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A Bout with Blisters

It's a beautiful day in the desert and I'm checking off another great AM up near the Magnificent 7 Trails on my week off from the office. I know, you miss me but I needed a bit of a running break-

The stabbing pain yanked my foot out from under me. A little grit, a little gore… I had been coaxing myself along through the pain and the human discomfort.. I was finally out doing what I loved! Oh what I wouldn’t give for this sunshine and these trails every day. Forget work, I quit! (Oh... those student loans and that thing called food… Fine. I'll be back in...)

A few days away from the clinic were just what I needed to finally relax after a very busy spring. Thank god, I was needing time off! I had been following a little wisp of single track for two hours and still felt fabulous. The sun was shining softly and the gentle breeze felt nice and cool on my bare skin. I had dressed for heat and decided to carry a big water bottle instead of wearing a backpack. I was sick of rub marks and this little bottle would surely be easy to carry. I had been climbing and my arms were stronger this year than in previous years.

It was still early and little Hemi-dog was happily loping beside me, his tongue dancing in the wind. It was our 4th day straight of running I thought with a mix of sadness and bliss..My climbing partner was MIA on a work trip and in giving up our normal explorations, it had finally left time for me and what I love to do… I hadn’t been running like this in forever, it felt so good. I felt as if I had never taken a break. It was totally worth it to get up early to not share the trail with bikes just yet. I’m always leery of running with bikes around with Hemi-dog. He’s pretty well trained and hugs my heels but in sharp corners and blind hills I’m just overly cautious. I don’t want to screw up anyones ride, nor do I want hemi becoming a tire accessory. Currently, we were the only ones out there after our 6:30am start. And it was a beautiful day.. We danced between cactus, trees and slick rock entwined with roots. The rim of the canyon appeared beside us and the beautiful La Sals stood out upon a clear bluebird day. How lucky were we! To be breathing the clear air, to be running in such nice weather, to be able to experience a 360 of beauty beauty beauty?! Increasing the pace, I realized why I love running in the desert. The heat allows my muscles to open up. The stride is easier and the lungs are definitely happier with all the extra oxygen that all the Colorado trails don’t seem to want to share. I was flying along in an old pair of shoes I last wore in an ultra a few years ago. In anything over 50 miles, the races allow you to swap out shoes (or leave anything yummy in a drop bag for you to look forward to). I definitely remember these shoes being padded, which was a bonus as we were out pounding slickrock, however they weren’t the best on angled terrain. I was hellbent on wearing them out so I could chuck them. Super padded shoes don’t make it past 300 miles, the EVA foam wears out very fast, especially on cambered terrain. Take in the angle and the foam and try to run flats on them and that is the very best way to get injured… Just watch a runner with bad technique in a pair of Hokas at the 500 mile mark, it’ll make you nauseous if you watch how the shoe squishes and buckles in a straight line. Poor shoe. Mine were almost there, I could feel extra pressure on my arches as my feet sunk into the shoe bed. Huh, these aren’t exactly cut out for this trail, but darn if my joints will feel great afterwards. Less vibrational force means less repair, I’ve learned that on slick rock races. Compression wear and padding go a LONG way on this terrain.

A raven flew overhead and I got lost in the beauty of feathers and the shape of its shadow. What a beautiful creature. Suddenly I caught sight of a matching shadow on a course for intersection with the bird. The same size and shape, I realized while cringing that the birds appeared like they were going to collide midair! Obviously the saw each other…Was this a territorial battle? A strange mating dance? Without changing position, the birds continued on course and at the very last second, the top bird flipped upside down as their wings appeared to brush along each other. It was like something out of the movie Top Gun, these two birds must have known each other, they must be mates I thought. I continued to watch as they flew off together to dance on the breeze beside each other further across the canyon. How beautiful. It had been a few minutes and I realized Hemi-dog might need some water. Looking back, his tongue was still lolling out happily however the space between us was growing with each mile. Usually leading the charge, the small terrier was now a good 10 feet behind me. Strange, it was still cool out and he appeared to be in perfect shape. Most likely it was time to turn around, his pads were probably down to the wear bars. I looked ahead once again and dipped my head under an extended branch of a tree.

Fully aware of the mild hum of pain that I was able to mostly ignore earlier in the run, I on the other hand, had pushed through mine. We progressed slowly forward taking breaks as needed for Hemi-dog to enjoy the shade. The new blisters were talking to me from yesterdays’ run up onto the plateau above Moab. I’ve been spending too much time climbing and not running I realized. Well, these small blisters were in no way a reason to go home early. We continued onwards as I promised him only 15 minutes more, I just had to see what was around the next bend.

My usual weakness, I’m drawn to trails that meander over and around mountains, cliffs, and anything I haven’t seen before. Old or new, the trails draw me as I absorb the finer nuances of scenery, color and depth. We were only another mile along when my right arch finally decided to end my procession. I felt like I heard the black bird from Edgar Allen Poe’s poem… Nevermore.

