Taking a Tumble – Running Hazards

Clifton Bridge Nottingham
7 January 2021

After thousands of miles, runs in the dark, runs on icy pavements, dozens of muddy, slippery cross country races, tens of thousands of kerbs and almost ten years of running, today was the day when I took a tumble.

Three miles into my run, I was on a riverside path which goes under Clifton Bridge, a six-lane two-span concrete bridge over the River Trent, which forms part of Nottingham’s ring road. The bridge has been undergoing major repairs for over a year following the discovery of structural problems. The last time I had run this route, I had stopped briefly under the bridge to shelter from the rain and have a drink. I’d looked at the signs of work underway – the fencing and equipment around the bridge pillar. This time the works had changed a lot. A much larger area was fenced in and there was some sort of scaffolding built up to the underside of the bridge. I looked at the scaffolding and that was when I tripped and fell.

Scaffolding under Clifton Bridge
A photograph of the bridge works taken in 2020. I was approaching the bridge from the other side.
(Photo: Andrew Abbott)

The path had a large hole which I had failed to spot. In that moment of distraction, I must have caught my foot in it.

It’s a shock to find yourself suddenly floored. I landed on my left side and felt my left cheek on the ground. I jumped to my feet quickly and wondered if the workmen on the scaffolding had seen me fall over, but if they had they didn’t say anything. The path is quite hard with earth on the surface. I could see I had dry mud down my left-hand side. As I was feeling shaken, I decided it would be good to sit down. This would give me time to assess how injured I was. The rush of adrenaline immediately after a fall means things don’t always hurt straight away.

I walked under the bridge and found a high kerb to sit on, outside Sat Bains restaurant. I had planned to do ten miles and, as I am not in the habit of running that far and knew the weather might worsen, I had taken my small backpack with some food, a hydration drink and my running jacket and buff.

The kerb where I stopped to rest for a few minutes in front of the restaurant sign
Photo credit: Oxymoron

I had a drink, ate two rice cakes with peanut butter and decided I had better look at my face using my mobile phone. There was quite a bit of mud which I managed to clean off. I thought it might concern people I encountered on the way home.

Both my knees were grazed and my left knee was bleeding which I hadn’t realised at first. Fortunately, the bleeding stopped after a couple of minutes so I wasn’t going to have blood running down my leg.

I thought that I might have twisted my right ankle a bit, but it felt OK.

I considered three options:

  • 1) ring my partner to ask him to come and get me in the car
  • 2) carry on with my 10-mile run
  • 3) take the short route home

I decided that I would be OK to run but that I would not try and do the longer distance, as it was probably best to get home in case anything started feeling worse.

I took a different route back, crossing over Clifton Bridge and following the south side of the Trent. The only part of me that I noticed hurting was the little finger side of my left hand which must have taken some of my weight when I hit the ground. Nobody I met on the way back commented on my muddy appearance or grazed knees so I assumed it didn’t look too bad.

I’m sure you’ve seen enough pictures of other runners’ injuries and don’t need to see mine, so here’s a picture of my muddy clothes. If I’d been wearing leggings my knees probably wouldn’t have been grazed, but the fall might have ruined the leggings.

Katie Holmes muddy clothes after a fall

My last three miles were faster than the first three, because I was keen to get home. I enjoyed my run despite the fall, and I was pleased to have run six miles which is a bit longer than I usually run in pandemic times.

Several hours later, I’m still feeling the effects. My left hand is bruised and my left knee is stinging a bit. Fortunately, I wasn’t badly hurt but I feel slightly off kilter and feel I need to look after myself.

I think the worst thing about falling is going in an instant from feeling confident and relaxed to being vulnerable and potentially injured. It feels as if you have no control. I didn’t have time to realise what was happening and try to prevent it.

According to the NHS public health advice, falls are a common, but often overlooked, cause of injury. Around 1 in 3 adults over 65 who live at home will have at least one fall a year, and about half of these will have more frequent falls. It’s not hard to imagine how falling can lead people to lose confidence and feel they’ve lost their independence.

It’s less than eight years until I reach the 65 and over age category. But I think whatever age we are, we shouldn’t ignore the risks associated with falling. Actions that can help reduce the risk of falls include doing balance exercises, such as yoga and Pilates, and building muscle strength through weight training. It’s also important to do what we can to reduce our risks of developing osteoporosis (loss of bone density), particularly for women who have gone through the menopause. Having osteoporosis makes you much more likely to break bones if you fall.

