Frustrations and challenges as an injury arrives

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Jose nearing the finish at their National marathon Championship victory in December 2014
Randy and Jose nearing the finish at their National marathon Championship victory in December 2014.

It’s so easy and fun to share success and celebration and so much more difficult to report on setbacks, failures and injury. Very often I can use determination, willpower, and perseverance to overcome many obstacles and achieve fantastic results. I think occasionally this creates an illusion for some that I do not get mired in frustration or failure at times. Right now I’m in the midst of one of those challenging times which has some ramifications I’m still exploring and trying to find ways to manage properly. I hope it may lend a beneficial perspective for people to get a look inside one of these difficult times for me.

Several weeks ago, I finished a run through Mine Falls which had gone poorly due to some type of stomach bug. As I recovered from that a few days later, I noticed my lower calf into the Achilles tendon was unusually tight. I worked at stretching it but it was fairly minor so I didn’t worry too much. A five-mile outside run with a friend had loosened it up nicely and alleviated my concerns. With Kilimanjaro looming, I broke in new hiking boots on a series of mountain climbs of ever-increasing duration and the tightness seemed manageable through those.

Yet, every faster run or hill-based run soon had the tightness returning and worsening. I have a fair bit of neuropathy in my legs which can mask pain, but soon it was clear to me that the Achilles was sensitive to the touch at an unacceptable level. It was relatively pain-free without my weight on it, but when would lean my knee over my feet with weight, that stretch would be very painful. Every morning I began to hobble a little more. When going down stairs, the back foot would really let me know it was unhappy. It was time for some professional medical explorations.

I halted all training, began a regimen of 4x’s-day ice and Achilles-specific massage while awaiting the appointments. Two weeks of rest with those treatments improved things notably but it hadn’t gone away.  The doctors initially suggested bilateral Achilles tendonitis and a specialist modified the diagnosis to bilateral Achilles tendinopathy. The physical therapy began that same day and continues for a bit of time still ahead.

The harder news is that this condition has an age component and I’m certainly getting older. Often this is not a curable situation as much as it is a managed care approach to minimize the impact. While it absolutely does not presently halt any of my athletic goals ahead, it does add a component of uncertainty.

Kilimanjaro remains absolutely certain at this point. It’s the California International Marathon and the USABA Championships which, while still likely, will require me to be very attentive to continually working with and adjusting a plan for managing the injury and easing into the right training for that injury. My original plan had August 3 as the start of my formal training, but I have not yet even been able to reach out to guides because of the uncertainty of how/when to begin training properly. I may still be a few weeks away from knowing more.

Friend and 2020 Vision Quest secretary John Swenson guides Randy through a water crossing on Mt Liberty.
Friend and 2020 Vision Quest secretary John Swenson guides Randy through a water crossing on Mt Liberty.

So, you may ask, how am I managing my approach?

Overall, I’m fine mentally and emotionally. There is certainly frustration, but I’ve already begun the shift of mentality to accepting my present condition and exploring every possible means to go forward successfully. Well, perhaps not every possible means, as while there are many marvelous home remedies folks might begin suggesting, I need to reasonably limit myself to a targeted plan that has earned my confidence. I’m on the path of that targeted plan right now and will continue to research and undertake with my full determination.

Does that mean I’m not still a little down when my foot hitting the floor each morning gives a little pain and tightness? Of course I feel that frustration, but now I’m as quick to reach for the leash and try the stretch techniques to help it improve and continue to heal. It’s the small steps forward with the long-term goal still in my vision but not overshadowing the need to attend to a lot of small details to manage the immediate challenge. After all, you don’t get to those glorious summits without learning how to manage all the twists and turns of the trail along the path, without learning to get up after each fall and without a little consideration for how to ensure we fall a little less along the way.


Dome sweet Dome — Everything we seek in a peak!

By Randy Pierce

First stream crossing on Carter Dome.

It was an ambitious goal for our Carter-Moriah hiking team a few weeks ago to achieve all four summits, and more unrealistic with the hot and humid pair of days we chose for them. So while there was some trepidation in the initial decision to skip Carter Dome, the reality was a wonderful gift as the Dome earned a hiking day of its own.

