing she said was yet to come. 

Climbing down a ladder I almost fell off: tiny steps and size 12 shoes don’t mix 🙂

We ran back to aid station 1 (mile 11) and did some hiking on the ups. The sun was bright and despite being really windy, it was a perfect day to run. Every couple of miles, the scenery would change and we kept remarking how pretty it was. This race was the most beautiful I have ever had the chance to run. I was thankful that I didn’t have the ability to race it and could soak it all in. We got about 15 miles in, and Jeff’s hamstring was really hurting. I had some Tiger Balm packets that Vacation Races gave at packet pick-up. We stopped so he could stretch and put some Tiger Balm on his leg. My knee was just starting to bark at 2-3/10 on the pain scale, so I rubbed what was left of the Tiger Balm on my knee. I had read on the package that it worked on joints, but I was doubtful it would help me. Whether placebo or not, it felt better fairly quickly after I applied it. I used it more two more times during the day and at the finish. I am now a believer. I ordered some from Amazon when I got back home. 

All was going well, and we were ahead of schedule by about 30-40 minutes when we got to Horseshoe Bend Aid Station ~20 miles into the race. Mike and Michelle where there and helped us get our nutrition out of our drop bags. Mike asked about my knee. I told him that my knee was hurting a tiny bit, but was solid, but I was worried Jeff wouldn’t make it. He had been favoring his hamstring for the last 5 miles. We left the aid station and headed to the view point of Horseshoe Bend. It looked even cooler than all the pictures I had seen. There was a gorgeous view of Horseshoe Bend, but if you have “heights” issues, you needed to put on your big girl panties. There was one spot on the course where you had to step around a fence very near the edge (see picture).

Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend: Fun Day Adventure
The green on the left side is the fence (you had to walk between the fence and the edge to get around). I was nervous for the 100 milers coming back through this in the dark.

We were glad we were ahead of schedule, because we spent at least 15 minutes taking pictures in that area. When we finally headed out, planning to run, we changed our minds. The area from the view point to Waterholes slot canyon was more difficult than the rest of the course. It was an area with a lot of slick rock and uneven areas of climbing up and down small boulders. I didn’t feel secure running much of it because of my knee, so we hiked ~75% of the next 4 miles. Many people had told me before the race that all the sand made the course difficult, but the sand was never very deep or much of an issue for me. 

Slick Rock
More Slick Rock climbing

We got to Waterholes and started snapping pictures like crazy again. Waterholes isn’t as narrow or as well known as Upper Antelope, but is super cool and significantly longer. We were on an adventure run afterall, so we took pictures and didn’t worry about the time. 

Waterholes Slot Canyon
One of several ladders in Waterholes Slot Canyon

Once we left Waterholes, we decided to run again on a rolling sandy double track section. We passed a lot of people who had overtaken us while taking pictures. We were 30 miles in and still going strong. I was surprised when my Garmin beeped mile splits showing us that we had run a couple of miles in the 9’s. I said I couldn’t believe I was still running, let alone at that pace this far into the race. Now, the Bitch in the Box didn’t show us the same love our Garmins had. I don’t know what happened, but she thought we were almost a mile behind our Garmins. She wasn’t in sync with our watches all day, but it was getting progressively worse.

We were almost to mile 32 according to our watches and the Bitch in the Box said we were at mile 31. She had lost her funny and was definitely annoying once again. Oh well, I couldn’t turn her off, so we kept running. Less than 5 minutes after she announced mile 31, she spewed again saying we were at mile 32 “with a lap split of 4:27”!! OMG! We laughed soooo hard. She said we ran a 4.5 minute mile! We had just been so proud of our 2 miles at 9 minute pace, but now…Hell yeah! We just ran the fastest mile of our lives! LOL! WAYYYY TOOO FUNNY! She was back on our good side! 

