An Injury Experience on the Trail

Let’s talk injuries. Trail running is a great way to build endurance, strength train, and burn calories, all while enjoying the trails. It’s also a huge endorphin booster because your mind must stay alert to upcoming terrain changes and hazards on the trail, while cruising at a faster speed. As every athlete knows, injuries will happen from time to time. Some may be from overuse or others can be more catastrophic, either from a bad fall or collision. For runners, the most common injuries are to the feet, ankles, knees and hips – all the good joints! This article provides a detailed summary of an injury I experienced while out trail running and the steps I took to assess the situation and get myself back home. 

This trail was great, but about 1/3 of the way back to the trailhead, I was getting fatigued and my mind started to wander. I lost focus on the trail. I caught a rock just underneath my right foot, causing me to slide out and land directly onto the outside of my ankle. I heard a snap in my joint that I never want to hear again – it was loud and it was visceral.

After the slide out, I took stock of the damage. I’ve injured this same ankle years before while playing sports, but this time it felt much more serious. The pain was intense. I could visually see a torn ligament underneath the skin already starting to swell. I did a quick skin check to make sure the skin was not broken or bleeding – all good. I did a quick rotation check to see if I could articulate the bones in my ankle and foot – all good. The last check was to see if I could bear weight on my foot – no good. I’d injured my ankle to the point where I could barely put weight on it without causing pain. So, here’s where I start assessing the situation on how to get myself back to the trailhead.
Now that I knew I couldn’t bear weight on my foot without causing a certain level of discomfort, and the swelling increasing by the minute, I needed to figure out how to get myself back to the trailhead.

It was a bright and sunny Sunday, so I did see other biking and hiking parties passing from time to time. Although, I hadn’t seen anyone in 20 mins or so. I was close to the next trail junction point (about .5 mile) that had access to a neighborhood road. I made the choice to hobble slowly to that junction point.

I did pass a few parties on the way to the junction point, and it was clear to them I was injured. But, instead of me asking for help and them asking if they could help, we’d pass with a friendly hello and that was that. I’m a very independent and prideful person. It’s difficult for me to ask for help when I need it. I’ve also felt that there is an unspoken rule in the outdoor community that you recreate at your own risk, and that it is up to you to get yourself in and out when recreating. Worst case, someone can send for help if you are really bad off, but at their discretion. There is no guarantee or obligation that someone will help you and I don’t expect it either. As a person of color, I expect it even less.

I reached the next junction point and was relieved to see that I had cellular service. Now here is where this story diverts from what you should do. I did another assessment on my ankle and found that I could put some weight on the back of my heel and maintain a walking gate with a slight limp. So, instead of calling someone to come pick me up (again too prideful), I continued on the trail back to the trailhead. I’d be giving bad advice if I didn’t advise that this is something you SHOULD NOT DO. If you can call for help, you should. I got to the trailhead and my car about 2.5 hours after the injury occurred. I drove myself home and started triage.

I ended up with a severe ankle sprain and no breaks. I’m fortunate this happened in a densely populated area where I had access to help, if I needed it. What I hope this article can do is provide a guide for injury assessment out on the trail, provide helpful lessons learned to the next trail runner, and engage the community in more conversation about how others have dealt with injuries and accidents in more remote areas, while sharing their best practices for managing the situation. Sharing our not-so-fun experiences is just as relevant and important to the community as our fun experiences. These lessons learned help everyone be more aware and prepared while recreating at their own risk.

Ashley Vance

Ashley has been hiking and trail running in the Washington State area for 10 years. Her adventures have also spanned multiple countries and continents, but she has always called Washington home. On the weekends, she enjoys getting outdoors for day hikes, trail runs and overnight backpacking trips. One of Ashley’s goals is to bring more representation of BIPOC to the hiking, backpacking and trail running community. When not outdoors, Ashley is most likely planning her next outdoor trip, reading a great book, or playing fetch with her amazing dog, Nala.

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2 thoughts on “An Injury Experience on the Trail”

  1. Ouch, I’m so sorry Ashley. This happened to me out here in Boulder in early June and I still have the swelling to show for it. I hope your recovery is speedy and you’re back on the trails soon!

  2. Something very similar happened to me last May. Thankfully I was with my dog who helped me balance a bit as I hobbled back to the car. I was very luckily that I was only 3/4 of a mile into the run so only had to hobble less than a mile back. Thankfully I did have phone service and immediately called my husband who was actually driving back into town from being out for work. He was ready to drive over and walk the trail to find me but it would have taken longer to wait for him than it would have to walk myself. What saddened me is that while I obviously was hobbling along, several runners, walkers and bikers passed by without even a hi or are you ok. Of all of them, only one walker who was traveling the same direction and came up behind me, asked if I was ok. He even offered to take my dog off my hands to help the situation. I graciously thanked him and explained that my dog was actually helping my balance as I hobbled. I won’t forget that Good Samaritan. I’m glad you’re ok and thanks for sharing!


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