Sunday, November 17, 2013

What happens after a fall during a run

             WASHINGTON, D.C. – This blog usually is about runs while traveling. This time, I’m writing about traveling while running.

                On a recent autumn morning, I went running with my friend Ellen on the trails in Rock Creek Park in DC. It was cool, crisp, and dry. A thick blanket of leaves covered the path, and both of us talked about it as we set off.
               We didn’t talk about its beauty, even though our path was a carpet of natural colors. Instead, we saw danger: The leaves obscured rocks and tree roots. And that, we knew from experience, meant it would be easy to trip and fall.

The Rock Creek trail cuts through miles of wood and follows a stream that roars by after hard rains and is tame the rest of the time. On this day, the water was low.
              Halfway through the run, I tripped and caught myself. Then I tripped a second time, again barely avoiding a crash. We slowed the pace a little. But I tripped again and this time I flew through the air and landed hard on the ground, falling on my right knee and thigh and stopping my momentum with both hands.

                I immediately felt pain on my right knee and left hand. My knee was bloodied. When I looked at my hand, I gulped: the base of my pinkie was nearly double in size. I thought I must have dislocated the finger. And so I yanked it. The finger popped back into place, and the bulge disappeared.
              I carefully wiggled my fingers and felt some pain. I started walking and both knees ached. But there were miles to go still, and we continued onward.

A few minutes later, I was on the ground again – a second fall. Again, I landed on my right side, sliding in the gravelly surface.
            Now the embarrassment hurt more than the wounds. How could I trip four times and fall twice in one run? Ellen tried ordering me to walk, fearing (perhaps knowing) I was about to do real damage to myself. But after a minute, we were running again.

We made it back without further falls, but I felt the after-effects for some time. I had to deal with some pain – it was hard to type for a few days, my knees ached, and my toes had turned nearly purple and were complaining. But the mental impact of the falls was far greater. For a couple of weeks afterward, I felt off-balance, as if I could fall in certain situations. I bike to work every day and I started to travel at a slower pace. For my runs, I kept to pavement. All the while, I wondered what had happened back on that run.  
            Perhaps the leaf cover was inherently dangerous – but I had tripped four times, Ellen none. Perhaps I wasn’t lifting my legs high enough (obviously true!), because I was exhausted. I buy that last explanation. I had just returned from a flight to Asia.

What’s the moral of the story?

   Not sure about that.

   Don't run in the woods after a flight from Asia? Stay off leaf-covered trails when tired? More like it. I’ll be more careful. But I bet I run again when tired. I’m too set in my ways. Falls are in my future. It’s an awful thought as I replay the crash scenes. At least I’ll know how to deal with a dislocated finger.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A run in Paris, a flood of memories

              PARIS – Paris in mid-November: rain, a chill in the air, clouds low and gray.
In other words, perfect for a run. A hotel doorman told my work colleague and friend, Ed, and I that we should try running in Tuileries Garden, just steps from our hotel.
We started at 6 a.m. in a light rain along the walls of the garden and turned a corner onto Les Champs Plaza. Amid the deep puddles, we spied an opening into the park.
In the gray light, we entered. Ed wondered if it would be dangerous. I said the only danger was the puddles – our feet were about to get soaked from splashing into one. We ran ahead, passing statues and tree-lined walkways. We kept zig-zagging, saw a large archway ahead, and started talking about various trip details. Suddenly, someone started yelling in our direction: Arret! Arret! Stop! Stop!

I looked to my left and a high-powered flashlight was trained on us, moving up and down. The man was running at us.
He started yelling in French. I thought he was saying something about the park being closed, and probably that we should get out of there. Still, I wasn’t 100 percent certain he was police or security (after all, it was dark and he was yelling in a language I didn’t understand), so I told Ed we shouldn’t wait for him and we quickly retraced our steps, splashing into puddles as we went. I looked back and the man had stopped behind us.
We exited the park. Drama over, I remembered that the hotel doorman also had said we could run along the Seine River. That thought made me happy. It brought back memories of reading the Madeline books to our daughter Paige when she was a little girl, and a trip that we took to Paris when Paige was four and Gavin only one. (Wyatt would be born 18 months later in Jerusalem.) In one of the books, Madeline’s Rescue, Madeline falls into the Seine River and is saved by a dog. The orphanage director Miss Clavel allows Madeline and the girls in the orphanage to keep the dog, until they find her real owner.

         All during our trip to Paris, Paige kept asking, “Will we see Madeline?”  We said we weren’t sure, but we should go to the Seine to look. And so we did, several times, Paige looking for a French girl who looked the part.

Ed and I headed toward the Seine. We crossed a bridge and followed the river on the other side. Soon we came to a narrow wooden bridge, and I looked into the distance. Ahead was a sidewalk along the river, where I remembered we had bought prints of flowers, ducks, and fish. The bridge was the same one on which I had pushed Gavin in a collapsible stroller. 