We walked and ran a long, straight, sandy section for 2-3 miles along a fence line,  passing lots of people along the way. There were a lot of runners in this stretch encompassing at least 3 race distances. We knew at this point we were going to make it to the finish. We had 15 miles to go, of which was a ~10 mile loop along the Page Rim Trail, which was supposed to be an easy section. By mile 40, we just wanted to get it done. We were both tired and ran with bouts of walking mixed in. Jeff tripped and fell 2-3 times in the last 10 miles which was usually my job. I had only tripped and half-fallen earlier in the day landing on my hands with my body arching over a cactus-type plant. We were definitely reaching past our fitness levels, but WE WERE NOT STOPPING!

Mike got a picture of us coming into the last aid station

We ran and walked, meeting Mike and Michelle one more time at the last aid station before the finish. Plus, we weren’t going to need our headlamps. We were ahead of schedule 🙂  We ran together to the finish. We had both overcome obstacles. I held back tears, not because I had run a HUGE PW (personal worst) and decreased my Ultrasignup ranking (I don’t care), but because I knew that I AM NOT DONE!! I have more ultras and RUNNING IN MY FUTURE. I felt like the Grinch whose heart was so full, it rose out of his chest. PURE JOY! 

Finishing the 50 miler 🙂
Vacation Races have cool medals or cool pottery mugs…it was hard to choose!

I wanted to write this after the race, but this was pretty much the last weekend before shit hit the fan with COVID-19 in the US. I wanted to share my experience, but was afraid people would judge me for running that weekend. I wanted to let people know how excited I am to be back to running, but was worried to put something out there when all of the world had other things on their mind. It seemed petty to write about it at the time.

Since that time, like most of you, I had races canceled. My husband didn’t fully understand why I took it so hard when 2nd race (last one I had registered for) got canceled. I was a little depressed. It may sound silly to some, because my life is good and I am thankful for it. I am in a good spot with life, work, running, etc. So, what was the big deal? I had spent 18 months DILIGENTLY doing my exercises EVERY DAY, logging my food in Myfitnesspal App EVERY DAY, exercising EVERY DAY to keep my weight in check…the whole time slogging through the suck with the sole focus that MAYBE I could run races. It helped me to get through a hard time by focusing on something good/hopeful/positive in the future and having a goal. Having races to plan for keep me disciplined and dedicated. Then COVID happened. I finally got my knee back and now this? I wanted to race! I have goals and dreams! I have been so patient! UGGGHHH. 

I decided to try and find a race that was going to ACTUALLY going to occur. Bryce Canyon 100 miler was going to happen on 5/30/20! So, less than 2 weeks before race day, I was scrambling for a bib. Within 2 days, I was able to get a bib! Thankfully, I had taken a down week and was able to keep the taper going. Mike was able to arrange his work so he could come with me!! So, I am headed out this weekend to see if my knee can do 100 miles. I think it can! I have to say I am uber nervous though. I have only been running for 2 months (mostly 3 or 4 days per week), and signed up for a 100 miler with 7000’-9500’ elevation, and 14,500k of climbing and descent. I have been running gently rolling roads (no trails) at 500’ elevation in Indiana. So, it’s time for another adventure run with a little more focus!

The only reason I think my fitness is even allowing me to consider this is thanks to the ElliptiGO! It is a blast to ride, has allowed me to be outside instead of in the gym, and is thee best workout I have experienced while rehabbing. I had tried just about everything else: biking, swimming, elliptical, treadmills, etc, but nothing gave me the cardiovascular equivalent of running like the ElliptiGO. I felt really down at the end of October/early November and I think getting out on the ElliptiGO helped me not only to get fit, but improved my mental health. I scared but excited to take on my first 100 miler since my surgery. It wouldn’t have been possible if not for some AWESOME people. I am incredibly thankful for those who’ve helped me along the way. Here are the major shout-outs! 

