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.

The Wonderful World of Recovery

After four days of sickness, two of which are simply a gnarly blur of history, I am feeling human again.  Gone are the dry cough, watery eyes, aching muscles, congestion, and misery. It feels like I have a fresh start on life… again!

Whenever you start recovering from a major illness, you start to really appreciate the small things of life.  Things like,

  • how the sun feels against your dry skin
  • how easy it is to breathe
  • how wonderful it is to let go of the super busy daily routines
  • having energy to go for a walk, run, and move around without pain

Yes, recovery is an incredible thing.  While I feel pretty darn good, I still don’t feel 100%!  I know that while I really want to go out and run a few miles, I know my body still isn’t quite ready for it and that I need to ease back into life’s hustle and bustle.

Adding a bit of stress to my recovery is that fact I am currently on vacation from work.  While I had intended to spend a good part of a week in northern New Mexico, the flu has prevented me from doing so.   My vacation isn’t getting any longer and I have already paid for my airfare.  It’s like the stress of having to go on this trip is deflating my enthusiasm for it.   You ever felt the pressure to go out and have a good time so bad, that you hate the very thought of itself?  hmmm….

Trip or no trip, here are  few things you should do while sick and during the recovery time afterward:

  • Drink lots and lots of water (maybe some Emergn-C too)
  • Take it easy.  You feel like crap because your body needs to rebuild, so let it.
  • Avoid others as much as possible.  The flu and cold are highly contagious diseases, so keep your co-workers and roommates happy by locking yourself in your room.
  • If you need something, ask someone else to go to the store.  Let your roommate get that cold medicine and extra cans of chicken soup for you.
  • Eat lots of chicken soup.  Believe it or not, chicken soup actually helps the body recover: 1) by eating soup your body can use more energy to fight the flu/cold instead of digesting solid food and 2) its liquid and will help keep you hydrated. Nutrition is always important!
  • Take this downtime to think through some things that may have been bothering you.  You might be physically exhausted, but your mind still works fairly well.  When I get sick, I make it a game to think through outlines and approaches to projects and problems I’ve had on my mind lately.  Before you know it, you’ve accomplished a few things while miserably stuck in bed.
  • As you start to feel better, continue to take it easy.  Give yourself a good 48 hours after any illness before doing amount of activity beyond walking (ok, I’ll give you speed walking)
  • Take a day to sort out your house/room/car.  Organizing, clearing the clutter, and cleaning is a great way to allow yourself to be more active while being productive while your body continues to recover.
  • Once fully recovered, take your roommates out for a beer.  If you are anything like me when I get sick (Oscar the Grouch!), you aren’t the most p/c nor do you ask for things in the nicest of ways.  Make it up to them and at the same time, celebrate coming back to life.

I hope no one that reads this ever gets sick.  If you, I hope you find these tips helpful, or at least fun.

For me, its time to figure out the best time to get to New Mexico and start planning that next big trail run of mine…  my inner animal needs to be let out for some trail rippin’ good time!


Running up Jesusita & Swimming in Lightning

Trail running is a heck a lot of fun.  Swimming in the pool, gracefully gliding through the water, is very sublime.  As a triathlete, one of the best parts of my training is the variety of workouts I endure.  In fact, I have such a variety during some weeks that I feel like an athlete with ADD.

Running Up Jesusita

With the Malibu Canyon Trail Run just a week away, it was time to hit the local trails to get some workout time in.   After I hit the first incline however, I suddenly realized that I should have started getting trail running time in more than just a week in advance.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  The Jesusita Trail that runs through the San Roque Canyon of the Santa Barbara foothills, is described as a strenuous hike with moderate slope over the seven mile round trip (out and back).  <Jesusita Trail mapping by Trimble> The 2,000 feet gain in climbing altitude, makes this the perfect warm-up for the less strenuous Malibu Canyon Trail Run.

Having never run or hiked Jesusita before, it took me a few drive-by’s to find the trail head.  Located just off San Roque Rd, but hidden by bushes and down an incline, the trail head is not directly visible from the road. I have a feeling this is intentional.

