(📸: Long Nguyen)
I struggled quite a bit with how to write this post. At this point, everyone who has followed along on this journey knows what has happened. Do I need to rehash it? Is there enough to write about? As I sit here, a few days removed from our stopping point, I think it’s time to provide some detail and color to what has transpired.
Let’s start with Day 10. Wednesday of week 2. Day 9 had ended with a mixed bag. Annie had covered more than 40 miles, and there was a local TV reporter there to interview her when she finished. But physically, things were not good. It had been two full days where she was doing far more hiking than running. All of the aches and pains that had flared up over the previous nine days had come and gone. Her body had adapted beautifully, just as it was supposed to. Everything that is, except her ankles. No amount of ice and elevation could get the swelling down, or control the bruising and discoloration. The swelling was preventing her from tying her shoes properly, and made wearing socks uncomfortable. But Annie is the toughest person I’ve ever met. She’s been through a lifetime of pain and torment, both physical and emotional, and she has always risen above it. So part of me expected Day 10 to be more of the same. A slow grind filled with a fair amount of tears, and consoling hugs, reassurances that whatever pace she was keeping was “fast enough”.
I dropped her off at the trail head on the morning of Day 10. She had the 10 mile Kettlebowl segment, followed by a 25 mile road segment. She had started to really look forward to the road segments. She could move faster due to the smoother terrain, and it required a lot less mental focus so she could give her brain a rest.
Less than a half mile in, I got a text from her. “I can’t go on” is all it said. I immediately turned around to get back to the trail head. Can’t is a word than almost never comes out of her mouth, so when it did, I was immediately concerned. As the person who has crewed all of her runs for the last 2.5 years, I still struggle with how hard she pushes herself and how much pain she is in when she’s competing. As such, we made a pact before her attempt started: I wouldn’t be concerned with her physical state on the trails, but she had to tell me if she had something that was an actual injury. When I got back to the trailhead, she was hobbling more severely than I had seen to this point. “We need a hospital” is all she could get out before she was overcome with a wave of emotion.
We drove straight to the ER in Antigo, where a doctor examined her and ordered X-rays of the ankle. It seemed apparent to him that there was no fracture, but he could tell by the look on Annie’s face that something wasn’t right. The images confirmed what he thought, no evidence of a fracture. The doctor was pretty sincere in his statement that she needed some time off. The damage done could turn permanent if she kept pushing. He said something that made us both stop and think: “remember, you aren’t getting paid to do this. It’s not worth a permanent injury. Just rest”. Solid advice from the doc, but still not easy to swallow.
We drove back to the hotel to reassess. Annie spoke with her coach, who offered some of his ever-present wisdom. Rest, hit the hot tub to loosen it up, and see how it felt. Within five minutes of that call ending, Annie was asleep. I let her sleep while I tried to line up a physical therapist for her. Several people had graciously offered to see her after my call to arms on Facebook, so it was a matter of seeing who could get her in asap. There was one who was about an hour away who could see her, so I woke her up and off we went to Shawano.
Ron Thomas was able to get her in and examine the ankle. He did a ton of massage and showed me how to tape it for compression going forward. The massage had loosened her ankle up, so that with the tape job injected some fresh excitement into the day. Unfortunately by this time it was after 2pm, so any mileage she could get in would be a win, but it wouldn’t be a lot. Off we drove, back to Kettlebowl to try again. This time, I would park 2 miles down the trail and see how she did. When I saw her come around the corner, my fears were confirmed. Still hiking. I could tell right away from her expression, this was going to be the end of her Ice Age FKT attempt. She spoke to her sister on the phone, and indeed confirmed that this was it. Her goal wasn’t to through-hike the trail. She wanted to break that record, and lessen the gap between male and female. Back to the hotel to rest.
She fell asleep early while I fielded a lot of texts and calls from people who wanted to know what was happening. One such text was from Carrie, who was filming the attempt. She wanted to know if she could meet us the next morning for more footage. Carrie and her husband Tim had been amazing to work with from day 1, so I definitely wanted them to be around the next morning.
Thursday started off with me seeing a story on the news about Annie’s attempt. Since they had produced it all the previous night, they hadn’t been updated that it was over. Crushing to see. Carrie and Tim showed up and got Annie talking about what had happened. I think that was therapeutic for Annie, to be able to express the anger and sadness and disappointment she felt so strongly. We drove back out to Kettlebowl for a little more footage and then started back to Milwaukee. It was a bitter drive home. It was too soon, with too much left to accomplish. But it wasn’t nearly as bitter as a permanent injury would be. I had to remind both of us of this, multiple times.
So….now what? Where do we go from here? Annie was seen by her primary doctor on Friday who said part of the problem with her ankles was a bacterial infection, most likely a combination of open cuts and excessive bog water. Her coach affectionately started calling her SwampLeg, which I found hilarious! Laughter is the best medicine, they say. So she’s working on getting that cleared up and trying to regain mobility in her ankle. She will take at least another week off from running, and then (assuming it’s healed), slowly ease back into it. The next thing on her calendar is the Leadville 100 mile race. For those that aren’t familiar, it’s done in the mountains outside of Denver, with altitudes ranging from 10000-14000 feet and LOTS of climbing. So the workouts will become focused on hills, hills, and more hills. She also will start using her hypoxia machine, which helps acclimate the body to the lower oxygen levels at altitude.
After that, Ice Age FKT 2.0 will be the focus. Right now we are looking at the fall for another attempt. We will take the knowledge from this attempt and not make the same mistakes again. What we pack, where we stay, how we attack each day will all be drastically different. When doing an attempt like this, you have to be prepared to take what the trail gives you. Some days, 60 miles won’t be in the cards. And that’s ok. She’s prepared for that now.
That’s where we stand right now. I’ll continue to post updates about her and her progress and training. Leadville may not be 1200 miles, but it’s damn interesting in its own right. I’m sure many people would enjoy hearing about her training for that race: “On Saturday, find the steepest hill you can, and run up and down it. Continuously, for FOUR HOURS”. Things like that.
Thank you again for following along on this journey so far. It’s not over; in fact, it’s only beginning!