Emily Venters was one of the top distance talents in the country during the 2018-2019 academic year. While at Boise State, she ran personal bests of 15:45 for 5000 meters and 9:08 for 3000 meters. She also secured All-American honors during cross country. In the summer of 2019, Venters transferred from Boise State to join the Colorado Buffaloes where she has since battled numerous injuries.
Emily was kind enough to speak about her recent struggles in an effort to encourage and help other runners who are facing their own set of challenges.
The 2019-20 academic year was one of the worst years of my life and that’s the truth. From running, to academics, to relationships, I’ve struggled more than most people know. As much as I have tried to hide it at times, I’ve simply been deep in a hole for much of the past year.
I transferred from Boise State to the University of Colorado in the fall of 2019 (the start of my junior year). When I arrived in Boulder, I was so excited to join a new team, have new coaches, and what I thought was an exciting new start.
At first, everything was fun, training was going well, and I was ready to have a breakout season. Until, that is, my first injury appeared in September.
This first injury was a tibial stress reaction. While not a high-grade reaction, it seemed to nag me for weeks and ultimately months. I was frustrated, sad and confused because I thought I would never get hurt and was “immune” to it.
This is when everything started to plummet. What I considered to be an important personal relationship started to suffer, and I could feel myself drifting away from who I really was as well as my morals. I started to treat my body a bit more poorly than usual because I felt bad for myself, and I had less motivation for school than ever before.
I failed my first test ever. I got sick more than usual. I didn’t fuel as well. The list goes on. Simply put, I was not the person I wanted to be.
As I started to recover from that first injury, I was nearing my final exams and I was getting ready to head home for winter break. I was feeling better on my runs and was excited to get some good work in over the break. I was even able to work up to some higher mileage weeks.
But then my second injury appeared. This time it was a stress reaction in my femur.
I was devastated when I heard the news from my trainer and we were all very confused as to how it could have happened that quickly. I gave myself a good two to three days to cry and be sad about it, and then went straight back to work in the pool.
I had so much support this time from my coaches, friends and teammates telling me to not give up and that I just needed to keep trusting the process. So that’s what I did. The injury seemed to heal quickly and I was back running within five to six weeks or less.
We had a plan to take it slow in my return to running and figured that approach would work.
A month after returning to running, I felt a pain in my butt and hamstring area during the middle of a run. I had never felt anything like it before and took a few days off. I ran again two days later and managed to run eight miles, but as soon as I stopped, I could barely walk.
Third injury: sacral stress fracture.
This was the hardest pill to swallow yet. And at this point, I was thinking I was just going to quit running altogether. I called my parents in tears, telling them I was done and should probably just move on with my life.
Running broke me literally and figuratively. How had I been able to run for years so well with no injuries? This is when my doctors, trainers, coaches and I started to take a deep look into why this all was happening.
My bone density was normal for the most part and I was getting my periods regularly. But then we looked at my history: chronic under-fueling; no period and low body weight for two solid years prior to this one. And we realized that maybe what I had been doing was finally catching up with me.
This is when I started seeing a psychologist and working on the mental piece of body image and running. I’ve struggled a lot with body image since I entered college, and getting injured has not helped.
I don’t look the same as I did a year ago. I feel out of shape compared to a year ago. But, at the same time, I feel healthier overall. I’m learning to love myself for who I am outside of running and realizing that it’s important to have balance in my life. The true Emily is finally coming back slowly but surely, and it’s a great feeling.
I am also trusting that if I listen to my body, treat it right and have patience and belief in myself, that I am going to get back to the runner that I was and become even better. I still have big goals and I almost gave up. But now I am back in the hunt for more than ever before.
Some people may doubt me, while others will definitely support me. Regardless, I am doing this for myself. I love running, and while it may have broken me many times, I am not ready to hang up my shoes just yet.