Falling

I am running uphill, not fast, having a conversation in my head with him, wishing I had said the same things but differently, wishing I hadn’t seen the hurt land on his face like that, wishing I had more tact, less candor; wishing for restraint, for subtlety, for the ability to blind myself to the things that bother me more than they should; wishing for the strength to keep my mouth shut. And then I fall.

This part of the trail is no more or less narrow, no more or less rocky, no steeper, no slicker, no more treacherous than any other part, but I fall.

Falling - by Rachel ToorWhat I think is: Oh, this again. What I think is: I fall.

My right hand bashes into the dirt, my right shoulder hits hard. I know what’s happening to the skin on my knee.  Now it’s red, scraped against my tights, which have earned another hole, but soon that knee-skin will start to bleed and I will feel the blood slick and angry. I have bonked my head, but not hard, and I see a rock inches from where my skull hit. And I think: It’s okay. I think: I will be okay.

When I’m being kind to myself I say I fall because my stride is so efficient; I say I run with such economy my feet skitter mere inches above the ground, all energy moving forward, nothing wasted. I tell myself I fall because when I run I go so far into my own head that my body sometimes gets left behind. I tell myself I fall because I’m fearless; I charge down hills where others hitch and hesitate.

When I’m being honest, I know I fall because I make mistakes. I don’t pay enough attention. I get lazy. I try too hard. I don’t try hard enough. I get distracted. I get cocky and start thinking about the fact that I’m eleven miles into a twelve mile run and haven’t fallen once and then—down I go.

I fall. I fail. The difference is an “i.” An I. Me. I do both: I fall and I fail.

Before I was a runner I had a boyfriend who ran. He’d go at night, after work, into the forest on trails that were rocky and rooty and dark under loblolly pines and thick kudzu vines and he would come back with knees scraped, leaves in his hair, glasses bent. When I asked what had happened he would say with a shrug that he had fallen and what did I want for dinner.

How can you fall?

I fall, he said.

Who falls? What kind of a grownup falls?

I don’t know, he said, but sometimes I do.

Years later, the guys I spent miles with on Saturday mornings became so accustomed to my falling that they barely stopped to wait for me. I would go down and they’d say, “Oh Rachel’s fallen again,” and would take advantage of the few minutes it took to right myself to retie their shoes or pee against a tree.

Once, one of them fell, a leggy guy who kept a careful calendar and did business with numbers and wore suits to work. He wasn’t hurt—no blood, even—but you would have thought he’d been assailed. You would have thought he had broken or bent something. During the rest of the run he talked about his fall, believing people like him didn’t fall.

I fall. I fail. I move on.

At first it may have bothered me, but I can’t remember, really, a time when I ran and didn’t fall. My legs look playground-wounded, like kickball days after school, like summer nights spent hiding and seeking. When it’s warm I wear shorts and skirts and forget that middle-aged women are not supposed to be so freshly battered. People see, worry, ask. I say, I run, I fall. They are confused.

Sometimes I stay down a few minutes longer than necessary, allow myself a moment to absorb the shock. We grow up and forget those quick bits of suffering when tears come as a surprise. And then, over. The perfume of a mother’s touch, a kiss, a treat. On we go.

I do not like to fall, not any more than I like to fail. But falling reminds, as does failing. The question becomes how to proceed, how to keep moving, how to get there. The question becomes one of understanding, perhaps parsing the reasons why, trying to learn, trying to see what to do differently. Falling is a reminder that to try is often to fail.

I used to strain to hide it—the shame, the hot flush of being found out. Whenever the memory of a failure sparked I would douse it before it could do an encore of injury. Push it away, will it gone. If I can’t see it neither can you. This didn’t work. Every misstep, every badly played move would return, looping in my head, reviving the disgrace, reigniting that heart-pang, that sick-twinge, the wanting to hide, to disappear, wishing I hadn’t said yes, embarrassed that I had said no, not getting it right, not doing it well enough, not knowing.

I have learned to look at my legs and see not just the ravages of damage, but reminders of all the times I have gotten up, have kept going, have made it back.

I fall. I fail. I move on.

RACHEL TOOR is a distance runner who used to be an “either/or” kind of person. She thought: either you were a nerdy little egghead, or you were an outdoorsy jock. She spent the first thirty years of her life indoors with a book. Then she started running... more »

Comments

  1. Love this, Rachel. Falling/failing is frustrating, but you’ve the the right attitude: get up and keep going.

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  2. Stacey Legg says:

    So true! Life is all about falling and failing then learning and moving on.

