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Falling while Running:

5 Thoughts from the Split Second Before Hitting the Ground

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Unfortunately, this post is unofficially sponsored by Band Aid and bitterness.

Falling while running is an art I’ve mastered. I have scars covering my entire body honoring my clumsiness. While I’ve never wanted tattoos, it seems that nature had other plans and took care of that for me. My most recent fall landed me in the emergency room with stitches I was promised would leave a nice, permanent design on my knee.

As a side note, if you’ve never had a chance to see the bone of your knee cap, I’d mark it as an experience you should pass up.

This fall was so bad that I was continually asked if I was riding a bike when it happened. No, I kept telling them, this amazing feat of destruction was a result of only my own two feet and a poorly placed speed bump. I try to give 100% of my effort in everything that I do, and I guess falling while running is unfortunately included in that.

As another side note, this is what I was looking at right before I fell. I think it’s fair to blame the beauty of the universe on this one. Mother Nature, expect a call from me this week. How dare you be so beautiful and distracting? So rude.

During my most recent fall that introduced my knee cap bone to the outside world, I had one of those Matrix-like moments where time stops.

tips for tripping while running

I’ve never seen the Matrix, but everyone who gasps in disbelief when I tell them that tells me there’s some trippy time-stopping magic going on. Anyway, please imagine me as Keanu Reeves for the remainder of this post. In reality, I looked much more like this:

Believe me, I’ve done it enough times to have a solid pile of evidence by now. I’m not going to assume you’re as lucky as I am to have experienced the joy of falling while running as often as I have so, here’s a sampling of what you could expect. Given how often I fall while running, I’ve noticed a pattern. During that split second when I’m midair, before I skid my bare skin across the rockiest road in town, there are a few things that consistently flow through my mind. 

Thought 1: Really?! Again?!

I think it’s time I have a chat with the universe and explain that I’ve met my lifetime quota for running falls and that I should get a free pass for the rest of my years on Earth. As you can see, falling was already such a norm even when I was a kid that someone was actually prepared to catch the moment with a camera. That’s not right. That’s too much falling. Universe, take note.

The problem with falling while running is that it’s a vicious cycle. The more I fall, the more I worry about falling, which makes me fall even more. While my list of falls is long, my list of almost falls is even longer.

preventing falling while running

You know those moments when you trip while you’re walking and you end up jogging a few steps as though you meant to do that all along? Well, I do that about three times during every run. The problem is that I’m already running, so it looks like I’m trying a new sprinting technique that includes bug-eyes and wildly flailing arms. I swear, it’s the latest training style.

Thought 2: Did I Really Just Trip Over That?

Whenever I fall while running, people assume I fell down a mountain, was tripped by an opossum, or tried to scale a redwood tree. While I’d love for this to be true, my falling expertise lies in the realms of small tree roots, speed bumps, cracks in the sidewalk, and nothingness.

Yes, there have been times I’ve tripped and stopped to stare at the road around me trying to find something, anything, to blame. Even the people that see me fall are amazed by how much damage a whole lot of nothing can do. The woman who stopped to help me during my most recent fall went from a casual good Samaritan to a full on emergency responder once she saw what a simple speed bump did to me.

The doctor in the emergency room told me that I should lay off scrambling up mountains until my knee recovers. Excuse me, but I just landed in the emergency room because of a speed bump. Imagine what would happen if I decided to run up a mountain. I think I’ll leave that to the American Ninja Warriors, or about anyone else with even an ounce more coordination than I have.

Thought 3: S%#&*@#$H&*#@#*&

If you know me, you know that I rarely ever swear. In my mind, there are few situations that can’t be summed up with a good, “gosh darn it.” If you hear me swear, you can assume the situation is either really bad, or I just ran out of peanut butter. I’m also saving all of my swearing for the eventual cancelation of Survivor, as that will be a very sad day. Injury is a rare exception to this rule.

Every good fall deserves a good helping of swearing. In fact, there’s research about how expletives can reduce pain. Usually this applies after the fact, but, I like to take a more proactive approach. I like to swear in that final half second before I hit the road in the hopes that some pre-swearing will act as a pain shield and turn me into Violet Beauregarde when she puffs up into a blueberry in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That way I can just roll down the road to the emergency room for deflation instead of stitches. It usually doesn’t work, but it’s always worth a try.

Thought 4: I Hope I Don't Rip My Clothes

You would think I would be concerned about my skin in the final moments before a fall, but humans are notoriously illogical. Well, I am at least. There’s a reason that a majority of my running clothes consist of hand-me-downs and old tank tops.

