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The other day I tripped on a large tree root across the path. I stumbled first, an impressive number of feet really, six to ten, before I fell. At least I was closer to the ground by the time I landed, maybe only a foot away, and I was able to “drop” to the grass. (At least there was grass.) It wasn’t the worst crash I’ve ever had in my life but it was the first one since I’ve started running. It really shook me up.

I knew it would happen eventually. I’d heard stories about people falling while running. (Tales told around the campfire.) I’d even seen evidence. When I ran in the Pecos Mountains during the summer, one of the women I ran with fell and was completely scraped up: angry trail rash spread across one arm and both her legs. I was horrified. When would it happen to me?

I was determined never to fall. I’d been so careful. Always keeping my eyes on the path, watching for roots, for rocks, clumps of thick grass, holes underneath the grass, anything that might jeopardize my balance and send me sprawling onto the ground. I couldn’t afford a fall. I don’t need to hurt my hip/s, my knees, my back. My body just can’t sustain many more bang-ups at my age.

I made it six months.

It came out of nowhere: that root. Actually, I saw it, my mind registered that there was a big fat root. I run in that park all the time and know where the roots are exposed and reaching across the path. I am skilled at maneuvering over them like an obstacle course in boot camp. Most of the time, I think it’s a blast to run on uneven ground, cross county;  I dance over the web of roots. However, this day, I was not paying much attention to what I was doing, where I was placing my feet. This is different from being in a Zen state while running, somehow. I’m not sure how but I’ll get back to this. (I was tired, possibly even a little sick—could that be it?) Anyway, I was thinking about other things, something to do with the blog, most likely. What would I write about? What was I going to fix for dinner? I was not present; not in the moment. I saw it but the message from my brain to my foot was slow, apparently, and the foot just didn’t respond, did not lift up in time, or not enough, and my bad toe struck the tree root.

(My toe is “bad’ because it has had problems—an old fracture in the joint–not bad because it didn’t obey my brain’s command.) As it collided with the root, I felt a jolt of pain all the way up into my knee and hip. Somehow, after falling, I rolled (old volleyball training–muscle memory is an amazing thing) and ended up on my back, looking up into the trees. I was embarrassed when a couple strolling by asked me if I had fallen, asked me if I was okay. Bruised ego. I didn’t want to get up; more out of shame than the idea that I may find out I was really hurt.  I would just stay there on the grass, looking into the trees forever. Maybe I would turn invisible. Maybe they would buy the idea that I was just contemplating the foliage.  They didn’t. I stood, thanked them, said I was okay, and started limping down the trail. It wasn’t too bad. I was a little wobbly, afraid to go to fast. I felt a sharp pain in my foot but it subsided and I figured I could give it a go. I ran around the park one more time, this time utterly in the present, completely aware of the ground and every blade of grass that might trip me up. It was easy to focus after falling down.

Fear is good for focus. (Is that what I’m saying? Generally, fear paralyzes me, but maybe a healthy respect for pain is good for focus.) I’m not sure, but it was easy to place my attention on the path, on every step I made after being on such intimate terms with the ground, knowing now, I am not invincible. It occurred to me that maybe falling while running is a rite of passage; something all runners face at some time. I can say I’m really a runner now because I’ve met the earth.  Joking aside. I don’t know what “real” runners say about falling, but the point I’m trying to make is that I kept going. I fell down and it didn’t stop me. I survived. I may even be a bit better for it (at least more aware of where I’m putting my feet).

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