It's every runner's worst nightmare—falling during a race. And as a contender for the world's clumsiest athlete, I guess I should be surprised it hasn't happened before. Here's how I turned a potential disaster into a personal record.
The day of the race
This was only my second half-marathon, so I was a bundle of nerves as we loaded into our start corral, bright and early at 7 a.m. There were 15,000 people running in the New York City Half-Marathon, so I was mentally preparing my race day strategy, knowing the first few miles would be crowded, and I would have to fight for my space.
As soon as the start gun went off, I could feel the adrenaline pumping. Even though I had trained for 10 weeks to set a 7:42/per mile pace (5 seconds faster than my last half-marathon's average mile pace), I wasn't sure if I could maintain that speed throughout the hills in Central Park.
I held back on the first mile, clocking in at just under 8 minutes, and slowly opened up my speed. The hills around Mile 5 were tough, but when I got to the crest of the final hill, I knew I was on pace to break my old record. That is, until I hit Mile 6.
How it happened
At Mile 5, the crowd had thinned out, but everyone was picking up speed now that the hills were behind us. We were all fighting for space, and at Mile 6, a man next to me moved a few steps to the left. I followed suit.
Normally moving over a few steps is no huge feat, but this time I didn't realize just how close I was to the barricade. Before I knew it, my foot caught in the leg of the barricade and I began to tumble forward. In a matter of seconds, I went from vertical to completely horizontal. Thankfully all the runners behind me managed to dart left and right as to avoid completely trampling me (and causing more injuries).
What doesn't kill you…
I couldn't believe it! I'd officially become race roadkill! I'm no stranger to tripping and falling, but to fall with such force did a number on the left side of my body. Both hands were scraped and bleeding, and I could feel the bruises beginning to form on my hip, elbow, and knees.
I hopped up quickly and resumed running as hundreds of thoughts crossed my mind, ranging from self-pity to defeat: Oh sh@! I really messed this race up. There's no way I'm going to make my time. What an idiot! I should just quit now.
But I kept on running, thinking that I'm much more likely to regret quitting a race than finishing at a slower time than I trained for.
The adrenaline from my fall and panic that I might not finish (I'm surprised my teeth weren't chattering I was so amped up) carried me to the 7-mile marker. Thank goodness that we were to the downhill portion of the park, because the ease of running downhill gave me time to calm my breathing (and my thoughts).
After struggling with the idea of slowing down and just jogging the rest of it, I reminded myself of the 6 a.m. tempo runs and weekend curfews I'd set so I'd wake up to complete a long run on Sunday morning. At that point, I had convinced myself that there was no way I could give up now. I even bypassed the next First Aid table, deciding that stopping for even a few seconds might make the difference between a personal record and just another race.
I cruised through Mile 8, left the park, and continued my way through Times Square. The music from the bands and the thrill of running through the empty streets made the next mile fly by, and I could feel my legs finding my pace again.
By the time I ran over to the West Side Highway, I had my rhythm back and cruised through the next two miles. Because I live on the west side of the city, this felt like my home track. I was feeling fatigued, but as soon as I crossed the 12-mile marker, I knew I was set to break my record, and I'd nearly forgotten about the throbbing in my knees.
When I crossed the finish line at 1:40:15, I threw my arms up. Not only had I broken my record by two minutes, but I'd broken my record after a spill!
Turning pain into gain
I sincerely hope that none of you readers fall in a race, but just in case you do, here are three tips that helped me not only finish, but finish stronger than ever.
- Slow down: As soon as I fell, my breaths became very short and quick and I could feel my heart pounding. If I had kept running at the same pace as I'd been running pre-fall, I would have burnt myself out. I took a half mile to breathe deep, relax, and gather my thoughts, before I began picking up speed.
- Remember why you're there: Whether it's a 5K or a marathon, chances are you've probably trained for the event. Remembering my early morning runs, the hill workouts, and speed drills reminded me of the fact that I was strong enough to complete the race.
- Set mini-goals: When I started to lose my focus and think about how much my knees hurt, I would set a goal. Maybe it was keeping up with the runner next to me for two minutes, trying to name all 50 states, or simply keeping my legs moving until the next water station. Whatever the distraction was, it kept my mind occupied while my body did the work.