Riding my ElliptiGO 8C
  1. My husband Mike. I had 4 surgeries in a calendar year between 2018 & 2019 and couldn’t run for 18 months. He moved a mattress into the living room (he doesn’t like clutter) which took up the whole room while I spent 6 hours/day for 6 weeks straight in the CPM. He took care of me through it all! He loves me and supports me no matter what. 
  2. Dr. Cole and an anonymous donor graft. I had seen 2 doctors prior to Dr. Cole who were ready to give me a partial total knee. I still had running dreams that a partial total knee wouldn’t allow me to do. I am so thankful for finding him and his capable hands. Plus, it wouldn’t be possible it someone’s family hadn’t donated a lateral femoral condyle to me to be used on my left knee. 
  3. Callie, my PT. She researched like crazy all the protocols regarding my surgical procedures, as there aren’t many OCA surgeries being done where I live. She helped me through week by week for 8 months after surgery and the preceding 9 months of rehab and previous meniscal surgery by a local doctor. She went above and beyond.
  4. Friends & Family: My Mom helped me search for a doctor when I was looking for one more opinion and found Dr. Cole. She talked and listened to me every week which helped my sanity. Friends Jeff & Suzy for doing stupid workouts at the gym with me even though they could have been doing something more fun. Plus, they listened to me talk when I needed to vent or was sad. THANK YOU PAM SMITH for being so understanding when I was depressed in France after the 24-Hour. I should have been celebrating your PR better, but was in such a bad place at that time. I cannot say enough how much you listening to me, and supporting me then and through all this has meant. I owe you! Kudos to Nikki Kimball who reached out to me and was supportive even though we’ve never met-she suggested the ElliptiGO which saved me mentally. Kudos to Mark Godale who told me about the Alter-G!
  5. My Sponsors: Altra Running was extremely supportive even though I wasn’t running. Dry-Max, Squirrel Nut Butter, Nathan Sports, Running Skirts, Epsom-It have been there despite my extended injury! 

WARNING GEEKY REHAB INFORMATION

Just in case you are curious what I did to build back to full weight bearing running:

  • I did whatever exercises my PT told me to (EVERY DAY) do & progressed appropriately.
  • I either worked out in the gym or ElliptiGO’d every day during rehab. I rode the following mileage on the ElliptiGO while rehabbing:

    November 2019-63 miles (cleared to start late in the month)
    December 2019-231 miles
    January 2020-308 miles
    February 2020- 211 miles
    March 2020-203 miles
    April 2020-234 miles
    May 2020-84 miles
  • 6 months out (January and February, 2020) I ran on the Alter-G (anti-gravity treadmill) for 2 months.

    Week 1-30% weight 20, 30, 35 minutes
    Week 2-33% weight: 40, 50, 60 minutes
    Week 3-37% weight: 40, 50, 60 minutes
    Week 4-42% weight: 40, 50, 60 minutes
    Week 5-46% weight: 40, 50, 60 minutes
    Week 6-off in Bahamas
    Week 7-52% weight: 40, 45, 60 (54%) minutes
    Week 8-Weight: 45 (60%), 60 (64%), 60 (68%) minutes
    Week 9-33% weight: 55 (72/74%), 60(78/80), 60 (85/90%) minutes
  • Running Again   : Starting March 1st, I got to start running with full weight (every other day). Below is a picture my schedule.  An “E” denotes ElliptiGO mileage which I have calculated as comparable to 1/2 my running mileage. I generally ride ~13 miles/hour (heavily wind and course dependent) and have generally been running ~7 miles/hour. I wanted to figure out a way to come up with a training plan, but needed to look at it in reference to what I used to do, so I came up with that. I used to run 75-80 miles per week leading up to a 100 miler. Originally my plan was for a 100 miler at the end of June, so I didn’t get as many long build-ups, but it is what it is. The earlier big mileage week was before I came up with my ElliptiGO system and was waayyyy to big a jump, so I backed back off and ramped back up. It’s all a new puzzle of learning to train. I gradually started adding a back to back run day and have now run 5 days/week 2 or 3 weeks. I will continue to use the ElliptiGO going forward as active recovery and when I want to do a “long/long” on the weekend, but don’t want to push my knee to do both days just yet. 
My ElliptiGO/Running Schedule since coming back

Holy crap! I guess I should blog more often…7 pages later most of you have probably had a nice bedtime story…LOL Thanks for reading! I’ll let you know how Bryce Canyon 100 goes 🙂