Red Means Injured Triathlete

As endurance athletes we’ve all been injured at some point. You can’t take a car out on the highway and just hold the accelerator to floor forever without blowing your engine, and as athletes we’re red lining it on a regular basis. We push ourselves in training and races and eventually something breaks.
It is hard enough to deal with the injury and recovery as it is, but it is even worse while we are working out and our pace and distance are much less than our norm. It is easy to feel self-conscious and wish that others knew that we’re really better than this.
I know I’ve been self-conscious about this many times, whether from injury or post event (marathon, ironman, etc) soreness and have heard many others lament about it as well. For over a year now I’ve been on Twitter and it is almost a regular occurrence that I will hear someone complain about it, occasionally even to point of wishing they had a shirt they could buy that would say “hey, I’m injured! I’m really not this slow”. Usually I just sympathize with them.
Today was different. I saw @trifunster making a similar statement about being injured and wishing she had a shirt. Don’t know why I did it or where idea came from but I jokingly suggested she wear a red shirt. I mentioned that injured college athletes who are out for season are red shirted (yes, I know freshman who aren’t going to play are as well) and so wearing a red shirt would say “hey, I’m injured” in a way maybe some would understand.
Her response was positive and she seemed to like the idea enough to the point of retweeting the idea and creating a Twitter hash tag #redmeansinjuredtriathlete. This caused me to pause and really think about it. The more I thought the more the idea made sense and the more I liked it. The color red was a bit arbitrary, but to tell someone you were red shirting there was a possibility they would catch on quicker because of college sports. Red is also common enough most athletes would have at least one shirt/jersey/singlet, but not so common that you see the majority of athletes wearing it. Yeah, there are going to be non-injured athletes wearing red, but there are non-injured college freshman that are red shirted. It would defeat the purpose to pick a color so obscure no one had it and they would have hunt to find one, they may as well just print up a t-shirt. So red it is.
Ideally it would be a red shirt, but high school and college athletes that are required to wear a uniform and are racing for conditioning and experience purposes could sub in a red headband, hat, socks, shoelaces and more. But that is another discussion.
The more I thought about all of this, the more I liked it. My excitement lead me to don a red shirt for my run today. I’m two days post-marathon, and though I am not doing the Frankenstein monster walk and actually walking normal, my legs are not able to run like I’m used to. I ran 4 miles yesterday and every time saw someone I felt slightly embarrassed about my slow amble. Today I ran same distance, same course and only very slightly faster. However, even though only two of us knew of this idea, I felt more comfortable and confident and enjoyed the run in a way I wasn’t able to yesterday. Maybe this was from feeling good about my idea, but I really feel it was because my shirt was clearly stating “hey, I just ran a marathon, I’m red shirting this week!”
Next time you can’t run/ride/swim up to your normal level due to injury, give it a try. If you like it, share the idea and spread the word. Hey, #RedMeansInjuredTriathlete!

Shortly after posting this I received a tweet that basically stated that I shouldn’t worry about what others thought and just man up about injuries. In a sense I agree but as an athletic trainer (field of sports medicine ) I know that it is not always as easy as that.
Depression and loss of confidence often occur in athletes of all levels, from weekend warrior to pro athlete, and all ages when they get injured. Sometimes the body heals and the athlete is physically able to return to preinjury levels but is unable to do so because depression and/or lack of confidence is holding them back. This is part of the reason (there many others as well) why the field of sports psychology came into being and why it is such a growing field.
In addition, there is growing evidence to support that endurance athletes will sometimes suffer a post event depression. There is still a lot of speculation as to why, but there is growing evidence that it does occur.
So, while some may be able to suck it up and get through it, it is no embarrassment to need a little help. If wearing a red shirt letting people know that you’re less than 100% helps, then it is a good thing. It becomes a tool for returning to full physical and mental health, not a crutch.
If you don’t like the idea, or don’t think it’s for you, that’s fine and my feelings won’t be hurt, but if it helps even one person, it’s worth it to me. I welcome any and all thoughts on the matter.
Wearing red means injured triathlete who is coming back strong as ever…

(original post 5/10)


About Douglas Sawyer, MS, ATC

I am an athletic trainer who is also a very avid athlete. My first love is running, but I also love cycling and triathlons and many other activities. I'm not a swimmer though, I just don't drown for 2.4 miles... As a athletic trainer I work with sports injuries. I currently work at a school with athletes in 7th-12th grade in a wide variety of sports. I can be found on twitter at two different names: @IronmanLongRunr - where I tweet about run, bike, tri, & more @Longrunr - where I tweet about athletic training
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