Running since the injury


Last April, I finished second in my division at the Yakima Valley Marathon.  I took a couple days of rest, then resumed a light recovery schedule.  I was feeling pumped!  I was seeing real results from my training schedule.
Two weeks later, my life changed.  Driving over a mountain pass on my way home from work, I was involved in a serious roll over car accident.  I remember clearly the sensation of the car sliding on ice, and the thought “oh s***!!”  The next memory I have is walking next to the interstate, carrying my pack, when a car stopped.  Later, I found out the car rolled and hit a tree.
Most of my injuries weren’t serious.  I cracked a couple ribs, was bruised, and sprained my left shoulder.  These healed rapidly.  The injury that changed everything was a moderate Traumatic Brain Injury.
The head injury caused ongoing problems, known as post concussion syndrome.  The first few weeks after the accident, I was nauseted, dizzy, had a constant headache, and had trouble sleeping.  One pupil was larger than the other.  As time went by, the nausea and dizziness more or less resolved.  However, I was still experiencing symptoms.  Sensory overload was the hardest to manage.  When I was a child, I was knocked over by a “sneaker wave” at the Oregon Coast.  I tumbled and rolled.  For a while, I was not able to tell up from down or what direction I was going.  Sensory overload was similiar.  The sights, sounds, and smells of a place would overwhelm my mind.  Shapes not longer made sense, sounds were like roars in my head.  I also experienced issues with my vestibular system, impacting my balance and coordination.  My speech became slow and halting, with pauses to search for words.
For several months, it was hard enough to walk, never mind run.  Being a dedicated marathoner, I had to try.  I ended up sick, dizzy, and lost less than a mile from home.  A friendly and concerned police officer took me home.  That was a month after the accident.
I underwent several medical tests to identify where I was having trouble.  Then, I started vestibular, physical, and speech therapy.   My attitude was “do everything I can.”  I walked at a track a few blocks from home.  I did all my therapy homework and often made up exercises to target issues.  For example, I was not able to stand on one foot, so I practiced until I could.
Physically, I healed faster than my speech.  I learned to accomodate the vestibular balance issues and decrease in peripherial vision.  My gross balanced returned rather rapidly.  My fine motor skills continue a slower improvement.
In time, I was cleared by my doctor to run again.  It started slowly, with slow jogging mixed in with walking.  It was so difficult to just go a mile!  I couldn’t imagine running a marathon again.  But, I also couldn’t accept never running a marathon again.  I focused on enjoying the process.  I left my trusty Garmin at home.  My wrist felt lost without its presence on a run but my mind felt better.  Gradually, my distance increased.  I was so excited when I ran two miles without stopping!  Then, it was three.  And finally, I stepped off the track and onto roads again.  What a joyous experience!
Three post-concussion runs really stay in my mind.  The first was early in my recovery.  For some reason, my injury rattled brain decided that I was running on a  track, so I must try intervals.  That was not a good idea.  I managed to pick up the pace during the fast intervals, to the cost of dizziness, nausea, and eventually meeting “ralph” in the bushes next to the track.  This workout drove home the importance of listening to my body and allowing myself to take the pace my body accepted.  This is a lesson I continue to honor.  The second run was my first road run; a 5k Turkey Trot.  While not a marathon, this was my first time running in a pack.  I eased back and enjoyed the banter and scenery.  I did not race.  Lesson two: running is supposed to be fun.  It doesn’t always need to be a competition.  The third was the first time I ran at Bennington Lake.  The trail is packed gravel.  It was my first time in a hilly area, on a surface other than road or track.  It was a cold day, with fog in the low areas.  There was snow on the surrounding Blues.  I slowed on the downhills, being a little off balance still.  But, it was such a joy to run on a trail again.  And I completed 5 miles!  Another triumph!  My lessons: listen to my body and running is to be enjoyed.  Be mindful while running and just experience the joy of the body working and the surrounding experience.
Many months later, I still have some issues with post concussion symptoms.  My thought process and speech remain slower than before.  I get fatigued easier and am prone to migraines if I tire too much or get overwhelmed.  I still experience sensory overload ocassionally, although it is much improved.  For the most part, loud sounds are the hardest for me to manage.  I am making progress at the gym, work, and on the run.   Saturday, I ran 8.5 miles!  I was exhausted and slept most of the afternoon.  This is the longest I have run since I was injured!
I have two running goals for the year.  I am already registered for the Missoula Half Marathon in July.  I also want to run a full marathon in the fall.  Will I PR?  Probably not.  But, that doesn’t matter.  The point is I will run. 

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2 responses to “Running since the injury

  1. Thank you for your inspiration! I am also recovering from a concussion (albeit a fairly mild one), and it’s definitely been tough to remain patient and allow my body to recover at its own pace. I’m just trying to take each day at a time, and pray that I can regain top form in the months to come… that doesn’t make it any less frustrating, though. aaaaargh.

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  2. It sounds like both of us need to stay away from cars. 🙂 Glad you’re recovering well. I think one of the hardest parts of my recovery is the change in my running. It’s been a slow return and I’m still not close to my pre-injury distance and pace. But, that’s ok. Listening to your body is vital during recovery. You’ll get back. Taking the time to heal will be what gets you to top performance fastest.

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