Running, Table Saws, and Amnesia

One of the things that I love about running is that all that you really need to do it are a pair of shoes and some running shorts. It's the ultimate travelers sport. And nothing lets you visit a new place better than seeing on foot as opposed to watching it flash past through a car window.

Oh sure, I don't actually just wear a pair of shorts and running shoes when I run. I wear a tech shirt, some moisture wicking socks, a running cap, polarized sunglasses, the largest GPS watch I can fit on my wrist, carry a water bottle, and bring about 10 hours of music stuffed into a running playlist with me. But one thing I never brought on my runs was ID — whether I was running from my doorstep or a hotel room. I just never really thought about it.  If asked I probably would have said, “I don't need it. I'm just running in a my neighborhood.” or “It's daylight out.” or “I'm not going that far.” or something like that...

Which reminds me of a post I read ages ago when the internet was still known as the world wide web. (Yes, it was that long ago.) I used to subscribe to a Usenet forum called rec.crafts.woodworking. One of the ongoing and highly debated threads was whether or not blade guards made table saws safer. There was one group of people who used their factory-installed blade guard religiously despite how putsy they were.  And on the other hand, there were the folks that proudly took theirs off the day their saw arrived in their shop. Those people argued that inconvenient blade guards actually led to more dangerous situations than going completely without. 

I’m not even sure there is a Usenet anymore, but if there is, I have not doubt that that thread is still alive and that they're still arguing about it.

The reason I bring this up is because there was one particular post on that thread that stuck in my mind. It was from a man who was firmly in the “blade guard off” camp. He wrote that although he could only count to nine (because he'd lost a finger in a table saw accident!) he was safer than people who used a blade guard because — since his accident — he was very “careful”. 

It's a novel argument, but I don't think it actually works that way. I doubt that anybody walks into their woodworking shop and thinks, “Today is the day I'm going to be careless. I'd better get some bandages ready.” Everyone thinks they are being careful (or at least careful enough) — and yet woodworking accidents still happen.*

So what’s that got to do with running?

Well, the same principle applies. Nobody laces up their running shoes and thinks, “Today is the day I could get hit by a car. I'd better bring some ID.”  But it's estimated that well over 100,000 pedestrians, runners, and cyclists are hit by cars every year. So why don’t we take that statistic more seriously (you know, and bring some ID… just in case…)? It’s probably because that number, while large and alarming, is just a statistic.

And everyone knows that statistics don't happen to them, right? Statistics happen to faceless masses of people. Accidents happen to individuals — individuals like you (the real person on the other side of the computer screen reading this blog)... And individuals like me, the real person who happens to be that geeky guy who wrote GraphMyRun.com.

So let me tell you my real story about an accident I had while running: In 2011, I was on an afternoon training run when I was struck by a pick up truck. It happened when I was in a crosswalk at a stop sign. 

Or so I've been told. 

I, personally, don't remember even leaving my house. I hit my head during the accident which resulted in about 36 hours of memory loss: about 12 hours of retrograde amensia (stuff that happened before the accident) and 24 hours of anterograde amensia (no memories after the accident).

I was knocked unconscious for a few minutes. Passersby blocked my body from oncoming traffic (thank you!) while I was lying in the road. By the time the paramedics arrived, I had regained consciousness and had dragged myself to lie in the grass by the side of the road. When questioned, I could remember my name, but I didn't know where I lived nor my telephone number. And, of course, I had no ID on me. I was only a 1/4 mile from my home. On a route I'd run 50 times before. In broad daylight. Why would I need ID?

Fortunately, the police were able to figure out where I lived from just my name. A sheriff notified my wife while I was being whisked away to the hospital. (According to my wife, you just know it’s not going not be good news when a sheriff knocks on your door and asks “Is so-and-so your husband?”.)

I spent 6 days in the ICU. On the first day, I asked my wife “Why am I in the hospital?” about 50 times. She’d explain, “Because you were hit by a car.” I’d close my eyes and rest. And about 15 minutes later I’d open them again and ask, “Why am I in the hospital?” Apparently it was a long day for my family.

That was five years ago. I’ve written GraphMyRun, set some PRs, run the Boston Marathon twice, and did my first Ironman since then. So all’s well that ends well, right? (Well, more or less… Maybe someday I’ll write a post about anosmia.)

This is what a hairline fracture looks like

Here’s the moral of the story: Accidents happen to real people — real people like you. No one plans for an accident. Accidents can even happen to very careful people. (That’s why they’re called “accidents”.) And after an accident you may be unconscious, you may not be able to communicate, you may not be lucid**, or you may not remember important things. So do your loved ones a favor: carry ID with you when you go running…  or cycling…  or even down to the hotel gym.

Now when I travel I always bring my three essential pieces of running gear: shoes, shorts, and a wristband RoadID.

Road ID Sport.jpg

Road ID: Don’t leave home without it. Or you may not know where your home is when you really need to...


I urge you to carry some kind of ID, too.



* This will be the next table saw that I buy. Check out this link for the video of why.

**Apparently I argued with the paramedics that I had not been hit by a car, that I was fine, and just wanted to go home — despite not knowing where it was. I think that qualifies as not lucid”. 

 © Phil Miller 2014, 2015, 2016