How To Fall


Experience From -
Kirsten Poulin , Mike Erickson , Ed Parrot , Brian McNeill , Mike Erickson#2 , Rich Schick , Lisa Butler , George Beinhorn , Bill Wandel , Jeanie Baker , Tony Covarrubias , Jimmy Guse , Dennis Halpin ,

Kirsten Poulin

Many of us have experience with falling while trail running. Does anyone have information on the best techniques for falling, to lessen the possibility of injury? Thanks!

Mike Erickson

Tuck and roll.

Ed Parrot

Hopefully Mike is joking. Tucking and rolling on a technical trail is far more likely to make things worse than better. And there are so many different ways to fall. The two most common are slipping and tripping (hey, it rhymes)

When you slip and your feet slide forward and you fall towards your butt, the best thing you can do once you know you're going down is to let your self keep going. If you hit your butt or your back on a rock, you could be in trouble, but there are no real good alternatives. In theory, you'd be better off not putting your hands down to catch your fall unless you have enough time to make sure you don't hurt your hands and your wrist by hitting them at an uneven angle.

When you trip, you generally fall forward, not back. This is where the most serious injuries can occur (other than running off the side of the hill at mile 96 of western states in the dark when the trail turns and you don't... but I digress). Here is where your hands can really help you. You need to react quickly and get your hands out in front of you and ideally have them hit the ground before you and use your arms to break the fall. This is where a little bit of instinct comes in, because the placement of your hands and the way you use them to shift your body weight has to just happen. You want to make sure you don't hit your head.

Unfortunately, many people running on trails start zoning out and enjoying the scenery, which will make any fall you have much worse, because you won't have as much time to react. There is a tradeoff here between the speed you run, the amount of attention you pay to the act of running, and the risk you take of falling.

Brian McNeill

I can tell you how most people do it, how I do it, and how I wish I could do it...

I had a bad spell over the past six months falling at least four or five times on training runs or during races. Once, I did so while showing off and going way-too-fast down a rapidly softening trail (11 stitches).

Otherwise, most falls have been due to the old problem of failing to pick my feet up high enough. That old reliable marathon shuffle doesn't work so well among tree roots, rocks, and trail blow-down. Thus, since I'm now in recovery mode from the Ice Age, I'm going to start doing more leg lifts to strengthen my legs while I take some time off of the roads and trails.

I've noticed that when I start to fall, I instinctively increase my leg turnover and lengthen my stride, trying to power my way out of going horizontal. That usually only delays the inevitable for two or three steps. Recently, I fell and instead of doing the usual thing, I just rolled to my right and took it on my right hip. I had a pretty bad raspberry, but that's better than another 11 stitches in the knee.

We used to do that at Ft. Devins, MA, where I learned to land that way from the top of a tower, conditioning me to do it when I landed with a parachute.

It's contrary to instinct to fall that way I think, but in the .05 seconds I have to react on the way down, I hope I remember next time.

Mike Erickson#2

"Hopefully Mike is joking. Tucking and rolling on a technical trail is far more likely to make things worse than better."
Nope, I think you're wrong. But I hedge that comment by saying that you need to differentiate between truly technical and merely rough. Many are the times I've been striding obliviously along on some rocky/rooty trail and gotten lazy and started carrying my feet through a little too low and tripped on a troll. Each situation dictates what I do, your reaction may vary...

You may have choices depending upon the trail and its environs and your ability to react. If you're sluggish and dogged tired at the end of an ultra, you're going down. Period. On your face Running boy! If you've been hoofing it along the edge of Hell Hole Gulch, you'll be grasping at snakes and bugs and roots to save your clumsy arse. Grab-on, hang-on, use those skinned hands and knees to keep the rest of you alive. Now if you've been doing intervals on the Downtown Bridle Path scoping out the talent from the Y' out their little 'trail' run, then that tuck-and-roll is going to get you back on your feet in a flash minus gravel ground into your palms, minus the skinned knees, and hopefully minus broken bones. It's best to pay attention and avoid falling altogether...HAH!

Rich Schick

Rule number one: only fall going uphill.

Rule two: Your head may be harder but your butt is more durable - endeavor to land accordingly.

Lisa Butler

The best way to not get hurt by falling is to not fall. I know, it's more stupidity from that 'Lisa' and someday she'll probably be the kind of Doc who says "if it hurts to blink your eyes, don't blink."

Seriously though, think prevention first.

First, look where you WANT to go, not where you don't want to go. Like driving or mountain biking, you tend to go where you look. So if you look straight down at the root you are stepping over, you may get a closer look than you want. Scan ahead, know it's there, and step up.

Second, 'think yourself upright.' Thinking "Don't fall" over and over, especially when you are tired, programs you to fall. Instead think, "stay up, stay light on my feet."

Third, if you do fall anyway, resist the urge to catch yourself on your outstretched arm. Your shoulder can handle the hit much better than your wrist. Handheld water bottles may afford some protection here, but not always.

