Words of advice to new runners from the Queen of Klutz:
if you are a clumsy person, perhaps there are better activities for you than
trail running. Once you start to run on trails, you'll be hooked - and then it's
too late to stop.
Fortunately, no one told me that when I started running
trails 25 years ago or I might not be having so doggone much fun now!
If Catra Corbett is the "Dirt Diva," just call me the "Klutz Queen."
I'm not real coordinated. Never was. I don't think it's in
my genes. I come from a very loving, supportive family, but one thing we
apparently had in common was lack of coordination. My mom and we three kids used
to spell and sing-song to each other the word "a-w-k-w-a-r-d" when one of us
would run into a piece of furniture or drop something or trip. It was done in
love and I'm not scarred for life or anything . . .
. . . at least, not by my family. I AM
pretty much scarred for life because I keep falling down when I run on trails!!!
(Note the light-colored spots on my arm in the above photo; they are
mementoes from previous falls)
Sometimes I joke that I look like someone's battered wife.
I know, I shouldn't joke about something that serious. I
guess it comes from the "gallows humor" attitude I adopted during 25 years of
professionally dealing with dysfunctional families, including battered women. (I
have a master's degree in counseling psychology, enough legal training to be
dangerous, and spent 22 of those years handling child abuse and neglect cases at
a large juvenile court in metro Atlanta. I've also counseled battered women on a
I'm one of the last women on earth who would allow myself
to be physically abused by anyone. That's why I was surprised many years ago
when my physician, during a routine annual exam, asked me with concern if I was
having any problems with my (previous) husband. Oh, no! He thought the bruises
and scars and scabs and scratches were possibly from domestic abuse! I should
have been grateful for his concern, but I was mortified, and quickly assured him
I most certainly was NOT a victim of abuse - just a very clumsy trail runner.
I wonder how many other people have wondered the
same thing over the years?? Now I only joke about it when I'm with someone
who knows me well enough to know I'm joking.
So, anyway, in a good month I might fall down only two or
three times. Sometimes it's more. You'd think I'd have the most problem on
gnarly trails with lots of rocks and roots, but no - I've learned to slow down
and keep my eyes glued to the ground when I'm running on the roughest trails.
I learned an early lesson in trail running from one of my
mentors at work after she fell on a hard, SMOOTH granite slab at Stone Mountain, the
park east of Atlanta where we both ran. She broke several teeth and was out of
work for weeks. You better bet I watched my feet REAL closely for a while after that.
Most of my falls come when I'm on trails with spots smooth
enough to enjoy the scenery or solve the world's problems for a bit. I'm less
focused on my feet and WHAM, I'll trip over a little snag or rock. I suppose
this is a good thing, because it's usually not rocks I'm landing on. I've been
fortunate to never bash my head, impale myself, or break a tooth, a bone, or my
glasses. Usually I don't even bleed much.
Jim doesn't understand why I don't "catch and correct"
before I hit the dirt. I've tried that a few times, and it was worse than eating
dirt. Have you ever strained a hamstring when you tried to prevent a fall?
The one (note that I said ONE) time I did that, it took months to heal. So when
I do have time to think about it, I try to just let myself fall.
But usually I'm on the ground before I know what happened -
there is no conscious thought to fall.
MY DOWNFALL AT WESTERN STATES
I've also learned the hard way that trail diving (by choice
or not) can hurt plenty badly, and maybe be a career-ender. My worst-case
scenario so far occurred about 100 feet outside the Red Star Ridge aid station
at Western States in 2001, only sixteen miles into the race.
I think I was looking over at the aid station to get my
bearings (where are the drop bags? where's the water?) when I twisted my left
ankle on a rock or something and hit the ground. The ankle was iffy before the
race. I had strained it during the WS training runs a month previously and had
barely run until the race, trying to let it heal.
My ankle hurt only on impact. I limped into the aid
station, literally watching that ankle swell up and turn colors.
A medical person wrapped it securely and advised me to
"Quit" was not in my vocabulary. Bad four-letter word.
Qualifying for Western States and getting through the lottery for the first time
was as big an event to me as qualifying for Boston the first time. No simple
ankle sprain was gonna stop me.
Besides, I had to get my picture taken at Cougar Rock, and
that was in the next gnarly eight-mile section! (It's a pretty cool picture, by
I continued on. Although the ankle didn't hurt, I had no
stability in that foot and I had to walk the entire eight miles over rocky
ridges. I didn't have enough hedge on the time limit to walk the whole distance,
so I got pulled at the Duncan Canyon aid station, a scant 24.2 miles into the
That hurt more than my ankle did.
(Historical note: shortly after the race, wildfires
destroyed that section of the course and I believe it's still being re-routed
around Duncan Canyon.)
I didn't know it at the time, but I had completely ruptured
the peroneal brevis and longus tendons in my ankle during that fall. I resisted
getting an MRI done for several months (stupid decision on my part). Physical
therapy had worked for previous ankle sprains but this time it did no good, of
course - the tendons were hanging loose! I was able to run in an ankle support;
it's hard to believe, but there was no pain.
I finally got an MRI in the fall and we discovered how
serious the injury was. I had surgery nearly six months after it occurred. Three
more months of physical therapy to regain strength, flexibility, and
proprioception in that ankle were only marginally successful. It's not the
orthopedic surgeon's fault; it's mine for waiting so long to get it fixed. It
was pretty much beyond repair before he got inside my leg.
So now I have one ankle with very little strength or
balance, despite over three years of balancing and strength exercises. Both
ankles have been trashed repeatedly during 25 years of running trails. The main
reasons I'm able to keep running trails now are my stubbornness, slower pace,
and ASO ankle supports.
Oh, the things we do to maintain our addictions!
BIRTHDAYS AREN'T FOR THE SQUEAMISH
In celebration of my 56th birthday today (and to avoid the
two inches of rain we're supposed to get tomorrow), I ran 27+ miles. This
is the longest run I've done since the Capon Valley 50K last May.
It's been a long time coming! I needed the confidence
boost. The past ten months I've had to deal with the consequences of torn
tendons in my right Morton's toe, surgery, recuperation, and finally building
back up to ultra mileage levels. Nice birthday present to myself, indeed! (At
least the toe injury had nothing to do with a fall.)
I didn't intend to go trail diving today, just
running. But I managed to fall twice in the middle of the run. Falling is
nothing new for me, as you've learned, but landing twice on the same body parts
Jim was still nearby after the first fall, so I asked him
to take the picture of my arm above. It only hurt when I landed. It immediately
bled and swelled up into a marble-sized hematoma. I didn't have ice in my van,
so I just cleaned it up with water and put a Bandaid over it. Jim left in his
truck and I headed out for more miles.
WHAM! He wasn't gone 60 seconds and I hit the dirt
again! This time there were more little rocks, though. I landed on the same arm,
hip, and knee. I got another bloody cut and hematoma on my arm about two inches
above this one, and more scratches on my knee. Fortunately I had another bandage
with me. I didn't even bother returning to my car one minute away; I just
kept on running. I still had sixteen miles to go, and I wasn't going to quit till I
Too bad I've never been eligible for the "Best Blood" award
in one of Horton's races. I seem to bleed only in training!
They say the ability to laugh at oneself is a sign of
maturity. I'm starting to feel very mature at 56