Ed and I stopped to walk. He noticed that both sides of the bridge were now covered by thousands of locks of all sizes, many with messages on them. Others had sprayed-painted in black their love for another over the locks.
I knew just where we were. We ran to the end of the bridge and descended a narrow flight of stairs to the banks of the Seine. We tip-toed along the cobblestone path, a somewhat treacherous decision because the water was high, the cobblestones slanted toward the water, and it was dark.
        “Let’s go slowly,” I said. We did, dodging puddles. Ahead, the Seine spilled over onto the sidewalk, leaving just a narrow passage. We slowed even more, lest we meet Madeline’s fate, and decided to go up to street level. We found stairs. I heard a rustle near our feet.

“A rat!” Ed said.
I looked around, but saw nothing. “It was big,” Ed said. “The size of a chipmunk, but with a longer tail – the tail of a rat.”
I believed him. We raced upward, keeping an eye out for other rats, and soon we were along the streets.
Within minutes, we had come to Louvre Museum, first built in the late 12th century and now housing nearly 35,000 objects. It attracts 8 million visitors a year – the world’s most popular museum. But standing near the museum’s glass pyramids (designed by I.M. Pei and built less than 30 years ago), we were nearly alone.
The sky had lightened slightly, the day was beginning, and I was transported back to a moment when the children were so young and tender.
Back to Cairo.


Back to Jerusalem.

  Back to Petra.

 Back to violin lessons and face painting in Ireland.

         I could have stayed in that moment for a long time.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Running in the world’s best-named capital: Ouagadougou


OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso -- I have always dreamt of running here. Just to say I had.

What a name! Ouagadougou (pronounced Wa-ga-do-gu), and often shortened to Ouaga, was named by the Yonyonse tribe. It means the place "where people get honor and respect."

The mystery and remoteness about this place interested me. It’s the central African version of the Central African Republic, or the south Asian version of Bhutan, or the South American version of Paraguay.

All are landlocked. All are places with relatively few tourists, or even Western business people. But Burkina Faso’s capital had it on the competition in one respect: Its name. No other capital can beat Ouagadougou.

The trouble was I had just 18 hours here. Work took nearly all of it. We arrived at the airport at 7:30 p.m., and on the ride in, I looked out the bus window, seeing little. With a police escort and roads largely cleared, it seemed a deserted city.

First stop was a state dinner. At the presidential palace, we walked past guards dressed in red uniforms. They stood erect, not moving, not even allowing their eyes to take a sideways glance, holding swords so that the tip nearly touched their nose. I wondered what they were thinking.

We walked into a seating area with sofas and coffee tables, and there guarding the entrance was two stuffed cheetahs.

They looked ferocious. I walked slowly around them.

Others, like me, kept turning back for a glimpse. A few brave people walked over to them. I followed. Some took pictures. I thought, why not, without a picture I might later think I was making this up.

Two hours later, after a dinner that featured quail from the president’s farm, I was back in my hotel room, a few hours of work ahead of me. I went to bed at 2 a.m. Less than 12 hours left. I put my alarm on for 5:10 a.m. How could I not run in Ouagadougou?

At 5:30 a.m., I left the hotel and started heading up the highway. Our 12-story soulless hotel, built by Libyan construction companies during Muammar Ghadafi’s heyday (West Africa is dotted with Libyan hotels), sat in what must be one of Ouagadougou’s wealthier areas. In a country where 40 percent of the people live on less than $1.25 a day, all the houses nearby were nearly mansion sized.

Street lights provided pools of connecting light. The road was empty. Every so often a car would pass, or bicyclers, or the stray runner. I turned down a side dirt road and ran in front of houses with the flags of various countries – all personal resemblances of ambassadors, I was sure.

I turned back, crossed the highway, and started noticing small birds fly just in front of me, some darting close to my feet. I stopped and looked and several of the male birds had bright red heads and gray bodies. The birds were sparrow-sized, no bigger than my thumb. I marveled at their bright color. 


On the way home, I turned off the road again and could see an animal pulling a cart, dust in its wake. As it came closer, I could see it was a donkey, and the driver was a young woman wearing sunglasses. The sun was just coming up, a pink ribbon stretching along a half-moon of the horizon. She was prepared for the day, the sun, and the heat.

It was temperate now, though, the air dry. I had run for 40 minutes and barely had sweat. I showered and dressed, and at 7:40 a.m., my work began. We sped off in a motorcade, moving from one official event to the other. At 1:30 p.m., we were on a plane, headed for Paris.

I barely saw Ouaga. I could say I ran there. Along the way, I saw two stuffed cheetahs, scores of tiny red birds, and a donkey driven by a woman in sunglasses. Ouagadougou remained mysterious, more runs needed.

Next running blog: Paris.