Sunday, November 1, 2009

Surf the Murph 25K - 10/31/09

Hi. My name is Tiger, but you can call me Stupid. It was stupid of me to even try to run a marathon on trails with a 2 week old sprained ankle. Not only am I stupid, but I'm also stubborn and impatient - not a good combination to have.

The week following the spraining of my ankle, I walked with the air cast for a couple of days, followed by wrapping the ankle with the Ace bandage for the next couple of days. Every day after I arrived home from work, the ankle was elevated and iced. I never used the crutches. The swelling went down after about a week, and with the swelling gone, the pain decreased.

I was having cabin fever, trying to sit most of the day and limiting the amount of time on the ankle. So on Friday night, I went out dancing with some friends. Apparently twisting and turning on the dance floor aggravates a sprained ankle. Who'd've thunk it, lol? So on Saturday morning, of course, the swelling and pain were back. On Saturday afternoon, I did some shopping, and on Sunday, I just sat, switching from the computer to watching football on television. The ankle was elevated and iced most of the day.

With the ankle feeling much better and based on the fact that I could now see the veins in my foot again, I decided to try a little bit of walking. On Tuesday of this week, I walked to work, a mere 4.91 miles, according to Mapquest. The last mile was the most difficult. The ankle screamed in protest. I now had my limit, but I was going to push it any way. At work, I kicked off the shoes and elevated the ankle, while I diligently went about job. It's a good thing that I work in an office (for the most part) in which I'm forced to sit all day in front of my computer.

On Tuesday night, I walked the same 4.91 miles back home, elevating and icing the ankle afterwards. Wednesday and Thursday went similarly. On Friday morning, I decided that I would keep my plane reservation and go to the Surf the Murph Marathon in Savage, MN. My flight wasn't until 7:00 p.m., so I put in a full day of work. Since I needed the car to get to the airport, I drove and only walked the mile to the office from our employee parking lot and then back again after work.

I arrived in Minneapolis about midnight, picked up my rental car, and drove the short 20 minutes to Savage. It was cold and raining, which later turned into a few snowflakes as I drove. The trails would be nasty. How would the ankle handle slipping and sliding in the mud?

Early Saturday morning, I drove to the race site to pick up my packet. The race offered four distances - 25K, marathon, 50K, and 50 Miles. The 50 milers took off an hour early. On one hand, I envied them. I would have loved to do the 50 mile (or 50K), but I could not make the cut-off for either race. The marathon (and 50K) had a 9 hour cut-off. I felt that I had a better chance of finishing the marathon than the 50K in that amount of time, so that's what I registered for. On the other hand, I was glad that I didn't have to put that many miles on the ankle. It was a blessing in disguise.

Other than the walking, I had not run since the Race for the Komen 5K 2 weeks ago. But with a 9 hour cut-off, I was sure that I could walk the entire marathon. I put the air cast on, but it did not fit comfortably in my trail shoe. I then tried wrapping it with the ace bandage, but the shoe then felt too tight. Bump it! I would just let it go as it is. I wasn't planning on running any way.

While waiting inside the little building designated for packet pick-up, Jeff (CA) found me. We had been corresponding by e-mail for about a month, having been introduced by a mutual running buddy, Diane (TN). This is the first time we've seen each other in person. Jeff is trying to run an ultramarathon in each state, so he was running the 50K today. I had an ultramarathon (Trail Mix 50K) already for MN, but I needed another MN marathon (along with VT, ND, NM, and MT) to finish my 2nd time around the states with marathons. I have 18 states to grab for a completion of the states with ultramarathons, and I think Jeff told me that he is about half-way through the states with his quest. He even has someone organizing an ultra in ND, which presently has no ultras. I asked him to keep me informed, because I need that state as well.