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  3. Rachel Toor says:

    Thanks, Jill and Stacy. Though there are some days when i want to say “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

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  4. Kristi says:

    Great post! Just awesome. Yes, it’s good to remind others that it is okay to fall and get hurt and then move on. Sometimes, falling let’s you see paths that you wouldn’t have otherwise or see a flower growing. Somethings, you have to fall to look.

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  5. Clair Norman says:

    So beautifully written. An inspiration.

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  6. rachel

    i fall almost EVERY TIME i race. i’ll trip over a root, my ipod flies through the air, i get a quick shot of adrenaline, and i fly. my knees, covered with scars.

    i’m also an insanely good downhill runner, so who cares if i fall?

    i’ve found the best thing for falling is to do a lot of pushups.

    i am really good at catching myself and bouncing back up again. or catching myself before i hit the ground at all.

    great blog in the new york times about it here

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/11/health/nutrition/11well.html?_r=1
    Researchers who study the biomechanics of aging, for instance, note that push-ups can provide the strength and muscle memory to reach out and break a fall. When people fall forward, they typically reach out to catch themselves, ending in a move that mimics the push-up. The hands hit the ground, the wrists and arms absorb much of the impact, and the elbows bend slightly to reduce the force.

    keep running!
    jenn

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  7. Heather says:

    Wow, this is such an incredibly mindful, thoughtful post, as have been the others you’ve written. I’m writing this time because the day before I had a day-long interview at a university for a major position in May, I took a run, and was so deep in thought about my preparations, I took the greatest fall of my life. My knee is still healing. Fortunately no one noticed the 8 inches of scraped, sore knee beneath my black skirt, and I was so focused I didn’t feel the pain until after the dinner. I still haven’t heard about the job yet, but am hopeful. Thank you for letting me know I am far from alone.

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  8. Rachel Toor says:

    @ Kristi–Yes, so true. Sometimes it is an opportunity to be still and look around. I have to remember to do that more.

    @ Clair–thank you so much for the kind words.

    @Jenn–During long runs or races I usually have my hand-held water bottles to break my falls. But I also have divot-scars on the heels of my hands. I worry that eventually I’m going to break one of those suckers (the hands, not the bottles, which are amazingly sturdy).

    @Heather–Good luck on the job. No better way to prepare for a full day of university interviews, even if you do end up cut and bruised.

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  9. Bob ODonnell says:

    This is a brief recap of a 100 mile trail ultra I attempted this past Saturday. My daughter Erin was in my support crew and she sent me your post after reading my story. I am inspired and will keep trying to get up again and no wineing alowed. Thanks. bob

