Sunday, August 3, 2008

Skyline 2008 50K: S as in...

I knew I was going to appear stupid if my knee did not hold today, running on an injury. What I didn't know is that I did something else really stupid today, which was not that. Same outcome, but different act, see for yourself.

First, some background for the ones who did not hear the story today, or did not read my previous post. Last Monday, I was in Chamonix, training on the UTMB course (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc). Not a solo run for once, but with Team Lafuma led by Karine Herry (the queen of ultra running in France) and no less than Scott Jurek as their guest star. In a steep downhill before St Gervais, I slipped on the wet and grassy trail, trying to stick with Scott. It was a red-graded downhill run which would be rated as black diamond here in the US, so quite steep and we were just going straight (you know French do cut corners, don't you?!). And it was slippery because, first, it had rain the day before and, second, I was wearing used road shoes, with no traction at all (I did not bring my trail shoes with me for my improvised 5-stage Tour de France). Furthermore, I was the only one in the group not having poles; even Scott was trying them for the first time that day. Bottom line, I slept and, although I did not fall, I must have strained a muscle at the very bottom of my quads, almost under the patella. We were around mile 10 but the pain really kicked in by mile 22 and I had a hard time finishing my 50K run (I left the group early because I had a plane for California the following morning, in Paris).
After 5 days of rest and deep/strong self-massages with two great products (only available in France though: inongan, an anti-inflammatory cream, and Flexarome, a bio aromatherapy product to heal muscles and articulations, which my brother advised me to use for tendinitis too) the pain was gone so I decided to line up this morning. Not before strapping my right knee with a sports tape.

Race Director Jennifer was welcoming us before dawn with her volunteer staff.
We were also welcomed by a group of wild geese which chose to land right next to the starting line (Lake Chabot Marina):
Around 6:20 we saw Mark (Tanaka) sprinting to the registration desk. He was late to get ribbons and flour to mark the course... Only him could have drawn the few smileys with flour on the trail, that was cute!
The start was given on time, at 7am and off we were on a reasonably fast pace as the first two miles are rolling pavement along beautiful Lake Chabot. An opportunity to chat with Jon Olsen, who is preparing for a 100-miler in 2 weeks, after having missed Western States, and dropped at Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in July. Ron Guttierez was just behind us; we compete in the same age group of the Pacific Association Grand Prix. Graham Cooper was also here, preparing for an IronMan in Canada. He had biked 200 miles yesterday, this is (when he has tired legs) the only way I can beat him, like at Ohlone last year.

I took the lead when we hit the trail at mile 2. Jon stayed close behind me. We ran the entire uphill after The Big Bear aid station (mile 10.2) and I felt better than last year. In 2007, this is where Steve Stovers left me in the dust and I was walking. We passed the Big Bear aid station in 1:16 versus 1:13 last year, so the pace was good. On the ridge, my knee started bothering me (mile 11) and I told Jon he should go because that was the section he could best use his long legs. Around mile 12, the pain was already unbearable, when I ran into Mark Tanaka who had made great progress in his course marking (thank you, Mark, both for the marking and the photo credit!). I was limping pretty bad when I got to the Skyline aid station (mile 13.5). I was disappointed not to see Carl (Andersen) and Ann (Trason) who were there last year, but there was quite a cheering crowd which helped. As well as ultraholic, Chihping who encourage me. And Brian who gave me some Advil to kill the pain (at least alleviate it, let's say...).

The way down Redwood Park, ironically along French trail, was torturous and I even screamed in some occasions when I could not prevent from using my right leg, for instance when jumping over roots and rocks. I was so sorry because it is such a great section of the course, running through the redwoods. The interesting thing is that, while having much pain in the downhills, trying to slow down as much as possible (not a good idea when you race...), I had less problem climbing and ran most of the uphills (there are quite good ones in this area). Local legend (as I learned later), Jeff Teeters, passed me at the end of that section, just before going down to Big Bear, I was now in third position.

I hang with Jeff for the entire Big Bear climb but could not follow him on the ridge and going down to the Bort Meadow aid station. Jeff is an interesting character with a unbalanced posture (carrying one bottle with his arm extended) and wearing a large hat. Impressive performance and fitness at 49 though. Graham Cooper and his fellow triathlon buddy, Troy Howard, passed me a couple of miles later, in an impressive charge. One runner passed me before the Honker Bay aid station where Stan Jansen proposed to work on my knee with his knife. I am not sure he said "fix your knee", so I preferred to escape and manage the pain for 3 more miles. Starting with the painful descent to the lake, nothing serious usually but painful when you have only one leg left, not to mention that leg was getting tired to do all the work for 15 miles already...

