We were still in Antigo. I was really hoping to make the leap to the next town given we had started to head south on the trail. Just one more night in Antigo is what I kept reminding myself. We got to the trail early AM – Kettlebowl…a ski area with wide trail and easy terrain. It was time to make magic happen. I started on my day 10 journey south. I stood at the trailhead watching Brian drive away on the highway heading towards the next segment 10 miles away. I didn’t want to be alone for 10 miles. By this point, I didn’t know what to think about anymore. It was time to start. I took a deep breath, reminded myself not to start crying at any point in the early AM (it was too soon), and ran. I made it 10 feet before stopping. I was dead in my tracks as I looked down at my feet. I knew it was nearly impossible to get my shoes on that morning, but Brian helped and they were mostly laced all the way. I didn’t know what was happening. It felt like draggers in my lower legs; the pain and swelling in my feet and ankles was moving more and more into my lower legs. Sometimes one side was more painful than the other, just depended on the day I suppose. I tried to run again. I didn’t get far. I texted Brian to come back – I knew in my core something more than aches and pains was wrong. It was time to go to the doctor.
I nearly fell to the trail in tears. I had given in to going to the doctor. I kept playing on repeat each day of this journey trying to recall the moment when I may have fractured my bones? Or did I roll my ankle and didn’t realize it? What was this pain I was experiencing? Why are there bruises all over my ankles? I walked, barely, back to the trailhead and Brian was there. I explained what was going on and honestly, he seemed quite upset. At the time, I felt he was upset and frustrated with me for stopping, but I think it was more concern than anything. He knows if on day 10 I asked to see the doctor, it was likely day 5 I really probably did need to see a doctor. He, for better and worse, knows me too well.
Brian had already put out feelers for a PT, chiropractor, doctor…anyone in the area to come check out the swelling in my legs at the hotel. Given it was early AM when I stopped, we first went to the emergency room. X-rays didn’t show any problems with my bones, but the doctor just kept telling me I sprained both ankles and to stop running. I know what that feels like and my ankles were not sprained! I knew that 100%. I just nodded and after getting his write up about sprained ankles we left.
We headed back to the hotel to ice and heat. After, I laid my upper body on the bed, legs dangling off, and was out cold. Brian was on the phone with Rivs who apparently said to let me sleep as long as possible. He woke me with enough time to put on a pair of sandals and head to Swauno where a local PT would be taking a look at my legs. It would be about an hour drive. I was nervous I wouldn’t be back in time. For what? I’m not sure. It was a great experience and the massage felt so great on my legs. He thought the problem was stress reactions – the stage before a fracture. The swelling didn’t reduce at all, but he put some tape on my lower legs to reduce blood flow to the area to try to prolong more swelling. It would be nearly 4pm before getting back to Kettlebowl…this is what I was nervous about…getting back to. Would I be able to carry on this journey?
After telling Rivs about my day at the doctor and PT, he still was convinced there was nothing structurally wrong. My body was simply still adapting. I agree – I was rooting for that answer. But, I couldn’t ignore the weird pain below my knee. It just simply was unavoidable.
I took my trekking poles with me this time as I started back out on Kettlebowl 10 hours after starting earlier that morning. Nothing. I simply couldn’t even trot. I hiked 2 miles before Brian met me on a dirt road. That was the plan so we could assess what was going on and if I would continue for the evening. It was during that 2 mile hike that I made the decision to stop. My journey ended. But I continued to go back and forth between continuing and ending. I was able to convince my mind of both options and yet continued to fight for the opposite answer and so forth. It was numbing. When I start to feel this way and can’t make decisions for myself, I generally turn to Brian. I knew that wouldn’t work this time. This wasn’t deciding what would be for dinner. I typically then turn to Rivs. That wasn’t going to work either. He’s my coach and although like my brother, I can tell him anything, I knew I couldn’t ask him to make this decision for me. I called my sister.
