Diversifying Activity to Overcome Injury

by Red Team Member Brandon Yonke

As we pursue training and those build up for our “A” goals, there are times that life’s metaphorical trail takes an unexpected turn. Altra Red Team athlete Brandon Yonke shared his story with us about dealing with a tough setback, and the rewards of diversifying activity while on the way to recovery.

“I’ve always enjoyed the spirt of the mountains, and especially an authentic, gritty, point to point race. Wasatch 100 was an obvious choice for me to target as my HR100 lottery entry, plus, it doubles as a Western States Endurance Run lottery entry race too. Double the reward, double the pressure.” Says Yonke, having left this race as his A-race and the only HR100/WSER qualifier of the year.

Yonke’s official training block would begin in May. He went into the month with 20 mile long runs and plenty of vert, planning on using an attempt at an FKT traverse in Rocky Mountain National Park as a preparatory adventure for the race, building up for a go sometime in July. “The route is essentially a “find your way” adventure from the north boundary of RMNP to Berthoud Pass/Empire, CO. It was Mountainous. Point to point. Just like Wasatch 100.”

With years of entry tickets for WSER, and the first year of HR100 on the line, Yonke did as most athletes would, and began training optimistically, jumping right in. On opening weekend of Rocky Mountain National Park’s Trail Ridge Road, Yonke packed his gear and headed north to where he planned to do most of the training for the summer. “I arrived to the north terminus of the route, put on my gear, and headed out for what was planned to be a 28 mile day of scouting the planned route”.

Despite our best planning and best intentions, things don’t always go our way. A plan is only that; a plan. It is not an absolute. “Three miles into the route, I tripped on a small rock, rolled my ankle, and knew my summer had just changed drastically. Following a loud snap, I went down to the dirt screaming.” Yonke got back up, and with pain-blocking adrenaline and disbelief clouding his judgement, went on trying to run off the pain. He quickly found that was not an option.

Lacking cell coverage, he pulled out his Spot GPS and sent a “something has happened, will attempt self rescue. Take no action” pre-made message to the people who he had told about the big training day. Seven hours later, he had limped his way out of the alpine and driven back to Denver.

Yonke was told that he had an avulsion fracture, where the tendon and muscle pull the bone away from itself, almost like pulling down a zipper. The remedy was twelve weeks confined to a boot. “It was so tough to wrap my head around. My whole summer of training was gone before it even started. I could take the boot off, but couldn’t put my foot on the ground. So close, but yet so far.”

Becoming involved in a sport changes who we are and how we define ourselves. Being separated from our ideal self can be mentally tough. “I define myself as a trail runner. Sometimes to the point where it places precedence over things it shouldn’t, but I absolutely am my fullest self when I am outdoors. I was forced to take a step - or a crutch - back from that definition.”

After healing enough after four weeks, Yonke was able to road bike with one foot clipped in, one foot in the boot. “It wasn’t the same as running, but it got me out there. Not having my usual trail-induced endorphin rush had me at a pretty low point. All I could think about was getting back out there.” Yonke says he spent most weekdays getting up at 3:30am to ride, as it takes a long time to prep for a ride with one foot.

Yonke lives in the town of Morrison, Colorado, about 20 minutes went of Denver. Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater is a common place to run he says, “but in alternating my activity, I found a new route to get excited about that I otherwise would have never considered.” Yonke figured out that there is an almost constant 9,000ft uphill from Morrison to the summit of Mt. Evans, a 14,000ft mountain, which would be exactly 100 miles round trip from his doorstep.

“That was my release. I had finally found something to focus on instead of the fact that I couldn’t run. I found something that I could get excited about, and that I could train for. This kept me going, and gave me a new sense of positivity.”

Yonke continued training for the big ride, and completed it just shy of 10 hours, boot and all.

“The ride was 80% right leg” he jokes “But I was so grateful to be back in the mountains, and after that day, I had renewed my confidence that maybe… maybe I could give this Wasatch 100 thing a good shot.”

Yonke was able to start running again in early August. “My calf and foot were so weak, but the joyful feeling of running was as strong as ever.” He managed to complete the Pawnee-Buchanan loop through the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado as his long 28 mile long run before Wasatch 100, which offers similar terrain and exposure. “It wasn’t an ideal training season, but I had to place trust that the biking had aided my aerobic levels, and the bit of running had me strong enough to go 100 miles. Trusting in ourselves is so important. The strongest voice you can hear is your own.”

Yonke arrived to race day feeling healthy and fit enough, but also knowing that he had to play an extremely smart day in order to do finish. “I wiped the goal board clean. The only goal became finishing. There was no time goal, no placement goal. As fun and tempting as it is to go hard in the mountains, I knew I need to place the long term goals ahead of today’s temptations.”

Yonke went in to the race loaded down with 140oz of water at the start of each aid station, and carrying more calories than normal. “I was emptying my water supply between each aid station. Whatever I wasn’t drinking, I was dumping on myself to combat the heat. Though this meant a slow day, my goal wasn’t speed, it was finishing.” Ultimately, this strategy paid off and Yonke made it through the heat of the day, crediting sticking to the plan and trusting the plan as a driving force.

After shedding lots of gear weight in the evening, Yonke was moving well and confident of the night ahead. “When I swapped my gear out at sunset and put on a lighter setup, I was moving so well. The race became a celebration of making it through a tough summer, instead of a test of if I was fit enough. Reframing the purpose of the race kept me going.”

After 99.9 miles, Yonke found himself going through the finish line chute.

“When the unexpected happens, we have options. I believe we are all so infinitely capable in what we can achieve. Diversifying our day to day activities may not be the easiest answer, but sometimes is the answer that is most beneficial. Above all… there is always something to celebrate. Stay positive, and celebrate those achievements, no matter how big or small.”

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