One more runner passed me and the last rolling section and I was happy to finish in 8th, 3rd in my age group, just one minute before Ron. 4:17:20, not as good as the 3:48:13 of last year, but good enough considering the situation. Only one runner had made it under 4 hours this year, Jon, in an impressive 3:44 (Steve won last year in 3:41).

Hang out for a few hours, first to ice my knee (phew!) and to enjoy the great company and BBQ party. Although I did not stop much to the aid stations, carrying two bottles and not being too hungry as I was running slower than usual, the volunteers did really rock. There are so many on this course, probably more than the total number of runners. Race Directors Jennifer (Ray) and Mike (Palmer) did a perfect job, even getting the perfect weather (just enough fog in the morning, and a sunny afternoon)! Photo courtesy of Mark Tanaka:
OK so, now, what did really happen to my knee? I strangle it!! Yes, back to the title of this post, s as in strangle, stupid, silly strap... I thought that it would help holding the quads in place, right above the patella. I promise, I did not really tighten the tape and it felt ok for the first 5 miles. This was a first for me, and I am obviously not a specialist nor did I consult with one. Several years ago, I had bought some Coach Sports Tape from Johnson & Johnson and decided to give it a try. After all, the package read "Helps Prevent Strains - Helps Protect Injured Areas". Not to mention the tag line: "The Choice of Professionals"! ;-) To be fair, I did not read the directions for use, which, I just found out, were all about taping fingers, wrist, or ankle. But not the knee! Articulations, to prevent them from bending, but not muscles, to prevent them from working!

During the run, my knee got so painful that I had no doubt the injury from Monday reappeared. When I got to the finish line I was barely feeling the bottom of my leg and thought that, after a while, you manage the pain because it is not getting any worse and you get used to it (yikes!). After one hour or so of icing, I was basically anesthetized. Being an ER doctor, Mark could see something was wrong with my reddish and swollen knee. I mentioned that I shave before putting the tape and he thought that was the reason of the color (irritation). I kept the strap for several hours, including the whole way back home. When I finally took it off, my quad was almost as large as DK's (Dean Karnaze for the non insiders), no kidding! It was such a relief, especially to find out that the pain was actually not at the same spot as Monday. But the vastus medialis to be precise (thanks wikipedia!) which just reacted to being beaten by the strap for 30 miles (and that makes thousands of strides and as many subsequent traumas). After several hours of rest and release, it's already much better, phew! Bottom line, and lesson learnt, do not use such non-elastic tape around muscles, dude! (Sorry, Johnson & Johnson, I'm not blaming the product, just the use of it for this purpose.)
Bingo, here we are, having injured myself trying to fix an injury! I know some people must think that there must be some sadomasochism in ultra running (I mean the pain to ourselves, not the sex part, oops!), and my story is just making this worse... Time to study medicine if I want to treat myself...

So, Skyline, starting with an S as in stupid, strangle and silly strap. And as in superb and speedy course and event, nonetheless!

I will be back, learning from my lessons...

PS: even more swelling on Monday morning... But I'm pretty confident this is less serious than what a knee injury would have been. Just a few more days of rest as punishment...


Catra said...

Awesome effort. I hope you heel fast.

It was not Mark who drew the smiley faces it was my boyfriend Andy Kumeda we started at 6am to check course markings and add more markings.
Congrats. Great report.

Jean Pommier said...

Thanks for rectifying, Catra, and to Andy for this great idea! First time I see it on a trail race, quite entertaining and a great reminder for staying positive.

Good to see you yesterday. Sorry for not stopping at your aid station, hope you don't mind, I was in a hurry with Jon on my heels... ;-)


Anonymous said...

Quelle histoire (et quel courage!)
Enfin, tu parais confiant; nous attendons tout de même ton feu vert pour l'inscription à la course de Sologne.

Baldwyn said...

GAH! Great job, Jean, talk about gutting it out, and still running a good race. Hope you heal soon. You're the most Kenyan French runner I know, btw.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

indeed, I did not have time to draw smiley faces, just put up a few more ribbons (probably not necessary) and jumped high to take one leftover from another race pointing the wrong way.

i didn't think your shaving caused the redness, but was under the impression that this was your explanation. if it didn't immediately get red after you shaved it, unlikely cause. your knee looked pretty swollen. I think most people (having an MD not necessary) getting to examine your knee might suspect the tape.

anyways, I think your time beat mine last year, despite your injury. get better.

Scott Dunlap said...

Yikes! I hope you are taking some downtime and letting this heal. Looks like a painful one.

Just so no to straps!