Saturday, October 3, 2015

Javelina Jundred Mile Dreams Shattered

The following is the story of how I was six weeks away from the start line of my first 100-mile running race (Javelina Jundred or JJ100).  But instead of finding myself at the race, I managed to break my leg in the most clumsy and embarrassing way.
Mile 8 - Ghost photo bomb

All was going well as my friends Mallory (Grand Canyon R2R '14 pal and JJ100 '15 pacer) and Kelly (Chiropractor, Pine to Palm medical director and ultra runner) were stalking our young friend Molly through her first marathon.  We were finding her about every 3-6 miles.

Her goal was 4:35-4:48 finish (10:30-10:59) and given the heat of the day, she totally fucking nailed it!  In the last six miles, she passed 20 people.  After meeting her at mile 22, we went to the finish and got a sweet parking spot.  We walked onto the course and Mallory asked, "How far back do you think she is?"  I said, "Three miles?"  So Mallory took off to run Molly in. 

Mile 22 - Passing people by the handful
I took up position at the top of the bleachers to get a stellar finish line video, which I did. I got the chute and finish clock all lined up. I practiced shooting with a few earlier finishers.  As the clock hit 4:46, I got nervous she wouldn't meet her sub-11 min/mile goal.  Then I saw them.  They hit the final turn, Mallory peeled off, and had no choice really as Molly hit her 23-year-old afterburner to seal second place age-group finish in 4:47:02.

So happy for HER.  So proud of HER.  I put my phone away and carefully ran down the bleachers.  Yes, read that again, 'I carefully ran down the bleachers'.  Then I hit the gas as I was excited. All along the chute / course there was the orange cyclone fencing which had been tamped down by everyone wandering in and out.  The fencing was useless as it was appropriate for 100's to 1000's of people, but there were maybe 50 people milling around a huge area. I jumped the fence, right foot leading / left leg trailing.  I wondered for some hours what happened next because I had no cuts, scrapes or bruises anywhere on my body.  In mid-air my left shoe / toe caught the fence.  Then my right foot landed.  POP!  Bright light! Twist in mid-air and fall onto my butt as my arms were already grabbing or the foot.

Me - "I broke it.  I broke it!"

My left foot is turned completely outwards.  I see the giant lump the size of half a fist under my sock indicating either a closed or open fracture.

Guy nearby - "Wha?  Oh, yes you did.  MEDIC!"

People hustle over, 1st medic volunteer arrives.

1st Medic Lady - "Oh, OH!  Hey, we need MORE HELP over here."

Time is slow-mo, but I'd say within a minute of the fall I am in the air as four to six mostly medics carry me to the finish line first aid tent, about twenty meters away.  I feel NO pain, which I take to be a BAD sign.

Three quarters of the way there, I look between some shoulders and see Molly and Mallory.  They are scanning around looking for me. (Where the fuck is Gwen?)  Oh look, someone is being carried.  The three of us lock eyes -  super slo-mo - there is no sound in this moment - just this look.  The look of confusion and worry is instant.  I give an exasperated semi-shrug arm gesture of, 'What the fuck' without saying anything.

From Kelly - Crissi and I watched Molly cross the finish line (in glorious fashion). I saw you (your shirt was easy to spot) up in the bleachers and climbing down to great our runner. Crissi and I went to find Molly. We found her and hugged her. Then saw Mallory.

Then I saw some medics walk by donning gloves and heard a whisper of "ankle dislocation". Next thing I knew, it was you that I saw in their arms. I took a quick look at your ankle and didn't like what I saw.  All I could think was "No, no, no, that was not Gwen they carried by."  Knowing in that quick instant what possibilities where dashed for you for many months. I just looked at Crissi and kept saying "That was Gwen." I felt like I shot glances at Mallory like "Don't tell Molly".

From Molly - As I finished the race I saw you up on the bleachers. I finished and stopped when I arrived at the gal with the finisher token.  It was a strange moment. The race actually happened? I took the token, and around that time heard a woman yell "Medic! Medic!" from my left.  Huh, that is strange.

Then I started looking around for my people. Kelly and Crissi ran up and I hugged them. Then Mallory appeared a few moments later and I hugged her. I was confused about where you were because I knew you were closer to the finish than Mallory and I was really excited to give you a hug. The crowd parted and you were carried by us. Someone said "That's... Gwen?!" and you gave us your "I don't fucking know, either." shrug in response to our "What the fuck?" faces.

As they set me down on the portable mat, time zooms back to full speed.

Lead Medic asks quickly and I answer as calmy as possible...

Lead Medic – “What's your name?”

Me – “Gwen”

Lead Medic – “Gwen, what happened?”

