Don't you hate it when you do something stupid enough that you need x-rays? I might have aged myself five years in the blink of an eye. Ten if the x-rays show anything.
I was in Slade on my bike. I was hanging out on the porch of the Slade Church of God in the shade waiting for a guy I was going to meet. I had decided he wasn't going to return my messages and may not be coming so I got on my bike to head home. Instead of going down the ramp I had ridden up to get on the porch of the church I decided to ride off the two steps on the west end.
As I dropped off the deck my right handlebar caught an upright post and I took a header onto the asphalt parking lot.
Instant pain exploded in my left elbow. I couldn't breathe. My head spun. Of course I was wearing a helmet. My chest hurt as I gasped for breath. A host of potential injuries raced through my hyped up brain: broken ribs, broken collarbone, broken elbow, broken shoulder, etc, etc.
I dragged myself back onto the porch and began shedding helmet, gps, unzipped my jersey...basically I went into survival mode. I felt like I was in bad shape. When my head was clear enough I ran through a list of people who might be able to come rescue me from my own stupidity. Mandy was gone to Lexington school shopping for the kids.
Instead of calling a friend I waited it out. My body started to unclench. The pain started to wane somewhat.
I ended up meeting the guy I was there to meet, and then I headed home. I had texted Mandy and told her my route. She swept SAG in our new minivan (we have conceded all potential future coolness) and hauled me home. By bedtime I was stiff and sore. I felt like I was dying. I concluded I had not broken anything, but I was pretty sure that I had done some soft tissue damage.
There was a planned training run for the Rough Trail 50k the next morning. I got my stuff ready the night before in hopes I would magically heal overnight. My hopes were not high. But lo and behold Saturday morning I woke up feeling pretty darn good. My elbow was extremely sensitive to direct pressure, but otherwise I felt as good as I do on any given Saturday morning.
About ten people showed up at Martin’s Fork for the run. Speedy Al was one of them. It became quickly apparent that I, Al, and race organizer Mike had the most local trail experience. I won’t even suggest that my experience exceeds Al’s. He has been running the trails a lot more frequently and over longer distances that I have in the past couple of years. Where I have a deep experience with the trails and landscape, Al has an almost daily grasp of conditions along with a broad experience in the area.
I joked about my injuries. Maybe it was a bit of a humblebrag, but I felt pretty good about the decision to go ahead and get ready the night before and commit to running despite my pain. And then we were off. Long distance trail running starts slow like a train. There’s no reason to leap to the front or avoid hanging off the back. Al and I fell into sweep mode as we ambled up Martin’s Fork. It was easy conversational pace. At the toe of the steep climb up to the ridgetop the group paused trying to figure out which trail to take and that’s when we jumped to the front and began a solid climb leaving everyone else far below.
I was time poor on Saturday so I knew my run was going to be shorter than the group’s. But it was good to get out with other people. Most of the time I run solo. I enjoy solo, but I’m not a hermit.
After the third climb we gained Pinch Em Tight Ridge and the Sheltowee Trace. The group was going to continue on Rough Trail and return. I had decided to bail on the ridge and take the Sheltowee back to the Grays Arch area, pick up Rough Trail and descend back to Martin’s Fork Trailhead. Everything was going fine—I felt pretty darn good actually—until I hit the four foot wide, perfectly flat Grays Arch Trail. With about a mile to go to return to the car a small root ambushed me, caught my toe, and sent me slamming into the sandy trail.
In the past, no matter how bad the fall has been, I’ve always jumped up and kept moving. Even the time I sprained my ankle at Pilot Knob I bounced right up and started hobbling. The clock was ticking as the sun sank on my stupidity that day. But Saturday when I hit the ground I lay slack in the trail. The energy suddenly evaporated from my mind and body. I was defeated.
When I fell the second time I landed exactly the same way as I had the first time. My elbow took the initial hit and my shoulder was jacked and my arm was jammed into my ribs. Pain throbbed into my brain from every appendage it seemed. I tried to laugh. I tried not to cry. Everything hurt. I was covered in dirt and sand. All forward motion…my perpetual motion machine of a brain…stopped. Rarely do I pause in my relentless movement. For a few seconds I was dead still laying there in the middle of Grays Arch Trail.
The thought of some family of hikers coming across me spurred me to get up at least. I didn’t want to cause alarm or any fussing. But nobody came along as I struggled to stand upright. And as soon as I was bipedal again I took off at a defeated lope toward my car.
My thoughts were dark like a bruise. My ego was severely chastised. I would have kicked myself for being so stupid except that it hurt to try and raise my leg high enough. It hurt mentally.
I managed to settle into a rhythm. My pace was reserved. In my mind I was running only to get myself back to the car quickly. Otherwise I would not have run at all. I walked all of the steep techy sections. I didn’t do anything to further jar my body or endanger my already banged up limbs.
I managed to function the rest of the day Saturday but only just. I had no energy. Sunday wasn’t much better. Instead of feeling better as the day went on I just felt worse and worse. The sore spots got sorer and stiffer. Getting into and out of bed was an activity accompanied but much groaning and wincing. I resolved that if I didn’t feel better Monday morning I was going to the doctor.
Late afternoon I was sitting in an examination room making the nurse laugh with tales of my weekend. I relayed to the doctor my wife’s admonition that I’m too old to keep breaking myself like this. He told me—bless his heart!—to not give up on the things I do.
I’m fine today. There is lingering pain. I know if I fell a third time I would probably cry and wet myself. I’m just not going to fall. I am going to run.
I hate these kinds of setbacks. I don’t want to give up, but it is very tempting to just pick out a spot on the couch and camp out there until I’m too far gone to care anymore. I know I’d never be happy like that. Better to grunt through the pain, deal with the scabs and bruises, and live an active life.
A major positive that I've overlooked in my writing of late: I have been consistently faster in my shorter runs lately. I've had two fairly fast 5ks in the past week and a half. Both with a sub-9:00/mi pace. I ran both in the heat and still felt pretty good during and after the runs. Last summer I struggled to run faster than 9:00/mi on a good day. Dropping a few pounds really makes a difference!