Wherein I attempt to share useful advice

So needless to say, being injured has been an interesting (albeit unpleasant) experience. This bizarre cycle of losing tons of fitness through excessive resting and then re-injuring myself as soon as I try to start back up again — that has gotten very old very quickly.

I’ve run into three problems:

1. Diagnosis — I really don’t have the problem figured out completely. I wasn’t sure if I just strained a muscle (I was thinking soleus) or if I straight-up tore something (like a vertical tear in the achilles or something).

2. Re-injury prevention — Because I didn’t know what I did, I’m not clear on how I can avoid re-injuring myself. That’s the thing: for the first few weeks, I wasn’t sure if it was a result of running and cycling, running and swimming, just plain running, or even just plain cycling. I’m still not 100% certain how I did it in the first place, and that makes it pretty tough to avoid doing it again.

3. Rehab — It’s really easy for you to play armchair physiotherapist and say, “Duh—stop running, moron!” But newsflash: it’s an injury in a largely tendinous region of the body. That means it’s difficult to get a lot of blood flow in there, and when it’s hard to get blood flow, it’s hard to heal. So to some degree, I need aerobic exercise to keep a higher rate of blood flow. The other question is, do I put heat on it (like I would a muscle strain) or do I ice it (like I would a tendon injury)?

Fortunately, in the middle of all of this, the world’s finest exercise science and sports nutrition minds were convening a conference in Spain. And since it’s 2015, that meant I got to follow along via Twitter. Asker Jeukendrup had to make things one step simpler when he took all of the cool info I saw in 140-character tweets and summarized it like this:

Graphic summarizing how to get over an achilles tendon injury.
Holy simple, right?

Being the self-diagnosing hypochondriac that I am, and since I couldn’t get an appointment with a running doctor until December, I decided to start treating it like a tendon injury. I’m downing gelatin and vitamin c, and I’m trying to avoid impactful exercise.

So I had a recovery regimen to commit to. Then I read Born to Run (which, I should mention, was a brutal hatchet job on Ann Trason — but that’s a different story), and I started wondering about whether the new pair of Nike Pegasus shoes I got last Christmas are playing a role. Christopher McDougall, of course, hangs out with Jon Krakauer and therefore doesn’t have a lot of credibility in my book. But he’s not the only one out there who has suggested running shoes might play a role in the high rate of injury among North American runners.

The other day, I found myself in the mountains with a group of people leaving on a little nature hike. I’d talked them into doing it on the lower elevations of the Aspen Grove-Mt Timpanogos trail. After moseying along for the first mile with the group, I got an itch, poked my way to the front and took off on a little jog up the trail. When I got to the turnaround point, I didn’t feel like turning around—so I didn’t. I kept going.

It wasn’t until I’d gotten about three miles and 1,800 feet up the trail that I decided to call it a hike. By then, I could see the summit far above, with the clouds hovering, brooding over the snow-covered dampness of the mountain. So I bounded back down, fully expecting to have worsened my injury.

To my surprise, the next day my calf felt pretty good. I’d even felt some tightness while I was headed up, but that was all gone when I woke up the next morning. The familiar soreness in my gluteal and vastus muscles was back—and that just plain felt awesome.

But it got me wondering about trails. Maybe there’s still something I can do on trails. Maybe snowshoe season will be nicer to me than I expect. We’ll see.

Cold, wet, miserable … and happy

In my early years as an amateur cyclist, I used to do nothing in the winters. I couldn’t ride the bike, and the internet experts somehow convinced me that specificity was so important that I shouldn’t bother with anything that didn’t involve pedaling. Some of the blame was mine too — I took cycling way too seriously in those first few years.

Somehow, through the Thanksgiving Day 5k races, I managed to adopt running for some of those winter months, which paid off to some degree. But in 2008 (I think) I went to a used gear sale at my alma mater and found a pair of Crescent Moon snowshoes on sale for a mere $70. I say that with some sense of irony, because my wife thinks anything that costs more than $10 is incredibly expensive and an overwhelming burden on our family. (Hey, that frugal attitude has gotten us pretty far, so don’t knock it!)

Snowshoeing in Park City
Snowshoeing in Park City

I think I used my snowshoes first in Utah at a couple of different trails in Ogden and Park City. But then I learned we had a bunch of snowshoe trails in the mini-mountains around our local bunny hill, and I even found a map online, because that’s how resourceful I am. So I drove my car up to the bunny hill and found a trail named “Lower Cole’s Climb” …

Moments later, I was gasping as I marched up into the forest between the bushes and trees, the claws of my snowshoes digging in to the icy snow beneath me. The climb was narrow, serpentine, and brutal — taking me up the face of a mountain that I would later learn was completely inaccessible in the summer.

Each weekend after, I would come back, sometimes with my brother-in-law but often alone, and explore another part of the trail system. There were overwhelming and exposed quick climbs, eerily still and narrow forest routes, and unrelentingly steep long climbs, all of which were rendered significantly more difficult when they were covered by fresh powder.

I remember telling my coworker I’d become a snowshoer who cross-trains with cycling, rather than a cyclist who cross-trains with snowshoeing. I even made a low-quality YouTube video about it at one point:

 

My favorite was to come to the hills when it was really, really cold — like in the negatives on the fahrenheit scale. The snow would be soft and dusty — perfect snowshoe weather and often cold enough to keep everyone else at home. Sometimes, I’d show up just after a patch of fog had rolled through, coating branches and limbs with hoarfrost, and giving the forest an other-worldly appearance. I’d get up on top of the high climbs and see the distant snow-covered peaks and wonder about snowshoeing on them.