Who wants to be wearing a $60 pair of Nike shorts when they go skidding down the road? I love these Nike shorts though, so I do risk wearing them on occasion.

On a side note, I don’t understand expensive running clothes to begin with. Why do I want to spend money on a fancy outfit just so that I can sweat in it? On top of that, I usually head out for my run right after getting out of bed. Are the fancy clothes meant to be a distraction from my crazy hair, mismatched socks, and puffy and half-closed eyes?

That shirt pictured over there is darn cute, but even that pattern is no match for the chaos that is my face when I wake up in the morning. There’s nothing that can distract from that. Alright, back to the point.

The amazing thing about the human body is that it repairs itself. Yes, it’s painful and messy, but it is a fairly efficient and effective repair factory. My clothes are less self-sustaining. No matter how much I love my t-shirts and shorts, love alone won’t fix them, and I’d be hard-pressed to pull out a sewing machine to patch them up myself. 

Once they’re ripped, they’re gone forever. Again, I realize this is crazy, but we tend to think crazy things in the split second before falling. I’m just telling it like it is.

Thought 5: Save the face!

When I was a kid, my family went to an amusement park that had a rafting ride that was determined to soak us. Despite having our cameras, wallets, bags, and jackets in the raft with us, all the focus was on the leftover chicken we had just packed up from the restaurant at lunch. “Save the chicken,” we yelled, as our boat splashed through rapids and floated under waterfalls. While misguided, we knew our priorities.

Now, the instinct to protect my face and head is probably the only logical thing I consistently think about in that split second before falling during a run. As we all know, falling is a bad thing. But, falling on your face is a really bad thing. During my latest fall, I managed to scrape up every part of my body from my ankle to the top of my shoulder. But, when the doctor asked me if I had hit my head, I proudly said no. In my history of falling, I have yet to even scratch my face or my flowing golden locks.

This is no accident. As you can tell from the length of this post, even a split second is enough time to think a boat load of thoughts. So, here’s some advice from one falling runner to another. In that last moment before you hit the ground, organize your priorities and plan the way you’re going to fall. For me, this often results in a skid and roll technique. While not ideal (no fall ever will be), it lets me protect my first priority—my precious noggin.

If you’ve read any of my books, you know how much I value priorities. They are the building blocks of success, as they allow us to hone in on what’s most important to us. The problem with falling is that you often have more than one priority, and it’s nearly impossible to give each one of them the respect they deserve. While I’m glad I didn’t land on my face, if I could go back, I would have avoided falling directly on my kneecap as well. But, unlike the Matrix, I didn’t have time to stop and analyze every option.

In that split second before you fall, you will likely only have time to save one body part. You’ll have to leave the rest to chance. Let’s hope that chance is on your side.

No one ever wants to fall while running. It’s frustrating to have something you love cause you pain. But, that’s life. I’ve learned in my short years on this planet that anything worth loving is also worth enduring pain to pursue. Whether it be relationships, dreams, careers, or running goals, we learn what’s worth falling down for in the hopes of getting up stronger, wiser, and better prepared for the next obstacle.

To eliminate the risk of falling would be to eliminate the opportunity for growth. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather take the risk. Do you have a falling story? Share it with us in the comments below!

You can also read more from me at The Sensory Toolbox.

19 thoughts on “Falling while Running: 5 Thoughts from the Split Second Before Hitting the Ground”

  1. Just took another one this morning. Ouch. Taking comfort from your story as I nurse my sore shoulder, scraped knees and bruised cheekbone (couldn’t avoid the noggin, unfortunately). I had a bad fall last February which involved my dog wrapping us both around a post in the sidewalk, me landing directly on my head, getting three brain bleeds, a broken clavicle and a broken thumb, and spending a week in the hospital. I still have a wacky numb leg and double vision from the experience, so I second your counsel to avoid head-bumping. Unfortunately, by the time my head hit the ground I was apparently already no longer occupying it, since I have no memory of the event. Thanks for your encouragement that falling is just something we do, and then we get up (as soon as possible) and keep running.

    1. dianafitts@dianafitts.com

      Wow, Lorian! I have a lot of respect for you being able to get back out on the roads after a fall like that! It no doubt proves that runners are warriors. I hope that your fall today was the last one for a while.

    2. I fell 2 days ago and ended up in Accident & Emergency. Can’t think what I could have tripped on but my legs went flying and I fell flat on my face and skidded a bit. Not a scratch on my legs, some grazes on both wrist areas but my face is a mess. Some deep cuts and some superficial. I may need to have my nose fixed too and will find out next week. I want to get back to running so that the fear doesn’t set in. Last time I fell was a long time ago but just had some scrapes on my knees.

