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Is Post-Traumatic Injury Disorder A Real Thing?

Runners that overcome running-related injuries often fear the possibility of those injuries returning–and that fear runs deep.

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The fear of an injury returning—or a new one developing—runs deep.

I distinctly remember this time last year. I remember it not because it was almost officially summer, or because of the juicy, fresh strawberries that were in season. The memory sticks out like a sore thumb not because it was the last week of school for my kiddos or because I had just finished my very first Boston Marathon.

I remember this time because I was injured and couldn’t run a single step.

Related: 5 General Rules for Returning to Running after Injury

My time off from running started with two weeks, then it stretched to a month and finally it was four long months before I was able to return to the sport I love. I spent the summer swimming to keep up my fitness, lifting weights and focusing on core work, traipsing to physical therapy every week like a dutiful student and explicitly following my doctor’s advice.

My body finally healed. That first run was like magic. Not because it was easy—oh no, my breath was ragged and my legs had zero turnover, but it didn’t matter. The most important thing was that I was back and I was going to enjoy every minute. But didn’t this sound like a tired, broken record? I had been through the same thing the summer before (yes–I dealt with injury and extensive time off two summers in a row) and chanted the same mantras: “I’m back!” “I love running so much!” Blah, blah, blah. Would I sabotage a summer of positive running before it even got started?

It’s been one year since my injury and I find myself remembering the anniversary of getting hurt like it was yesterday. I ran the Boston Marathon again this year, took some time off, and when I started running again I couldn’t shake my unease. Would I make it through the month of May unscathed? Was I doing all the necessary little things to keep my body strong? So many questions ping around in my mind and I push them away as fast as they come. The thought of spending yet another summer on the sidelines literally terrifies me.

I try to enjoy the running that I love so much. I want the freedom to not think about every ache, every niggle, every little creak of my body. My rational side knows that building up mileage is going to bring on some of these symptoms—it’s perfectly normal. My irrational side fearfully thinks that I will do anything to avoid experiencing another injury. I’ve paid my dues for a while. I deserve to race a fall marathon.

Related: 5 Key Things I’ve Learned About Running the Marathon

I know there are many runners who experience the same feelings. I want you to know that you are not alone.

Here are a few ways to cope with what I call Post-Traumatic Injury Disorder:

  1. Simply do all the little things. Fuel properly, sleep well and don’t stop doing those strengthening exercises just because you’re injury free.
  2. Mediate. Tell yourself that you are strong, you deserve today’s run and the one tomorrow and next week. Remind yourself that your body will tell you if something isn’t going well.
  3. Take the time to enjoy every run. Try and block out enough time to warm up and cool down properly, but also to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. Take in that blooming meadow of wildflowers, the blue of the sky and recognize how amazing it feels to run through a patch of fog. If you’re inside on the treadmill, choose an interesting book on tape, a killer playlist or a TV show you’ve been eager to watch. Enjoy that hour with yourself and with running.
  4. Push thoughts of injury aside. It’s not easy, but try to focus on the positive. Your body has conquered hard times and now it’s time to JUST RUN and enjoy.
  5. Listen to your body. Don’t hesitate to check in with your physical therapist, take extra days off or identify an early problem. For example, I know that acupuncture works well for me, so I will not hesitate to go back for maintenance from time to time. Massage therapy is also super important for runners, so splurge on that every so often instead of say…a mani-pedi.

For now, I’m extremely excited that it is the beginning of June. I am one year post-injury and I’m feeling stronger than ever.

That, my friends, is a total win.


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