    A nice run in the woods! 6/4/2012

    The Old Dominion 100 mile trail run was this past Saturday, the second oldest 100 miler in the country. With a 4 AM start I was off like a rocket. Kidding! If you know anything about ultras you know nothing in it moves like a rocket. Pace is slow and steady. I start out next to a guy that is attempting his 4th 100 miler in a month, he finished the other 3 under 24 hours but isn’t sure he can do it again as his legs feel kind of tired, oh really, I decide to slow down some more. Now I am running next to a woman who is on her 14th 100 miler this year. You have got to be kidding, Really, of course these people are younger than me and I know they have not had 4 knee surgeries or a total hip replacement of even throat surgery but awesome anyway, and humbling.
    Let me back up just a bit. I had a fabulous support crew ready, Meg, my Number 1 supporter, got me to the check-in as well trained as I can be, since the 50 miler at Tussey Mountain, State College, PA. last year I have steadily been increasing ever longer miles for this event, even finally got back to a 100 mile plus training week. Erin and her William and Amy joined us at the hotel the night before. I got to sleep early for that 2:30 AM wake up and early morning start. I even tried a small cup of coffee to try to warm the motor. Nighttime running is an experience of its own, spooky but exciting too. Pretty quiet except the 58 friends breathing pretty heavy gathered around me.
    The first support crew aid station was at almost 20 miles into the event. I was feeling pretty good at this point and was right on my schedule. I had smiles and thank you’ s for my eager crew. If Sean thought I was tough on him to keep moving on his adventure races he should have Erin there next time, I was not up out of the chair fast enough for her as she pushed me right back out there. And for Amy it was like back in the Marines, here is your fluid resupply now get back to it. That’s what crews do. Anyway, I was able to catch up to a great guy, Robbie. He is an Army Major, around early to mid 30ish that was having a bad day, he had to stop every so often to visit with the squirrels in the woods. Then he would catch up to me and we would continue trying to encourage and push each other, I was still on good pace to finish under 28 hours, my goal. Check point 2 was at 32 miles and I was still in decent spirits with just a little smile but very relieved to see my encouraging crew. They quickly refueled me and got me out on the course and back up the mountain. Over 15,000 feet of elevation gain on this event. They were nicely camped out at this point as I ran a big loop and came back to about the same point for the 3rd check point.
    At this point I wasn’t smiling anymore and my thanks had started to turn to, no don’t need it, don’t want it. The 3rd check point was at about 48 miles and I had dropped Robbie shortly after the 2nd. Had to run that long totally by oneself. I was kind of lonely out there in the woods all by myself. I went by the 50 mile mark just at a little over 12 hours so I was still on schedule for my under 28 hours. I found out that Rob had succumbed to being drained, those squirrels can be pretty mean. And had dropped out at the first medical check point with too much weight loss. I had gained a ½ pound at that point. Fluids and cals were balanced well with my pace.
    Check point 4was at 56 miles, I was doing quite well, totally focused on Relentless, Forward Progress. No smiles for my crew and now I was reportedly saying NO to anything they offered that I didn’t feel I absolutely needed. William had repaired my gaiters to put over my shoes to keep the stones out and that helped. I took off resupplied with everything except something to keep my stomach under control. Dang, I make one little mistake. I climbed some ridiculous hills and was sweating like a pig and working harder than I had all day. The ATV guys up there must have removed some of our flagging because a couple times I found myself a few 100 yards off course, I would go back and search for where the shoe marks in the mud were and keep going. With an upset stomach I must have stopped eating and drinking. I lost what was left in the stomach a couple times and realized I was just going to have to push through.
    The bottom just kind of fell out, now I couldn’t even run the down hills because I was stumbling over rocks as I couldn’t pick up my feet. I knew I was getting in trouble when I noticed that I had stopped sweating, as hard as I was working this was not good. This section was planned to take 1 ½ hours, it took actually more like 3. I walked into check point 5 at 65 miles toasted. My heart rate was too high, my breathing was not able to slow down, I had stopped sweating, I was dehydrated and under fueled, classic bonked, and as I sat down I started shivering and knew I was done. I was going to have to wait until my body was back under some control. My meds would get the nausea down but I did not have enough time to wait for that so I could get food and fluids to stay down. My body was telling me it had enough and I was just able to listen to that. I was so disappointed for my crew as they had done all they could for me, including Hannah who had driven up to be my safety runner to run with me 11 miles after the next check point. They were all very supportive of me and happy with the attempt and that just maybe I was still smart enough to know when to call it quits. Anyway, we tossed everything back into the cars, checked out at race HQ and Meg somehow drove me back home. I was quickly asleep at 2:30 and wide awake at 8 AM when I should have been finishing the 100 miles. I don’t know how I could have finished, with as sore as I felt but my hat sure goes off to all those that complete 100 miles.
    I am not going to talk about what is next, if anything at this point. I will get a few days of rest and then think about it. I do love the challenge; I just never know what checks I will write and whether or not my body will cash them. I very much appreciate everyone’s prayers and support. I couldn’t do these things without all of you. It is early to even write this brief account of the event as my mind is still kind of out there in the woods. Watch out for squirrels and keep one foot in front of the other.
    Bob
    Odonnellrj@msha.com

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  10. Very inspiring & I always love the saying out there about there is no fail in failure if we get back up! :-)

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  11. Gen Matchette says:

    Rachel,

    I love the substitution of the “l” for the “i” in the two words. The important thing is that you get out there and try. I subscribe to the same philosophy. People often try to compare themselves to me and I always tell them, “You are you and I’m a different person with different challenges than you. Run your own race.” I have to remind myself of it as well. :-)

    Here’s a quote that I love from Teddy Roosevelt. I gave it to my husband when he did his first Ironman and I think of often when I fall or fail…

    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

    Gen =)

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  12. Sarah Ongiri says:

    So well written. My husband just dd a half where a man fell right at the starting line. yes he finished the race -and dd well. This reminded me f that. So inspiring. Ho often do we fall in life….yet we get back up. this made me teary-maybe because I “fall” alot yet everyday get out there again.

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  13. Kate Wilson says:

    I love this story! It is so me! I am a faller. People become alarmed when I go down… but it is natural, it is how I move. You put this into words and a great story! Thanks from another faller!

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