Me – “I was running to greet my friend who just finished and my leg got caught or twisted on something.” 

Me to the other medics - "Could you raise some towels or sheets to block the sun from my face?  I'm worried of becoming nauseous."

Burst of action by the team.  Bless them, because I HAD felt the heat coming on really fast.  In their overachievement, I'm completely surrounded by those hospital blankets.  My friends, feet away probably become more concerned at this point.  

Molly – They put the towels up - which I found suspicious.

The lead med tech removes my shoe and sock.  I peek down at my foot.  The bulge on the inside of my left foot is redish / purple, in other words almost breaking through the skin.  Um, don't look at that ANY MORE.

Lead Med Tech - "Gwen, you've dislocated your ankle."

I express that I have friends there.  They ask names and make a page.  I see Mallory through the blankets and call her over.  The lead medic is splinting my foot.

Molly - Because Mallory, Kelly and I were lurking in the med tent area, everyone kept asking if I was okay, needed food, needed water. I had water - I'm not sure who gave it to me - and food sounded terrible. I still wanted a hug!  [Internally: "I don't want a banana! I want Gwen to be okay!"]

Kelly - I tried to say something soothing to Molly and check on her but she knew what was going on.

Molly - Kelly was being very reassuring to me at this point. I had heard the word "dislocation" by then, which was heart-breaking as I too had convinced myself it was something minor. Then you called Mallory over as the announcer started saying "Mallory Pierce! Mallory Pierce!" very loudly.

Before we got lost during a 40-mile run
Mallory runs into my make-shift tent, kneels and grabs my hand - hard.  Mallory, who I've run 100's of miles with in training.  Who is my Jedi and I'm her padewaan.  We've shared our personal sorrows and run in silence for 10 miles at a time.  We finished her first 50k together, we finished R2R together, we got lost (and separated) in the dark on a 40 mile run together.  She was to be my pacer for JJ100.  She is the toughest, smartest athlete I know. 

Me (as she looks from my face to my foot and back to my face) - "I fucked up Mallory.... I really fucked up.  Javelina... and Molly’s marathon."  

I'm so embarrassed, and feel SO stupid.  I took the virginal marathon finish celebration and turned it into a TOTAL SHIT SHOW.  We were supposed to have a few beers and go for burgers.  Not this fucked up movie I seem to have created with all of the grace of a slow ox.  I express to Mallory that she is to make sure that the rest of the day is focused on Molly and HER BIG DAY. 

Mallory - You were very very focused on making sure the focus stayed on Molly and HER BIG DAY. After you and I chatted for a few minutes I got Molly.

Always start with your hand on the truck
Molly and Kelly make it into the tent.  Molly is kneeling right next to my head and takes my hand.  I'm gutted for all the joy I have displaced, the worry I have caused her in this moment.  She is a remarkable young woman who dove headfirst into training for a marathon for all of the right reasons.  This spring and summer have been a montage of joy, heat, sweat, pain, PR's, beer and ADVENTURE.

Molly celebrating her first 1/2 marathon on a training trail run.


All four of us are calm controlled beings.  No freakouts here.  But I see deep concern everywhere I look.  They each know how much this 100-mile race in the desert has meant to me this year.  It has been my super power for getting through immeasurable loss and pain.

Molly - I knelt by Mallory and took your hand. At that point I had the irrational conviction that I somehow had the ability to Fix Everything but then you took charge in such an impressive way.  You told me you were so proud of me and you were in good hands and that we needed to go get burgers, which helped significantly.  It was both remarkable and reassuring that you were in charge of the situation. 

Me (to Molly) - "You shouldn't be kneeling, you just finished a marathon."  to Mallory and Kelly - "You two, I want you to make sure she has HER DAY.  Go sit down, drink some water, and go have that burger we talked about."

Molly - (Inhale to protest)

Me - (sweetly but firmly) "No.  See I'm in good hands. There are many nice people here doing their job and the ambulance is on the way.  You will be NO help to me if you don't eat right after you've finished a marathon."

The Lead Medic gives me two blister packs of what I assume are Percocet and tells me to take them.  My finer muscle skills are weak at this moment and I’m frustrated.  I pass them back to one of the medics to open for me.  After I take them, I remind Molly that kneeling next to my head is not an ideal post-marathon recovery position. 

Molly - The Lead Medic pointed at me and said "Yes, YOU need to walk!" and so ended my tent membership.

Mallory and Molly leave the tent area.  Kelly is still there.  She’s been stoically observing the work of the medics behind her sunglasses. 

Kelly - We all thought it was a bad idea for Molly to not be moving so Mallory asked me to stay while she walked her around. I chatted a little with the doc. I asked him if it really was dislocated (In my head I had convinced myself it was just a sprain) and he confirmed and told me he had reduced it.

