Joe’s Top Ten: Things To Avoid Stepping On/In When Running

Don’t tread on me!

I’m pretty good about watching where I step during a run.  I keep an eye on the ground a few feet in front of me and place my feet carefully to avoid uneven ground or bumpy objects.  But every once in awhile I step on something I wish I hadn’t (or, on extremely rare occasions, trip over something, but that’s a different post).

Here, in reverse order, is my Top Ten List of Things I Try To Avoid Stepping On Or In While Running:

10. Hidden potholes.  These are jarring when you hit one, and can trip you up, twist your ankle, or bruise a foot, depending on the circumstances.
9. Deceptive puddles.  Like hidden potholes; just add water.  I’m talking about puddles that appear to be harmless quarter-inch deep wet spots that turn out to be five inches deep and reach the top of your Smart Wools when you accidentally step right in the middle of them.  These are both wet and potentially dangerous if the footing at the puddle bed is uneven.

The innocent sweetgum ball: Step on one of these at your own peril! – Joe Dudman

8. Sweetgum pods.  These are the little green spikey balls shaped like maces (the medieval weapon).  In any other context I like sweetgum trees (and their pods), and I even have one in my back yard.  But there are two sweetgum trees along the sidewalks on my regular running route, and those little balls are hard and very round.  You can easily bruise your foot on one or have your foot go out from under you if you hit them just right (or wrong).  They can also get caught in the nooks and crannies of the soles of your shoes.  I once ran most of my run with one securely wedged, but as distracting as it was, I wasn’t about to stop mid-run to remove it.
7. Ginkgo fruit.  Similar to sweetgum balls, only much, much smellier.  There are also two ginkgo trees on my route, and this time of year they drop their fruit all over the sidewalk.  Also round, but softer than sweetgum pods, these things are less dangerous.  But they have an extremely unpleasant odor that increases when you step on them.  Not something you’d want to track onto your rugs when you finish your run.
6. Embedded rocks.  These can be sharp and pointy like the ones on Leif Erickson, or larger and smoother like on some of the trails in the Gorge.  The small and sharp ones can be painful to step on, while I actually don’t mind rock hopping on the larger ones unless they’re too slippery.  The worst danger of embedded rocks is tripping on them.  Come to think of it, landing on them is even worse than that, but tripping and landing on rocks is beyond the purview of this list…
5. Loose rocks.  “Free range” rocks run the gamut from round to pointy, and present many hazards, including but not limited to: cuts, bruises, stubbed toes, sprains, turned ankles, skids, and feet going out from under you.  On the plus side, unlike ginko fruit, they rarely smell bad.
4. Hidden sticks.  This time of year, with the loose leaves, clouds, and short days, and with the recent windy weather, I’ve noticed a lot of blow-down sticks lurking underfoot.  If you land a foot on one of these, they can roll or, if they’re especially twiggy, give you a good ankle-whipping, so keep an eye out and try to avoid them as much as possible.

This root looks harmless, until you land on it with your leading foot. Yikes!

3. Roots.  Especially on trails, roots can jump up and surprise you.  They’re usually dark and blend in with the ground cover, so they’re hard to spot.  You can land wrong, and potentially turn an ankle, and they can also be extremely slippery.  They are also another obvious tripping hazard.

2. Rattlesnakes.  OK, you’re very unlikely to encounter a rattler on the sidewalks of S.E. Portland or the bike paths of Beaverton, but you never know, and admit it: isn’t it one of the last things you’d want to step on?  I’ve never met one while running, but I’ve seen a few on hikes, and I saw one coiled in the middle of the road as I was driving to a race in central Oregon.  And once when my father was fly fishing on the Deschutes, he heard a funny sound and crouched down to see what it was, only to discover he had inadvertently pinned a rattlesnake under the loose rocks he was standing on.  Yeah, I wouldn’t want to step on a rattlesnake, and the only reason this isn’t Number 1 on the list is the unlikelihood factor (and because “number 2” is even worse – see below).
And the Number 1 item I’d rather not step in or on is a tie between the following (because is it better to know or not know?):
Dog crap (K9 number 2, or as my father used to call it, “lawn fudge”).  No explanation is really necessary, is it?
USO (Unidentified Squishy Object).  How many times have you suddenly realized a half-stride down the road that you just stepped in something squishy and have no idea what it is?  It’s a pretty unpleasant sensation.  You don’t really want to stop and examine your shoe, or “retrace your steps” and inspect the object, substance, or excretion directly.  Hopefully it doesn’t smell, and the best thing to do is keep running, and have faith that whatever it is will wear off by the time you finish your run and enter your car or home.  If it’s rainy, you can try to rinse your shoe on the run by running through a quarter-inch deep wet spot (just make sure you don’t further compound your misfortune by accidentally selecting a deceptive puddle).
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