Tag Archives: 120th Boston Marathon

Trauma-Informed Marathon Training

Running is widely hailed among runners as the cure-all for any and all problems. Running helps to clear the mind, provide perspective, and instill a renewed sense of confidence to go out and conquer whatever challenges the day may bring. What happens, though, when running no longer solves all of life’s problems, and instead seems be the root of the problem?

Outside of my running identity, I am a social worker at the local rape crisis center. I regularly work with survivors of sexual assault and rape as they navigate personal healing, tumultuous relationships, bureaucratic response systems, and social norms that allocate blame and judgement where they don’t belong. I love what I do, but sometimes this work can be hard. Based on what I know of trauma and what I know of marathon training, it seems reasonable to me that the physical trauma of training for and running a marathon can sometimes be more difficult when sitting with the emotional response to a traumatic experience.

no plan bI came to this understanding while training (a term I use rather loosely) for the 2016 Boston Marathon. I felt burned out on running, but I noticed that the symptoms of burnout look quite similar to the symptoms of PTSD and vicarious trauma. My motivation to train was non-existent (loss of interest in regular activities). My stamina and endurance took a serious hit, which was attributed to anemia without an identifiable cause (physical impact of emotional drain, also seen in my persistent aches and injuries). This could also have been complicated by insomnia, which hindered muscle recovery and regeneration (and also contributed to general tiredness and lethargy). I often had an elevated resting heart rate (anxiety and heightened fear response), and found myself coming up with any excuse to skip runs, even when I had plans to run with friends (social withdrawal). My longest training run came in at 11 miles, and my plans for a PR (thriving) shifted to making it across the finish line in one piece (survival).side effects not running

The lack of running causes similar difficulties (irritability, paralyzing guilt, erratic behavior), making it hard to distinguish the difference among burnout, trauma response, and extenuating circumstances.

One of the service models we emphasize at my office is trauma-informed care, a perspective that takes into consideration the impact of trauma and the myriad trauma responses when providing services. We have been pleased to see increasing attention to providing trauma-informed care in medical and mental health professions, but trauma tends to impact multiple areas of functioning. Dental check-ups, massage therapy, and even marathon training could all benefit from greater attention to the impact of trauma.

So what helps? Well, that depends. Based on what I know of trauma, I recommend identifying your limits and respecting them. Take it easy, be gentle, and have compassion with yourself. Based on what I know of running, this is practically impossible, especially when training for a marathon. Scaling back race goals helps, but it might be better to defer the race altogether. I know, I know, dropping out of a race is blasphemy and feels like the end of the world. That’s the runner talking. Give more airtime and headspace to the part of you that hurts.

Accountability may help, but I’m not referring to being held accountable for every single early morning run on the training schedule. Running buddies can also be a system for ensuring you take rest days and respect your physical limits. More importantly, though, they can be a listening ear for venting pent-up emotions, which doesn’t always have to happen during a run.

Finding alternate ways to maintain sanity while also maintaining fitness is hugely beneficial. I loved my regular yoga routine when training for Boston, though this didn’t do much to help with aerobic conditioning. Spin class (my personal favorite) and other forms of cross-training can help maintain aerobic fitness, to some degree. There is no substitute for long, slow distance, but when the LSD is not an option, something else has to fill the space.

I’m also a big fan of self-education. Search the internet until you find something that rings true for you. Ask local service providers for recommendations on books, documentaries, and other educational materials. Professional help is also an option. Therapy, medication, and alternative treatments (acupuncture, massage, etc.) may do the trick where other strategies don’t.

In short, there is no single solution or magic cure-all. Trauma is complicated, and the intersection of physical taxation and emotional exhaustion impacts everyone differently. Find what works for you, based on your own truth and your own experience.


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Marathon Monday and the Restorative Power of the Icepop

The Boston Marathon is THE marathon of all marathons, and lives up to its reputation in every way. The Boston experience encompasses the entire weekend, starting as soon as the plane arrives at the airport, through the expo, from the athlete’s village to the finish line, and all the way back to the airport. The whole thing feels electric with excitement so palpable it hangs in the air like humidity, and the spectators are as much a part of the race (if not more so) than the runners themselves. It is an extraordinary atmosphere in which to run 26.2 miles.

Before the race
DSC02094For me, the entire trip to Boston was permeated with a sense of “Who’s running?!” and it seems to me that, on this particular weekend, marathon runners have a sixth sense for identifying each other. It was a happy surprise to discover I shared a flight up to Boston with a friend from my running group. I was also thrilled to find the Boston airport covered in signs for the marathon. So many people so excited about running!

