Tuesday, March 4, 2008

So What Exactly Went Wrong?

As my recovery moves along this is the question I keep trying to find an answer to. All of my lower leg ailments are almost completely pain free after 7 days mostly off my feet. There is still a little pain behind my left knee and on the top front of my right ankle, but all the swelling is gone and based on my progression I suspect all pain will be gone in another 2 or 3 days.

I have three likely theories as to the root cause of my ankle/lower leg problems. The first, and most obvious is of course my shoes. As many will recall I made a decision to change my race shoe just two weeks before the race. I felt great running in these shoes in that two weeks, but since it was so close to such a long race I never did a long run in those shoes. In fact I don't think I went out for more than 10 miles in them in a single run until the first day of the race. It could easily be that these shoes were somehow lacking in support in critical areas that my shoes I had done most of my long training runs in weren't. Thus my upper ankles needed to make up for this lack of support and after several hours of doing so they just couldn't handle the extra stress that they weren't used to.

My second theory for my lower leg demise is that perhaps I didn't do enough training as slow as I would be traveling in the race. I have no doubts that the overall volume of my training was sufficient but I didn't do all that much training with my sled AND at the ridiculously slow shuffle/speed walk that I would need to do during the race to sustain enough energy for 350 miles. It could simply be that this slower shuffle uses my lower legs in a way different enough from standard running that, just as with the shoes, my lower legs were forced to be used in ways that they just hadn't been used enough in training.

In reality it may have likely been some combination of these two things. But I think even more likely is my third theory: There was an actual specific moment when I first noticed the pain in my right ankle (about mile 25), but it wasn't that I took a misstep or anything at that time. I simply was running along and felt a slight bit of pain there, and then it was gone for awhile, and then it came back for awhile, and eventually it would come back each time with a little more severity. And then eventually I couldn't hardly stand on my feet anymore. The thing is though that I was still able to run all the way up to mile 130. I think it's entirely likely that whatever I did to cause that first little feeling of pain around mile 25 would have normally been no big deal at all. Even if I were doing a long (50 mile) training run I would have been able to finish the run pretty comfortably and I would have likely had a little soreness the next day, but nothing that I would have thought much about. And within another day or two all would have been well and I would have forgotten completely about it. Even if this problem had happened at mile 25 of a 100 mile race I don't know that it would have ended up being that big of a deal. At mile 100 of my race last week I was actually feeling great. Had I stopped at that point I would have certainly had some swelling and pain for a few days but I would have taken several days off anyway from having raced 100 miles and by the time I got back at it all pain would have been gone and I would have once again forgotten all about it. In other words I think what went wrong is simply that I was trying to run one of the toughest races in the world and did a little something to tweak my ankle when I still had 325 miles to go. Over the course of the next 100 miles I favored this leg more and more until finally I began to overwork my other leg, thus the pain in my left ankle and knee.

My solution for the next time around is simple then. I will do what I need to do to cover all of these potential causes. I will train more in the shoes I intend to race in. I will train more with my sled and at much slower pace. And I will hope for better luck. I'm sure if I get lucky and avoid injury next time there will still be plenty of unlucky weather and route conditions that will still make getting to McGrath nearly impossible. And it's this impossibility which has me almost entirely certain that I'll be back out there giving it a try again a year from now.


Anonymous said...

Geoff I look forward to following your race next year. Theory 3 sounds most likely, but maybe the initial minor injury was also caused and/or exacerbated by theory 1 and/or theory 2. I'm super glad that what every it was, it does not appear to be a long lasting injury that would interfere with your spring/summer racing plans. I look forward to seeing you down here in the lower 48 in a few months.

Chris W.

Anonymous said...

I concur. Don't worry, I'm working on theory 4.

Anonymous said...

Great analysis, I know you know the rule about changing gear/food & energy sources/technique etc.....right before the event.
One last unsolicited remark, please see a podiatrist, it may be the best you do for your ankles feet and legs. (No I am not one, but I am the daughter of one and an athlete ! ) You rock and I am rooting for your continued athletic success, heal fast Geoff.

Olga said...

Or the combination of all 3. I am sorry the whole thing didn't happen. There is a reason behind it, I am sure, though we tend not to see it right away. You did an awesome job going as far and as fast as you did. Recover fully, there are many things to choose from:)
How is Jill doing?

Unknown said...

I do not disagree with your analysis, but you might also want to study "eccentric contractions" or "negatives" as the body builders call them. That is when your muscles are contracted and you are extending (opening) the joint.

Physiologically you are only able to recruit half the muscle fibers during an eccentric contraction compared with a similar movement during a concentric contraction. That means each fiber has to work about twice as hard. Typically this results in a disruption of the connective tissue of the Z-lines at the sacromere level. Specifically, this occurs on the descents when you have to hold yourself and your sled back - even a little over lots of miles.

The classic research study on this phenomenon involved having volunteers step up a step exclusively with one leg and then step down exclusively with the other leg. Guess which leg suffered a couple of days later?

If you want to investigate this physiological phenomenon further then research "delayed onset muscle soreness."

I suspect you may want to include more "negatives" into your training. The "positives" or concentric contractions are good for the cardiovascular aspect of the training, but the "negative" or eccentric contractions are needed for building up the connective tissue and fascia.

It is just a thought. In any case I am sure you will heal up quickly and completely. Good luck on the rest of your season. I will be moseying northbound as you race by southbound on the GDMBR this summer. Good luck in the GDR!

Dave Harris said...

Geoff, glad to hear your recovery is speeding along so well and you're already looking to next years race.

Anonymous said...

so inspirational - I was proud of my 8 hour Crow Pass traverse - and then you did it in three hours and small change... then you, in the same summer did broke the Resurrection Pass race record with an incredible 6:10 (numbers may be fuzzy - but way better than my mountain bike time). Point is - you do what you do very well. You will sort out what it is you need to break this record too.

Tony (mesotony(

Anonymous said...

Hey Geoff,

I would have thought that training on
trails, as opposed to flat surfaces,
would have made your ankles fairly
strong, but have you considered a
little running backwards and sideways
with some changes in direction and
running in sand, just for extra lower
leg strength? Other strength exercises
might help too.

I don't think I've posted a comment
to your blog before. I have posted
to Jill's blog when my experience
seemed like it might be relevant.
This, however, is just a shot in the
dark. Take it for what it's worth.

Good luck, and thanks for blogging.

Matt Newlin

Vito said...

Hey Geoff, First of all congrats on a spectacular effort. The theories are all good ones. However, I do like the first one. Running in an untested pair of shoes is frightening. Especially with the miles you were putting in. Also, the fact that they were several sizes too big to accommodate the extra socks.

How is it now? Do you have any plans to see a podiatrist?

Good luck with your future training and races. I'll be keeping track.

Nigity - "Always keep a smile in your heart."

Anonymous said...

Wow! That is intense. I think it filled my mailbox. What is the diagnosis?