Cyclists, however, are at greater risk of falling than runners. But that does not preclude those who run from exercising some caution, or at least watching where they step.
Goof or Consequences
The consequences of falling can range from the comic pratfall to a tragic crash or traffic encounter.
But before focusing on the serious side of falling down, let’s have a little laugh at our own foibles, shall we?
Master of the Mulch
For example, two summers ago it was my intention to increase my mileage by 10% a few weeks in a row as a push toward fall fitness and a couple target races. But as the weeks wore on, fatigue set in until one day, feeling very tired and very slow, I was dopily plodding along toward home when I decided to take a shortcut through the local park.
Running straight at a street curb, I failed to lift my lead foot far enough to clear the curb. Thump! The rubber toe of my shoe stubbed on the curb, sending me stumbling forward until a short uphill where the landscaping rose up from the grass. This proved too much for my (admittedly failing) proprioception and I ditched shoulder first into the mulch.
My landing sent sprays of mulch in several directions. People walking their dogs nearby stood in wonderment at the antics they had just witnessed. I rolled over, began chuckling and raised my hands as if in victory. A passing car honked its horn. I was the winner of the Dolt of the Day award. I also want you to know I walked the rest of the way home, legs tired and shoulder sore. But no harm came of the incident.
Recognizing your increasing limits
It did teach me that I may be growing less agile with age. That’s hard for a former steeplechaser to say. I ran one of track & field’s most difficult events at a fairly high level, qualifying for the Division III National Meet 3 consecutive years, managing a PR of 9:20 for the steeplechase. In that race you run 3000 meters, jump 35 intermediate barriers; 4″ X 4″ mind you, and they don’t fall over when you hit them, like regular hurdles, and negotiate the water jump 7 times. The water jump features a pit that is 2.5 feet in depth right below the hurdle, then grows shallower to a zero depth 12 feet away. I was known for being able to jump completely over the water. Having a background as a triple-jumper (40’4″) and high jumper (6’1.5″ both straddle and flop) also helped. So did growing up playing basketball.
So I am no physical dork by tradition. But things still happen while running and riding that aren’t in your control.
Black ice and other joys
For example, while running one December day, I decided to put my steeplechasing skills to work by jumping a low metal chain at the entrance to a forest preserve.
The previous day’s snow melt had sent a broad stream of water down the hill. That water had frozen overnight and turned to black ice. When I hurdled the chain my foot came down on the super slick ice and down I went, hard. Landing on my wrist, I was able to stop the brunt of most of the fall. But my wrist paid a dear price. For weeks it would hardly bend. Nothing was broken but it was massively sore. That soreness persisted for more than 5 years. It was most noticeable playing sports like basketball, but even simple activities such as typing could set off a twinge.
It finally healed, but every day with the sore wrist was a reminder to be smart while out running or riding.
Stupidity can be fun. Sometimes.
Still, I occasionally still attempt a stupid thing or two. Just last year while running along the bike trail near our home, it dawned on me that I used to jump a small ditch over a stream by the trail. For some crazy reason it seemed to make sense to try it again, even though it had been years since I hurdled that ditch. Picking up speed, I took off from the near side only to realize with horror that the new mowing practices of the forest preserve left a thick margin of grass on the other side. It’s not good to be in mid-air and suddenly realize you can’t see where you are going to land. I’m not some cartoon character that can turn around with the accompaniment of goofy sound effects.
But what happened on the other side of the ditch was pretty goofy. I didn’t just tumble. I collapsed like a bad piece of origami. To make matters worse, some poor woman walking the trail was forced to witness my low-flying debacle. In response, her hands involuntarily covered her face. Fortunately I got up and walked away, or she might have had to go to counseling for shock. I smiled and waved and kept running. Honestly I could think of anything to say to explain myself.
Riding presents just as many opportunities for stupidity or frolicsome risk-taking. Just this past weekend I did a somersault while unclipping from the pedals at a full stop. And my co-blogger’s wife learned the hard way that falling over is not that hard to do.
Fortunately, generally, it’s not that far to fall. Even off a bike.
But even if you’re standing still, falling over on a bike can cause you harm. I once rode with a partner on a Saturday and saw him again on Sunday morning only to find him with his arm in a sling. “I fell over trying to tighten my bike shoes,” he groaned. “It’s a broken collarbone.”
Actually, crashing isn’t that much fun
I’ve already written at length about my own frightening bike crash this September due to bike wobble. Never do I wish that experience on anyone. But if it does happen to you, quickly remember to clamp your knees on the top bar and hope that interrupts the evil harmonics that can set your bike into a wild wobble. Then thank me when you save your own life.
Because falling off a bike, you usually don’t have to travel far to hit the ground. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. World class racers and daring cyclist in the Rocky Mountains have been known to fly many feet in the air, no pun intended.
And for most of us the risk of a moving bike crash is in the horizontal speed, but even that’s not the deciding factor in whether you get hurt or not.
Slow moving tragedy
Two summers ago I chanced upon a fellow cyclist who had been felled by a giant white dog that crashed into his wheel while he was cruising through a residential neighborhood at the modest speed of 10 miles an hour. The crash proved tragic. He broke his pelvis and I have never seen a person in more visible pain in my life. Later when I visited him in the hospital to commiserate and let also let him know his bike was safely delivered to his sister, he still seemed stunned by the mere force of gravity.
The answer lies in the fates. And fates can lie to you.
The fact is you can only be so careful. Fate likes to trip you up sometimes. It thinks that’s funny. So it’s best to laugh along. Or else the fates will do it again.
Be warned. You can also only be just so stupid before something happens by the sheer odds of running or riding all those miles. The once popular bumper sticker that says “Shit Happens” describes this universal principle. I’m living proof of that principle, I’ll admit.
It’s just not that far to fall.
The real secret to life is knowing how to get up when you do fall down. So follow this advice whether you fall down on your run or your ride.
Stand up from the ground and raise your arms, wave to anyone that witnessed your hopefully comic fail, and declare yourself a victor of sorts by yelling, “Perfect 10!”
Gets them every time. You might even hear some applause.