Packet pickup was smooth and streamlined (how could it not be? They’ve had 120 years to figure it out!), and the expo was so jam-packed it was hard to move (to be expected). This was followed by a photo opportunity at the finish line, along with thousands of other runners and their personal cheering squads/photographers (my group consisted of my parents, sister, cousin, and his wife). Reasonably timed dinner, then laying everything out before an early bedtime.DSC02122

Race day
Before leaving for the race, I told many of my non-running friends that I was looking forward to the experience of a daytime marathon. This meant that instead of waking up at 4am, I would be allowed the luxury of sleeping in until 6! (Although nerves had me up early anyway). Runners congregated a few blocks down from the finish line to pile onto a fleet of yellow school buses for transport to the starting line. Boston is a point-to-point marathon, meaning it starts and ends in different locations, and I can only imagine the logistical nightmare of moving 30,000+ runners in a timely manner! I’m sure they used every school bus in the state of Massachusetts to accomplish this feat. The psychological aspect of running the marathon started here because the ride to the start took almost 45 minutes. If it takes that long to drive the distance, how long will it take to cover it on foot?!

The athlete’s village felt surreal. Runners in various states of preparation, whether snoozing, stretching, or standing in line for the port-a-potties, covered every square inch of the huge lawn. Massive tents had been put in place for shelter, although the weather was ideal at this point and the tents were unnecessary. Gradually, waves of runners left the village to head up to the starting line. I was seeded in the third wave, so I had about an hour to wait from when I arrived at the village to when I headed out to the start, and another 30 minutes at the starting line before we headed off. There was a lot of “hurry up and wait” to get to the starting line, but the waiting never felt boring.

The weather would have been perfect for a spring day in Massachusetts (or being a spectator on the course!) but was a bit on the warm side for running a marathon. Pre-race announcements emphasized the importance of hydration and adjusting time goals to factor in the heat. I didn’t have any expectations for my finishing time anyway, and just wanted to make it to the end in as whole a condition as possible.

The race itself was easier than I anticipated, considering my lack of training. The first few miles breezed by, aided in part by the downhill grade and enthusiasm from the crowd. I made it to the halfway point in under 2 hours, so I deemed the race a success and stopped watching my Garmin like a hawk. Instead, I settled back to enjoy the spectators. The Boston spectators know their race, and they know how to support runners. With the warmer temperatures this year, spectators lined the course with wet paper towels, garden hoses, and popsicles (in addition to orange slices every 1/2 mile and official BAA aid stations every other mile). I didn’t see the popsicles on the course until I hit mile 14, and I knew just by looking at the beautiful, blue ice on a stick that it would be exactly the thing I needed to keep me refreshed for the next few miles. That popsicle was magic! Gave me a major stomachache by mile 15.5, but it was absolutely worth it.

The Newton hills were the other part of the course that stuck out to me, and those things were serious! Heartbreak Hill at mile 21 is widely renowned as the major obstacle of the race, but with the rolling hills leading up to it, Heartbreak Hill seemed to me to be just one more uphill to cover.

DSC02169Aid stations and med tents came up at every mile starting around mile 20 (good planning, BAA!), which was quite necessary for this race. I had been walking through aid stations for most of the race, and by the time I got to the aid station at mile 24, I took my sip of water and made every effort to fall back into my jog (it was a jog at this point), and then just kept walking. I always hope to run the entirety of a marathon, but I had resigned myself to some walking breaks for Boston because I knew my training wasn’t up to snuff. The last 2.2 miles were bone-chillingly slow (and cold!), but I didn’t feel defeated. I had already proven myself by qualifying for the race, and had surpassed my own expectations of how well I would perform on race day.

The finish line was as seamless as every other aspect of theDSC02172 race weekend. The volunteers ushered us through the finishing chute, gave us heat blankets, water bottles, bags of food, and medals! Most races release pictures of the medal before the race, but try as I might, all my internet searching could not turn up a single image of the 2016 Boston Marathon medal. My personal cheering squad found me at our pre-arranged meeting location. I was lying on the ground curled in a tiny ball because the asphalt was so much warmer than the air and it was the only thing I could think of to do to try to stay warmer than I felt! Finishing a marathon is so much easier when I have other people to hold my bags, open my water bottles, and direct me to the train! I think I’ll start recruiting personal cheering squads for every race.

After the Race
I wore all my Boston swag to the airport the following day, as did most other runners. All the lines at the airport were dotted with teal jackets, blue and yellow shirts, and race medals. Most of the flights leaving the airport that day also offered priority boarding for marathoners. Sweet!

Final Reflections
I don’t know how to quantify this, but the Boston Marathon is the runners’ marathon. Everyone knows the drill, everyone supports each other, and everyone shares the same sense of nervous excitement. The individual achievements of the runners become the collective victory of the community (race organizers and spectators alike!). By the end of the race, the entire city is filled with a sense of celebration and solidarity. It was absolutely a phenomenal experience in every way.

Not to mention, I was able to raise an amazing $1,641 for the Orange County Rape Crisis Center! Thank you so much to all of you who donated to this wonderful agency! #trainedinteal #ranbold #notalone

boston finish


Filed under Running