Hiking on a schedule can provide an element of obligation and pressure if keeping the schedule is too significant. The completion of our initial 2020 Vision Quest to climb all 48 peaks in the non-winter is just such a situation. Adding this “make-up” hike into the schedule was difficult and moreso as the weather in the White Mountains suggested more rain, something all too prevalent this season.

Departing Nashua at 4 a.m. with steady rain dampened the spirits a bit. Arriving to the trailhead for 19-mile Brook Trail with clouds but no rain eased that considerably and the voices of our hiking companions coming together finished the job of building enthusiasm. It was a Friday morning, and while many would be undertaking the normal working world routines, we were headed into the deep woods of Zeta Pass and beyond.

Kyle would lead and hike with us for likely the final official 2020 Vision Quest hike while Stephani was undertaking her first with our crew as Mike returned for his second, opting to share his Isolation experience again. Sarah was sneaking in one more hike while John, Dana, Tracy, me and Quinn came together as they have for much of this final season. A successful day would put us back on schedule with just “two to do” in our goal.

Sun streaming through the trees near Zeta Pass.

The pace was steady and the temperatures a comfortable cool as our hike along the brook delivered cascade after cascade and the peaceful quiet of a forest’s early morning. Shortly after the first mile, a light rain began to play percussively upon the leaves of our woodland canopy, some small bit of which dripped lightly upon us. However, the hike was underway and spirits were undaunted.

Much laughter and conversation kept the crew climbing past water crossings and trail junctions and soon the rain was gone and sun rays were streaming through breaks in the trees. Near to Zeta Pass, we paused as the ground was steaming and the low foggy swirls seemed to dance in the rays of those sun streamers. As each person walked through the trail, a swirling of the fog enhanced the splendor of the scene.

This wonder buoyed our steps further and a snack break at the pass let us recline on the rare bench built in the very place we’d opted out of our last hike to this summit. Sitting at 4,000 feet already, we knew it was a totally different status than our last visit. Strong and eager, we set upon the trail traversing the side of Mt. Hight and reaching the Dome before lunch. We took a short stay to record the official summit and observe the overlook towards the presidential peaks, and we set our goal for a bonus hike of Mt. Hight on the return trip.

Randy and Tracy kiss at the summit of Mt. Hight.

Mt. Hight has a 360-degree view from its rocky summit and proved an ideal leisurely lunch location. The skies which had vastly cleared to give us excellent views let us bask in warm sun, with a cool mountain top breeze to hold the comfort. We knew we were indeed a fortunate few capturing such a moment together. As the clouds began to return and distant sounds of rumbling thunder suggested it was time to begin our descent, there was a contentment settling deep within.

That descent was perhaps the steepest and most tricky footing of the hike, yet it passed quickly enough to put us back to Zeta pass with perhaps more enthusiasm than we’d departed a few hours earlier. Swift and steady hiking began to build discussion of stopping at the massive dammed swimming hole near the lower trail section.

The group cools down with a swim after a long day of hiking.

Discussion led to reality and soon many were diving and swimming, sometimes shrieking as the icy temperatures shocked our systems on this late August afternoon. Cold water soothed our feet while the woods were soothing spirits. Yet another delight was revealed when Mike spotted a blue heron watching our revelry from just a short bit upstream.

Reluctantly, boots were donned and we swiftly traversed the last section of trail at speeds which belied a blind hiker was being guided! Unwilling to relinquish the day quite yet, we retreated to a nearby restaurant to share toasts and food aplenty. I don’t think it can ever be sufficiently expressed how a shared experience of such majesty as these mountains provide meaningful connections which linger in every reflection of the day. We captured it all on our return to Carter Dome and were gifted with an experience that we fortunate few will likely treasure often.

All of this because a weary crew on a previous hike made the right decision. Pushing just for a goal would have made the peak possible, but likely more of a drudgery than the celebration it deserved. That same crew finished a three-peak weekend in celebration of the experience, the wiser among them already knowing that another day in the White Mountains would be ahead and that was a blessing not a curse. Dome Sweet Dome was a blessing indeed!

Another gorgeous summit achieved!

*Photos courtesy of John Swenson and Mike Cherim.


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