I Biffed It – Taking a Tumble While Running!

Not to happy about tripping over this!

Not to happy about tripping over this!

Face it, if you run enough you are going to take a tumble.

If you run on trails the probability of falling goes up exponentially.

It happened to me for the first time about 4 days ago. I was speeding through a 5 mile trail run on a nice leafy path. During the final downhill section a root stub sticking out of ground about 2 inches caught my left foot. I immediately went horizontal.

If you could rewind the tape and play it in slow motion you would see the following:

My Fall in Slow MO
Run, run, run, run, run, . . . TRIPPPPPPP . . . . flying, flying, flying . . . [ground is approaching] . . . [arms are flailing] . . . SPLAT.

And this is what went through my mind,


Now thankfully I am pretty good at falling because I took gymnastics as a kid. I quickly turned my fall into a triple back handspring with a reverse somersault. I wish you could have been there. Unfortunately nobody got it on camera. 😉

After I stood up I found the little root that got me in trouble. This was my first fall as a runner but will probably not be my last. Here’s what you can do to fall better:

Expect the Unexpected

I saw a woman fall at the Rocket City Marathon. I later heard her say that her goal of a BQ went out the window that day because of this mishap. But, she was a tough marathoner and didn’t let it ruin her day.

Dean Karnazes, author of the book Run! 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss earned a DNF for the second time at the Leadville Trail 100 because of taking a bad fall. With all the time and effort it takes to train for a 100 miler, you can imagine how demoralizing this would be. Dean returned the next year and earned his buckle.

Elite runner Meb Keflezighi fell and busted his knee while training for the 2013 New York City Marathon. This injury gave him trouble during the race and forced him to stop and walk at mile 19. He finished 23rd disheartened but undeterred. Meb is currently training for Boston.

And perhaps the most tragic story about a runner who took a fall came to the attention of the whole world at last year’s New York City Marathon. The 86 year old runner Joy Johnson took at fall at mile 20 suffering a head injury that later proved to be fatal. Joy finished the marathon but died in her sleep later that night.

“I want to keep running as long as I can and drop in my running shoes when my time comes.” -Joy Johnson

To expect the unexpected is to be aware that anything can happen when you lace up your running shoes and leave the house.

A fall has the potential of derailing your training and altering your plans. Having this awareness is helpful. Running with awareness will help you monitor the terrain more carefully, but mishaps can still happen. Having the stubbornness to dust yourself off and try again is what makes life long marathoners successful.

Learning to Fall Better

In the trail running book Never Wipe Your Ass With A Squirrel (the actual title), author Jason Robillard writes about learning how to fall.

“Find a location with soft ground. Sand is perfect. Grassy fields are another good choice. Run at a slow speed, then purposely fall on the ground.”

The trick its, Robillard explains, to keep your elbows bent, let your arms act as the initial shock absorbers, and roll when you hit the ground.

The goal is to soften the fall by letting your inertia work itself out in the roll. Protect the head at all costs. If you’re carrying a handheld water bottle let it be a buffer between your palms and the ground.

The next section of the book explains how to properly fall of a cliff, but that’s beyond the scope of this blog post.

I do like his advice about practicing your fall. This is essentially what I did in gymnastics during our tumbling exercises. The muscle memory will come in handy when that unexpected little root is in your path.

My advice is to practice on the rug in your living room. When you get good at falling there take it to more challenging places like the break room at work or the produce isle at Whole Foods. Airport terminals are also ideal.

root that made me fall

Have you ever taken a tumble while running? Leave a comment below!

21 Responses to I Biffed It – Taking a Tumble While Running!

  1. Amy January 28, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    I love this – awesome post! When it warms up outside, I will definitely practice falling before hitting the trails again 🙂

    My favorite “biffing it” memory was when my husband and I were trail running on our honeymoon. The terrain on the Superior Hiking Trail in MN is a bit rougher than I’m used to up here in the flat lands. We were almost to the end of our out-and-back run and I caught my toe on a rock, tore up my knee, and knocked the wind out of myself. I sat there for a couple seconds thinking “Seriously?! Pick up your feet!” before hurrying to catch my husband.

    I returned from our trail running adventure with a blood-dripping leg, but ’tis a mere flesh wound! Now it’s just a good memory 🙂

    • Trevor Spencer January 28, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

      Ouch Amy! That sounds like a nasty fall. And your husband kept running and left you lying there bleeding to add insult to injury! 😉

  2. Liz January 28, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

    Glad you are okay, Trevor!
    I think the most memorable “biffing it” moment is during a 5K. We were experiencing record breaking heat and I was pretty chuffed when I saw I was almost done with the race. The last half mile took us over a couple sets of railroad tracks. I sprang over the tracks, but as I was rounding the last corner, my foot caught on uneven pavement and I went flying. I did what we called in judo a “perfect side fall.” The good news was I didn’t bruise myself or hurt any of my joints and I sprang to my feet for a strong finish. The bad news was I left the skin of my elbow and palm on the pavement. I didn’t want to have the emt patch me up because of the heat and I didn’t want to hold him up if there was an emergency. I cleaned up in the bathroom with the help of a really nice lady (what can I say, runners are a nice bunch). Then my running crew dragged me over to the first aid station so they could patch up my “boo boo” (Babz words, not mine, hah).
    I still have the scar on my elbow, but I was an active kid, so it blends in with other “biffs” from my childhood 🙂

    • Trevor Spencer January 28, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

      The best falls are when you spring to your feet and make it look like you did it on purpose. Right on Liz!

