This winter, I started running again after years of battling with runner’s itch. It has been a big win for me during the lingering pandemic, online learning, and workload that has made me feel dead inside.
In my childhood, running was a part of life
I had always been an active child growing up. Living on a farm gave us plenty of space to play around. My father helped my brother and me develop a good habit of exercising, especially running, almost every day after school. I grew to love running and have been well adjusted to long-distance running ever since.
When I run, I feel free. I feel accomplished as I keep moving my legs forward, raising my heart rate, and strengthening my lungs. Running rewards me with strong immunity, muscle strength, and relaxation.
Shifts in adulthood disconnected me from running, and the itch started
I ran consistently throughout my teenage years until my mid-twenties. After that, I didn’t keep up with it due to my chaotic work and life schedule.
When I ran again, I was attacked with this strange itch under my skin. It went from my stomach down to my calves. I was frustrated. I scratched the itching areas, but it didn’t go away. The worst part was the itch felt disgusting and stopped me from running altogether.
I was very sad. When I saw people running in a public park or in a gym, I felt miserable and envious. I wanted to run as they did, but I hated the feeling of that itch. I didn’t have the strength to keep running, and I thought I might lose my beloved exercise forever.
I finally learned the causes and tried out a solution
After researching the itch, I found that it’s more common than I thought. According to the article reviewed by Angela M. Bell, M.D., an ABMS board-certified physician specializing in internal medicine and sports medicine, runner’s itch usually happens to those who don’t run consistently.
When they run again, blood flow increases throughout their body to cope with rising heart rate and expanding lungs. The increase of blood flow is what causes the itching sensation. Another cause is histamine release in the body which also increases blood flow.
There are other reasons that don’t apply to me such as skin sensitivity, exposure to heat or sunlight, or doing extensively long exercise like running a marathon. Most of these itchiness causes are not concerning and could be prevented by running consistently. When you exercise more often, your body will get used to it and is well prepared for it.
Knowing about the cause and solution was relieving, but it didn’t mean my symptom was resolved instantly. I couldn’t keep running consistently, so I struggled every time I ran. I was enveloped in the itch.
I kept imagining that something was hatching under my skin. It gave me goosebumps and threw me back into a hole of fear and disgust. I didn’t have the power to keep running and claim back my love for it. It was so difficult.
There were several failures before I succeeded — but it came with fear
I overcame the itch when I was living in Australia. It was almost like a revenge-driven courage that pushed me through. I ran three days straight for a couple of miles each day, and that killed the itch.
I was over the moon. The result of my endurance proved that the itch did go away like they said — as long as I kept the discipline. I tightly held on to the joy of running. But I was scared that the itch might come back and take away my ability to run if I failed to keep up the running habit.
The workaround that kept me going
The win from Australia was unsustainable. I failed to keep the running routine shortly after going back to Thailand to my unsettled life. I had to start all over again in order to run itch-free. At that time, I had enough difficulties in life to deal with, so I ditched running and turned to jump rope and bodyweight training instead.
Fortunately, I could do all those activities without having any itch. They couldn’t yield the same satisfaction as running, but they helped me get through the hardship at that time. I also developed beautiful and strong muscles that benefit me to this day.
I broke out of the pandemic mess and ran again
A few years later, I came to study in the U.S. and settled down. While working, studying, and trying to stay afloat in the pandemic, I barely got out of the house to exercise. It had been like that for over a year. One day, I could no longer stand my inactivity and the fatigue from extensive hours of online work: I went out to run in the woods.
As I expected, the itch was terrible. But this time, I had a new tactic that made a real difference. I dismissed all the science behind it and fooled myself into believing that the more I itched, the better it was because I knew it meant that my muscle cells were growing as I kept going.
I knew it was totally wrong, but it worked! That shifted everything and fueled me to keep running without any more fear. Then I won again. Now I’m more certain that I figured out how to overcome the itch if it happens again. I won’t let that symptom stop me from running anymore.
Results, reflection, and commitment
Ever since I overcame the runner’s itch, I have committed to my running routine more seriously than before. I must confess that I was like an addict in the first week because I ran every single day. My heart was filled with joy, and my body was satisfied and thankful for the workout.
I try not to overdo it and manage to have some rest days. However, I avoid taking more than one rest day in a row because that would throw me back to idleness which is hard for me to get out of.
Since my goal of running is to rebalance and strengthen my mental and physical health, I’m proud to say that I achieved it and am determined to sustain it moving forward.
Running makes me calmer, more refreshed and energized, and, most importantly, less stressed. Amidst the online working environment and uncertainty of life in this present time, running is on my list of activities to stay sane.
Runner’s itch can be difficult to deal with and discourage you from running. However, with the right mindset and discipline, you can certainly overcome it. If you experience the same kind of itch as mine, try my method. Tell yourself that: “The more itchy, the better, because the muscle cells are growing.”
Forget the facts and science for now because what matters at that moment is your mindset and belief system. Science doesn’t always push you far when dealing with physical challenges, but your mindset controls your actions. It’s so rewarding to get your favorite workout back — I can tell you that.
Gift is a Programming AAS-T student and a Web Manager Consultant at the Seattle Collegian. She defines herself as a minimalist, who enjoys living low-waste and makes websites. Her goal is to create more awareness around sustainability in web design and how each of us can reduce carbon footprint as an individual. She enjoys improving the Collegian website as much as writing, baking, and making oat milk. Check out her website!