How Ankles, Rocks and Dogs Don’t Mix

It was supposed to be the workout of my week:  a 10k trail run with an 1,800 foot elevation gain to the top of Inspiration Point.   While the region was focused on the Santa Barbara International Marathon at the waterfront, I would be running in the foothills, happily avoiding the crowds in my zen like trail running zone.


However, there were some challenges that complicated this run:

  1. The weather was less than ideal.  In fact, the weather had turned cold and with the threat of rain for later in the day.
  2. With the goal of reaching the top and just getting over the flu, I needed to carry extra water and fuel in addition to my poor weather gear.
  3. The complications of 1 & 2 combined, I didn’t have a runner’s pack large enough to carry the extra water, protein bars, rain gear, and extra clothing as this was my first, serious poor weather, long trail run.
  4. My diet from the previous evening was far less than ideal.  Having dinner with friends meant dessert in the form of Trader Joe’s luscious Pumpkin Cheesecake.  Well, that one small piece turned into three.  This meant that my body needed a few days of detox before attempting any aggressive workouts.

With the above points in mind, I should have postponed the trail run, but I didn’t.  I overcame point three by using a small messenger bag that just fit everything, barely.  I would be running with my small runner’s pack and the messenger bag, which I knew would be distracting as there was no way to really keep it from bouncing around against my body while running.

Despite still being slightly sick, dealing with a crappy diet from the evening before, and having the wrong gear, I still convinced myself to go ahead with the trial run.


Arriving at the trail head, there were lots of cars and looming clouds.  Surprisingly, it was quite warm and humid.  Warmer than I had thought.  However, 1,800 feet up the trail was sure to be a lot cooler and wetter!

Time to make final preps. I decided to wear my running pants, but only wear a short sleeve technical shirt.  The long-sleeve I would have in my messenger bag with the additional water and camera.  Turn on the GPS, slap on the hear rate strap, stretch and we are off.

At the top of trail head, I hesitated.  There was a feeling that said this was wrong.  I chocked it up to the angry pumpkin cheesecake from the night before and started down the trail.  As I started running, the messenger bag, being heavier than anticipated, was really flying around and banging against my side.  I stopped to tighten the strap, which helped stabilize it some, but that feeling that this run was not right, wouldn’t go away.  I continued on my way ignoring it.  I don’t think I’ll be sneaking up on anyone with the messenger bouncing around so much.


Just as I got into a rhythm nearing a fork in the trail, it happened. As I approached the fork with the intention of going right, a smallish, tan dog came shooting around the bush from the left fork.  When I first saw it, I thought COYOTE!

“Oh geez, I am going to get eaten!” I lost my concentration as I put my left foot down on an odd shaped rock and felt pain, serious pain from my hip to me toes, through the ankle.  My ankle curled to the inside of my leg and I nearly fell over. As full pressure from the run went onto the horridly curled left ankle, the pain felt like no other I’ve felt in my entire life!

Recovering with the next step and noticing the dog was just a domestic running ahead of its owners, I focused my attention back on the horrendous pain.  Each time I put weight on it, it made me want to cry.  To make matters worse, I had shoot pain from my hip to my toes, which were now tingling.  I immediately thought that I broke my ankle.  But at least I wasn’t eaten by a coyote!


But then I started coming to my senses and taking inventory.  Chances are, if it was actually broken, I wouldn’t be able to put any weight on it at all. Instead I sat down on the nearest rock and contemplated the best course of action:

  1. I wasn’t dying, so there was no need to call 911 and have search and rescue airlift me off the trail.
  2. I was only about half mile from the trail head and walking out now was going to be painful but doable.
  3. Didn’t make any sense to call anyone as they couldn’t do anything.
  4. Perhaps hang out for a while and see what happens.
  5. Above all else, how long was I going to be out of training?

I opted for #2, walking out now.  Every step hurt, the toes tingled as if an electrical probe had been inserted into each, the knee was now sore, and the hip felt a little odd.

Getting back to the car, I removed the shoe and sock.  It really didn’t look bad; slightly swollen, a little pale, and painful to the touch. Carefully, I reapplied the sock and shoe and drove home.


Over the next few hours, the pain diminished and the swelling greatly increased, along with pretty severe bruising.  The tingling in the hip and toes went away and I started to realize that I would be off my feet for a week or two or three.

Over the next few days, with plenty of ice, compression and keeping it elevated, it gradually has been improving.  Now, almost a week after the incident, the swelling has decreased, the bruising has gone down, but the pain has returned. A light run made it hurt even worse, meaning more down time.  A swim and two strength workouts is all I’ve been able to do this week.


Reflecting back, I should have listened to that feeling at the top of the trail head.  Postpone the trail run, get the right runner’s pack and/or wait for better weather, and give myself time to detox after eating so much cheesecake.  Spiritually, something was trying to tell me something that day, but I didn’t listen. Sometimes, triathletes have to completely ignore sensibility and just do it.

However, I think this had made me a stronger athlete.  I not only have a story to tell the grand kids (someday), but I’ve gotten my first major injury under my belt and it has made me respect the trail.  In the end, the fearless triathlete in me prevailed that day and I found out what happens when ankles, rocks and dogs all meet at the same point on a trail.