After the fall
By Dana Stetson
Pride goeth before a fall but certainly not afterward. As a trail runner there is one fact that I have to face every time I run. Sooner or later there is a big fall waiting for me somewhere in the woods. If you run trails, you will fall; maybe not often, but believe that at some point you are in for a wacky bipedal adventure. “Auger in” is the technical term that Blue Angel pilots and trail runners share for this occurrence.
There are several techniques a runner can use to minimize his “downtime.” The first and most obvious is to look down while running. I know that this looking down habit has cost me at least three good looks at Bigfoot and a couple of UFO’s. But, the truth is if you want to look around and sightsee, just stop running.
Another more advanced method of fall avoidance, which is especially useful in heavy leaves or darkness, is learning to feel the terrain with your feet before committing to a step. This allows you to avoid the bad step before it happens. This really works, but it requires you to slow down and concentrate on what you are doing. A good place to practice this technique is Torreya State Park during the period of maximum leaf drop. The most common reason for falling is running while tired and simply not lifting your feet high enough to clear obstacles that you do see.
If you are a runner who pushes his endurance limits (and who doesn’t) you will spend a lot of time running tired. You simply must learn to concentrate on lifting your feet. Include this thought on your mental checklist that you review periodically. Almost every fall that I have taken in trail ultras have occurred late in the race for this reason.
Avoiding falls is important for another reason. One fall can lead to another one. This scenario occurs every weekend somewhere on a trail. A runner falls; the first thing he jumps back up, screams “I’m alright,” and takes off at a humiliation-induced 100 mph back down the trail. So, what happens next, he falls again. If you do fall: stop, access yourself, take some deep breaths, wipe the sand off, drink some water, and then, take off at a cautious pace. This will help avoid the second fall, which usually indicates the beginning of the spiral of death.
In 1998, Mountain Mist 50k, I set my PR for falls. I fell eight times during the race. I beat myself like a rented mule. Each fall left me more likely to fall again. After a while I was falling because I was knocked loopy from falling. The last and least dignified drop occurred with 50 feet to the finish line, but I lived and learned much about not falling.