It was still dark when the 25Kers, 50Kers, and marathoners lined up at the start. The rental car's thermometer read 35 degrees, but at least the rain/snow had stopped. The wind was howling and with the excitement of the field, I could not hear the instructions from the race director. For the marathon, there was a 1.2 mile out-n-back, a 15.5 mile loop, and a 9.5 mile loop. Hopefully, the ankle would hold up, and I would be able to keep up with at least one other marathoner to finish the course. I had missed the Columbus Marathon and the White Tail Trail Marathon in Ohio over the last two weekends because of the ankle, so I was very ready to get back out there and do what I love to do.

Even in the dark, I could see the orange flags on the wires stuck into the ground on the left side of the trail every few feet. This course was marked extremely well. Even when the course merged with other trails, the flags reinforced which way to go. You did not have to stop and think about it. I was impressed.

After a while, I noticed that runners were coming back towards me. Not knowing what the course was like for the 50 milers, I assumed that those runners were in the 50 mile race. Pay attention. I will come back to this point later.

It did not take long before I was all alone. The trail was beautiful. It was on wide ski trails that went straight up and then straight back down - over and over again. The surface had very few rocks and roots with lots of grass. On such a smooth surface, I decided to run a little. I found out that it didn't hurt any worse than walking so I continued to run the relatively few flat sections and to walk up and down the hills. Going up was faster and felt much better than going down the hills. I had to put too much weight on the ankle to navigate down hill, and it would later take it's toll.

At some point, the trail became less grassy and a little muddy. Fallen leaves from the trees hid rocks and roots, and I stepped on one of them and twisted the injured ankle. Darn it! Another runner saw me stumble and asked if I needed to go back. I assured him that I would be okay and continued on. He was out of sight in no time. I thought that I was the last one, but several more runners came by me. For the second time, reader, pay attention. I will also come back to this point later.

After the ski trail, we entered into open meadows. The sun was peeking through the clouds but never made a full appearance. Without the trees blocking the wind, the open meadows were cold. I was glad that I had worn my knit cap and gloves. Although the faster runners had on shorts and technical short- or long-sleeved shirts, I had on tights and a jacket, in addition to my long-sleeved technical shirt. The open meadows had a little more mud, but it was still not too bad. We continued to go up and down, up and down, and up and down, lol. We seemed to be circling what I assumed to be Murphy Lake. I love courses that have a view of a body of water. I knew it was there, even when I had to look down at the trail for possible tripping obstacles. I was enjoying this course!

After the open meadows section, we ran on a short, single track trail to a horse trail, where you could not distinguish the mud from the horse poop. This section was flatter than the ski trail and meadow section, so I ran a little more. However, it had a lot more roots, rocks, and thick, long sections of mud, so what I was doing would probably not be classified as running. At this point, those runners in the longer distances were beginning to lap me. And I was beginning to hobble without really realizing it. Several runners stopped and asked if I was okay, even though they could visually tell that I wasn't.

After the horse trail, we were back to open meadows, another short, overgrown single track section, and then more ski trails. I really loved the width of the ski trail, and all of the grass made the trail very soft. I wished that I could have taken advantage of the smooth trails. The marathoners were flying by me on their way to finishing. They assumed that I was finishing too, but I had not even finished the 15.5 mile loop. I started watching my watch. I wanted to do the first half in 4.5 hours, but I was not going to make it.

To make matters worse, I was not having fun any more. I've always said that I would stop running when it was no longer fun. The ankle (among other things) was hurting, and all I could think of was the pain. I took two Advils, but they did nothing. I continued to walk and think about what to do. I had to be getting close to the finish of the loop. I would not make the 9 hour cut-off to finish the marathon, but a little piece of me wanted to ask the race director if I could continue on, since some of the 50 milers would still be on the course for several more hours. Maybe I could finish in 10 or 11 hours. I had slowed down that much. Granted, if I stayed to finish the course, I would miss my plane. An 8 hour finish would have gotten me to the airport in plenty of time. A 9 hour finish would have been pushing it, but it was still doable. A 10 hour finish would find me begging the ticket agent to find me another flight without charging me the $100 change fee. I had already DNF'd a MN marathon (Lake Wobegon) earlier this year, and I was on the verge of DNFing this MN marathon. What do I do?

