Falling is such a common part of the sport of figure skating that U.S. Figure Skating made it the centerpiece of their “Get Up” campaign to draw attention to the determination, strength and resilience required to skate and to succeed in any endeavor. As they say in their ads, “Ice is slippery and so is life.”
For runners in Flagstaff, that message is easily modified to, “Trails are rocky and so is life.” As I said to a woman before the Run for the Mountain race this past May who took a spill while warming up, “Falling is a part of running. You have to embrace it.”
I said that without knowing I would soon have an opportunity to follow my own advice. About a mile into the 5K, I turned my ankle and hit the trail so hard and so fast with my knees that my brain couldn’t process that I was falling. I had already hit the ground and rolled out of the way (trail etiquette is trail etiquette — we don’t block other racers!), picked myself up and resumed running before my mind could catch up to what had happened.
Julie Hammonds, the coordinating editor of this column, saw me on the ground, though she didn’t see me fall. She encouraged me the rest of the race, knowing I was in pain. She told me I was a tough runner and that I was running strong. At the time, I thought she was staying with me as a kindness, and I felt bad about holding her back. However, she told me later that trying to stay with me pushed her to run her best 5K time ever. Julie and I both placed in our shared age category, winning children’s running shoes that had been spray-painted gold, silver or bronze and filled with garden plants.
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Before the race, I had asked my 13-year-old son (now 14), who is a lot faster than I am, to backtrack along the course after finishing in order to help me kick it in.
He did so, telling Julie and me to use our arms and to finish strong. He also offered encouragement by saying we were “looking good” (debatable but still helpful) and we were “almost there” (true, but it seemed questionable in the moment). My son later told me that when he saw the blood and dirt on both my legs, he made a conscious effort to resist the urge to say, “Don’t think about your knees!”
Being bruised, sprained and bloodied didn’t ruin the happiness of participating in a great run to kick off the summer racing season or the fun of the postrace festivities. If anything, I felt better about this race than all the ones where I stayed on my feet.
There is something powerful about getting back up that can’t be matched by not falling down in the first place. So many races, as invigorating as they are at the time, fade from memory. This one will stay with me forever, much like the scars on my knees.