The Most Ridiculous Running Injuries I've Encountered

From tripping over squirrels to smashed shoulders, here are the most ridiculous running injuries I've encountered in my years of running.

A container of "Band-Aid" bandages.
Photo by Possessed Photography / Unsplash

Getting injured is no fun, and unfortunately, it's just a part of running.  Some research estimates that between 30 and 75 percent of runners get injured every year.  Most of these running injuries fall into some common categories: things like runner's knee, shin splints & plantar fasciitis.  There's no shortage of articles about prevention and treatment of these common running injuries.

But then, there are also the not-so-common running afflictions.  The "seriously?" injuries.  The "how did you even do that?" injuries.  The "WTF" injuries.  Oh, sure, I've spent a year battling plantar fasciitis, but that's a pretty lame, pedestrian injury.  Any runner can get themselves plantar fasciitis.  But it takes some special skill to get injured in the ways laid out in this article–here are the most ridiculous running injuries I've encountered in my years of running.

Rolled Ankle: Tripped Over a Squirrel

Many years ago I was running a half marathon which billed the course as a "picturesque journey through the changing leaves of autumn in New England".  What they really meant was "6.5 mile out & back on a forested loose gravel road"–but whatever, that's not the point of the story.

Somewhere along the way I'm running with a group of about 10 people when a squirrel darts out a good 10 meters in front of us.  Of course, 10 meters is plenty of time for any self-respecting squirrel to see the approaching mass of bodies and say to itself, "hey, I'd better get out of the way before I get hit".  Simply continuing to run straight ahead would have been sufficient to make it safely to the other side of the road.

Simply continuing to run straight ahead would have been sufficient to make it safely to the other side of the road. But of course, that's not how squirrels roll.

But of course, that's not how squirrels roll.  Instead of running straight ahead or turning around and running back to the side of the road it came from (a close second in valid avoidance strategies), the squirrel did that thing that squirrels do: it ran frantically back and forth, over and over staying in pretty much the same place.

As the group approached, the neurotic squirrel worked itself into a frenzy, finally committing to the left side and scurrying out of the way at the very last minute, avoiding an outright collision.  For a moment.

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Whether an error of squirrel judgement, or perhaps simply out of malice, we'll never know, but our squirrel friend decided to make one last direction change: directly back into the pack.  The woman directly in front of me stumbled forward as she tripped over the squirrel.  She caught herself from falling completely but landed awkwardly and twisted her ankle.

The poor woman's slowed as she continued to limp forward at a greatly compromised pace.  We all turned as she fell out of the pack, "are you okay?", "do you need help?".  It wasn't serious, and she would be fine, but any PR hopes she had that day were dashed–by a dashing squirrel.

Pulled a Muscle I Shouldn't Be Pulling

As we write this I am dealing with a head-scratcher of a running injury: a pulled muscle of some sort... in my arm.  That's not supposed to happen.

Sprained calf?  Sure.  Pulled hamstring, why not?  But pulled muscle in the bicep.  Come on!  What the heck is that?!

The pain popped up after a long run a couple of weeks ago.  It's not severe and hasn't really kept me from running, but it is really just... a pain!

A muscular, shirtless man showing his right bicep.
Disclaimer: not the author's actual bicep. Photo by Yogendra Singh / Unsplash;

If you're reading this at home and thinking, "well obviously this guy is tensing up his arms too much during long runs", congratulations, detective: you've cracked the case!  It's no real mystery what happened here, the question now is how I help it recover. There's seems to be a fine line between tensed up bicep-ripping running and floppy-armed rag-doll running, and I just haven't found it yet.

Trail Running: Like Running, but with More Blood

Ah, trail running.  All the pleasure of road running with the injury potential of a bare fisted street brawl.  Trail running is actually great for the typical overuse injuries that runners pick up on the roads.  By training on varied terrain and softer surfaces than road running, trail runs exercise a wider variety of muscles than a typical road outing and don't typically place the same repetitive stress and strain on the body.

Instead, trail running injuries can be far more exotic!  Why limit running ouchies to the lower body, or to overuse injuries?  How about some blunt force trauma mixed in?  Do you love running, but wish there was more blood?  If so, then trail running is right up your alley!

A picture of a skeleton in the forest.
A trail runner taking a short rest. Photo by Anne Nygård / Unsplash

One of my more ridiculous trail running injuries came on a local wooded trail I'd done dozens of times without incident. Coming down a modest hill, a rock juts out with a couple of feet of drop off, trees on either side making a V-shape.  

If you're cautious, you slow down and step off of the rock and continue running.  But if you're feeling adventurous, you can leap right off the rock, fly between the trees and land on the soft forest floor.

And if you're me you can can misjudge the distance to one of the trees, leap off the rock slightly off center, and smash your shoulder into the tree.  The impact spun me around and sent my whole body down onto the ground, a bloody exposed mess on my shoulder.  Cyclists call it "road rash", but I guess in this case I'd call it "bark bite".

The bloody scrape was bad, but it wasn't the worst part.  Do you know that funny bone feeling when you hit your elbow?  Did you know you can get that in your shoulder too?  It turns out that ff you smash it hard enough, you definitely can!  

I'd hit some sort of nerve which was not only painful, but I couldn't really move my arm afterwards.  I trotted towards home with my right arm flopping around uncontrollably, not sure if I'd done some permanent harm. (Spoiler alert: my arm is fine; it improved gradually over the next 30 minutes or so).

Sub-3 Marathoner Needs Help Getting Out of Bed in the Morning

This one comes courtesy of a dear friend of mine and sometimes training partner.  In the midst of a solid marathon training cycle he was in good shape to hit his sub 3 hour goal.  He was putting in the mileage, workouts were going well, and he'd almost entirely escaped injury.  Except for one small thing: an annoying groin injury meant he had to ask his wife for help getting out of bed in the morning.

He had no pain at all during training or doing any other life activity, except for one specific kind of movement: sitting up from a lying down position.  Track workouts?  Jumping jacks?  Lifting heavy bags of groceries?  No problem.  Sitting up in bed? Unbearably pain.

Every morning he needed his wife to support him while he pulled himself to a seated position with his arms.  The alternative was rolling over like a log until he could plant his feet on the floor, but even rolling over required engaging the aggravated groin muscle to lift his legs slightly and caused pain.

This whole story sounds like exaggeration, but I completely believe him because I have suffered from the same exact problem, though not quite to the extent of needing help getting out of bed.  There seems to one hyper-specialized muscle in the groin whose only purpose is to get injured and give you trouble getting out of bed.

It's Just Part of the Sport

What's your most ridiculous running injury?  If you're a dedicated runner, with the amount of time you spend dedicated to the sport, sooner or later you're going to get some sort of injury.  Being injured is no fun, but with a little luck, at least you'll have a good story to tell.