IronLegs Mountain 60km Trail Race is where legs go to die. That was certainly what I anticipated going into this race. At 2800 vertical meters (9200 feet) the course is relentless, as one hill merges into another and another. The course travels through treacherous cowboy country- cutting through sink hole-mud bogs and creek crossings. Every once in a while, the trail would turn into mashed up indentations from horse hooves mutilating the ground. At times the trail disappeared from former avalanches sending down broken trees across the trail. Frequent “trail bombs” appeared on the trail of horse manure. Stubborn cows aren’t uncommon either.
Stepping back in time to the end of June, the day after I signed up for the race, I received a follow up phone call from my sports medicine doctor. “I’ve received the results from your ultrasound and x-rays, you do indeed have a tear in your patellar tendon. I recommended you consider taking a break from running for the next 4-8 weeks.” This was 6 weeks out from the Iron Legs race. The patellar tendon crosses the knee and connects the main quad muscle to the bone. As a massage therapist, I understand the significance of treating these injuries with respect.
Instantly I cut traditional training from my regimen and with the polluted air from fire smoke, I eliminated long runs from my training. Training shifted to running drills, sprints, treadmill efforts, and long swims. Thus, I certainly felt the IronLegs race might live up to its name- my legs were going to be tired! But that’s part of what lures us into these races, isn’t it?
Race day. Smoke rolled in the night prior to the race. The sky was grey and hazy with a faint smell of fire. “It could be worse,” I thought and reminded myself to be mindful of the smoke, but not to let it cloud my mind. I reminded myself that the smoke had been much worse a week earlier. This follows closely the concept of having a gratitude practice. According to Dr. Roberts Emmons, gratitude is key in persevering through challenging tasks; in my case racing after an injury through smoky air. I was grateful for the fireweed. I was grateful for the contrasting colours of the burnt timber against the green grass. I held onto the victory of every small section I completed. I celebrated when I passed a “milestone” along the way such as a climb, or a curve, or another km ticked off.
Roughly 13 km (8 miles) from the end I started getting raging cramps in my legs. I did all the right things by consuming lots of electrolytes, taking salt pills, and electrolyte tablets. But the pain at times was piercing. The cramps did mellow out from time to time, but they were always present. In talking with a few health practitioners afterwards, they theorize inhaling polluted smoky air during intense exercise made it difficult to process enough oxygen and electrolytes. Above and beyond the impact of racing, the smoke had also taken its toll.
My first instinct during the race was to chastise myself for knowing better when my legs cramped. I should’ve consumed more electrolytes, etc. etc. Again, mindset is half the battle. I recalled a saying, “so what, now what?” I lived in the “now what?” Perhaps I could’ve made better preventative choices, but that didn’t matter in the now. I just kept moving. I knew my body would have to adapt. My legs kept spinning and the cramps would subside, weaving in and out of the remaining kms.
I crossed the finish line as 1st place female, with an hour and 16 min ahead of 2nd place, coming in 4th person overall. Without question, my physical fitness and running talent contributed to winning. But equally as important was my ability to problem solve and the right mindset are what truly what carried me to the finish line.