Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Fri, 25 Oct 2002 19:33:10 -0400

Great Falls


Don Kardong, running's resident humorist, can find funny lines in even the most painful events. In "Running: It's a Fall Sport" for Runner's World Online he wrote about tumbling during a trail run. (,1300,1-0-0-ZNEWS----10-03-2002,00.html)

I saw Don several weeks after that fall. He still wasn't able to run much, and could barely summon a smile about this mishap.

There was nothing funny about the bad fall that retiring RW publisher George Hirsch took this month. At the Chicago Marathon finish line he went down on his face and lost three teeth.

Don Kardong wrote that most runners have stories about falling. I have several. My first happened in high school when too many runners with too little experience started a mile race.

The rush around the first curve deposited me onto the track. There I rolled into a ball and shielded my face to ward off two dozen sets of spikes. Once the pack passed, I gave chase and passed everyone.

Looks of shock or disgust met me at the finish line. "What's wrong?" I asked, which brought a finger-point at my left hip.

The shorts were ripped away, and blood trailed down into my shoe. The hip still carries a scar, with imbedded remnants of cinder track, to remind me of that fall.

Four-legged runners have caused two of my worst tumbles. I can't blame strangers' dogs, as these were my own.

First to bring me down was a Lab pup named Goldie. During an early running lesson she hadn't yet mastered the concept of going in a straight line.

Goldie crossed in front of me, I tripped over the leash and threw out my free hand to break the fall. The collision with the ground dislocated a shoulder. That hurt, but not half as much as the relocation that followed.

My current dog Buzz is bred and trained for one purpose: to run. He does it ecstatically, almost blindly.

Late in one run Buzz made like a defensive back. Approaching fast from my blind side, he struck at knee level. I flew sideways, horizontal to the ground, before making a hard landing on a mercifully soft surface.

Buzz received a bop on the head. For this he looked at me as if to say, What was that for?

We like to blame someone else for these mishaps. Most of my falls, though, have been my own fault.

The most damaging happened two years ago. An pre-marathon talk in Portland, Oregon, later that morning had pushed my wakeup run into the darkness.

I traveled a dimly lighted sidewalk beside the Willamette River, hugging the wall next to the water. I didn't see a ground-level cable until it had grabbed a foot and sent me onto the concrete like a baserunner sliding into second.

After checking if all parts were still attached and working, I looked around to see if anyone had noticed. The shame of these falls is often worse than the pain.

"Are you okay?" a voice asked from the darkness. Runners always say we're okay, even if we aren't.

I'd lost skin from both knees and both palms. Worse trouble would appear later, when a banged-up hip would hurt for most of the next year.

Falls happen in this activity. A run is, after all, a controlled fall. You launch yourself upward and forward, trusting that each one-point landing will keep you upright.

It doesn't take much to bring you down, so watch your step -- but not so closely that you fear taking it. When you fall, take the advice of that well-known running expert, Frank Sinatra: Pick yourself up and get back in the race.

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