So…what happened?

The most common reaction I got from family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and even strangers upon seeing my right arm wrapped in a sling was, “Oh no! What happened?”

What happened? Geez. Seems like an easy question, but not so much.

Strangers and mild acquaintances got the short answer: I broke my collarbone.

I try not to bore non-runners with all the details of my running life, but you probably wouldn’t be at a blog called RunDemTrails unless you were a runner so…

Here’s the not-so-short answer:

Race day, May 7th, a gorgeous pre-dawn morning. Headlamps were aglow as runners slowly poured in to the Stinson Beach Community Center, dropped their drop bags in the appropriate pile on the porch, and nervously wandered around the start area wondering about the weather.

There was a 50% chance of rain. And while I had brought along my trusty North Face shell, I was feverishly oscilating between stuffing it in my hydration pack or stowing it in my “sweat check” bag. I also had a set of arm sleeves.

I finally made the decision to stow the arm sleeves and carry the shell jacket.

Then I changed my mind. Then I changed it again. And again.

Six hours later when it was pouring down rain and I was soaked to the bone and shivering violently in the medical tent with a broken collarbone, I absently considered the fact that perhaps I had made the wrong choice on that one…not that it was particularly relevant given my current circumstances.

But I’m getting ahead of the story.

5am was fast approaching as we runners assembled at the start. In the blink of an eye, we were off, running down a paved road toward the dust and dirt of the Dipsea Trail and so many stairs…so, so many stairs. We climbed and climbed and…then we heard it:

BAGPIPES!

What a joy to hear such a melodious and mysterious song filtering through the morning fog. Aid station number one! The first big climb of the race was done. We happy few charged down the next hill, flying toward our individual destinies.

There were ups, there were downs. I had some interesting conversations and I believe I am featured (briefly) in one runner’s Miwok 100k YouTube video. Drop bags were accessed, aid stations visited, and the wonderful volunteers fed, watered, and cheered us on.

And so the race continued until I reached mile 34.5. At this point, I was tired and hurting. The rain, which I had attempted to keep at bay by sheer force of will, reminded me that I have no such power over the weather. It was pouring. I was soaked. The trail was rising toward the Cardiac aid station at mile 35.5, so I was walking when things got really steep, running when they were milder. In the midst of one of these milder sections, my left foot caught on a rock or root. I was falling.

Fairly early on in the race I happened to notice a runner who had already fallen and was sporting a bleeding knee. Several miles later, I saw another such injured runner. I remember thinking vaguely, almost unconsciously, “I don’t want a bloody knee in my finish line photo.”

Perhaps that ephemeral thought, combined with my exhaustion, is why I attempted to do a “combat roll” while falling, instead of just crashing down on my hands, elbows and knees. Mid-way through this roll, there was a pronounced CRACK. I completed my roll by ending up in a sitting position, sideways on the trail, with my feet dangling off the edge. Upon hearing the cracking noise, I knew exactly what had happened. Broken collarbone. My race was over, my day of running was over, my goal of running a Western States 100 Mile qualifying race was officially on hold.

I sat for a moment. There was, I believe, not a single concrete thought in my head.

“Whoa! Are you okay?” A voice from behind me broke through the fog.

“No, I’m not,” I replied. “I broke my collarbone.”

“What?!? Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you want me to help you up?”

“Don’t touch my right arm please!”

My little tumble had confused me and I wasn’t sure which direction would take me forward to the next aid station. I remembered, vaguely that I had been traveling uphill just before I fell, so I turned that way. I grabbed my right wrist with my left hand, held my right arm tightly to my stomach, and began walking.

“You gonna be okay?” the helpful runner asked. “Want me to walk with you?”

“No,” I said, channeling my best injured war hero movie character, “go on without me.”

It wasn’t too long before I was the soaked-to-the-bone-and-shivering runner standing in the medical tent that I mentioned earlier.

“What happened?” the medic on duty asked, setting the tone for a thousand other interested parties.

“I broke my collarbone,” I answered. The medic replied with a skeptical sound.

“I’ll need to examine you,” he said and proceeded to do so. “Yep, something is definitely wrong.” And then he spoke the words I will never forget for as long as I live: “You should probably go to the emergency room.”

Gee, ya think?

I was fortunate because there were two  volunteers who were just about to end their shift at the Cardiac aid station and they volunteered to drive me back to the start/finish line where my car was parked.

“The only thing is,” one of them said, “my car is about a half a mile away. Can…can you walk or…I could go get the car.”

Did I want to stand shivering at the aid station for another twenty minutes or did I want to walk another half mile? I chose to walk. I’ve never had hypothermia before, but I can imagine that the beginnings of it feel a little like I was feeling. Not to mention that I was possibly in shock at that point. When in doubt, keep moving, right? A short time later, we made it to the car where they had a wonderfully warm and fuzzy blanket for me. Half an hour later, we arrived at my car.

“Are you sure you’re okay to drive?” they asked.

“Oh, yeah,” I said, “no problem.” I climbed in my car, put the seatbelt over my right arm, thus securing it in place, and prepared to drive with my left hand. Small problem. Cars are mostly designed by right-handed people for right-handed people. Getting the key in the ignition and turning the thing with your left hand is no easy task. Try it sometime.

While I was fiddling with my cell phone (no service here, but I’d want to call home as soon as I had service again) and making sure everything I would need for a 90 minute drive was easily reachable with my left hand, the friendly aid station volunteers drove by again.

“Are you absolutely sure you’re okay to drive like that?”

“Yeah,” I said. “No problem.” I took a deep breath and started for home.

About 30 minutes later I had cell service. I called my wife. She sounded confused upon hearing my voice, but happy and sort of relieved to hear from me.

“So…uh…you’re done…already?”

“Yep,” I said. “I fell and broke my collarbone.”

Her reply was a single word:

“Shit.”

Two hours later I was checking in at the emergency room. The receptionist kept giving me a very strange look.

“What makes you think you broke your collarbone?”

“I heard a very loud crack as I fell.”

“Hmm…” Another skeptic. He gave me a very piercing stare and then he got on the phone. “I have a pretty obvious dislocated shoulder out here.”

Dislocated shoulder? Is that good? Or at least better than a broken collarbone? I mean, this guy works in the ER, sure he’s not a doctor…maybe not a nurse, but he sees injuries all day long…maybe he’s right.

“You seem…I mean..usually people who look like that…well, have a shoulder like that…usually there’s a significant amount of pain,” he said. “Doesn’t it hurt?”

“No,” I said. “Not really.”

“You must have a seriously high tolerance for pain.”

“I don’t think so,” I said, looking at my wife to confirm this, “I’m kind of a wimp.” My wife nodded her agreement.

After a surprisingly short wait, I was ushered in and x-rays were taken. Another short wait brought a doctor, the x-ray, and confirmation that the loud cracking sound was a bone breaking.

“Multiple breaks in the collarbone and you have a separated shoulder,” the doctor said.

He gave me a prescription, an exceedingly complex arm sling, and told me that the orthopedic department would call me, “in a day or two.” Ah, the wonders of modern (for profit) healthcare!

A couple hours later, as I was sitting around at home reading a book on my kindle, I said, “you know, if I hadn’t fallen, I’d still be out there running.”

Run on, Sisters and Brothers

@rundemtrails
rundemtrails@gmail.com

#running #run #runner #100k #ultramarathon #broken #collarbone #runwild

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