|Andrew Lindemann Malone's Internet Playpen|
A Sunday in the Park
On Sunday, August 5, 2007, I was really looking forward to running when I awoke. Some people apparently find exercise a chore; I find a run exhilirates and soothes me at once, dissolving the cares of the workaday world in a rush of endorphins and keeping them dissolved to a remarkable degree for the rest of the day. Normally, that's the only thing that happens on a run.
This morning was not a typical run. I should have realized that it would be a weird day when I heaved the tree trunk onto my head. As I wended my way down the Valley Trail in Rock Creek Park (PDF), there was a fallen tree blocking said trail. I stopped to hop over it, then turned around when I was across and noticed that it was not all that big. Thinking that I would do my fellow trail-runners a service, I decided to try to move it out of the way.
I picked it up — it was light, meaning the tree had been dead for a while — found a likely spot in which to throw it, and hurled it at an angle exactly perpendicular to my shoulders. This resulted, as someone who had not been running and who was thus not entirely suffused with reality-distorting endorphins might have predicted, in the tree hitting me on the head when my mighty fling failed to ensure that the end of the tree cleared me. Fortunately (a) it was a glancing blow and (b) I have exceptionally thick brain bone to shield what few neurons I have to rub together. So of course I continued running, and the slight headache disappeared by the time I got to the Military Road bridge.
Much later, I'm pretty sure I spotted Nurit Bar-Josef, concertmaster of the National Symphony Orchestra, turning around and running away just as I was approaching. I swear there was an article about her a few years ago in which she discussed briefly her habit of running six miles a day, but the Internet does not reveal any record of it. But there she was, running away from the spot to which I wanted to run.
To be sure, she was wearing sunglasses, which tend to obscure most of your telltale facial features, but everything I could see was consistent with it being her. Anyway, being a curious sort, I was seized with a desire to catch up to her. I had this thought that I would say, "Aren't you Nurit Bar-Josef?" and see what happened, even though it is staggeringly unlikely that I would then have followed up with "I'm Andrew Lindemann Malone. You know me — I sometimes make fun of the orchestra in which you play!"
In any case, to call her out, I would have actually had to catch up with her. She was running about as fast as I was; of course, I had some power left in reserve, but since I was actually running a little past where I normally turn around and make my way back up to the Silvery Spring, I was reluctant to turn on the afterburners to catch up.
After a few hundred feet, she veered off to go to a water fountain. This brought together what at the time were two great desires of mine:
'Cause it was humid as a mofo and I had lost a bunch of my former hydration. I veered off as well and caught up to the Bar-Josefian runner while she was drinking at the fountain. Busy rehydrating, she paid me no mind until she had taken several gulps, after which she glanced at me briefly, just long enough for me to confirm that it was probably her, and then scampered off further into the District of Columbia. I took about ten gulps off the water fountain and gave up on following her further.
Coming back. Up Beach Drive, up the Valley Trail hill north of Military, back down the hill, and past then I was higher than the thermostat. Runner's high is a beautiful thing, but just like the other highs in the world, it can make you inattentive to extremely important things, such as the rock jutting up from the trail that caught my right foot in mid-stride and sent me sprawling forward.
Instinctively, I tucked into a ball and took the fall on my right side rather than on my front, which as you know contains my face and stuff. I probably would have gotten out of it without much more than a sore hip and a bunch of scratching on my calf if there hadn't been a big pointy rock a few feet on in the trail and if my vector hadn't carried my right knee directly into it.
Of course, if the big pointy rock hadn't been there, I might have skidded off the trail and into Rock Creek, which would have posed its own set of complications. I didn't think about this too hard at the time. Instead, having assessed the situation, I uttered a loud expletive. The bleeding had started immediately, coming mostly from the little hole the rock had gouged in my knee, a spray down my calf and to my shoes. I put my hand over the wound. There didn't seem to be a lot of new blood coming out, but what seemed like a lot had come out already.
I stood there silently for a few moments, covering my wound with my hand, wondering what to do next.