      1. dianafitts@dianafitts.com

        Hi, Liz! I’m so sorry!! I can completely relate. Getting over that fear is something I struggled with as well, and still do from time to time. If you come up with any strategies for overcoming it, please let me know! I hope you have a speedy recovery and are back in your running shoes soon.

  2. I too – seem to have falling episodes… fell again yesterday (6th in three years). Everything in your article holds true for me… this time I got up and continued running through the pain… to complete my training run. Today I am hurting.. but soon I will forget. My family however – does not… I hate going home after a fall as it is like the grand inquisition. Most times the most I have hurt is my ego – but my family has all sorts of other ideas… They want me to stop running entirely. They think if they run with me I will not fall (like they are going to catch me?)…
    I agree – thank you for your encouragement, falling is just something that happens – and we need to get up (as soon as possible) and keep running!

    1. dianafitts@dianafitts.com

      I need to add a section about family! I know where their concern comes from, but they definitely seem to be able to make a fall more dramatic than it is (I try to spin it as an excuse to buy fun bandaids!). I hope you continue to feel better after your most recent fall and that it doesn’t hinder any future (fall free) runs!

  3. Hi! I’m 76, a runner for more than 15 years, and in the past year or so I’ve begun falling. After multiple barked knees and palms I bought a set of protectors, the kind used by roller bladers. They got their first test this morning, saving knees and palms from any injury. But the elbows got it. (I hadn’t had elbow scrapes before, so figured it’d be safe to leave the elbow protectors at home. Wrongo.) So far, no head trauma, knock wood; (knuckles rapping forehead.) So at last I turned to the Internet for advice, and your blog was the first thing I stumbled (pun? intended) upon. I’m very sorry you’ve had so many and more serious falls, but I must tell you that to read that it can happen to someone so much younger was a vast relief. I thought I was just victim to advancing age, another curse of becoming an old guy. While this may very well be so, I’m off now to search for ways to keep from falling in the first place. If I can’t find any magic potion, from now on I’m gonna to wear the elbow protectors too, vanity be damned.

    1. dianafitts@dianafitts.com

      Hi, Bill! I’m so impressed by your resilience and determination. Vanity be damned, for sure. As a fellow runner, I know that we’ll stop at nothing to keep running every day. From one scraped up runner to another, keep lacing up those shoes every day!

      1. Fell at the 5 mile mark of a 10K last Sunday. Didn’t avoid my face this time sadly though a broken crown beats a broken wrist any day (and I know this because I broke my wrist from a running fall in 2016). I took great comfort from your post and the commenters that I’m not the only one with this nasty habit out here. No idea what caused my fall Sunday but after they were done with me at the medical tent, I walked the remaining mile to the finish line and claimed my medal. Might have to walk the 5K I’m scheduled to run this Sunday but I’ll be running again before the month ends. Have to.

        1. dianafitts@dianafitts.com

          Cheers to your perseverance! You definitely earned that medal. Even I have been amazed at what a shared experience this happens to be. While I wish we could all avoid the tumbles, it’s nice to know that there’s a community to commiserate with.

      2. Training for my first marathon… fell back in Late August , rolled my ankle on an acorn… yep like the matrix everything in slow motion. However, I couldn’t break the fall, face smacked the pavement. Hurt pride and sore body parts. I kept in training. Today, exactly one week from my race… yep, tripped over an acorn again.. same ankle same side of face. ( road rash was a little worse and ended up with an ER visit). Nothing broken and the ER doc said go get it next weekend. I will crawl across that finish line if I have to! Nice to hear others have the same issues. I was afraid something was wrong with me.

        1. Alisa, I can relate to this so much! I remember going to the ER and they were amazed that I had managed to create such a huge injury because of a rough piece of pavement. It sounds like you have a similarly ill fated relationship with acorns. Bravo for your perseverance and feel so much pride crossing that finish line at your race. While everyone celebrates the winners, I always appreciate those who fought the hardest.

