Falling on Your Face…Literally

falling down

I have had some epic falls out on the trail, just ask my running partner who wishes we had a go pro to capture some of these. I wish we had one too because I’d like to see what happens when I fall. Not just the fall itself (I know how that felt), but where my feet were and how my body was positioned right before I careened into the ground.

As a trail runner you expect to fall every once in a while. You are, after all, running down trails with rocks, roots, fallen trees, overgrown vegetation and other obstacles. Some runners fall more often than others. And then there is me.

Over the last month, I have fallen during nearly every run. I currently have a scraped knee, hand, and forearms. I have bruises on both hips and other places on my thighs. Typically, I catch my toe on a rock or root and down I go. During one long run, I counted how many times I almost fell, fifteen. The trail was rather tricky and overgrown.

I fell once hard on my knee and had to stop running for a week. From then on, I’ve tried to fall to one or the other side, and thus the bruising on my hips. This is probably not the best strategy.

My latest fall (today)… was the most interesting yet. I caught my left toe while skipping through rocks going downhill. Because of my momentum, I flew through the air, rotated, landed on my butt and back, and slid two or three feet. So you can add a large bruise on my right butt cheek and scrapes up my spin and across my right shoulder.

As I was researching this topic, I found articles saying work on your core strength and stability. I have an hour and a half core, proprioception, and stability workout I do two to three times a week. I’m pretty stable and my core is strong which is why I can catch 90% of my tumbles before I hit the ground.

I’ve ruled out other causes of falling such as untied shoes, not paying attention, listening to music, proper running form, and making sure my feet aren’t too close together. I have been able to increase my speed on climbs and descents, which I’m sure is contributing to the problem, but…

Since I am catching my toe, I’ve decided I need to focus on picking my feet up higher and doing some high knees. I’m not blaming my shoes but I think it may help to get shoes that fit more snug along the sides of my feet and are only one size to big rather than a size and a half. I am also getting shoes that allow me to feel the ground more (minimalist) to see if that helps my proprioception.

I was reading through an online forum and found kindred falling runners. It was nice to know other runners are falling just as much as I do.  Some of the most helpful and funny advice I found was written by Lisa Butler. This is what she had to say:

“The best way to not get hurt by falling is to not fall. I know, it’s more stupidity from that ‘Lisa’ and someday she’ll probably be the kind of Doc who says “if it hurts to blink your eyes, don’t blink.”

Seriously though, think prevention first.

First, look where you WANT to go, not where you don’t want to go. Like driving or mountain biking, you tend to go where you look. So if you look straight down at the root you are stepping over, you may get a closer look than you want. Scan ahead, know it’s there, and step up.

Second, ‘think yourself upright.’ Thinking “Don’t fall” over and over, especially when you are tired, programs you to fall. Instead think, “stay up, stay light on my feet.”

Third, if you do fall anyway, resist the urge to catch yourself on your outstretched arm. Your shoulder can handle the hit much better than your wrist. Handheld water bottles may afford some protection here, but not always.

Heroic torqueing maneuvers to ‘make the save’ are as likely to injure you as the impact. It is beautiful when it works and you don’t twist a knee or hip.

Lastly, remember that the injury only truly counts as an injury if the blood hits your sock. Otherwise it’s inconsequential and you don’t get to whine. Yes, THAT part is a joke.”

My hope, is other falling runners, will read this and know they are not alone as they eat dirt over and over again on the trail.