If there is anyone in the world that can look at a situation with zero emotion and really figure out what is best for me, it would be my sister. And that’s exactly what she did. I spoke with her as I hiked on the trail describing all the thoughts in my head, both positive and negative, trying to decipher if any of my thoughts to end this journey were simply out of exhaustion. She broke it down for me and said this: “Annie, your whole mission was one of respect towards your body. Your body can do anything, but not without respect.” At this point, to continue meant not listening to some foreign message coming from my body. She was right. It would be sheer disrespect of my vessel. I was, in that moment, able to argue with her on that. She (and Brian too) continued to remind me that this isn’t my lifetime running goal. This is just my goal for 2017. Brian had asked if I was willing to lose my long-term goals in order to do this. No. My sister asked if I was ready to hike for a long time, but that’s the thing…my goal simply was not a hike through. It was at that moment, after hearing my sister’s and Brian’s words, I realized I needed to stop. Yes, something was not right in my lower legs, but even more, my goal was not to hike the IAT. My goal was bring the women’s record close, or even better, than the men’s record. If I were to hike this that would not even be in the sights. I made the decision to end my journey. I cried. A lot.
Brian and I drove back to the hotel. I was in some serious denial to be honest. I really thought we would just pick up again tomorrow. Wake up early, get back to the trail, spend all day running, and do it again the next day. I continued to think about how I really could keep going, that I didn’t need to stop. My legs would be better in a day. I tried everything to convince myself of anything but the idea of stopping. There were local people coming up to us at restaurants wondering if we were the ones on TV and wishing us good luck. There were articles in local papers and on the news. I was heart-broken. I felt like I was letting the world down and in my eyes it was due to something I did. The ER doctor really had me convinced I screwed up. We were all packed up and ready to head home around noon the next day. Carrie and Tim came back for more video footage at Kettlebowl and the hotel first. I have to admit now, I think she’s pleased there will be a second attempt and more awesome footage for her documentary. Definitely loads of drama, that’s for sure!
The car ride home was tough for me. At some point, Brian just had to start saying ‘get over it.’ He still does even today and it’s June. I decided not too long after finishing to attempt again in October. And what really sealed the deal for me to try again was going to the doctor on Friday morning (the day after we left Antigo for home) and hearing what he had to say…”no, it’s not cellulitis and you don’t have any bone issues; you have an infection.” I was put on a steroid for a week and it was gone. So much disappointment, but on the flip side it wasn’t an injury. To hear there really was ‘nothing’ wrong, I’m thinking “OMG why did you stop?!” But I know what bacterial/parasite/etc. infections can look like and turn into. No thanks. Not worth it.
So I’ve just been recovering and got back to running about 10 days after my journey ended on May 10th. During my time off, I adopted the nickname ‘swamp leg’ from Rivs…and it went viral on Mountain Outpost – thanks buddy J I still have my goal to reattempt in the fall after doing Leadville in August. Rivs truly believes I can accomplish both goals successfully and I agree. I can do it. I could have done it. I can’t control certain things and the standing water filled with bacteria was one of those things. It sucks, big time, but that’s life, right? I feel in my heart I made the right decision, but my mind is telling me I should have sucked it up and kept going. Ultra-runners run through pain all the time – why couldn’t I? I was convinced I wasn’t as good as any other runner after this. I then remembered Karl Melzer’s attempt on the AT – it took 3 tries over 8 years. Wait a second. You mean he’s also human like me? I needed to be a little kinder to myself. There was nothing I could have done differently. Sure, there are things I’m going to change for round 2, but in the end, what I did on the trails was done right. I continue to remind myself of that every day. I want the world to know they can do anything, and yes, sometimes failure has to happen for an even better finish later on when you least expect it. I’m scheduled to attempt again, and I will. I will get this FKT and show the world I am capable, strong, determined, and love my body enough to treat it right. Let the training begin…
Blog author: Annie Weiss, MS RD; ultra-endurance athlete and dietitian living and training in Milwaukee, WI. She is a sponsored athlete/ambassador for lululemon, Swiftwick Socks, AltraRunning, The OrangeMud, and Fluid Nutrition. Follow her training/racing on Twitter & Instagram: ani_weiss and Facebook: Ani Weiss.