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Back On The Barefoot Trail After A Fall

November 15, 2018

“There are two kinds of trail runners – those that fall, and those that are going to fall” . . . I couldn’t have said it better than ChelloMello on this trail running Reddit discussion

As a shod trail runner (1996-2010), in all those 14 years I can remember two significant tumbles, and only one that left me with a lovely parting gift: a round scar still gracing my left shoulder where I slid a bit in the loose dirt and scattered gravel approaching a Santiago Oaks/Santiago Creek crossing. Since my barefoot running career began in January 2010, I don’t recollect hitting the ground as hard as I did a week ago yesterday: a true-black-n-blue face plant:

faceplant ouch

A couple hours after (LITERALLY, people!) hitting the trail

But thanks be to God for some kind of amazing healing time . . . in only five days my scabs had peeled off, and by today, pretty much nothin’ left but my usual wrinkles:


Of course I googled “normal healing time for bruises” just now, and found out that it’s usually about two weeks before the under-skin bleeding is all absorbed, so I’m super thankful to be way ahead of that curve.

Maybe it’s the vitamin K supplements (for my osteoporosis)? Speaking of which: I went down HARD . . . running downhill, kinda fast (for an old lady, anyway), enjoying my wandering thoughts, kind of zoned out (let’s not do that again) . . . but when my body passed my outstretched arm (it wasn’t that steep, but just enough to propel me past my braking hand), and my face slammed the dirt, I both felt and heard “snap-crackle-pop” in my neck. (And there were no bowls of Rice Crispies in sight.)

All I could think was, “yikes, there goes my cervical vertebrae.” So when I got home, after spending some quality time scrubbing embedded dirt out of the scraped places on my face, I called my doctor and got a referral for a neck x-ray, which came back negative, except for a suspicious void in the area where common sense resides in most (non-barefoot-trail-running) people. Score: Old lady — 1, Osteoporosis — 0.

And speaking of the way home . . . it took an hour just to walk (slowly, not turning my head much) down and up and down the hills between me and my car. When a hiker or mountain biker approached–and there weren’t all that many on a Wednesday morning–I sort of pulled my hat down and turned my head away. Yep, I was embarrassed. People already think I’m kookoobananas for barefoot running, and I didn’t want to have to answer any prying questions about why my face was swelling into such a lovely shade of purple, nor did I want to give haters a reason to disparage my . . . shall we say . . . lack of conventional trail runnin’ footwear.

“So why write a blog post about it?” one might reasonably ask.

I’m over being embarrassed . . . falls happen when you trail run, which makes me even more grateful I haven’t had (even more) mishaps. And maybe–just maybe–being barefoot all these years, and the extra attention that it requires to not step on the gazillions of local rocks, maybe this barefootery has actually saved me from many more tumbles. Maybe. 

And so I’m thankful my week of slight headaches (probably a minor concussion?) is over, and this morning’s easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy run felt fine. More than fine. Barefoot-tastic!


Except for this horrific Morton’s toe stub . . . see how my right foot (on the left in the photo below, of course) has one toe catching on the ground? This is called “ouch” and it happens way more often than full-blown face-planting black-eye-inducing falls. (I managed to catch it for this photo by slowly advancing the video I was shooting for the above “carefree runner” photo and taking a screen grab.)

mortons toe ouch

While this long-second-toe business was esteemed by the Greeks and preserved in their statuary (and yes, the Statue of Liberty exhibits Morton’s toe writ large), I am not a fan.

Every time I catch a dangling phalange on a rock–or just the ground–it feels like I just BROKE IT IN HALF, but after a few minutes of VERY FOCUSED BREATHING and TRYING NOT TO LIMP (see above comments about working through embarrassment), I usually realize that it’s time to stop the wool-gathering and get my focus back where it belongs: on the lovely dirt and rocks that cover the fabulous trails just outside my hometown of Orange, CA, where you can still run into cool critters like this on any given Wednesday (fall, in more than one sense of the word) morning:


Happy Stumbling Barefoot Trails!

do what you love barefoot shirt.jpg

A thrift store find from yesterday . . . just what I needed to fortify my resolve to get back out there and run today . . .

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott Marckx permalink
    November 15, 2018 5:00 pm

    Ouch! I’m glad you are recovering so quickly and it wasn’t worse! I have Morton’s toe too and that was the one I broke a while back. Now it is crooked. I keep wondering if there are exercises I could do to get in the habit of lifting my feet/knees more quickly, sort of like the army guys running through the tires…? Having lots of roots on our local trails is a constant incentive. Right now I’m dealing with cracked skin from the changing seasons (wet weather and dry inside from the heater coming on) that I didn’t catch before it got out of hand, and this is my favorite trail running season! Oh well.
    Happy healing and barefoot trail running to you!

    • November 16, 2018 7:32 am

      Thanks as always for the update from up north, Scott 🙂 Cracked heels are the worst . . . there’s lots of “remedies” out there/online to try . . . I’ve had pretty good luck recently with a mix of jojoba and tea tree oils (from Trader Joes) at night, then a spritz of Mother Dirt*, all covered with socks for a half hour or so until it soaks in.

      *see This was a birthday gift from my daughter last year . . . I think the idea has merit: encouraging a healthy skin biome via restoring good bacteria (but it’s expensive!).

      I’m not sure if this is why my face healed so fast as well; while I don’t use my Mother Dirt spray all the time, I have used it enough in the last few months that maybe my facial skin had lots of helpful critters to aid in the repair? (As you can probably tell, I’m not real good on the science end of this, but I’m also a big believer in the good ol’ placebo effect, if all other explanations fail.)

      I think ANY kind of trail running over roots requires extra vigilance, shod or not, and that it’s just one more way to connect, intensely, with the running experience: pay attention 🙂

      I hope you’re getting in lots of good forest runs before the really cold weather hits . . . cold trails being one of my major nemesises (nemesii?). Bucket list: the Wim Hof method of cold acclimatization 🙂 Happy Thankful Thanksgiving Trails back to you!

      • Scott Marckx permalink
        November 16, 2018 9:12 am

        Thank you Thea!
        That Mother Dirt stuff looks interesting. I think what we eat effects our skin biome too, and I’ve been indulging in too much sugar lately. After trying various remedies I came back to Bag Balm, which, being petroleum jelly based, isn’t my favorite, but seems to work the quickest of what I have tried so far. Plus the metal can it comes in is easier to re-use and/or recycle. The New York Times recently published a fascinating article on the history and science of the placebo effect. Well worth reading.

        It doesn’t get that cold up here to keep me from trail running except maybe a few days during an especially cold snap. I’m way more comfortable in the cold than in the heat. I guess we acclimate to where we live.
        How are you doing with the fires? Are you getting smoke? I hope you guys get enough rain and snow, but not flooding and mud slides.
        Thank you for your inspiring posts!
        All the best, Scott

      • November 16, 2018 3:03 pm

        WOW! What a fascinating article! Thanks for pointing me in its direction. As the daughter of an “old-school” family doctor who greatly valued the doctor-patient relationship–spending much time talking to, and treating, the “whole person”–I really enjoyed reading about this complicated, multi-faceted issue of mind and body and healing.

        As far as the fires go . . . my daughter-in-law works in Thousand Oaks, and she and my son live in that area, so they know people affected by both the fires and terrible shooting . . . but they are safe. Down here in Orange County we’ve had a bad week of dry winds, but no local fires, and are definitely praying for rain (but without the mudslides, because we have plenty of recent burn areas from last year’s infernos). And those poor people up in the Paradise area! Such a tragedy . . .


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