This wasn’t my first fall whilst running. A few years ago, I fell whilst running in a park. There was a thin wire hoop lying in the long grass and I didn’t spot it. I must have caught both my feet in it. Fortunately, the ground was fairly soft, and I wasn’t hurt.

There have been plenty of near misses too. I’ve noticed that when I’m tired, especially after running many miles, I don’t tend to lift my feet as high and this can lead to me catching my foot on kerbs or bumps in the pavement. I try to remember to focus on lifting my feet when I know I’m tired.

I’m looking forward to marking ten years of running in February. This incident won’t put me off but will remind me to concentrate on the path ahead.

Have you had a fall when running? How did it affect you and how easy was it to recover afterwards?


Links

NHS information on falls and preventing falls

Causes of osteoporosis and risk factors associated with osteoporosis, Royal Osteoporosis Society


Photo Credits

The three photographs of places are all from the geograph.org.uk website, under Creative Commons licence cc-by-sa/2.0.

Clifton Bridge in the sunset, © Alan Murray-Rust 

Repairs to Clifton Bridge, © Andrew Abbott 

Restaurant Sat Bains, © Oxymoron 

9 Comments

  1. PHIL AVERY

    Glad that the serious structural deficits are limited to the bridge.

    Reply
    • Katie Holmes

      Thank you Phil. The damage I sustained will take significantly less time to heal than the bridge repairs are taking. Katie

      Reply
    • maddycollinge

      Hi Katie. Sorry to hear about your fall. I have fallen or tripped many times in my 43 years of running. The most spectacular was when I broke my lower leg and ankle 22 years ago. Still got the plate and pins in.
      These days I avoid road running if its slippy under foot. I am lucky enough to be able to run straight out into fields and tracks

      Reply
  2. Sinead

    Yes, I’ve had several falls. I’m a runner with osteoporosis (diagnosed at the start of my 40s) and although a lot of hard work has helped improve the bone density in my hips, my spine isn’t in such great shape. Every time I run I know a fall could result in my not even being able to walk let alone run again. It’s horrible feeling so vulnerable even whilst feeling so strong. It can take weeks for me to regain confidence after a fall, sometimes months, and the fear is always there at the back of my mind. I won’t stop running the trails though.
    Really glad to see you had some gear with you to help keep you safe- you don’t need to have a big accident in the mountains to get cold and experience the wobbliness from shock.

    Reply
    • Katie Holmes

      Thank you for your comments Sinead. It is good that you are able to rebuild your confidence after falling and to keep doing what you love. I think when we are running we think we are invincible and forget that we are vulnerable too.
      I found out last year that I have osteopenia in my spine and it was a shock.

      You might be interested in this interview with Maddy Collinge who has osteoporosis and is still running https://runyoung50.co.uk/maddy-collinge/ Maddy won the v65 age category at the Nottinghamshire Cross Country Championships last year.

      Reply
      • maddycollinge

        Thanks for the shout out Katie . Pleased to report after 5 years of treatment my bone density has left the osteoporotic range and moved into osteopenic….really pleased!

        Reply
        • Katie Holmes

          That is great news Maddy. I am so pleased to hear about the improvement. By the way your interview has now been read more than 700 times.

          Reply
  3. Alison Jones

    I can relate to that! As I fell on a trail run recently, I remember thinking “I knew this was going to happen”, as time slowed down.

    I think that what happened was that my feet slipped downhill, rather than tripping over some of the sharp stones lying around [which I could have done]. I landed lying with my head uphill and on my left side. My first thought was to get up and check my mobile, as it was in my hip pocket. Then I got myself back up and decided to keep going as I didn’t feel too sore and I was about half way though the run, so no choice really but to keep going.

    I did modify my route a little to get back to the nearest road back to the car park and stopped at a farmhouse to check that I was indeed where I thought I was. [I was fortunately]

    Relieved to get back to my car and get home.

    Next day and the following day, I am very stiff and sore. My left arm can’t take weight so push ups during pilates was out and I modified a few other exercises.

    It was a reminder of a few things – don’t go out on your own on an unfamiliar route off-road; and remember that I was actually very lucky not to really injure myself. If I wasn’t stronger through doing pilates for a year I could have done some damage. If I’d landed a foot further downhill I’d have landed on a large pointed stone and that would have really ruined my leggings.

    Lucky me!

    Reply
    • Katie Holmes

      Hello Alison, that falls sounds painful. It’s good that you know the Pilates has helped you. I hope the stiffness goes soon. Katie

      Reply
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