  3. Marci Pearson January 28, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

    Love it. O ya I’ve hit the ground and it’s not pretty. On a trail marathon and the course was packed. Behind me I could hear the scary sounds of crashing and bodies thudding. I was thinking wow people are hitting the ground back there, next thing I know I’m eating the dirt too. Ouch

    • Trevor Spencer January 28, 2014 at 3:42 pm #

      “Crashing and bodies thudding” lol. Reminds me of the song “Let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor.”

      Not fun. Glad you make it through ok. Thanks for stopping by the blog!

  4. Adolfo Salgueiro January 28, 2014 at 4:38 pm #

    There are two type of runners, the ones that have fallen and the ones who will if they keep running… It is the same labeling for those who had to go No 2 during a training session or race, those who had gotten their water stolen during a long run and so many other things that make endurance sports so unique.

    • Trevor Spencer January 30, 2014 at 9:51 am #

      I knew my day was coming.

  5. Fran Nicholson January 28, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

    Just what I needed. Couple months ago I bit it. Training run on uneven pavement, I did the slow motion fall also but aimed for the grass and rolled. Looked around to see if I lost any “cool points” Hip was a little sore so slowed down but it was too cold and i was too far from home to walk. Couple days off and was back at it.

    • Trevor Spencer January 30, 2014 at 9:53 am #

      You’re smart for hitting the grass. Cool points retained!

  6. Sue January 28, 2014 at 5:10 pm #

    I was running a winter half marathon called the Ice Cube. True to the name it was about 9 deg here in Michigan last year on race day. The course was covered in ice and snow. I slipped and fell on the ice at mile 8 and had to run/walk my way back to the finish line. It wasn’t pretty, but I did finish it. I also had a giant bruise on my knee for a couple of weeks to go along with it.

    • Trevor Spencer January 30, 2014 at 9:54 am #

      It sounds like that race was concocted for the purpose of watching runners biff it.

  7. Joseph Jeppesen January 28, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

    It’s maybe somewhat embarrassing to admit but, I’ve gotten pretty good at falling down with pretty good recovery. The last one was on a dark early morning group run. Running on the paved trail along the street. The transition crossing a side street tripped me up. Had the good fortune of fresh rough cement to hit my knee on. Leaving a pretty wicked looking wound. It didn’t slow me down though. By the time the run was over I had blood all the way my leg to my socks & shoe. I should have taken a picture.

    • Trevor Spencer January 30, 2014 at 9:56 am #

      If only the cement was fresher it would have softened the impact and left a cool imprint of your knee. Future generations of runners would see it and say “Joseph was here!”

  8. Chris Monasmith January 30, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    This was great to read Trevor. I run with my dog often on my 5-6 mile runs. He keeps a good 7:00-7:30 pace, so hes a good buddy. One morning last summer we were about 4 miles into a run and running past a house with roofers replacing the roof. As we ran by then threw some shingles from the roof into the dumpster below. The noise scared the crap out of my dog and he ran right in front of me. You can picture how this goes next. Of course he tripped me and as I was falling, I grabbed him and rotated to my back. That way I didnt fall on him. The guys on the roof looked, and made sure we were ok. We kept on jogging home, but it was a bit embarrassing.

    Keep up the great writing and keep the rubber side down!

  9. Trevor Spencer January 30, 2014 at 9:18 pm #

    Sounds like your dog is a good pacer (a little unpredictable but loyal none-the-less).

  10. Sandra March 21, 2014 at 10:48 am #

    Wow! thanks for this post, I was considering taking a running hiatus after my second fall in like 3 months. I shredded my knees and hand pretty bad, no stitches but a trip to urgent care and loads of bandages. Did I mention how I was .2 miles into a 5 mile run? (that’s “point two” not 2.) I managed to walk to my car bleeding and a little sad for humanity since 3 people passed me and not a single one asked if I was ok despite my clearly injured legs.
    Anyway,now that I’m finally healing and reading this, I’m ready to take some baby steps out there. So thanks for falling! 😉

    • Trevor Spencer March 25, 2014 at 8:51 pm #

      Thanks for the comment Sandra! That really sucks to take a fall at the .2 mark.

      When I was a kid I thought blood running down one’s leg was pretty cool! -Especially if it turned your sock red. If people saw you with blood running into your socks that was a bonus.

      I say be proud of that fall you took. If keeps life interesting.

  11. Ana D February 20, 2016 at 3:18 am #

    Being blessed with an off kilter sense of balance, I’ve gotten pretty good at falling, especially during runs. So far I’ve perfected falling like a starfish (arms and legs flat out) and jumping up as soon as I’ve hit the ground, making it look like I’ve done an impromptu burpee. I’m currently nursing a shredded knee and a bruised hip from a tumble I took this afternoon. It took place during my cool down, about a mile from my house, about five minutes after I deftly outran a dog that had escaped it’s yard and was roaming the neighborhood attacking people at random. I had just began to breathe easily when I slipped on a crack in the pavement and just flipped over.

    To top it all off my loving family has been hitting me up with gravity jokes ever since I got home. I just can’t win!

    It’s encouraging to see that I’m not the only runner who takes a nosedive while hitting the pavement, and this article made me laugh. I’ll be practising my falling techniques as soon as my hip stops hurting so wish me luck!

    • Trevor Spencer February 22, 2016 at 10:21 pm #

      Haha! Glad you like the post. Thanks for reading!

  12. Susan January 1, 2021 at 7:32 pm #

    I am so glad to read these posts since i just took my second fall in the last couple months. I typically fall every couple of years but my falls seem to be increasing somewhat in frequency. It’s so good to know I’m not alone in this!

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