Jessie Diggins couldn’t recall exactly what happened two weeks ago when she was trail running in Lake Placid, N.Y. Maybe she hit uneven ground, misstepped and rolled her ankle, she couldn’t remember.
But for the record, the 22-year-old U.S. Ski Team (USST) and Stratton Mountain School T2 Team member reiterated that she didn’t fall. Not this time.
Regardless, the pain in her right foot was unsurmountable. Diggins had to cut her workout short on the second-to-last day of the USST’s dryland training camp – the day before the culminating Climb to the Castle – and limp back to the car. Fears of a stress fracture swirled in her head.
Within two hours, Diggins was at the hospital in Lake Placid. Doctors sent her in for an X-ray of her foot, and two hours later, a specialist examined the initial findings – which didn’t show much. The good news: no broken bones as far as the X-ray detected.
“It was amazing how fast they responded,” Diggins said in a phone interview on Sunday.
“Our team has kind of a history of dealing with injuries so it was like, woah, let’s just really be super careful,” she added. “They knew it wasn’t a break, but until we got the MRI, we weren’t sure exactly what was going on.”
Diggins took the cautious route and hobbled around on crutches for the next few days, wearing a boot on her right foot until she could get an MRI in Park City, Utah, her next stop on the training circuit.
The night of her hospital visit, Diggins reunited with her teammates in the dining area at the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center.
“I came in on crutches and everyone was like, ‘Oh, what did you do?’ ” she said. “And I was like, ‘I didn’t do that much. Don’t worry, it’s fine.’ I think the worst part was not knowing and worrying that I’d have to take serious time off training.”
Fortunately for Diggins, who explained she typically pushes through pain and sometimes even injuries – like the bone spurs on her heels early last season – this foot mishap was not something that was going to derail five months of dedicated training.
In Park City, the MRI revealed that she had strained the muscle between her third and fourth metatarsals, two of five long bones in her foot. USST physical therapist Adam Perrault advised that she prepare for a six- to eight-week recovery. She laughed and told him she could do it in four.
Last week, Diggins met with a foot specialist in Park City, where she’ll be through the upcoming USST camp from Oct. 7-28 (then she and the team fly up to Canmore, Alberta, for on-snow training). The doctor told her that other than this injury, she has “perfectly good feet.”
“Anyone who runs has pretty strong bones; it seemed to be just an out-of-the-blue thing,” Diggins said. “I don’t know that much about sprains or how they happen, but before then I felt absolutely no pain. I actually had no warning. … I think somehow, before I felt the pain, I stepped on a root and kind of torqued my foot. I don’t remember doing it, but it certainly could’ve happened.”
Earlier in the Lake Placid camp, Diggins had a bloody mishap when she tripped and fell on another trail run in the Adirondacks.
“In my self-defense, we found this natural waterslide,” she explained.
Diggins slid headfirst into a pool of water and lost one of her contacts. With blurred vision for the return run back, it was only a matter of time before crashed and burned, she reasoned. Fortunately, the scrapes on both knees weren’t too debilitating.
“Hopefully I got all my accidents out of the way at that camp,” she said.
Out of the boot for a while now, Diggins was recently cleared for classic skiing and has been pain free for nearly a week. She never missed a day of training – one if you count the Climb to the Castle – when she did a light session on the spin bike instead.
“The only thing I hate more than the Climb to the Castle is not doing it,” she said of the grueling rollerski race up Whiteface Mountain’s toll road.
This year, her roommate and training partner in Park City, Liz Stephen won the race for the third-straight time and set a new course record in the process.
Over the last two weeks, Diggins has spent plenty of time indoors on the bike, but hasn’t missed much on the skating side of training and could double pole as well. Since the motion of pushing off her toes was most troublesome, she stayed away from bounding and running outdoors, instead taking her striding to the Ultra-G treadmill, which allowed her to run with 70 percent of her body weight.
“You basically wear these shorts that you zip into the bubble over the treadmill, and the bubble inflates and lifts you up so that you can run at much less than your real body weight,” she explained on her blog. “You can be cruising along at a 6 minute mile pace and barely break a sweat! It’s pretty fun. Especially when Gilmore Girls comes on the TV.”
On Sunday morning, Diggins went out for a 3 x 20-minute Level 3 rollerski skate workout. The week before, she and Stephen endured two days of blizzard-like conditions and did speeds in a hail storm. The snow quickly melted.
Regardless of the weather, Diggins was glad to be back outside for most of her workouts. She anticipated bounding would have to wait until November, but in the meantime she’ll do classic intervals, and plyos in the pool and on a TumblTrak trampoline at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s Center of Excellence (COE).
“I don’t feel derailed at all by it,” Diggins said. “If anything, it gave me a little more motivation. Generally classic striding isn’t something I love so much, but now I’m excited to get out and do it.”
Above all else, the setback has taught one of the USST’s most promising skiers to roll with the punches and rely on the work she’s put in.
“The time trials have showed really positive results,” she said. “We found a number of technique things that we’ve improved on and worked on. Every year, I just gain a little more confidence.
“I’m training hard and I can’t possibly train any harder than I am now,” she added. “Looking back at the summer, I don’t think I could’ve done any more than I did. I’m feeling really happy with that.”
According to Diggins, her last significant injury came at the beginning of last season when she pushed through the pain of bone spurs on both heels. Doing so caused angst and major discomfort at the December World Cup races in Kuusamo, Finland, where she placed 12th in the 5-kilometer skate race and 24th in the overall mini tour, and Quebec, where she and Kikkan Randall won the freestyle team sprint.
Her sponsor, Salomon, cut holes in her boots to ease the pain.
“It was one of those things where it was this annoying thing on my heels, but then you can work through it and then you’re really in trouble,” Diggins recalled. “Suddently right before the race you’re in tears.”
In Quebec City, she and her coaches determined she needed backless shoes for relief between races. Diggins ventured around town to find some and bought a pair of pink Crocs. So there she was, running around the course and through slush in pink sandals.
“I had very cold feet,” she said.
Now that the bumps on her heels are no longer an issue (despite the small remaining lumps), Diggins said she’s more apt to recognize problematic pain.
“Obviously there’s never a good time to get injured, but that said, if you had to strain your foot sometime, this is like the perfect time,” she said. “I’m at the COE with all these people here to help and I’m getting as much help as I possibly can. That’s a good feeling so I’m right on track.”
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.