When it goes wrong – pulling out of a race (My Wonderland 2016 report)

knee-injuryI was planning to write a race report this week from the Wonderland Trail Run I participated in recently. But my race ended just five kilometers into the 36km race. My left leg slipped on a wet rock and my knee bent in a way it wasn’t really designed to. As a result, I had to be assisted to an exit point.

While  I was devastated to have my race ended that way and to record a Did Not Finish (DNF) there were some lessons to learn.

1. Pay attention to the conditions

The conditions at the start of Wonderland and the weather forecast added a whole extra challenge. It was cold and wet with rain falling for most of the 48 hours before the run’s start time.

Although I’ve run a few trail races now, I didn;t do enough preparation for Wonderland. Although I’d done plenty of running prep, I should have surveyed the terrain before the run. I didn’t realise that so much of the course was going to involve traversing rocks and other slippery conditions.

If I had, I might have reconsidered my footwear as I suspect part of my problem was a lack of traction with my shoes. When I landed on that last rock my foot skated across the surface.

2. Listen to the race organisers 

The awesome organisers of Wonderland provide a list of items you must carry while on the trail. And, I have to admit, I was skeptical as to whether it was all necessary. But, even though I had everything I was required to carry I was thankful for the extra space blankets and a fleece jacket lent to me by Johnno – the paramedic who helped me out.

wonderland-bannerBy the way, here’s the list of items I needed to carry.

  • Gloves – Merino wool or synthetic – something that will keep your hands warm.
  • Beanie or THIR (Noggin tube fabric thing) www.thir.com.au
  • Emergency blanket – lightweight silver type is fine.
  • Long sleeve thermal top NOT compression wear. Merino or synthetic is fine.
  • Compression bandage min 7.5cm wide x 2.3m long unstretched
  • Waterproof jacket. I.E. jacket must be waterproof, windproof and to a level that will actually keep you dry and safe. We don’t care how much it costs BUT it must be rated as such to help save your life if something terrible happens. Suggested is a level of over 20,000mm hydrostatic head waterproof rating.
  • 400 calories of food
  • Mobile Phone. Telstra works best
  • Capacity to carry 500mls water minimum
  • Whistle for gaining attention to your situation.

I had all that but, if I do this next year, I’ll pack different gloves (mine weren’t waterproof although they did dry quickly), three emergency blankets and an extra thermal layer if the weather is similar.

The race FAQ notes “Go super cautious on the rock sections. Taking a bad tumble does not make for a fast time. The first half of the 20km course and the first 15km of the 36km course are areas of particular concern”.

I learned that one the hard way.

It also says “if you fall and cannot run or walk out, you may be waiting hours to be rescued. These items will keep you warmer, drier, less hungry and could also potentially save a trail buddies life”.

This was true for me. The biggest risk to my life and the people who helped me wasn’t my injury – it was hypothermia. The mandatory gear list and the extra gear provided by the paramedic and shared by my rescuers prevented a bad situation from becoming much worse.

3. Know your limits

Within 3km of the start, I knew I was well outside my comfort zone. Some people love scrambling through rocks and dealing with uneven terrain.

I don’t.

I had already slipped over before so was being pretty cautious when I fell. At that stage, I’d already started contemplating dropping out of the 36km event I’d signed on for and completing the 20km course instead.

The aftermath

It turns out I’ve probably dodged a big bullet. The damage to my left knee is limited to the medial meniscus and not, as initially feared, ligament damage. The doctor who treated me after I was ferried by ambulance from the point I was able to exit the course, was concerned that I had ruptured the Anterior Cruciate Ligament but the joint is stable, albeit sore.

I’m also an Ambulance Service subscriber. That costs a little over $40 per year but has saved me hundreds on the ambulance trip to healthcare facilities.

I’m now seeing a physiotherapist and doing some exercises, taking pain medication, icing regularly and wearing a compression bandage.

Hopefully, I’ll recover quickly and be back on the road for my next planned race – the Melbourne Marathon.

4 thoughts on “When it goes wrong – pulling out of a race (My Wonderland 2016 report)

  1. Les Corson

    Hey Anthony, sad to hear of your injury. Yes, the trail and conditions at Wonderland were unforgiving.
    And take heart, I rolled my ankle 10k in last year, 8 weeks out from Melb. mara, and still made the start line. Race wasn’t pretty, but it never was going to be after the loss of training. Be diligent with your rehab, and results will occur quicker was what I took out of last year.

    1. Anthony Caruana Post author

      Thanks Les – that’s really encouraging. The upside is that I’ve done plenty of solid kms this year so I’ve got a solid base having done the Surf Coast marathon already and trained for Wonderland. I’m walking, slowly, now and hope to be on a bike early next week.


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