- If you prefer to listen to this post, it is Mojo for Running Podcast Episode #69, which can be accessed below and played on your computer or by downloading it via iTunes or any other podcatcher or via an app on your smart phone.
I always say, if you run long enough, you’ll have an amazing number of stories to tell. In fact, it’s common when anything unusual happens – and let’s face it, something unusual always happens – someone says, “Well, that’ll be a great race story,” and that is exactly correct. I’ve been on long runs when every person on the long run, before we finished, had shared at least a couple of great stories.
And so, on this day, July 27th, when I ran the San Francisco Marathon, even as it was unfolding, I couldn’t help but think, “Well, here is one hell of a running story.” My husband dubbed it my Broken Arm PR.
My local club, Run Tampa, travels to at least one destination race each year. Members nominate possible races, and then we vote. In the last several years, we’ve done the Napa to Sonoma Half, Chicago and the Marine Corps Marathons, and next year we’ll do Bolder Boulder and the Maine Marathon and Half. This year, in July, we did the San Francisco Marathon and Half, and a few weeks from now, we’ll be doing the Spacecoast Marathon and Half in Cocoa Beach on the other coast. If you’ll be at the Spacecoast race, and you see a gray-haired woman in a Run Tampa shirt, there’s a good chance it’ll be me. We’ll have over 100 Run Tampa members doing one of the races; so, we’ll be hard to miss.
About 40 of us made the trip to San Francisco, a race I was especially excited to do because my son’s condo is right on the race course. Ben promised he would set up an aid station, just for me, with whatever I requested. Of course, no aid station could make me as happy as getting to see him and collect a hug along the way.
I asked for just one thing, iced coffee. That and a hug from him at mile 21 promised to make those last 5 miles fly by. Wendy, my daughter and favorite running partner, would likely be running with me at that point; so, it promised to be an outstanding morning.
It didn’t exactly work out as planned, though. The plan actually started a year before when the club decided to do that race. Of course, I planned from the very beginning to do the full, and I registered for the full last December.
Last year was a rough year for me, though, mainly due to my dad having several strokes. Ever since, I’ve spent much of my time caring for my parents or worried and preoccupied when I wasn’t with them. There’ve been around 20 trips to the emergency room, many very serious, scary episodes, and much more, and that’s just my dad. My mom’s health is better, but since they’ve been married 64 years, she doesn’t do well when they’re separated even for hours, much less days.
No matter what I had scheduled on any given day, sometimes the phone would ring, and everything would change. That’s one reason this podcast has been produced so erratically, by the way.
My running this last year has been inconsistent as well. Sometimes for several weeks I’d be able to follow my schedule, but other times my training was mostly derailed for days or weeks at a time.
Running is, of course, an excellent remedy for stress. There were times, in the last year, when I’d feel like an elephant was sitting on my chest, and just when it would start to ease up, the phone would ring, another crisis or suggestion that one might be imminent, and that elephant would just get even heavier.
The running has been essential, but I’ll be honest, there were days when I was so stressed, so worried, that once I got out on the trail, it was a real struggle to put one foot in front of the other, and sometimes, I did as much walking as running. I tell you this because I want you to know it happens to everyone, even running coaches, even people who’ve been running for 37 years. I believe it’s a mistake to ever let running add stress to your life; that defeats the purpose. I even did a podcast, which you may have listened to, titled “Running Personally,” about making sure running was the part of your life that you needed it to be rather than one more thing, one more chore or task in a long ‘to do’ list.
It always makes me feel better to run, no matter how that run turns out; it’s just good to be out in the fresh air, to experience physical exertion, which somehow counteracts mental anxiety.
Years ago, a psychologist explained the value of physical exercise in such situations. When my sister died, suddenly, at age 48, my nephew was just 12, and there was no father in the picture. If dealing with the loss was difficult for me, my brothers, and my parents, I couldn’t even begin to imagine what it was like for him.
I had running, and thank goodness for that. We immediately moved him in with us, and I sought the advice of a psychologist, asking, “What do I do? How can I help him?”
He said, “Does your nephew play a sport?”
“No,” I said. “Well, he must. Let him choose whatever sport interests him, but get him outside, exercising for at least an hour every day. He needs the exercise to physically vent his emotions.
