My Return to Running
I have been running since I was 12 years old. I started as a sprinter and gave hurdles a try in the 7th grade before realizing my petite, 5’3’’ body (probably shorter than that in the 7th grade) was not meant to jump over something so tall. I pushed the last hurdle over in the 110 yard dash of my first track meet because I was sick of it and just wanted to cross the finish line… in last place. That’s when I decided to give distance running a try. I’d always been quick at the mile in gym class, so as expected, I was much better at distance running than I was jumping and sprinting. I kept with it. I have officially been a “runner” now for 20 years.
20 years of any physical activity can wear on you. And if I am being honest, I don’t feel that I am even old enough to say I have been doing something for 20 years. But, I am 32 and I have been. Over the past 5 years or so, I’ve experienced hip and hamstring issues on my right side. I’ve done the physical therapy route, I cut back from full marathons to half marathons, then went back to full marathons once I was feeling better. I once had a goal to complete 50 marathons, one in every state. Somewhere around marathon nine or 10, and a fair share of PT, I decided I had no interest in running 50 marathons anymore. I only wanted to do the six World Marathon Majors. I am three down and have three to go. Unfortunately, I had a small set-back over the past year and my future of distance running is unknown at this point in time.
This past summer I was training for my 12th marathon, and what would be my first repeat race- The Berlin Marathon. This is arguably the fastest, flattest course in the world. I completed it in 2017, but with crummy weather, it wasn’t my fastest time. I put my name in the lottery last winter and to my surprise, I got in. Time to go back to Berlin, run 26.2 miles, then head south for Oktoberfest! I was amped.
My friend Lauren and I after The Berlin Marathon in 2017. It was cold and wet, but we got to drink steins of bier after we thawed out 🙂
I started training for the marathon last May, about 11 months ago from the time of this post. The early training was going well, but as I ramped up my speed and distance in July, something felt off. I was no longer interested in my runs, I had no desire to train, and as my longer runs creeped in, I was in pain. But, as a veteran runner of 20 years, I didn’t let a little pain stop me. I pushed through it. That was probably the wrong decision. I take that back. It definitely was the wrong decision.
It was early August when I realized I needed to see a sports doctor. It felt like I was running bone on bone- as if I had no cartilage in my hip joint. I think I made this decision because if I am going to stop training and drop out of Berlin (which I knew I needed to do), I need a doctor, who is well versed in running, to be the one to tell me to do so. It was incredibly painful and I took a week off from running prior to seeing the doctor. But in my masochist ways, I wanted to see if a week off helped me prior to seeing him. So… I went out for an early morning run on August 8th, the day of my appointment, running towards Lake Michigan. I wanted to see the sunrise. I got there, took a pretty photo, and realized I was in too much pain to run the 2 miles back home. The week off did not help. I did what most runners would never imagine doing during a run. I stopped running and I took the bus home. I didn’t know it then, but that would be my last run in Chicago.
The photo I took on my last run in Chicago.
I went to the doctor that afternoon. He ordered an MRI, I got that done, and I waited. I was waiting for a few days. I was beginning to think the worst. Did they find disease in the bone? Is it worse than I imagined? Is all the cartilage really gone? Then I got the call. It was too hard to tell, but they thought it may be a labral tear. I’d need to get further imaging done. I had to get an arthrogram done in my hip joint. If you don’t know what this is, either did I. It’s where they inject fluid/ink into your joint with an absurdly long needle and then do another MRI. The ink helps highlight what is wrong. I took this imaging back to my sports medicine doctor and found out the news. Not only was I not running Berlin, I may never run another marathon again. I had a labral tear and a femoral acetabular impingement. They’d need to do a Hip Arthroscopy to repair the labrum and shave down the bone for the impingement. I cried. A lot. Running is part of who I am and I felt like my whole world was being taken away from me.
I went to the surgeon on September 13th for a consultation and to schedule the operation. If you know anything about Sour Fish Events, you know that’s the beginning of our event season and we’re a small company. There’s no way I could have this surgery done until the season was over. So I scheduled it for November 20th, two weeks post-season. This allowed me to have time to wrap up any loose ends and selfishly take a short, much needed vacation.
