Am I hurt or Hurt? I had to ask myself this yesterday just 5k into what I’d planned on being a 25-30k trail run. I’d enjoyed a long warm-up on a multi-use trail and had just turned onto a more technical trail. I made it less than 50 meters from the intersection when I found myself on my hands and knees.
I had to roll into a side-sit and take quick stock. My hands were fine but my knees were a bloody mess and I was taking really shallow breaths. While I waited for my breath to settle, I looked for what I had tripped on—every rock was so unremarkable, I had no idea which one I snagged. Then, once I was getting enough air again, I took a second, closer look at my body. My knees had already started to clot and my tall socks prevented worse cuts and a potential need for stitches over my left fibulae head. The tissue around both knees was red-hot and it made me queasy to touch it. Also, my left ankle was stiffening up fast and any attempt to supinate it produced a familiar pain: I needed to see my chiropractor before technical trails would be any fun.
I probably wasn’t Hurt, but I was definitely hurt. It’s important to distinguish and manage the two. When you are capital “h” Hurt, it’s time to stop and potentially time to ask for help. When you’re little “h” hurt, you have more choices. This also means you have more temptations.
I was little “h” hurt and deeply tempted to continue my run. It was a perfect, crisp September morning and my last chance to play outdoors before the skies got moody. I was on a route I like for solo runs because I have cell reception through most of the backcountry and can get to a number it trailheads fairly quickly if I needed an emergency out.
But there were risks too, especially because I can stress the ligaments trail running when my ankle is out, making me vulnerable to really Hurt myself. Also, altering my gait to compensate for a painful ankle can strain my knees, hips and back. Any vulnerability here can be exacerbated by trying to keep running, compounding the degree of injury I'm incurring.
And honestly, how fun would it be to run 15 more miles in pain? And if I did, would I be sacrificing the rest of my season for immediate pleasure? I had to balance what I wanted right now against what I wanted the most.
I turned around, walked back down to the multi-use trail, and trotted slowly back to my car. I was not so hurt that I couldn't run most of it, but I had the chance to prevent becoming Hurt and ending my season. Endurance and Ultrarunning makes you take the long view of any situation. I had the opportunity to control my degree of injury, and that was far more important that a single day's adventure.