What does PTSD look like then?

This was the question my therapist posed to me. It was early 2014, the sun was shining as I looked at her with a weird expression on my face, and we had been walking through the symptoms I was experiencing during my runs.

Her: “You may be experiencing PTSD symptoms”

Me: “No, that’s impossible”

Her: “Why do you think that?”

Me: “I don’t know, I just don’t think it can possibly be PTSD, I don’t look like I have PTSD”

Denial? Totally. But I hadn’t been able to complete a long run without breaking down in tears, the nightmares hadn’t gone away, I was scared to be in public, helicopters and sirens would send me literally running away…I had a total meltdown during a local half marathon…a meltdown that my friends and husband saw.

I thought I could get myself through the aftermath of the Boston Bombings, that by leaving Boston and being on the other side of the US, that I’d be able to get through it. Instead, the emotional isolation I felt in the months following the event almost ruined me and almost destroyed my relationship with running.

April 15, 2013 started as a great day. The weather was perfect, my body felt awesome, and I was excited to cross the finish line on Boyleston (after taking a deferral from 2012 because of the horrific heat). I think I was aiming for a 4:30 race that day…the first half of the race went perfectly; my pace was on, I felt good, I was being smart…then my back and hamstrings started to get tight…my pace started to fall off..and I eventually knew 4:30 was going to be out of the picture, but I was still going to give it a good effort…after all, this was BOSTON – the most famed race in the US! I saw my husband at the famed HeartBreak Hill, and I told him I’d see him at the finish…

I then saw him unexpectedly at the 1 mile to go mark – he was frantically waving me down…why would he do that? I only have a mile to go…I’m almost there…he informed me that there was a possible explosion at the finish line and that I may be re-routed so to not be confused if the finish doesn’t happen with the famous Right on Hereford, Left of Boyleston that I was expecting…Naturally, after 25 miles, I barely comprehended a word he was saying, I nodded, and I ran off. A few hundred meters later, I ran into a completely stopped wall of runners.

Of course, the only thing I could think was to turn to the person next to me and ask “wait, does this mean we don’t get to finish?” – again, marathon brain isn’t the most sophisticated, but it was at this point that all the pieces started to fall together…we weren’t finishing…explosion at the finish line…husband at mile 25.2 and not the finish…worried faces everywhere…

As we were making our way back to our hotel, I remember getting a straight on view of the finish line area where the medical tents were (Dartmouth Street)…the chaos was indescribable, and there were multiple ambulances screaming by and helicopters flying overhead. I just had this moment where my body was unable to process the magnitude of this because my brain could not pull data on how this could be happening…

It’s really hard to describe how I was feeling in the months after Boston. I felt horribly “broken” or “defective” and ashamed that I felt that way – everyone around me had moved on from the event, but I hadn’t. I was still waking up sweating and shaking in the middle of the night, crowds scared me, loud noises made me jump, I would try to organize my thoughts and to do lists with ZERO success…and I couldn’t run. Actually, working out in general was hard. I’d have to run out of the gym and hide in my car because I would start crying and shaking uncontrollably.

I was no longer Kristiana, and I feared that I lost her forever.

I no longer loved running. I feared it, it became a chore, or a burden to carry. I almost didn’t go to Boston in 2014…I wasn’t happy, I was scared…I went hoping that, if I closed that chapter, that I’d be OK to run again. It felt like I was running Boston because I HAD to, not because doing so would bring me joy or a sense of accomplishment. After I went to finish my journey to the Boston Finish line in 2014, I took time away. I didn’t want to run, I didn’t want to train, I barely put on my running shoes. I did my job, I finished that f’ing race, why wasn’t I better?

Then I somehow stumbled upon a women’s running retreat hosted by Kara Goucher – I remember talking to my husband about it, saying “maybe this will help me figure out if I still love running or if I’m actually done with it” – I didn’t realize until after I signed up how dumb of an idea this was…I hadn’t been training AT ALL, what the heck was I doing going to a running retreat hosted by an Olympian. But I committed. I put on a brave face, and I went. And I always took the lower distance runs, I owned the fact that I was slow and out of shape in a sea of running enthusiasts, and I just rolled with it.

But something happened that weekend…While the retreat itself was structured wonderfully, something very organic happened that I don’t think anyone was expecting – women were not just sharing their passion for running, they were also sharing their fears, exposing their vulnerabilities, opening up about how sometimes being brave is really f’ing hard…I learned that running is about more than running…it’s about community, it’s about supporting each other, it’s about being brave, it’s knowing someone somewhere always has your back. The thought that I was never alone, and will never be alone in my running, has been the most comforting thing, and is quite possibly the thing that brought me back to running. I remember driving down HWY 1 after that weekend (I even splurged on a convertible), with a sense of gratitude and peace that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. Something in me moved that weekend…I was a different person…I was a better person…

Alaris was born from that weekend…my desire to invest in myself again was found that weekend…

my love for running was rekindled that weekend

I am grateful for everyone who has walked into my life since then – women from across the country are my closest confidents, supporters, and cheerleaders; and I support them just as fiercely in their endeavors, remind them of their ability when they feel like a fraud, and am always available for a call or a run. I love running again.

April 15 is hard, yes. I cry every year. But my tears are no longer survivor guilt tears, but tears of gratitude. Gratitude for my husband and the life we have built, gratitude for my friends and their unwavering love, gratitude the running is now such a central part of my life, gratitude for life, gratitude for community, gratitude that I get to be a running coach. Gratitude.