He wanted to play tennis, and while he was playing tennis, I was running. It helped me then and has helped in much the same way during the last year.
It’s important to make running what you need it to be. Some people don’t want or need to race, some want to use it to burn more calories to lose weight, some are trying to get through a divorce, or manage the stress of being out of work, and some need it, as I did then, to help me cope with a tragic loss.
This past year, as the months passed, and the San Francisco Marathon approached, I began to worry that my chaotic schedule would prevent me from training properly.
It was one thing to run whenever I could to help with stress, but it was something else to have a marathon looming and runs that I had to fit into my unpredictable life.
So, several months before the race, I registered for the half marathon, even though I was already registered for the full. The San Francisco Marathon actually has two associated half marathons, one that mirrors the first half of the marathon course, and one that mirrors that last half. The first half fills up first because it goes over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Anyway, that was full; so I registered for the other one. I really wanted to run over the Golden Gate, but I also knew I didn’t need the added pressure, the added stress of trying to fit the long marathon training runs into my life. I knew I would always be in shape for a half marathon; I always get in enough mileage for that, and that’s my favorite race distance, anyway.
So, just to be on the safe side, and to alleviate the extra stress, I decided to give myself the choice. Once I was also registered for the half, I had the freedom to make a last minute decision to do that shorter race, instead, if I didn’t get to train enough for the marathon. That was an expensive decision, but from my perspective, it was money well spent.
As it turned out, I managed to get in enough long training runs, and I even managed to train on hills a good bit, which is not easy when you live in Florida.
When it came time to make the trip, I was ready. I had not been able to train as much as I’d hoped; so, I knew a PR – or even close – probably wasn’t ahead of me, but I was certainly prepared and ready to have a decent race.
The weather was fantastic, especially for those of us who’d been training in the Florida heat and humidity, and I was just tickled to have the whole family together for a few days.
I felt great on race day, and was running comfortably, extremely happy to be there and to do the full and run over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Since I had done quite a bit of hill training, the hills weren’t too bad, but, I was still pretty tired when I reached mile 19. By then we were virtually finished with hills. I think there was one more, but, honestly, everything after that is a blur.
Just a little beyond mile 19, we ran into a tunnel over Kezar Drive. It was very short, just about 15 feet wide and not much longer than that. It would take only a few seconds to run though it, but by then, it was bright sunshine, and the tunnel was dark by comparison. Any other time, I probably wouldn’t have even remembered running through it. In fact, some of my friends had no memory of it. Thanks to my friend, Jeff, though. He went back the next day and actually took a photo of the spot and posted it on Facebook. It looks quite innocent, but it sure got the best of me that day.
We went from bright light into a relatively dark area where the ground was quite bumpy and wet, and I tripped. I landed hard on my right chest, with my right arm between me and the ground.
I always say there are two kinds of falls, the ones that happen in slow motion as you flail about trying to save yourself – and sometimes, amazingly, you do – and then there are the ones like this one, when you’re running along, and the next second you are striking the ground, hard, without warning.
This was the second. I hit the ground, hard. I couldn’t breathe at first, as it totally knocked the wind out of me. People around, of course, panicked. They wanted to help me up but I needed air. I said, “No, just let me lay here for just a minute.”
That was the wrong thing to say because then people started yelling, “Call 911!”
I did not want that; so, I let them help me up, trying to keep them from grabbing my right arm. Once I was over to the side, I leaned against the wall for a few minutes. When I could breathe again, I walked out of the tunnel and sat on the grass.
I knew my arm was broken. Although, in all my 60 years, I had never before broken a bone, I knew it couldn’t hurt that bad to move it unless it was broken. Oddly, though, my ribs hurt much worse than the arm. Breathing was hard for a while; so I just sat there, trying to calm down. Blood trickled down my leg from abrasions on my knee, but they were completely superficial.
A bearded man wearing a Harley Davidson jacket came over and begged to clean it up. “No,” I said. “I’m fine.”
But he had a first aid kit, and he was clearly itching to use it. Again, I said no. I really just wanted to be left alone. But then with great zeal he said, “I have band aids!”
I have never been one to believe band aids fix things, and I was pretty sure this well-meaning stranger couldn’t do anything with a band aid that would make me feel better. My knee was not the problem. He finally gave up, dejected.
