After the Fall

“Did you fall again?” my husband asked, with shock and amusement. 

Yes, I confessed, I’d done it again. And while I had a few less layers of skin than I did when I left, in fact I felt a heck of a whole lot stronger than I did before the fall.

Falling is something that I do a lot. I do it so often, so easily, and due to microscopic pieces of debris.  I excel at it. My palms, knees, and hips are covered with scars. Today I opened up a new collection on my right elbow.

I was running on a smooth stretch of road with no shoulder or sidewalk. It was warm, the ice had melted, and I felt so safe and comfortable shuffling along that I didn’t register the tree branch in my path.  I  stepped on it then went flying through the air and on to the pavement.  Unfortunately I was heading downhill at the time. So the journey through the air was a little longer than it usually is.

One of the benefits of being such a frequent faller is that I am also pretty practiced and efficient with the whole getting-up process. I quickly get to my feet and out of the way of oncoming traffic, scan my body for broken bones, then let out a few weeps and wails to expel the shock and trauma. It’s not pretty, but if I don’t indulge in a few seconds of self pity, the memory of it festers in me for weeks. I do keep moving as I sob, though, any way I can. Usually I’m far enough from home that no matter how strongly I want to stop in my tracks, I’m motivated to start running again just to get home and bring the entire humiliating experience to an end.

Today it was tough; I had battled some motivational paralysis before the run, and when I fell, I still hadn’t decided whether I’d be tough enough to stretch it out to 10. After I hit the pavement, taking a shortcut seemed inevitable. But as I walked down to the base of the hill, I started thinking about my last big spill.

It happened 18 miles into the JFK 50-miler, back in November. The seconds after the fall were marred by fear that I’d ended my entire Marathon Challenge with a clumsy catastrophe, and possibly injured my knees so badly that my entire running career was done too.  Somehow, I’d managed to pick myself up and start walking again.  Somehow I managed to get the energy and strength finish – bloody and bruised –  in 8:26 – seventh in my age group, and among the top 20 women in the race.

That memory gave my spirits a little lift. When I hit the bottom of the hill, I moved from a walk into a trot, and just kept going. I ended up with 11ish miles for the day, and enough energy and desire for a few more. I felt grateful that I hadn’t broken any bones, knocked out any teeth, or concussed myself, and I didn’t feel half as pathetic as I had before the fall. Sure, I’d fallen – yet again – sure I’d shed some blood. But I’d also mustered up the guts to get going again. Best of all, I’d finished feeling like I can’t wait to get out there and get going again.

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