The Lead Medic reports that he's put my ankle back in place.  

Lead Medic – “I reset your ankle.  You did really well."

Me - "What? I didn't feel anything."

Medic Helper Lady – “I’m still amazed through this whole thing you haven’t made a peep.”

Kelly - "That's because you are looking at the toughest woman I’ve ever met in my life."

My ride shows up and I'm asked which hospital I'd like to go to.  The first ambulance ride of my life includes me calling my husband who is in a hospital in Portland between two surgeries.  Yes, my life is THIS comically tragical.  As calmly and with as much sweetness in my voice as I can, I begin by saying how great Molly did.  He's happy, because we'd been texting him and a few others during the race.  Then I lay in the facts.  He's gutted I can tell.  Isolated in a hospital hundreds of miles away, unable to help.  I ask him to call my parents as I'm a bit 'busy'.  "Make sure to speak calmly to my Mom."  I had to call his Mom once and it was the hardest phone call of my life.

With that call over, I sit back and try to relax.  When they unload me from the ambulance the pain is finally coming into play.  As we roll into the emergency room, it looks like it’s a slow afternoon, with many nurses hanging out at the main station.

Me – “Hey everybody, I’m the dumbest person here!”

Once I’m in cubical number eight, they work to transfer me onto the hospital gurney.  I ask if I can help by holding my leg up myself.  Because people touching and moving it for me right now is NOT OKAY.  We successfully make it across and I thank the two guys from the ambulance for the smooth ride.

The attending doctor removes the splint and find that the dislocation slipped back out in transport or maybe Lead Med Guy wasn’t so lucky with putting it back.  It looks just as grizzly as the first time I saw it. 

So they send me to get x-rays...

Doesn't take an expert to know this isn't good.
The doctor reports what is evident in the x-ray:  My ankle is dislocated and broken in both the tibia (larger bone) and fibula (smaller bone).  He’s sent the images to the orthopedic surgeon upstairs who is in surgery, to consult on how they should best reduce the dislocation.  So there will be some waiting before the procedure starts.

I call Mallory and Molly on the phone and tell them to go back to Ashland and get cleaned up.  I’m going to be a while.  They call bullshit and say they are done eating burgers at Jasper’s and are on their way to the hospital.

Nice doctor and chorus of attendants assemble with all sorts of fancy gear!  I'm about to get Propofol, (drug of choice of Michael Jackson) for a five-minute procedure of relocating my ankle.  As they are assembling my foot is getting more uncomfortable.  Just before we start, there are a dozen people in this little cubical with me.  I try not to visualize what is going to transpire once I’m knocked out.

I watch as the drug goes into my arm expecting to black out. Then I wonder when they are going to start.  I never closed my eyes and apparently talked loudly and clearly the whole time, "You guys are the best!  Thank you so much for your hard work."   But I remember zilch.

Very soon the room clears of many of the bodies and enter Mallory and Molly!  Now that my ankles back in place and the pain meds are at their height I’m a pretty chatty gal.  We chat happily for a few minutes.  Then I was off to x-ray again.

Better, but still broken
When I roll back into the cubical after the second x-ray, I’m struck by the fact that I’m hungry and I need to pee.  It's 3:30p and I ate breakfast at 7:30am.  I’m provided with a set of crutches in order to get myself to the restroom across the hall.  "I wonder if I can make one loop of Javelina on these things?  It's only fifteen miles..."

Mallory – “First you have to make it across the hall to the bathroom Gwen.”

Buzz kill.

Actually, I’m surprised the ER folks let me navigate myself on crutches for the first time.  But whatever.  I manage not to eat it and we get bounced from the hospital about 45 minutes later.

Three days later I visited the orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine. I learned that I'd broken two bones in three places (overachiever).  Screws and plates would be required.

Surgery was the next day, and I was glad.  Crutching around with an unstable foot is scary as hell.  The surgeon was calm, friendly and felt like a recovery to previous training was possible within six to seven months.  Caveats were clear that it would take time and probably not feel the same.

Highlight from surgery day was setting off the alarm for my pulse being sub-50.  Why yes, I’m a 45 year old woman with a resting heart rate in the mid-40’s.  :look: 

Two hours in the O.R. and he reported that all went well.  Here's the post-op x-ray:
I'm now bionic
I’m two weeks post injury and still have all of the excess energy one would associate with someone training for a 100-mile race.  In other words, I’m miserable. I was six weeks from the race of my life.  After the race, I was looking forward to taking some time off.  Now it feels like I’ve made a false summit and will have to climb another mountain altogether.