Since then, I’ve tried to figure out what the time was, exactly, when I fell, and how long I sat there. I desperately wanted to figure out what my finish time would have been if not for the fall. I guess I sat there for about 10 minutes before continuing, but it might have been 5, and it might have been 15.
Some people were surprised to hear that I finished the race, but oddly, it never even occurred to me to stop. After all, I’ve never run a marathon without those last 6 miles being really hard. It’s usually muscles hurting, but it wasn’t all that bad as long as I didn’t try to breathe too deeply and as long as I kept my arm bent and held it against my chest.
It was bad to have a broken arm, but it would have been much worse, so mentally painful, if I hadn’t been able to finish the race. I wouldn’t have finished if I thought I was risking my health or making the injury worse, but I was sure that wasn’t the case.
I knew Wendy was ahead. She ran the second half, and we’d planned to meet up for the last few miles, and I knew Ben was at mile 21 with my iced coffee.
I texted her to let her know I fell and would be much slower than expected.
I quickly devised a plan to help me maintain some kind of decent pace. I would run 300 steps and walk 100. No that didn’t work. Still to hard to breathe. So I switched to running 200 steps and walking 100.
Wendy was with Ben when I got to him at mile 21, and we spent several minutes, together, before Wendy and I started off on the final 5.2 miles. He had the best iced coffee I have ever had. Being with those two made me feel better, for sure. We took a great selfie, too, before Wendy and I moved on.
She is an amazing running partner, always, and I was happy that we could be together. She totally blew off her race to stay with me. By the last couple of miles we were half walking and half running. By then, whatever adrenaline had been pushing me right after my fall was gone.
Once we finished I spent 20 minutes in the medical tent while they tried to decide whether my arm was broken. Undecided, they recommended an ambulance ride to the ER for x-rays, but I was not about to spend the rest of the day in the ER. I know how ER visits go. You never get out in under six hours, and we had a great post race Run Tampa dinner planned, and I was not going to miss that. My husband, David, was at the finish line, and we took an Uber taxi to an emergency clinic where they x-rayed it, decided I had broken the head of the radius and applied a temporary cast. The ribs were only bruised. I was out of there in two hours; so, going there turned out to be a good call.
It wasn’t until I was at that clinic that I noticed my palm was cut. I had actually landed with my arm beneath me up against my chest, but my hand had been turned the wrong direction. That may have been what caused the break. Otherwise, I doubt it would have broken.
The hardest part of the whole ordeal might have been the ensuing weeks because David had to tie my shoes, open jars, and help me dress, since it was my right arm, and I’m right-handed. I’m not good at being taken care of, and I’m not good at sitting around, relaxing. Typing with just my left hand about drove me out of my mind.
The doctor here replaced that cast with a pretty blue one that extended from my bicep to the base of my fingers. I could still run, but the chafing from the cast rubbing on my arm and against my side, combined with the awkward running gait resulted in very, very low and slow mileage for a few weeks. At least I could still run, and I would have taken it easy the month after the marathon, anyway.
I appreciated all the kind words and all the people who said I was courageous or that I was a beast or a bad ass, but, really, it wasn’t such a big deal. I knew my arm was broken, but what is a broken arm? Broken bones heal, and when they do, they’re at least as strong, if not stronger, than before.
Real courage is someone else. Let me tell you about courage. Her name is Michelle Boyd DeJong, a member of my Run Tampa club. Earlier this year, just a couple weeks after running her first marathon, Michelle learned she had a brain tumor, glioblastoma.
She has kept running, most days, throughout chemo and radiation, and she has continued to be a force in the lives of the people around her, but more than that, she has taken the diagnosis as a challenge. Michelle has always worked to help others and one means is by serving on the board of an organization known as High Hopes in High Heels. She’s also working to raise money for cancer research. Michelle is an amazing person, and teamed with husband, Ryan, they are making a difference in the lives of many and helping to raise awareness as they raise funds for cancer research.
A writer, Michelle is recording her journey in a book, titled On March 14, the day she was diagnosed. Her author page has 6,000 likes right now, but this podcast is downloaded by thousands each week. You have the power to push her likes far over 6,000, and in doing so, you’ll help her achieve her goals and spread good in the world. Her message is simple, “Be the Good.” Please go to her author page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/michelleboyddejong
Let’s see if we can get 2,000 more likes this week!