Sunday, January 23, 2011

Rocks in the Sidewalk and Racing Cheerleaders

Lolo Jones, Olympic Hurdler

Yesterday's 15 miler was a huge success with only one minor hiccup.  My overall pace was 8:34 and that was so very exciting, but at mile three I stepped on a rock in the sidewalk and rolled my ankle.  I was approaching an entrance into a shopping center and a car was turning in from the other side.  I did not think they were going to let me go across first, so I began to slow down and that is when it happened.  My right foot landed on a rock in the sidewalk and I almost went all the way down.  I caught myself with my left leg and then hobbled back to the sidewalk.

I sat down on the grass for a minute and tried to catch my breath.  The initial pain was sharp, but it subsided quickly.  I sat moving my ankle, glaring at the rock in the middle of the sidewalk.  I considered running back home, but I wanted my 15 miles.  I stood up, threw the rock onto the grass and started to run again.  If it was bad, I would shorten my run to 12 miles instead.

This happens a few times a year due to the first horrible sprain that weakened my ankle for good.  As I continued on my run I thought back to that very first time...the pain, the embarrassment, the circumstances...

I was a sophomore in high school and I was on the track team.  I was never a fan of the 1 mile in track or even the 2 mile in cross country.  I wasn't very fast, but I could run a long time (about 6 - 10 miles by that point).  Usually after practice, if I did not feel that I'd gotten enough out of it, I would go to the local running park and do some more.  We had a very nice coach, but he was a football coach, and I don't think he really knew how to make us better runners.  The only thing I remember him teaching me was to pump my arms more.

So, in my sophomore year, I chose the 300 hurdles instead of the mile because it seemed more challenging.  It seemed that you had to have endurance to not only run, but leap, and that was something I had.  My coach was game (maybe foolishly so) and I became a 300 hurdler along with 2 other girls and a few guys.

We practiced hard.  One of the more experienced hurdlers was also a cheerleader and her form was perfect.  One of the rules of hurdling was to spend as little time in the air as possible. The leap was to be quick and short.  The right leg lifted straight in front and the left leg bent to the side of the runner (those who lead with the right leg anyway) moving in an arc-like motion to propel them quickly forward.  We practiced that left leg move quite a bit.

Being that I was brand new to the sport of hurdling, I spent a long time up in the air.  I could've eaten a sandwich while up there.  The pictures are hilarious and maybe someone should have recruited me for basketball instead.  I flew WAY above the hurdle, arms splayed, right leg somewhat straight out in front of me, with my left leg under me more than to my side.  

Still, as time went by, I began to improve.  My air time began to shorten and before long, I was running neck and neck with the cheerleader (who uttered expletives every time she jumped). 

One day during practice the coach came over to me and told me he wanted me doing the 100's too.  These freaked me out.  They were higher and closer together.  I wasn't sure I could do it.  He and I stayed late after track practice, and he worked with me until I was comfortable with them.  The next day I would be running the 300s and the 100s at the track meet.

I went home that afternoon and I was tired.  My legs were unbelievably sore and I was worried they would hurt my performance in the meet.  I thought the best plan was to do a little jog around the neighborhood and loosen them up, and then soak in the tub for a bit.  I grabbed my Sony Walkman, put in my favorite cassette tape (yes, cassette tape) and started to slowly jog down the road.

I began to day dream about the track meet the next day.  I was nervous and excited.  I had some church friends who were going to come watch my meet, and my ex-boyfriend who I was continually trying to impress might also be there.  And all of a sudden I was down. My Walkman hit the ground and the batteries went flying.  I landed hard on my knees, and I felt such pain in my right ankle that I could not breathe.

Making a whimpering sound, I crawled around on the street collecting my batteries and then I tried to stand.  The pain was excruciating.  I became panicked.  What in the world had I done?  I looked at the road and right at the curb, the road cut off sharply and there was a drop to the ground below. I had simply stepped off the curb, landing with all of my weight on my ankle.

I hobbled home.  It was only about 2 tenths of a mile, but it felt like 10.  I was shaking and sobbing when I unlocked the door to an empty house.  Mom was out running errands and Dad was teaching a night class.  I sat on the couch and gingerly took off my right shoe.  I wanted to scream.  It looked as if someone had put a tennis ball in my ankle.  It was huge and grotesque.  (I am not exaggerating, Mom almost threw up).

