Running in the winter has its hazards

Written on Dec 9th, 2014 by , Category Marlene Farrell Blog

Running during the winter can be a beautiful experience but it also comes with risks.

 

By Marlene Farrell
RunWenatchee.com

From one runner to another, I offer a gentle admonishment. Please, be careful this winter.

I have run through winter in a variety of locations, from wind-chilled Virginia, to freezing Minnesota, from the top of Snoqualmie Pass to here in Leavenworth, where the snow plows get out early and regularly. Sometimes the snow crunches underfoot or the roads are scraped bare, but sometimes the roads are treacherous, rimed in black ice.

It can be glorious, breathing out puffs of smoky air, running past starkly beautiful trees outlined in white and houses dripping icicles. I’ve always felt up for the challenge, with mittens, hat, headlamp for the morning that never seems to come, and shoes with good traction. I’ve used trail shoes and pull out the homemade screw shoes for the slipperiest conditions.

A week ago I ran easy on a road covered in a thin layer of compact snow. Turning a corner, I was stunned to find myself on the ground, after hearing a revolting CRACK. My left foot was helpless, locked into a strangely skewed position. Without any impact, I had broken both my tibia and fibula in the motion of stepping around a corner. I can only surmise that my right foot slid on the sloped shoulder while I stepped down hard on my left foot, which then rocked excessively.

I have never broken a bone in my life until now. I worried that my bones must be brittle to snap like dry twigs, but Dr. Mike Rossi, after implanting a plate and screws, said my bones were fine. This odd accident could happen to anyone.

But I hope not.

I was lucky that my accident happened in the middle of the day near an intersection, because a pedestrian and a few drivers were at my aid almost immediately. Often I run away from traffic and at odd hours. I shudder to think how long I would have been lying in pain, waiting for help, under different circumstances.

I don’t know what lies ahead; I have a lot of questions about my recovery time and physical therapy.

The beauty of this mishap is in the quiet moments. My kids can find me, anchored to the couch or laying on the floor (which is best for my back), and we sit together with a book or a game or a Sudoku. Every meal tastes better because my husband, Kevin, or a friend has made it for me, or I’ve taken four times as long to methodically make it for myself.

As I lay on the floor I can see out our back window to blue sky above Icicle Ridge. I ache for its beauty and to be outside. I wrote in another recent blog, “I never know which trail run will be my last until next spring.” These words were more prophetic than I knew at the time.

I was excited for 2015, with my entry into the master’s realm. Turning 40 would give purpose to my training toward select competitive races. And if I did well in the open division it could help show that 40 is just a number.

Now I don’t know about racing. Everything is recalibrated. At this point I’m excited for the day I can weight my left foot and go for a walk. The running milestones after that will be in small increments. I want a full recovery, however long it takes.

I will write a few future blogs about my recovery and PT, in case they can be of use to other runners also overcoming injury. Until then, I wish RunWenatchee readers happy, healthy, and injury-free winter running.

Marlene Farrell, a Leavenworth resident and long-distance runner, helps coach the Peshastin-Dryden Striders kids running club. If you are interested in helping out the Striders in some fashion, email her at marlene@team-farrell.com.

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5 Comments on this post

  • Bart Miler December 11th, 2014

    Marlene, I am so sorry to hear of your fall. I doubt I will ever be a “real” runner like you but I seem to continue to show up regardless of the weather conditions. For this reason I have a few tips, learned the hard way, for those of us who choose to tempt black ice disaster:
    1) Run the same course when black ice is present. You learn where it likes to form and avoid the bad spots
    2) Carry a cell phone. I run the loop trail at dark times of day and sometimes don’t see anyone my entire run. A broken leg, stroke or dog attack could all be dire
    3) Don’t wear anything in line with your spine, e.g. fanny pack, tail light (like me), water bottle, etc. I slipped on black ice, ended up on my back instantly with a tail light strapped mid-back. It would have plunged into my spine breaking my back if not for my elbows instinctively catching my fall. Elbows crushed (figuratively), spinal disaster averted
    4) Don’t run if you are tired or not focused. Sometimes I run sloppy, sometimes I run focused. Running sloppy on black ice conditions can mean disaster. Hit the treadmill instead.
    *Well, that’s all from an old plodder. Hope you heal quickly and completely. Merry Christmas Bart

  • Marlene December 11th, 2014

    Thanks for your sympathy, Bart, and your words of wisdom! And please call yourself a real runner, if you are getting out there in all conditions. Happy running and Merry Christmas to you.

    Marlene

  • Rebecca January 17th, 2015

    Are there any good places to run that are regularly well cleaned of snow? I live near the high school in East Wenatchee, so it would be nice to just pop out the door and go for it, but this time of year, cleaner is better. I am training for a 5k and April and haven’t run in awhile – terrible time of year to get back into it! Even a small area to run loops in would be nice.

    Sorry that you hurt yourself!

  • Marlene January 18th, 2015

    Hi Rebecca. I can’t recommend a specific “safe” trail in East Wenatchee, as I live in Leavenworth. But you could make yourself some screw shoes for very little money. They give you peace of mind that you can handle some snow and patches of ice. They really work well. And you’ll for sure be able to run on dry, safe roads and trails by March to continue your training. Here’s a link to my blog about screw shoes: http://www.runwenatchee.com/blogs/blog/screw-shoes-for-winter-running/

    Good luck and hope to see you out there! I hope to be back to running perhaps in March.

  • Donna Meares April 30th, 2015

    hope you have healed by now. I had the same surgery on my right ankle almost five years ago, and spent the summer reading a lot of good books with my leg elevated above my heart. I do zumba now, and my leg, although smaller now than my left one, is just fine. Hope you enjoy the spring! Tell your family and parents hello from us.

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