Heroic torquing maneuvers to 'make the save' are as likely to injure you as the impact. It is beautiful when it works and you don't twist a knee or hip.

Lastly, remember that the injury only truly counts as an injury if the blood hits your sock. Otherwise it's inconsequential and you don't get to whine. Yes, THAT part is a joke.

George Beinhorn


Oh, all right, if you will insist on being serious, some techniques that have worked for me"

  1. Watch your thoughts. Specifically, fat-headedness invariably precedes a face-plant. Particularly dangerous: "I'm young, blonde, pony-tailed, and, this is..." (splat) Works equally well for 59-year-old males with dark hair. I've got the broken fingers and knee scars to prove it.

  2. Watch your feet. Duh. But seriously, if you can't identify dangerous terrain features, you shouldn't be let out in the woods. Are there roots across the trail? Loose gravel on a downhill? Slick moss at a stream crossing? Are you picking up your feet?

    There are ways to negotiate unstable terrain. E.g., going downhill on gravel, use the full surface of the shoe sole. If there's a V-shaped depression in the trail, run with your feet on the banks and splayed inward. For mud, it helps to spend lots of time practicing on similar terrain--you'll quickly lose your fear of mud, rocks, roots, gravel.

  3. Watch your attention. "La-de-dah, gonna keep on walkin' till I find mah way back..." (splat)

  4. Carry handheld water bottles. It won't make a difference. You'll never land on them, but you'll feel more secure, and that's something.

  5. Choose your shoos. Montrail Vitesse are notoriously bad for slick rocks and mud. The Leona Divides are excellent. And so forth.

Techniques for falling? Any gymnasts on the list?

Bill Wandel

I have to disagree on the item #4, falling on the handheld bottles. A couple of years ago I fell while carrying a bottle and the bottle ended up between my stomach and the ground. That hurt more than any other fall that I've taken. I now make sure that I let go of anything that is in my hands when I fall.

Jeanie Baker

"Third, if you do fall anyway, resist the urge to catch yourself on your outstretched arm."
Ditto! I fell hard SIX times last year (on a variety of terrain including skid sand, gravel, solid rock and ice), cumulatively more than I have fallen in 10 years of biking and 4 running, and it seemed each time, my preferred method was to reach out with my left arm with the elbow bent at 90 degrees and land that way. This resulted in the near-destruction of the bursa in my left elbow and damage to the bursa over my right patella. My elbow still feels like there are cracks in the bone, but I am informed by my sports medicine doctor and x-rays that there is no fracture. One fall when my elbow was still exquisitely tender, I chose to dive into the bushes on the left side of the trail instead of hitting the trail. This saved my elbow but resulted in many superficial, but painful, puncture wounds and bruises along my side.

Oh well, at least I am consistent!

Tony Covarrubias

Lisa says:

"The best way to not get hurt by falling is to not fall. "
"Heroic torquing maneuvers to 'make the save' are as likely to injure you as the impact. It is beautiful when it works and you don't twist a knee or hip."
Sometimes it's just better to fall.

As Mike has said and reiterated. Tuck and roll if you can. I broke my wrist (non-running fall - I was roller skating) last November. I had surgery that resulted in my having an external fixator (handle bars for my wrist and arm). I, of course, ran with the device. And, of course, fell a few times while I had the device screwed into my arm and hand bones. I purposefully rolled in the direction of my good arm without incident.

Jimmy Guse

George Beinhorn wrote:

4. Carry handheld water bottles. It won't make a difference. You'll never land on them, but you'll feel more secure, and that's something.
I have to disagree. I haven't yet truly fallen on a "technical" trail, but I have twice fallen on relatively smooth, flat, runnable trail, where my foot caught a rock. Both times, I was carrying my water bottles, and they took the brunt of both the impact and the sliding leaving me (almost) no worse off. The first time I thought was chance and was bummed I scraped up the bottle; the second time convinced me of the wisdom of this approach (and of the more experienced ultrarunner who gave me the advice).

I/we use the UD bottles with the straps (actually, I put the straps on the UD 26 oz. opaque bottles); they do a wonderful job of keeping the bottles in place on my hands all the time.

Dennis Halpin

Jennifer Aviles writes...

"Having had my share of falls over the years, I can say that most of the time there wasn't any time to stop and think about technique. It's amazing that I haven't broken a collar bone given that most of my falls have been forward onto my hands and once, on my stomach, when I tripped and slid on the ice into a jojoba bush."
Joining in on the falling thread, I would agree with Jennifer in that when falling, you don' t have much time to think about technique. What has worked for me is that I am not afraid to fall. If I am going to fall, I fall and I don't try to stop it, I just try to make a good landing. Having also had more than my share of falls, I have never been injured by the fall itself, rather, the injuries I have suffered were caused by the same thing that caused the fall to begin with, for example, sprained ankles from roots and stumps, which then resulted in falls.