I called my friend who was in town from college.  He was an athlete and I thought he might know what to do.  When he answered, I was so hysterical he thought I was joking, but he soon hurried over when he realized I was not.

Both of my knees were bloody, so I attempted to clean them up before he got there.  He put my foot on ice and we sat there waiting for Mom to get home.  When she did, her eyes got wide.

"WHAT DID YOU DO?" she said gaping at my deformed foot.

I explained and we figured the best course of action was to go to the hospital to see if I'd broken it.  I had not, it was a sprain, but they said that could sometimes be worse.  They made a partial cast and wrapped an ace bandage around it instructing me to wear it even when I slept.  They also asked when my last tetanus shot had been, and since it had lapsed, they figured they'd address that as well.  At that point, I asked Mom if we could just leave, promising not to walk on my ankle, but she said no. 

So, I got a tetanus shot, a cast on my leg, and as I sat there waiting for the cast to dry, I realized I would not be running in the track meet the next day.  Tears began to run down my face as Mom assured me it would be okay.  I was given a pair of crutches and instruction on how to use them. 

Sleeping that night was nearly impossible.  My foot ached and my arm ached and my heart ached too.  How was I going to explain this to Coach Newby?  Was he going to be mad?  Would I ever be able to run again?  And I had to go to school tomorrow with crutches.  Everyone was going to look at me!  Oh the worries of a teenager.  I had them all in spades that night.

The next morning I almost passed out in the shower due to a sore arm and foot.  I sat down, waiting for it to pass and thought this was NOT a great start to the day.  Mom took me to a doughnut shop before school and I almost fell maneuvering to a table.  One of Mom's friends caught me and helped me sit down. 

Once at school, I avoided the gym like the plague.  Going from class to class was challenging though, and after Latin, who should offer to help me but my ex-boyfriend.  The one I was supposed to impress that afternoon with my amazing hurdling skills.  He was very nice and I was very embarrassed as we made our way to my next class, everyone staring (or so I perceived).

By the end of the day, I went to Mom's office (she was a guidance counselor at my high school) and Coach Newby was there. 

"I heard what happened," he said, but there was no anger in his voice.  He did wonder how I'd managed to hurt myself between practice late yesterday afternoon and today.  He patted me on the shoulder and told me to heal quickly and that was that.

I went home and my two friends from church who were supposed to come see me run, came over.  They hung out for a little while trying to console me and make me laugh.

The next few days were hard and disappointing.  The Sadie Hawkins Dance was approaching and I was just about to get up the nerve to ask a guy I liked to go with me when the ankle incident occurred.  I wouldn't be going to that either.  My best friend, Kathryn, came over instead that night and we watched movies and made fun of my foot which was so swollen by then, it looked like a cabbage patch doll's foot (that is how we described it).

I never did run hurdles again.  The leaping and landing was just too much and then the season ended. The next year I joined the swim team instead.  I kept running, since that was my first love, but it was always on my terms and no one else's.  I may have done a disservice to myself with that choice, but there is no way of knowing now.

From that time on, it was very easy to sprain or roll my ankle.  As time wore on and I became more comfortable with it, I began paying it less and less heed when it happened.  The last year or so, I've done it several times on trails, and I've finished the race or the run anyway.  Just like yesterday. 

This morning it is sore and stiff, although I can't really tell if it is swollen because it is permanently bigger than my left one due to all the rolling and spraining. I'm still pretty pumped about my pace yesterday.  It is helping build the confidence I need to face the upcoming marathon and my hope for a PR.  And while I could have done without the rock in the sidewalk, I did enjoy taking a stroll (run?) down memory lane, remembering another piece of the story in my journey as a runner.


  1. Sorry about your ankle! I hope it is just a temporary thing, and it sounds like it since you were able to finish your run with that AwEsOmE time!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Great job, you are so ready!!

  2. Thank you, my friend! I am excited about a good run and I am feeling ready!

  3. Well then my mission is accomplished. :)

  4. Oh no! Can't believe you did that and kept running. A swollen ankle is no fun, but, as usual, you turned it into a great story :)

  5. Another entertaining post from my running hero! Enjoyed that walk down memory lane with you, sweet girl, and still laughing at your "Cabbage Patch Doll" analogy!

    And, yes, you must read 1000 gifts! I started my "list" today. Let me know when you get it. I'm looking forward to the videos with the author on the Bloom book club.