After changing shirts, grabbing my running pack and bottle, I headed down the trail, somewhat leisurely.  But this was trail run practice, so I better get the move on, which was easy to do going downhill.  However, my hesitation wasn’t from lack of enthusiasm, but from unfamiliarity.  With forks in the trail and new scenery, I really didn’t feel comfortable cranking out speed… I really had no idea where I was going or what to expect.

This turned out to be the theme of the run, discovery.  I discovered that the Jesusita is literally an upward slope all the way to the top (duh, it is a hill!) and that my legs quickly reach exhaustion even on the slightest of inclines.  Taking it slow gave me a great opportunity to enjoy the scenery under the low clouds and canopy.

Those low clouds were vital in helping me determine how high I was actually climbing.  It seemed like I run up through a narrow canyon and started up some switchbacks, about a 1.75 miles only to realize that the conditions were much colder and much wetter than I remembered a few moments ago.   Continuing on up the backside of the hill, the tree canopy gave way to a wide vista of cliff and grey fog on the right with a wet, slipper slope on the left.  I had reached the ridgeline at 2.30 miles.  I was on the fence about going back or continuing on due to the conditions (cold/wet, my lack of familiarity with the trail, my fear of heights, and being on the trail alone).

I decided to push on to 2.5 miles, but didn’t make it.  I turned around at 2.45 miles after encountering a very narrow trail, even lower visibility, and an area of rock slides (that made the trail seem even narrower).  Instead of finding the top, I started back, fast.

Going downhill is obviously a lot easier than going up.  You have gravity in your favor and I just come up the same trail so I knew what kind of footing to expect on the way down.  While it took 45 minutes to come up, it took about 22 minutes to go the same distance down.

I was exhausted, yet gratified that I had done it.  I was even more satisfied with the trail run after I got home and uploaded my GPS data and saw that I had climbed 1,400 feet.  Wow…  it sure felt like it, but wow, I was proud!   Can’t wait to do it again… in the sun!

Swimming in Lightning

With all the nasty, Seattle-like weather we’ve been having in Santa Barbara lately really makes it hard to get a good workout in.  Granted trail running is one of those sports where you do it no matter the conditions.    On the opposite end of the spectrum is swimming.  In general, you don’t swim in foul weather.

So, the other evening, with a thunderstorm rolling in from the east and a swim workout highlighted on my training calendar, I headed over to the gym to sneak in a workout.

Arriving at the gym, changing and heading down to the pool, everything seemed great.  The weather was fine, a little chilly perhaps, the aqua aerobics class had just concluded and I had the pool to myself, and the thunderstorm was still a ways off in the distance.

Things started going downhill when I hit the water.  I am used to ocean swimming, so with cold water, I’ve learned to just suck it up and go.  On this evening however, there was something extra in the air that made getting used to the cold water more difficult.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but that instinct said something was up.

Then the chilling, cold breeze that floated over the pool on my third lap sent shivers down my arm and through my spine.  The edge of the storm had arrived.  The peaceful world of the pool was a profoundly calm place to be compared to the chaos that began above the water.  The dark, gnarly, vicious clouds soared overhead like a monster in a scifi movie.

Sucking it up and going back to my peaceful sanctuary of water, I started another set of 100’s.   With the dark clouds masking the low sun, the pool had suddenly become quite dark.  With the pool lights off and my tinted goggles blurring the tiles below, I became infatuated with this new world…  a dark, spooky world of water below a thunderstorm.

Then it got interesting with the first bolt of bright lightning.  Scary at first, the sudden light illuminates the water around you, placing a rather interesting shadow of your body on the bottom of the pool, while I gasp for air in shock of the sudden new but brief swimming conditions.

With one more lap to conclude this 100, I decided to go all out back to the starting end of the pool.  Along the way, the lightning created a disco effect of shadows, blinding light, and darkness.  The randomness was sublime.

Then reality sets in and you remember that your mother always told you to never swim when there was lightning.  With the growing breeze, horrendously evil clouds, and bang of thunder, this evening was not a time to argue with mom.

After 11-minutes and 350m, I had the pleasure of experiencing a world that few others even begin to consider.  Swimming with lightning is not recommended, but boy, oh boy, is it an experience that one will never forget.