(Fallen) down but not out

What has always attracted me to running is that it is not cycling. Because cycling inevitably involves you falling off your bike at some point and that really hurts. Speaking as someone with much experience in this area, hitting the tarmac at speed, skidding into a tight bend and catching some ‘road rash’ or simply toppling over at a complete standstill is a much more painful experience when you are an adult. Of course, you don’t have worry about any of that when you go out for a run. You can completely relax as you jog along and enjoy your surroundings. Because unless you try to introduce a little parkour into your workout to mix things up, the act of running, itself, is a relatively safe endeavour. Or so I thought…until I fell over while out running not just once but twice within weeks of each other.

The first time I fell happened when I had gone a little off piste through a trail to avoid running on a more congested path full of dog walkers. You could say that I was exercising my Covid-19 civic duty and doing my bit at social distancing. But really I enjoy running on the much softer ground. I also knew that I could soak up some welcome relief from the hot summer’s day as I sprung along the shady route. I saw a like-minded dog walker approaching in the distance but suddenly I felt a solid thump and had the distinctively gritty taste of dirt in my mouth. I was completely surprised and disoriented to find myself slumped facedown on the ground. It began to sink in that I must have tripped over a tree root.  

As I shakily tried to sit up I could see the dog walker sprinting up to me until he was abruptly repelled by my invisible 2m radius Corona zone. He looked really concerned and kept asking whether I was alright and if his dog had startled me. He couldn’t get any nearer but I could see that he was completely torn between breaching the Corona zone to help me or staying safely distanced. He decided to help from outside the zone by waving his arms and gesturing as if he could use the power of mime to raise me up from the ground. I righted myself as fast as I could if only to stop him from tormenting himself any further and looking so helpless.   

After thanking him profusely and reassuring him many times over that I was fine and that his dog was absolutely blameless he continued on his walk while I assessed the damage. Slightly cut up bloody knee but the shoulder was much worse for wear by taking the brunt of the fall. Nothing really injured other than pride but I was absolutely covered with dirt which had stuck to my sweat like glue. I backtracked on the trail to find the demon tree root that had caused my fall and gave it a swift kick. After a futile brush down, I decided to continue running despite getting some funny looks from others. I could see why I had attracted some attention once I was safely home again. A quick glance in the mirror told me that I was the spitting image of a running chimney sweep.

But after a good clean up I was new again albeit a little battered. Therefore, it wasn’t until my next run when I realised that I hadn’t completely washed away the memory of my fall. Unusually, I found myself feeling slightly nervous as I ran and my mind kept flicking back to the fall. But it was a one-off, I told myself, I just had to avoid that evil tree root. And I managed to do just that for some weeks and put the fall at the back of my mind. That is, until it happened again.

The second time I fell happened when I was about halfway through a long run. It was another beautiful sunny day and I was running with my husband on a route that took us alongside a pretty canal. The canal weaved through lush parkland, past quaint rustic pubs and was filled to the brim with ducks and swans. As several brightly coloured canalboats full of smiling passengers waved us by it looked picturesque. Since the path was narrow at times we ran in single file with me leading. The ground was an uneven mixture of dirt and gravel and sections of it were so worn down that the odd piece of sheet metal poked up from the path. The metal was probably working to keep the whole path afloat. But as I ran I kept a look out for each piece and pointed them out to warn my trailing husband. And then it happened.

Maybe I got a little too confident leading the way, maybe I was slightly distracted as I watched the quacking ducks or maybe I was imagining drinking a massive cold pint in one of the canal side pubs (quite likely). But somehow, I missed seeing a plainly obvious large piece of metal sticking out of the path at an angle. The next thing I knew I felt myself flying through the air. Time stood still as I became fully aware that this was going to hurt. I landed with the full force of the fall on my right hand which I had instinctively flung out in useless defence as my knees slammed into the ground. But at least I had narrowly missed landing in the canal.

My husband sounded panicked as he reached me and shouted instructions to not move, which I ignored because I didn’t want to face the fact that I was injured. At the same time, I couldn’t deny that I was in a lot pain so I got up to take a better look at the source. My right hand was radiating intense pain, bleeding and had somehow inflated to resemble a Micky Mouse-like glove. But strangely, my husband asked me about my knees. I looked down to see that they were both bleeding copiously but as far as I was concerned, they were absolutely fine compared to my now blown up hand. Luckily, I just managed to pass the finger wiggle test so was fairly confident that nothing was broken. Which is why, of course, I suggested that we continue on our long run.

I probably wasn’t thinking straight but I desperately wanted to erase the whole memory of the fall and put it behind me. I have also never been one for quitting anything which means that sometimes I am my own worse enemy. Some would say it is an innate determination while others may call it stubbornness. But it wasn’t like I needed my hand to run. Irrationally, I also thought that if I could keep running it might distract me from the pain. By the end of the run, I might even find that I wasn’t all that injured. Fortunately, my husband had more sense than me and saw right through this flimsy argument. He insisted that we call it a day and from the middle of nowhere, we rang our nearest child to Uber us back home again.     

Once home and patched up for a second time I was pretty shattered. The memory of flying through the air just before crash landing into pain was still fresh in my mind. As my thoughts played on a loop I couldn’t shake a feeling of dread that it might happen again. What if I fall every time I go for a run? What if I’ve become a fall-er? How can I stop running like a toddler? One week after faceplanting, I am still searching for the answers as I recover at home with plenty of RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation). My cartoonish hand took several days to slowly deflate while one of my knees painfully ballooned several sizes. Unfortunately, I’ve been forced to take a break from running.

Frustratingly, this couldn’t have happened at a worse time and has put a dent in my training for a virtual marathon which takes place in 4 weeks. But I am determined to still run it after training for so long even if it will be a little nerve-racking to try. While the knee mends and the colours of my bruises change I am working on keeping up my core strength and endurance in alternative ways. Ironically, given my established reputation for falling off bikes I have returned to cycling to keep fit. Although, for the moment I am largely sticking to riding something more stationary at the gym rather than risking another topple.

While I anxiously wait to heal before I can plan the route of my next run, I have added a particular canal path to a growing list of no-go areas. Then again, until I can work out how to run without falling it may yet be safer to just stick to running on grass.  

Now for the recipe. While I am still spending much time treating my injuries with RICE while trying to stay upright on my bike, I have rice on my mind. Try this simple recipe for Easy rice crackers which make a great snack or addition to a picnic.

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