Then there was the wildlife. After an exhausting 950-foot climb up the Moose Rim trail one cold morning, I was startled to find myself standing perhaps 15 feet from, of course, a moose. It was a bit of an awkward meeting, so I tried to break the ice by talking to it … or her, I guess. As I walked away, passing a group of trees next to the moose, I asked, “There isn’t another one over here, is there?” And sure enough, there was. That year, I saw seven moose in perhaps four weekends of snowshoeing.

I’d finish every hike with snow plastered to my back and ice crystalized on my neck gaiter. I’d strip off my jacket before I even got in my car. And by the time I got home and pulled into the garage, I’d be shocked to find my legs so fatigued that I’d have to sit in the car for a moment before I could muster the energy to go inside — where I’d gobble everything I could find and then take a well-earned nap.

One Saturday night, my wife and I were watching some special on PBS about a woman who’s a river guide in Idaho. The woman told the camera, “I need to get cold and wet and miserable, and then I can be happy.” My wife turned to me and said, “She’s just like you.” And she’s absolutely correct.

I don’t know why I’m writing this all in past tense and with perfect aspect. Fact is, I went snowshoeing again this morning, saw a bull moose with a cow, tripped and fell on my face,  came home with sore legs and wet clothes, and enjoyed it as much as I ever have. Guess I just wanted to share.

Rough Start

The snow finally came, and with it came snowshoe season—one of my favorite times of the year. My snowshoes now have a comfortable place in the backseat of my car, and my poles are tucked neatly against the passenger seat.

This past Saturday, I headed out on the trails near our local bunny hill, climbing 1,000 feet in less than a mile right out of the gate. Other than a few deer prints, I didn’t see any evidence anyone had used the trail lately. When I got up on top, however, I saw a print with toes …

Later, as I was making my way alongside a barbed-wire fence, a deer rustled in the trees not far away and then emerged, bounding across the trail in the snow. I thought I saw two or three of them, and then later, I came across another one—mule deer, with their huge ears. I was pretty tickled to be spending time in nature with no one but the wildlife to keep me company.

Later, as I curved around the radio tower—well out of screaming range of any other people—I stopped dead in my tracks at the sight of two large, dark animals ahead of me astride my trail: two adult moose stood there, eyeing me down in the snowy silence. I, of course, yelled at them, hoping they’d get the drift and scoot out of my way, but they just stood there and glared at me. Then, the female walked behind the male, and that’s when I realized how big a rack the guy had on him. I’d thought they dropped those before winter. Guess I was wrong.

I was just about to reroute to the cross-country ski trail when the two decided they’d had enough and trotted off into the forest. In the end, I didn’t see another human being at all in more than two hours on the trails. So my animal to human encounter ratio was something like 4-0 and 4-2 for the season.

This morning, I got up late for another snowshoe only to find the road coated with a thick layer of slick snow. That wouldn’t be much of a problem except for the fact that I drive a sedan that has a knack for sliding all over the place. I’m not sure what it is about Chevrolet Malibus, but our car cannot handle the winter time at all.

I made it just outside the canyon after admiring some bald eagles (add two more to the animal to human ratio) when my car slid out on the road. I turned around and went to go chain up only to discover my chains were worthless. After toying with them for nigh unto a half an hour, I threw them in my trunk in disgust and tried to head back up the canyon without them … and that’s when my car slid completely off the road.

One of my wheels was dangling, more or less, completely off the edge when cars started to stop and offer help. I declined having anyone come push, simply because I didn’t want my car sliding and crushing anybody, but I asked around for someone with a tow cable. Nobody.

Eventually, a rock-laying truck came along, and the guy stopped and pulled over just as I slipped and fell on my butt. I got up and he said, “That slick, huh?” Just as he said that, his truck began sliding from its completely parked position and I ran to steady it before it slipped off the road. He got back into the driver’s seat and backed up to better traction, and then he started warming up the motor for his truck to lay down some rock.

I was stuck waiting around for a little while longer when a nice woman came along and reluctantly asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?” I asked, “You don’t happen to have a tow cable, do you?” to which she answered that she didn’t. But then she rethought for a second and said, “Actually, maybe I do.” She got out, searched a first-aid kit in her trunk and found a tow rope.

I hooked it around my rear axle near my left wheel and then to her loop hitch on the back, and voila, I was out in moments. I thanked her and got on with defrosting my fingertips, all of which felt semi-hypothermic.

I drove home and then to the tire place to get some snow tires put on my car. Then I came home—$200 lighter. When my wife got home, the mountain bike was already sitting against our bannister, and my vexation at not having snowshoed was palpable.

Traction was good going up my local hill, and I managed to get up to the summit without putting a foot down. That soon changed as I found my way into some nasty drifts along the road. The wind picked up, and my hands again lost feeling. I wound up riding home on the rivet with a gale-force winter wind blowing the other direction.

As I walked in the door, I told my wife, “I’m going to be in pain in just a second,” and she responded, “Why? Did you crash or something?” “No,” I said. “My hands are just freezing.”

I sat on the couch and winced as I defrosted my digits, and in a few minutes everything was almost back to normal. “I just can’t catch a break today,” I told my wife.

Then I enjoyed the most exquisitely warm shower I can remember, slowly draining the cold from my shoulders with steaming hot shower water. And then, finally, it felt like Christmas vacation again.