Then came on the trail a guy I'd seen a few times before, shirtless, tanned, with sandy, thinning hair and a whiskery beard. I'd guess he's about 15 years older than I am. I probably said hi to him a couple times, just because I say hi to people I see when I'm running. He stopped at the sight of me. "Are you okay?" he said.
"Yeah, I think so," I said. "There's just all this blood." (All dialogue from this point on is paraphrased.)
"Is it a deep cut or just on the surface?"
"I don't know. It seems pretty deep."
He looked at my leg; I removed my hand. "Looks like just surface stuff." He turned back to me. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah..." I said. "I just don't know what to do."
He advised me that I should continue to run (very slowly) on it if I could, in order to avoid stiffening up. "I've got all kind of scars on my knees from this happening to me," he said. "It's a bitch when it happens and this trail is a bitch that way. But it looks like you're okay."
"Thanks, man," I said, and he scooted off down the trail.
I ran very slowly most of the way back, taking walking breaks on big hills, and got back to the apartment in one piece. (I also drew several interested looks from passersby, who apparently either thought I had murdered someone in the park or was a total badass for running through my injury.) What it's turned out to be is vast, ample swelling and a bunch of scrapey wounds; the poke from the rock was not too deep, and sealed itself up by the end of the day on Sunday.
My right knee is still more red than pink, as is a skein of scratches at a 45-degree angle to vertical on my right calf. Due to the swelling, I can't walk right, and the dude in the cubicle next to mine has mocked my limp, while another office passerby asked if I had a prosthesis. "Nope," I tell them, "I just banged my knee on a rock."
But it's really more than that — Rock Creek Park has reiterated a valuable lesson:
Don't go chasing after women, you numbskull. You're only gonna get yourself hurt.
Update (11/4/07): Today I feel I have conquered Rock Creek Park, at least for now, because I ran down to the entrance of the National Zoo's parking lot and back, which had been a personal goal of mine for a long time. That's a little less than 12 miles, which I completed in 2:19. So updates to this tale are probably overdue.
I avoided the park's trails until my knee was 100 percent. (Okay, it's not quite 100 percent even now, but it's healed about as much as you can expect it to heal. It didn't bug me today, for instance.) The first time I ran in the park after the accident, about a month later, I stopped where I had fallen and looked for what had caused the fall. It turns out that the culprit was actually a particularly treacherous tree root protubing from the ground. This little [expletive] not only made a loop in which my toe apparently got caught, but also pokes out like a little arrowhead to ensure that one cannot get one's foot clear of the obstacle if it does get caught up in there. I then found the rock that poked my knee. It was indeed pointy, though of course any blood that might have dripped onto it had been long since washed away by rain.
That day, I went down as far as I had on the day I injured myself, to Peirce Mill. I got back without injuring myself again. I have become extremely attentive on the trails. A couple weeks ago, I saw someone trip just after the area where I injured myself, though he recovered his balance pretty easily. "Tough to run here," he said. "Yup," I said. Then we had passed each other.
I'm less and less convinced that I actually saw Nurit Bar-Josef right before I injured myself every time I go to an NSO performance. There's just something that's not right when I compare her face as she bows away leading the first violins to the (partially obscured) face of the woman I chased down to Peirce Mill. Plus it's kind of a stupid idea, though it is also funny and thus fun to entertain.
Today as I ran back home, I came across a large stick (about two yards long and a couple inches in diameter) lying in the trail. I had managed to avoid it through fancy footwork when I had been running to the Zoo; now it struck me that it might be removable, thus saving other folks the trouble. I picked it up with both hands, held it out in front of me, and shoved, thus ensuring that the stick never actually went above my head. But I didn't mess with the extremely large tree fragment that has somehow fallen so that it was suspended perpendicular to the ground later in the run. That's someone else's job, I've now realized. I just sidled around that one and got back to running.
All this tasty writing ©2002-11 by Andrew Lindemann Malone. All rights reserved.