Was it worth sprinting to a terrible fall to finish 25th in the CMU Pretty Good Race 5K?

On a pleasant Friday late afternoon, not too hot or humid, I ran my 9th CMU Pretty Good Race 5K (and this was Abby’s 3rd).

Two weeks ago, I did the Run Around The Square 5K in my slowest time in 13 years. I was happy to be finishing a 5K race at all. I’ve improved some in fitness in the past two weeks, but not enough to make a big difference for today.

Like last year, I was going into this race not optimally fit. However, given that I just ran a 5K two weeks ago, I had a good idea of what I could do in another 5K, how hard I could push myself. Like I said last year, “It’s not about how fast I went, but how much I gave of what I had”.

I never expected just how much I would give this year.

Before the race

I walked over from my office across Flagstaff Hill to Schenley Park.

Flagstaff Hill

For some reason, Abby decided to use our dinky Razor kick scooter to come in from home for the race. Unfortunately, she showed up before the race with a bloody hand and knee, having had a nasty fall while using the scooter on the way to Schenley Park. Oops. She’s been tired a lot lately (I previously mentioned her dangerous decline in fitness all year) and was regretting signing up to do the Pretty Good Race with me.

She tried to be a good sport despite the accident coming in.

Abby before race

Here I am in orange:

Franklin before race

Weather conditions

Temperature and humidity were much, much better than last year. That promised a considerable time advantage relative to last year.

The plan

As with last year, my plan was to make the most of the final downhill part of the course, as well as go for a sprint to pass as many people as I possibly could during the final brief but terrible uphill to the finish line. I was going to have to pace myself intelligently to have something left for the end.

The race

I paced myself, not going too fast in the first half of the race. I almost entirely ran my own slow race, as there was nobody else really near my steady pace.

After turning around, I starting going hard downhill. I was worried that I didn’t see Abby at all during the race. At some point, I passed her walking back to the start. She must have dropped out very early on.

I was pushing really hard in the final part of the race. Near the uphill finish, I saw a guy slowing down, and he raised his arms as though celebrating finishing. This gesture instantly caused me to go into a sprint more furious than any other sprint finish in my entire life. I made up a huge distance and reached the finish chute just a step before he did. And as I did so, the dry gravel and my leaning too far forward caused me to slip and fall, really, really badly. But I had finished ahead of the guy. Mission accomplished.


I lay stunned and in terrible pain for a few seconds. I had to check whether I was seriously broken. It felt like I was not. I was rather injured, but miraculously, no broken bones. I had managed to break my fall not with my teeth or eyes or fingers, but with my left thigh, right knee, left forearm, left palm, and right palm. I was quite badly scraped and bruised.

I heard people asking me, “Was it worth it?” I didn’t know how to answer that. I moved on, stumbling in pain as I tried to catch my breath. I had done what I do, give the race my all, and then some. I was gouged and bleeding, and my right knee had swollen up hugely almost instantly.

This wasn’t the worst falling injury I’ve had in my life, but it’s probably my worst since a fall off a bike (also spinning off loose gravel) twenty years ago.

Left palm

Left thigh

Right knee

Left arm

Abby returned, and had to explain to the volunteers that she wasn’t just finishing, but had dropped out earlier. While I was trying to clean myself up some, she said that she had fallen early on during the race and decided that that was enough and she wasn’t going to finish the race. So this is her first Did Not Finish (DNF) in a race.

Feeling lucky

The main thing I kept on feeling while we walked back to my office and then back to my car (very slowly; everything around my right knee was just messed up) and went home for both of us to clean up from our injuries: luck.

It could have been much worse for both of us. My most severe damage was not even to my right knee area (even though walking was difficult) but really my left hand, whose heel of palm was basically scraped away and bruised and my wrist was messed up. But no broken fingers or teeth or wrists or ankles. Same with Abby: lucky us!

Was it worth it?

I finished officially tied for 25th place with the guy I actually beat, both of us registering as finishing in 25:28 in the official race results. Well, I ran 37 seconds faster than last year. That’s not nothing, although two years ago I ran 24:36.

But I knew the time was not going to be great: I just ran 25:36 in Run Around The Square two weeks ago. The real point was that like last year, I gave it my all.

But was it worth getting injured for sprinting for no glory whatsoever? It’s not like I was running for first place or something “important”. Or is that the wrong way to think about it? Why is it worth trying your best for first place but not for 25th place instead of 26th place? Let’s ignore the (unfortunate?) fact that in some circles, first place is associated with large monetary rewards, when pondering that question.

A different question would be, “If you knew you would get this injured from this sprint, would you have done it anyway?” I guess the question is “no”. But how could I know? There is always risk. There is risk crossing the street, or driving on the turnpike. I’ve never fallen during a sprint before.

Another different question: “How will this accident change how you run in the future?” I suppose my answer is, I’ll be more careful to keep my balance. But am I going to stop the sprinting at the end of a race? I don’t see how I can. It is in those moments when I can barely breathe and the world is becoming a blur that I am living with most intensity and purity. These moments don’t come often, but when they are available for the taking, why would I not accept these gifts?

I will keep sprinting. I will keep trying to beat whoever is beatable in front of me. That’s part of the whole point of racing. I admit to feeling a little odd to being so serious about it when others do it much more casually (and it’s their right to do so and they’re probably smarter and more balanced than me, I concede). But I don’t race often, so when I do, I try to make it matter.

So my response is: I will need to work on maintaining balance and running on tricky surfaces.

Also, Abby and I decided we should make sure to have a first aid kit around in the future.

The next race

My eleventh Great Race 10K is coming up. I want to do considerably better than I did last year.

Meanwhile, I have a lot of healing to do. I am more of a wreck right now than the post-race photos indicate. Things are all swollen and messed up and probably will be for an entire week or two. It’s just amazing I haven’t broken bones or ligaments.


Abby and I simultaneously had unfortunate falling accidents today. I was proud to have run as hard as I could given my fitness and will. I don’t regret sprinting for 25th place, even if it cost me this time.

Meanwhile, we both need to heal.

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