  4. Hi. Today I had my second bad fall in 2 weeks. Because I banged up my chin the last time, today I decided to save face and land on my hands & shoulder. I was fortunate to be running near a parked fire truck. Some firefighters gave me supplies to clean myself up, and asked if my chin (still healing from my last fall) was ok… I was too embarrassed to say it was from another fall, and I was too bloody head to toe to continue running. My thumb is badly contused so I’m typing with a wrist brace, but nothing’s broken. I took two other bad falls in recent years, one requiring stitches. Although I’ve been falling for decades (I’m 45), they’re becoming more frequent and I can’t help wondering if something is really wrong with me, or am I just clumsy? Could I have a bad gait that maybe a trainer can help me fix? I know no one has the answer, but putting it out there in case you’ve had similar thoughts. My family wants me to quit, and acquaintances may think someone has been beating me… but hey, gotta make it through my fall marathon. Thank you so much for the article! Side note: I recently developed runner’s knee and had taped it up before running today, so I must have looked great hobbling home :/

    1. dianafitts@dianafitts.com

      Wow! I’m constantly amazed by the strength of the runners in this community. Jillian, you are a trooper! I completely understand the need to continue running, no matter how many falls come with it. I would suggest reaching out to your doctor for a PT referral though. I went to a PT for non-falling reasons, but it ended up really helping my overall gait and stride. There may be a few simple adjustments that can make all of the difference. Best of luck with your marathon training!

  5. I have been running since 2006. I’m 53. I fall what I feel is so frequently, I’ve decided to keep a log. In 2018, I fell in Feb, Aug, and Nov. Been doing pretty good this year (unless I forgot to log a fall) until a few days ago when I tripped on what I guess was about 1/32″ of uneven sidewalk. I walked back and forth over the scene of the crime to recreate where my toe connected and it was really hard to find the uneven surface on a sidewalk that was almost as smooth as glass. Sometimes I wonder if some evil spirit sticks his foot out to trip me because I have a hard time finding exactly what is was I tripped on. I KNOW my toe connected with SOMETHING!

    I’m at a point now where I am seriously concerned for my well-being. Sometimes I go down so hard I feel like I fell off a building. I have been wearing fingerless leather workout gloves for years now and let me tell you, it is a HUGE help when your bare palms are not absorbing all the pressure of the fall. It helps alleviate the impact on the rest of your body. Plus it kind of looks cool. Well, better than kneepads would.

    So back in 2019, I was jogging in the grassy area next to the sidewalk and stepped on a circular wire (the kind that keeps hubcaps on the wheel of a car). I stepped on the back end of the wire which tipped up the front end so my opposite foot would become ensnared in it. As luck would have it, it was a t the END of said grassy area and I went down like a sack of potatoes onto the driveway (which was curb height lower from my starting position) which increased the distance of my fall. My head hit the ground, smashed my sunglasses causing a piece of broken lens to gouge into my forehead parallel to my right eyebrow. Blood gushing, filling my eye socket while I looked upwards to minimize bleeding, I called the ambulance. I ended up with 16 stitches and a horizontal scar (still visible today) above my right eye.

    Two bits of advice I can give: 1. Always wear padded gloves. It doesn’t look so bad and it REALLY minimizes the damage when you fall and 2. Don’t run into the sun during dawn or dusk. It really obscures your vision and increases your chances of falling if you don’t see that uneven sidewalk or root. The harsh shadows also disguise things on the ground that can trip you up.

    1. Roy, you are in the falling club, indeed! I’m so sorry to hear how frequently you find yourself on the pavement. If you haven’t been to a physical therapist, they may be able to help. I went to a PT for a non-falling reason, but found that they helped my form so much that I was less prone to trip over my feet. You can’t cure my level of clumsiness, but it did help. I also have a personal vendetta against the evil running spirit that puts things out in front of us, so that’s a different story.

      Those are excellent tips about the gloves! I can’t even count how many times my hands have taken the brunt of my falls. Hands are a better sacrifice than the head, as you demonstrated with that awful fall, but might as well protect the hands if possible. Gloves are something I’ll look into! And the sun is a great tip. We all have a hard enough time with 100% visibility, let alone when we can’t see.

      Thanks for sharing your story and the tricks you’ve learned along the way! I hope you have a fall-free future!

  6. I just fell while running in my neighborhood AGAIN! I’m beginning to see a them.. it’s cold, it’s getting dark fast and I need glasses. So I will only run in the daylight and when everyone is at work- not coming home in droves blinding me with their high beams! I was forced to run on the sidewalk (for safety. Lololol !!!). I usually run in the street to avoid tripping on crooked sidewalks… but that time at dusk I was wearing all black so…..

    1. Yes! So glad you figured that out! I can’t say that I would be as quick to pick up on the fact that it was my visibility. It’s probably a factor I shoudl consider myself. During the day when it’s light outside and the streets are calm sounds perfect.

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