I’ve ran through fractures, I’ve pushed through tendonitis and knee swelling, its safe to say I can usually handle this sort of stuff. It was time to turn around I told myself, but not before I tried to continue for a few steps (or a 1/4 mile) to ensure it wasn’t in my head. I tried all the basics, willing the pain out of my head. Telling myself it’s a new freshie and that the pain sensors will eventually fade and stop telling me their tale of woe. It didn’t change, if anything trying to ignore it only let me know how much it was throbbing. I really did need to re-read Vertical Mind to ensure there wasn’t some little tidbit in there that might be useful for today. Now Hemi was in the lead, standing up there waiting for me… The smile of happiness replaced with a head tilted to one side and a question in his eyes. Yes, I am an idiot and yes, we should turn around. I pulled over and evaluated the damage, the oversized blisters edge had been pulled back to reveal an angry red eye. I noticed that the surrounding tissue was also red and unhappy… how long had this been going on? I’m really good at mentally ignoring things, perhaps a little too good. Ok, thats a mis-statement. My weekend’s being side railed by a damn little blister, I’m one to talk. The mental warfare of judgement of others all these years and actually reliving this idiotic tale was too much. Especially stuck in the desert with nobody to talk to besides myself. It was all to much.

As I took off my shoe to examine my minuscule blister, my mind jumped to the topic of pain management and adversity…It’s amazing what we can manage and what manages us. Our skin, the most delicate sensitive tissue on our body has more nerve endings than any other structure. Designed to protect us from danger (and from ourselves obviously), a small tear or hole can steal your full attention…Or make you limp all the way back to the car. As I removed my shoe I blinked slowly at the disarray. How could something so unimportant steal my fun? I mean, I was 4 days into a 7 day vacation and this little inch long blister from yesterday had decided to tear open and then insult me by bitching about it. The jagged skin along the rim overlapped red angry tissue from below. It was a deep blister. Damn.

I had been focusing harder on ignoring this little monster than I had been on the last 4 miles of the Leadville 100. Before the little monster tore I was trotting along thinking to myself about the line between running through pain JUST to enjoy my weekend, and the fact that the pain making it hard for me to enjoy anything. I took off my rose colored glasses… Damn, little, bugger! I let out a yell of exasperation. I felt great, hemi was still doing fine, we could just progress slowly but the idiot who decided to not wear socks and to not pad the almost-blister with prevention tools forgot to show up for work. This is how great weekends are ruined. I was appalled. I am the one who laughs when people tell me their little blister ended their run. I’m now that person, and damn if they don’t hurt like hell. Again, how. can. one. little. mark. ruin. my. day?!?

We encountered our first cyclists roughly 1/4 of the way back to the car. I had been hobbling on the blister trying not to weight it too much and trying to not modify my gate and create another issue up the kinetic chain. Immediately upon noticing the first bike was flying along, I dodged towards Hemi to put him safely between my feet and to jump off the trail onto a safe section of rock where I wasn’t going to damage the crypto… That final motion on the angled surface was the end of me. I let out a muffled yell as I felt the blister tear. Going through my list of words not to be typed in this diary of sorts, I felt the extra sideways motion that shouldn’t have occurred in my shoe followed by searing hot pain and immediate wetness of my blister tearing wide open … Shit, cuss, damnit. Hemi-dog was stoked… We were finally and with all definitiveness heading back in. (Ok, I lied, I hadn’t turned around. Now I was and wishing I had previously). Darn stubborn heart. Limp, shuffle shuffle, limp. This shoe was killing me just pressing into the shredded tissue. My ego was killing me. I had to take it off. Its time to let them both go.

I offered the little fella some water as we waiting for the long line of bikes to pass, there must have been 12 of them. He wasn’t thirsty, thank God it was still a cold morning… and I took my shoe off for a bit to see if walking without it would take the pressure off my arch. It did! I was completely pain free without that damn beast of a shoe. I mean, who runs in these things when they aren’t injured? I’ve logged thousands of miles without an issue. I’ve learned my lesson. Flat boring trails with high mileage or running through an injury (while it heals), Hokas. Slick rock trails- anything else. And perhaps sizing my shoes up a size to protect the toes isn’t good for side hilling… Just saying.

The breeze was saving us. Slick rock feels REALLY hot when you aren’t moving fast, its perfect for sunbathing or cooking an egg, not for standing around all day. I looked up to realize the sun wasn’t yet high but the heat was creeping up quickly. It was time to hurry back in, lagging around without shade was idiocy.

We made pretty good time trotting along on the slick rock. I thanked the heavens every time we hit soft sand and I actually smiled at the cyclists and enjoyed gabbing with them as they passed. Trotting home without my shoes on isn’t something I’m proud of, but I learned a lot about judging others for their blisters. Such a tiny small thing really does make a big difference. Letting go of my self-judgement I promised myself and my running buddy I’d pay extra attention to both of our feet for next time. He smiled at me from the passenger seat, he didn’t care in the least. Just like with climbing, we are our own worst judge aren’t we?

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