alive

My run this morning took advantage of ideal weather, my agnostic yet advantage-taking view of Sundays, and a general sense that 7 miles in the mountains with my dog was a good idea. This particular loop takes me through geologic strata, to the shoreline of an ancient lake, and weaving in and out of canyons where streams and springs feed trees that are all at various stages of autumnal color changes. In a word, it’s glorious.

I felt good today, and after climbing through the first part of the run — a grueling crawl in which the terrain asks for 500 feet of elevation gain in only a mile — my stride was easy and my feet got light. I was breaking new records for pace on the downhill, planting left and right as the path wound through the trees. I’ve come to believe that I have good footing and balance and have learned to trust my shoes as they plant off rocks and around bends. I feel like I can just roll freely down the slope, and unless there’s a precipitous drop or a rattlesnake, my pace is steady.

So, of course, this is how it happens. It wasn’t when I was on this long downhill drop, but later, on the flat, wider, and well known path a mile farther along the trail, that I experienced a sequence of related events:

  1. My right toe caught something on the trail as that foot kicked behind me. It’s common to have a misstep here and there, and even more common to spy these hazards and avoid them with an easy step over or around. I’ve never caught my toe exactly like I did on this, completely unseen and uncompensated for.
  2. After that, physics happened. I was caught just right — I think my left foot was forward but in the air — so that I took flight. And, the torque upon my right foot set me spinning. I was midair, doing a slight barrel roll just like space craft do when they begin a trajectory into orbit.
  3. Physics, part II. I hit the trail on my right side, skidding and continuing to turn so that I ended up grinding to a halt on my back. There was a plume of debris in the air, me on the ground, and my dog trotting back with very little concern, but at least the politeness to stay by me.

This was one of the best things that’s happened to me in a long time.

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Fall colors

No one else got to witness the event, so I documented it as vividly as I could with the photo once I got home. When I was on the trail, though, there was nothing else to do, really, besides just keep running. I was cut and dirty and knew I’d be sore and bloodied later, but I was only somewhere on mile 4. A boost of adrenaline probably helped, but I think the best part of the whole event was knowing that I was okay. Even better than okay. I was injured, gloriously wounded, which you can only be if you’re alive.

In the past year, people around me have encountered surgeries, illnesses, and ongoing chronic conditions to an extent I’d never known before. It could just be that I’m of an age where I’m going to start seeing more of this around me, but really, this last year was extraordinary. Friends could create a museum of assorted organs that have been removed. It particularly struck home when an old college friend called to chat about various life pursuits, and that he was grateful he had decided to stay in the country because he had the privilege to go to the doctor, where he was diagnosed with a hernia, and where they also serendipitously diagnosed testicular cancer. He’s alive, in large part, because he didn’t go on an extended camping trip to Central America.

So, it’s no wonder that the nurse in my doctor’s office will always tell me that my “blood pressure’s up today.” She is probably perfectly nice, but I’ve come to see her as Nurse Ratched, even though her name tag says “Hope” or “Charity” or something so reassuring. Who can blame me for being on edge? No one else I’ve known has had good experiences at the doctor’s office lately, and even my own visits have been based on fears of heart conditions or stomach ulcers.

(Outside of the doctor’s office, I’ve learned that my blood pressure can be a reasonable 108/72. My doctor doesn’t take it personally and has actually been particularly reassuring about these kinds of discrepancies.)

Taking advantage of a brilliant fall morning to run up a mountain, sprint down, and then tumble into a ball of scab and dust was splendid for two reasons. First, I was reminded that I can do the first part of the run. Second, I learned that I could take the big fall, get up, and continue to run the second half with little worry about the blood and dirt. I’m alive, and living, and even though there are cuts and bruises, for the most part I can just keep on running. Falling, once in a while, reassures me that the falls are nothing to worry about… too much.

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