Almost 6 hours after I started the race, I finished the 15.5 mile loop. A race volunteer told me to keep going because there really wasn't a cut-off, except for the 50 milers, which was 14 hours. He told me that I had until 8:00 p.m. and that I could walk the 9.5 mile loop in that amount of time. I was in pain and completely out of it, but I knew that I had only done one of the 3 loops that was required for the marathon. Another volunteer that was listening to our conversation chimed in and asked if I did the 1.2 mile out-n-back at the start of the race. No, I had not. He insisted that there was a turn-around sign when we first started, but I never saw it. The first volunteer asked if I had listened to the race director "yelling" at the beginning of the race for the marathoners to do the 1.2 mile out-n-back first. He looked angry, but I was too dejected to care. No, I told him. With the wind, the other runners talking around me, and being in the back of the pack, I could not hear anything the race director was saying. In the dark, even with my headlamp and 2 handheld flashlights, I had missed the marathon turn-around. The volunteer walked off to talk with the volunteer at the timing table.

I went to the porta potty to think about what to do next. As I sat, I now knew why runners were coming back towards me early in the race and why I was being passed when I thought I was last. The runners were other marathoners that had done the 1.2 mile out-n-back section on the 15.5 mile loop. But for the life of me, I didn't remember a sign or marking for the turn-around point. I could go back out and do the 1.2 mile section. Surely, I would not miss the same marking in the daylight. That was the least of my problems. But how was I going to finish the 9.5 mile loop (a modified version of the 15.5 mile loop) with the ankle hurting like it was? My heart wanted to keep going, but my body and mind were long out of the race. Two against one is horrible odds.

I went back to the start/finish area and sipped coke and ate a few potato chips. A familiar face came up to me. "Do you remember me?"

Of course I remembered Bonnie (MN). I had met her and Don (MN) during the Mother Road 100 Mile last November. They were a nice couple and had run lots and lots of tough ultras. She told me how she and Don volunteered to mark several of the MN ultras, and Surf the Murph was one of them. They even had to be here at 5:00 a.m. to mark the two sections of single track trail that we ran through today. She stated that they had about 800 flags to mark courses. That's why the course was marked so well and so abundantly. She seemed really disappointed that I missed the turn-around. But it wasn't her fault; I didn't blame her and Don at all. Although I loved the course, the loop is tough with all of the ups and downs, and the muddy sections were hard to navigate even on two good ankles. That's what worried me. The ankle was not happy, and therefore, I was not happy. I could handle being hurt and unhappy for a little while, but to do that for several more hours would push me over the edge. Bonnie listened to me agonize over the decision, but she ultimately told me what I already knew. She couldn't tell me what to do. I had to decide for myself.

A third volunteer came over from the timing table. "Are you continuing on with the marathon?" I told her that I was not. She smiled and said, "You still get a medal for finishing the 25K." Nothing against her or the race, but my goal was loftier than that when I arrived this morning. When she came back with my medal, I thanked her.

Bonnie and I talked a little more, and then the standing around in the cold finally got to me. We said our good-byes, and I headed back to Minneapolis. At least I would make my flight. For the third time, I would have to find another MN marathon to run. Maybe by then, the ankle will have healed, and I'll be faster.


  1. No one ever hears what a race director yells at the beginning of a race. I don't. There are lots of reasons. For one,I don't hear well, a not uncommon problem. And before a race I'm distracted. Etc., etc. A course must be self explanatory. Angela, I'm sorry you had an unpleasant outing there, and I hope the exercise didn't set your ankle back in its recovery. Good luck.

  2. Angela,

    I am so sorry to hear this. But hopefully your ankle will heal soon!

    I had a similar experience at Javelina Jundred. While I did earn the "consolation" prize of a 100km, it was a bit of a hollow victory because I did not meet my ultimate goal of a 100 miler.

    On the other hand, I did finish the race healthy, happy and knowing there will be plenty of more races in the future which I will be better prepared to finish.

    Rest up and let your ankle heal.

    You are a champion in my book regardless of what your race result is,