I woke up speaking Spanish and wanting cold brew. Erik was a good sport and didn’t take full advantage of asking me questions as I came down from the anesthesia… only took this ultra flattering photo of me 🙂
The surgery was about 2 hours long and I was able to go home the same day. I don’t remember anything from being pushed beyond the double doors and into some bright lights. When I woke up, they brought Erik in and I immediately started speaking Spanish and wanting his cold brew. I am not fluent in Spanish and I don’t even like cold brew! LOL! Erik took me home where I spent the rest of the day, and the following two weeks, on the couch with a continuous passive motion (CPM) machine. This allowed my hip joint to move at a really slow pace for six hours a day. I was able to get on a spin bike with no resistance for 20 minutes a day too.
My lovely CPM Machine. We became really close, as I napped wearing this for hours on end.
I had to wear a hip brace while I was moving about outside of my apartment for the duration of my time on crutches, which was about four weeks. I did a Virtual Turkey Trot of my own as I crutched a mile and a half throughout my neighborhood the morning of Thanksgiving, one week post-op. Arguably, the absolute worst part of the surgery was that I had to sleep in sleep boots for two weeks. These are space boot looking things that velcro to a post you place between your ankles. This honestly was pure torture, but it is done to keep your hips aligned. I could only bear 20 lbs on the foot and was not allowed to move my leg beyond 90 degrees for those two weeks either. Putting on socks and shoes was a challenge. Trying to pick things up was really hard. I think I got really good at left leg RDLs though, as that’s really how I picked anything up 😉 Two weeks post-op, I flew to Austin for The Running Event. If you ever crave attention, I highly recommend showing up to a running convention on crutches. No one will ask you what happened, but they’ll definitely stare at you and wonder “How can I avoid doing whatever she did?”
Above: The sleeping boots I had to wear for two weeks while sleeping… woof.
Below: Me, after completing a 1.5 mile Virtual Turkey Trot around my neighborhood. My mom snapped this photo of me as we waited for Starbucks.
I started physical therapy two days after surgery and am still in it today. Overall, the recovery is about 32 weeks with the potential to not be back at pre-injury level for up to a year. I’ve been really dedicated to getting back to my pre-injury level, as it is in my blood to be a runner. Initially, I was told I may never run again. Then, I was told that without the surgery I would have a 5% chance at running again, but with it, it was much higher. At 16 weeks post-op, I was finally able to start a Return to Run program. I spent my time running for 30 seconds, walking for 4.5 minutes, and repeating for 30 minutes. I eventually closed the gap, bringing the running time up and the walking time down over the course of four weeks to where I can now run for 30 minutes non-stop. I am excited to share I completed my Return to Run program last week and have officially made it to running 3.5 miles this past Saturday, followed by walking another 5.5 back home! I just had to see an empty Times Square.
Above: My first adventure out! I went to PT this day and then went to get coffee. Obviously needed a buddy because I couldn’t carry coffee home for four weeks. Arguably one of my greatest challenges.
Below: I ran 3.5 miles this past Saturday! It was crazy to see Times Square empty!
Overall, I think I have been handling the recovery pretty well. My PT back in Chicago told me I was healing better than expected, which is something I love to hear. I was able to do two sessions in NYC with my new physical therapist before the clinic took all visits online, so I no longer get the soft tissue massage portion of PT that I always looked forward to. But, I am getting stronger and more capable to run by the day. I no longer have the pain I had pre-surgery, but there is still occasional soreness, especially after sitting down for a while, or for walking long distances (aka Saturday). I am 21 weeks post-surgery now and have another 11 to go before completing the surgeon’s protocol. I am focused more on building the strength back around the hip and through the core to stabilize me, as well as work on plyometrics to be able to adapt to variables as I run.
There is a chance in the coming years I will have to have the same surgery on my left hip. I had an MRI on it during my second post-op visit and it was too hard to tell if I need it or not. I decided to keep working on building the strength in both hips and hopefully that will eliminate the need for a second surgery. If I do have that second surgery, that will minimize my shot at distance running for sure. But as my doctor told me, “Never say never!”
All of that being said, I am confident that I will be able to get at least one more marathon out of my body. If I can only have one, I want to do the NYC Marathon again. If I can have three, then I need to finish what I started and complete the World Marathon Majors: Boston, Tokyo, and London… I’m looking at you.
But no matter what kind of distance I end up doing, I am just happy to be part of the sport and grateful that my body can do what it does. Our bodies are amazing, and the fact that I am able to run again, pain free, shows how much they are really capable of! Especially now, when we’re all staying home, I am so grateful to have the ability to get outside, run, and be able to move. This sport has been part of my life for 20 years now, I made a career around it, and now, I finally get to participate in it again.
Somewhere during the 2014 NYC Marathon that I hope to see again one day!