Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Injury, luck, and coincidental correlation

While I was out running in the desert, I sprained my left big toe.  It's surprisingly painful, and for a few days I could barely walk.  A few points:

-I turn on the news and there's a guy in a flak jacket telling me about rockets attacks killing children - but here I am complaining about my painful big toe.

-It's a move I've done several times before - I lead with my left leg, fail to clear an obstacle, bash my foot into said obstacle, and tumble sprawling forward.  I've done it on Catalina Island (losing a bunch of skin from my arms), and I did it in the Western States 100 (bloodying my shirt and spending the rest of the day telling various race volunteers that I was okay).

The WS100 fall stuck in my head.  It was early in the race and we were still up on the cool Sierra ridges.  I should have been paying attention to the rocky trail, but instead I was looking at a helicopter that was filming the race.  One minute I was jogging, and the next I was on my back.  If I had sprained my toe, I wouldn't have finished the race.  Instead, I was fine, and I completed my only ultrarunning goal - finishing a 100-miler under 24 hours.  After I finished in under 24-hours, I was in the (non-toe related) hurt locker, realized I'd never run much faster, realized I didn't have any other running goals, and gradually stopped racing.  Stopping racing led to other changes in my life, such as leaving life as an intinerant cook.  All of which led to my current happy situation of living in Colorado (and not being subject to rocket attacks).

Which is of course fatuous reasoning that shows only that I'm getting old and spending too much time thinking about the past.  However, I did have two better points from that lingering memory:

-My first thought after remembering the WS100 fall was: "Well, I was in better shape ten years ago and a lot more agile, so I wouldn't have sprained my toe anyway."  Which is just as fatuous as the foregoing, but a reminder of our collective (or at least my) refusal to acknowledge the importance of luck.  Actually, back on that day in  June I could have sprained my toe, injured myself some other way, lost time hanging around too long at the Sacramento H3 aid station, or not finished/finished slower for any number of reasons.  Or I could have linked up with some faster runners that would have helped my pace, finished an hour or two earlier, thought more highly of myself as a competitive runner, and have run more races.

There was no "reason" that day - besides my overall fitness, genetics, effort, etc. - why I didn't get hurt and ended up finishing the race in a particular way.  I've run for about 30 years, and my last injury that prevented me from running was in high school (shin splints).  I was simply lucky to have not injured myself again until last week.

-Then, after I realized that I had sprained my toe pretty badly, I thought: "I wasn't focused, wasn't running carefully, and therefore I injured myself.  I was stupid to have caused the injury."  I'm really enjoying using the word "fatuous," so I'll stick with it - here's more of the same.  I didn't cause the injury - it was an accident.  It was an accident that could have happened in 2001 or 1991, but instead it happened in 2012.  Maybe I'll be a little more careful about running across lava fields now, but after year or two I'll forget and run the same way I always have.

Which is probably the only important takeaway here (assuming that you made it through the fatuous part) - just keep going the best you can, don't worry about what you can't control, and don't give yourself too much credit when things go well.  Oh, and count your blessings.  That's pretty cheesy, but I'm posting it anyway.

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