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Lessons of the Fall

Gonzo Runner

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“I knee and pride is it hurts.”

The two women who had stopped to check on me just stared blankly. 

“It’s pride, OK just the knee.”

Now they looked at each other, then back at me with an expression of growing concern.

I bent down to pick up my water bottle and snuck a quick glance at my knee. I expected the blood, but not the flash of pearl white in the middle of the crimson flow. That rattled me, so I took a deep breath and tried to make the words right one more time.

“I’m fine, think my pride is hurt worse than the knee.”

With that lie I forced myself to get running again. The whole thing, from feeling my foot catch the lip of the concrete slab to hitting the deck to picking up my water bottle and getting moving again had taken maybe 3 seconds. Not even long enough to stop my Garmin. But you can learn a lot in 3 seconds. 

I cursed my stupidity as I forced myself back into my normal gait, despite the searing pain. It was true that I was embarrassed by the fall, but the pain radiating from my knee was far worse. There had been a lot of blood really quickly. And that bright white thing sticking out… well I didn’t even want to go there. But I was running, so it couldn’t really be that bad. Could it? I briefly recalled a hockey player a few years back who broke his leg in a playoff game and tried to keep playing, which wasn’t helpful so I immediately tried to banish it from my train of thought. Afraid of what I might see if I looked down, I continued on fueled by denial and willful ignorance. As I ran I checked the faces of the walkers, bikers, and runners coming from the opposite direction to see if they reacted. Most of the runners and bikers were in their own heads and paid no attention. The walkers, though, they did double takes. Shit, I thought, that’s probably a bad sign. 

I tried to assess the pain to see if I could figure out if it was just a flesh wound or if there was going to be a real injury here. I clearly felt the sting of dirt and sweat rubbed into torn flesh. I also felt the warmth and tightness that accompanies a swollen joint, which I took as a bad sign. But when I checked my pace and gait, both were still normal. And the pain was constant, not really exacerbated by any particular motion or impact. Convinced I wasn’t going to look down and see a tibia sticking out or my kneecap flapping loosely around I decided to stop and take a look at the loop trail’s turn around point. 

The streams of blood running down my shin looked like a river delta spilling into my now bright red sock. I forced my eyes to where I had seen the shock of white in the sanguine pool. It was still there. I tentatively moved my hand towards it to see what it was and for the first time noticed blood dripping from some road rash on my palm. This had an unexpected calming effect as I now realized what the white object was and carefully removed the stone from where it had embedded itself in my leg. It was roughly the size of a small kernel of corn, and had gouged out a nice little gash which continued to weep blood down the front of my leg. There was definitely some swelling, but after rinsing the knee with my water bottle and doing a “well I have that bump on both knees” comparison I decided to try and finish the last 3 miles I had on the schedule. 

The more I ran, the better it felt and the tense single-mindedness of damage assessment faded. I again cursed my stupidity. I had run this path dozens of times, ticking off hundreds of miles on these trails and knew every rock, ditch, root, and mud puddle. I thought back to what had been going through my head before I’d so carelessly tripped. My mind hadn’t been on the trail. I had been thinking about the nagging tenderness in my other shin and knee which I had apparently injured during yet another night of excessive drinking. I had been telling myself how disciplined I would have to be going forward and how I had to get my shit together if I wanted to hit the goals I’d set. And I was so focused on berating myself I didn’t pay attention to the extra inch or two of erosion that the recent rains had caused in front of the small concrete slab that spans the narrow drainage ditch. That was all it took, a momentary lapse of focus and an inch or so of erosion to nearly ruin everything. Sure, I’m still young and healthy and can try again next year or whenever whatever injury I’d caused had healed. But when you set big goals and invest four months of your life into them, not even making it to the start line isn’t an acceptable outcome. I realized there was a lesson here: take nothing for granted. It’s easy to get complacent with the familiar. But the bigger the goals, the more the details matter. So pay attention. 

Thinking of the other knee, I realized I hadn’t noticed it one bit since the fall. And even now, when I was actively thinking about it, I felt no pain. I didn’t know if the pain had actually gone away, if it was all just psychosomatic and I now had something else to distract me, or if the new pain was just drowning out the old. Whatever the case, there was a lesson here too: whatever your biggest worry is in one moment may seem insignificant the next. A sore hamstring is a lot less worrisome when you feel your plantar getting tight. Debating the need to do the last rest interval before your cool down seems foolish in the middle of your next tempo run. Traffic on the way into work is forgotten when you get in and check your emails. The emails seem don’t really matter anymore at the end of the day when your car won’t start. And even that is put on the backburner when you get home and find out your kid is in trouble at school or your fridge died and all your foiled spoiled. Something new will always come up. Priorities can change in an instant, and to succeed in running or in life, you better be flexible. 

Feeling quite profound, I pressed on and noticed my stride picking up and the pain dissipating. Garmin signaled my tenth mile was complete, and I noted it was the fastest of the day. So I just kept running. The Wife watched me streak past her in the parking lot, hands upturned in a prayer for understanding of my insanity, shaking her head disapprovingly. I made it another third of a mile before I remembered I’m starting marathon training and shouldn’t be mucking up the plan no matter how great I suddenly felt. This was my last lesson of the day: don’t give in. I went from worrying I had shards of bone sticking out of my leg and fearing a marathon derailing injury to wanting to run all the miles. Now, is it wise to keep running when you think a bone may be sticking out of your leg? Probably not. But if I had stopped, who knows what would have happened. Maybe the knee would have swelled up and gotten tight and I would have been sidelined until it felt better. Or maybe not, who the hell knows, I’m not a frigging doctor. But if I didn’t try, I wouldn’t have known I was OK. Stopping may have been the smart, safe move. But people who always play it smart and safe rarely accomplish great things. We face adversity every day in all that we do. Don’t give in. 

When I got back to the car The Wife had abandoned the disapproval and now looked more amused than anything else.

“How was your run?” she asked. She thinks she’s funny like that. 

My shoe was starting to get squishy from the water I’d squirted on my leg to try and wash off the dirt and gravel and with each step pink bubbles were getting squeezed up through the mesh toe box. People were staring. The Wife noticed. 

“C’mon, let’s get out of here before someone calls the cops or something.” 

While toweling off the mix of dried salt and perspiration and mopping up the rivulets still running down my leg I couldn’t help thinking about the old “blood, sweat, and tears” idiom.

“You want onions in your omelette?” I asked The Wife. I think I’m funny sometimes too. 
 

 

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I'm glad you're alright and that your bones stayed where they are supposed to be! Great job for getting in that many miles after a fall like that!

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100% of my falls were from carelessness, either with the mind in a fog or getting a little too confident. Carry on and great things will happen.

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1 hour ago, ocrunnergirl said:

I ran trail hill repeats this morning in Rocky Pennsylvania after reading this. I was terrified coming back down!

Glad there wasn't a tibia poking through.

I remember hiking in PA back in the day, the rocks on those trails are brutal.

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Glad you’re ok and thanks for giving me something to read as I sit waiting to get my latest road rash checked out.  My fall caught the attention of a driver who didn’t believe “I knee and pride...”. Haha.

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On 7/11/2018 at 1:00 PM, Gonzo Runner said:

I remember hiking in PA back in the day, the rocks on those trails are brutal.

As Scott Jurek calls it, Rocksylvania :) 

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1 hour ago, nikkipoo16 said:

Glad you’re ok and thanks for giving me something to read as I sit waiting to get my latest road rash checked out.  My fall caught the attention of a driver who didn’t believe “I knee and pride...”. Haha.

Hope you're OK! At least someone stopped to help?

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