Runner breaks ankle on remote fell run and walks nearly a mile to be rescued

Andy Dixon
·3-min read
Photo credit: Milo Zanecchia/ Ascent Xmedia - Getty Images
Photo credit: Milo Zanecchia/ Ascent Xmedia - Getty Images

From Runner's World

A fell runner hobbled almost a mile with a broken ankle in sub-zero conditions to seek help after slipping on ice during a run across remote moorland.

Nick Small had set out onto Ovenden Moor in West Yorkshire for a 15-mile run three weeks ago. An experienced fell runner, Small knew the territory well and was running with a waist pack containing orange juice, a first aid kit, a whistle, waterproof trousers, two space blankets and a fully-charged mobile phone.

After around seven miles, the 58-year-old came to a steep hard-track section of the route that was covered in sheet ice. He stopped and decided to turn back, judging that the incline was too dangerous to even walk on. But after taking a drink of orange juice, he turned and slipped on the ice.

‘I was down, my leg contorted beneath me,’ Small wrote online. ‘I heard the most awful crack and was hit with unbelievable pain.’

Realising that in the hour it would take for mountain rescue volunteers to reach him he could die of hypothermia, Small, who is also a coach and race organiser of the Calderdale Way Relay, said he had no option but to walk to the nearest road on the broken ankle and call for help himself.

‘It was the longest and most excruciating 0.8 miles of my life,’ said Small. ‘My ankle stiffened up and was immediately very swollen. Intense dull pain was punctuated by sharp stabbing in my lower fibula each time I gingerly put weight onto the injured limb. One agonising step at a time. I turned the air as blue as the sky with rhythmical expletives as though this would expel the searing pain into the ether.’

Small made it to the road, where he was assisted by another passing fell runner, and was able to call for a relative to come and pick him up. After going to A&E later, it was confirmed he had broken his fibula just above the ankle.

Even though he was relatively well prepared, Small says the experience has taught him some important lessons. He advises always carrying more than you think you’ll need, especially in winter, and that he should have taken a down jacket, spare dry layer and spare warm gloves. In addition to a fully-charged mobile phone, he advises registering for the 112 emergency SMS service in case of being caught in area with poor phone reception.

Kirsty Hall, from the Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association, said Small was right to try to extricate himself in freezing temperatures, as hypothermia would have quickly set in.

She said: ‘Being wet speeds up hypothermia so ideally get out of wet clothes and into dry spares if you can.’ She also advised using the location-finding app What3Words.

‘I have learned the painful way that a beautiful and enjoyable day on the hills, in familiar territory, and relatively benign conditions, can turn into a life-threatening situation in an instant,’ said Small. ‘I won't make the same mistakes again.’

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