I had an interesting day when I suffered my first real running injury, back in 2007. The year prior, I’d been thinking about trying the Timberline Marathon, and I decided to go for it that year. It was fun to see the looks on a couple friend’s faces when they spied me on the shuttle bus before the start. Runners started one at a time to avoid congestion on the trail, and I felt great on the first five downhill miles, then the “slight” uphill after crossing HWY 35 hit me like a ton of bricks and I slowed way, WAY down (I even walked a little). But I kept making up for it on the downhills, and passed the guy who started first about 28 minutes in.
I think I was leading at that point unless someone who started after me was gaining on me, which is highly possible. I thought the worst that was going to happen was when my ZipLock bag split open and my Clif Shot Bloks fell in the dirt around mile 10. By the time I stopped to gather them up and brush off the fir needles, the guy who started first was right back on my heels.
Anyway, I was heading downhill on a very rocky, dusty section I estimated at somewhere between 12 and 13 miles, and I didn’t think I was going too fast when “it” happened. I was wearing my more cushioned and heavier trainers instead of my usual light racing flats, and I was getting pretty tired at that point too, so, as is often the case, I wasn’t lifting my feet as high and my left foot caught a rock and I did an unintentional Pete Rose head first slide down the trail with thick dust flying everywhere. (If Joe Dudman falls in the forest and there’s no one around, yes he does make a sound!)
I slid for quite a way on my left shoulder and left cheek bone, and I still can’t believe they missed all the rocks, so no serious damage there. My hands hurt, but they too were OK. I spit dirt out of my mouth. Then I looked down at my right knee and there was a nice hole with something white visible and moving underneath when I flexed it. Somehow, I kept from hurling my Shot Bloks! I quickly poured water from my water bottle on the gash to rinse it off. Luckily the hole was quickly obscured by blood which proceeded to run down my shin into my brand new SmartWool sock and shoe. It was actually a pretty epic wipe out, and I kind of wish it had been captured on video!
I got up and walked/jogged for the next few miles, comtemplating bagging it at the next aid station, but when I got there I kind of automatically kept going, and there were times from then on when I kept moving for quite a while at a pretty consistent, though not very fast pace (and plenty of times when I walked/jogged some more). The knee really didn’t hurt much, but it tightened up a lot whenever I stopped. I was very surprised so few people caught up with me, but I did get a head start, and before the injury I was taking good advantage of the downhills. It was perversely fun to pass spectators with my big red knee and rivers of blood running down my leg. I had to keep running then!
I was also covered head to foot with dark brown dust. I’m sure I looked like Pig Pen, if he’d taken up figure skating and gotten whacked by Tonya Harding’s goons. Another friend, sidelined by a stress fracture, cheered me in at the finish, and immediately helped with support and advice. An EMT bandaged my knee, and he and my friend strongly urged me to get to the hospital as soon as possible, so before I could even cheer in my other running friends or clean up, I made the 90 minute drive to Kaiser Sunnyside. The knee was stiff, but not really that painful; still, driving was interesting.
I wish I’d been able to get a picture of the knee. After the race, one runner took a photo of the knee with blood soaking through the bandage for his girlfriend, so it must have been quite a sight! I later heard that some runners suffered multiple bee stings along the course. I never even saw a bee, so in that respect I consider myself lucky. All I was left with was a pretty impressive scar and this story.
On the wall of the waiting room at Kaiser was a sculpture of Mt. Hood complete with trees and a river, which I found amusing. They cleaned and bandaged my wound, and sent me to X-ray to see if there were any breaks or gravel in the wound. No gravel, but they did find a small crack near the top of the patella, but with no displacement. So after they stitched up the gash, they gave me a knee immobilizer and a set of crutches for the break. I had to take the immobilizer off and bend my knee to drive home. It took me ten minutes to get into the car, and that drive was even more interesting!
A few days later, I had a follow-up appointment with orthopedics, and the doctors told me that if I was able to test it by running 13 miles on it, the fracture would probably not get worse, and I wouldn’t need a knee brace. The cut and especially the break just needed time to heal, so I took some time off from running for 6 to 8 weeks, missing the Best Dam Run and the Bigfoot 10ks the following weekend, and the Royal Victoria Half Marathon the following month. I wasn’t really upset about missing races; I run so many that I can afford to skip a few without getting too discouraged. In the long run (no pun intended), a vacation from running was probably be good for me physically and mentally. It was fun to watch some races from the sidelines for a change.
Sure, it wasn’t the best thing that could have happened, but it was also far from the worst. It was my first real running injury, and I decided I was really OK with it. I’ve always been extremely lucky when it comes to running, and I’d never broken a bone before either, so I was way past due.
Now I’m going to go find a wooden table on which to rap my knuckles …