Tales of an injured runner

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It seems like when it comes to fitness and running, I tend to go two steps forward, one back – over and over again. I began running almost exactly five years ago, after making a promise to my daughter Hannah that I would run the Girls on the Run 5k with her that year. And I did. I ran pretty consistently from that point onward, even through the year-long experience of Hannah’s cancer treatments. Running was something I could still do for myself during that time.

It wasn’t until 2016, after Hannah’s treatments ended, that I essentially fell apart, in many ways. One of which was that I stopped running. I’d had a bad case of shin splints that winter, so between taking it easy to let that heal and just being overwhelmed in general, I stopped. Plus I ate horribly. And I gained back all of the weight (20-ish pounds!) that I had lost over the previous couple of years.

In the spring of 2017, I decided to take back my health and fitness – again. I started off slowly as I had before, using a Couch to 5k app. But I wasn’t smart enough about cross-training and I pushed too hard. I injured my left Achilles that fall and ended up having to stop running. Again. This time I went through physical therapy to rehab the injury. And afterward, we were able to join our local Y, so I began swimming twice weekly to cross train.

I thought I was being smart. After all, I was only running a couple of times a week, switching it out for swimming, elliptical training and some weights. I trained for and successfully ran my first 10k, in May of 2018. Plus, I was exercising 4-5 days a week total and eating better than I had in years. I even had given up chocolate, which I never thought I’d be able to do.

Last September, I was signed up to run a 5k. I’d had a nagging bit of an ache in my left hip after running, over the week or so beforehand, but it wasn’t too bad, and it was fine in between runs. I figured that I’d run the 5k and then take a longer break to rest up afterward. And it was a great run in many ways. I ran steadily for the whole 5k without any walk breaks. And I had a PR. But, during the last half-mile of the race, my hip pain increased to the point where I could barely walk after I crossed the finish line. Or for the next couple of days afterward.

I had mentioned the nagging hip pain to my doctor the previous week. He had looked at it, but it wasn’t hurting me that day, so he determined that it was likely a groin strain that just needed a bit of rest and told me that I didn’t need to stop running. If it got worse, he’d order an x-ray.

The Monday after the 5k, I called my doctor’s office. They sent me in for the x-ray. After 2 without any results, I called the office and finally got someone to tell me that the x-ray came back fine. I then insisted on being seen, because I still couldn’t put weight on my left leg or walk without a great deal of pain, even several days later. I saw the PA, who thought it might be a SI joint issue and sent me to physical therapy. The physical therapist felt that it might be a labral tear, but wasn’t sure. After a week of physical therapy exercises and stretches with no reduction in pain, I finally made an appointment with an orthopedic specialist.

The orthopedist took one look at me attempting to walk, and immediately put me on crutches and sent me for an MRI. Over two weeks after running the 5k, I finally found out that I had a bad stress fracture in the femoral head, as well as a labral tear.

I spent most of October and November of last fall on crutches, first completely non-weight-bearing on the left side for 4 weeks, and then with minimal weight bearing and more physical therapy. The pain still continued when I tried walking again, so I went back on crutches for several more weeks in December. Being on crutches while parenting three active teens and tweens is not easy. It was also marching band season, so I learned how to climb stairs up into football stadium bleachers to watch my kids march without killing myself. I was lucky that the weather held throughout December so I didn’t have to deal much with ice or snow.

After the first of the year, I finally began to walk again, pain-free. And was cleared to start some minor exercising. I can’t run yet – not for several more weeks. And I haven’t even tried. I don’t know exactly what caused the stress fracture. They’re usually the result of a large ramp-up in activities over a period of time, but other than moving from 6 mile runs to doing one 7-miler, I hadn’t changed anything about my exercise routine last fall. Even doing the 5k without walk breaks wasn’t new – I’d run one last April with no walk breaks then either. But something I was doing put too much strain on my hip. And I don’t want that to happen again.

So I’m taking things extra slow and easy this time. Not exercising two days in a row, so that I have at least one rest day in between every time. No running at all yet. I’m doing some 30-minute walks, some very low resistance elliptical, some swimming, some cycling, and I started a weekly yoga class in January. I’m probably the worst at yoga ever. I’m overweight and inherited my mom’s build with almost zero flexibility. But I’m actually enjoying the yoga and like that I’m feeling stronger and more flexible.

When I’m able, I’ll go back to physical therapy and hopefully between the yoga and other exercise, I can slowly get back to the fitness level I was at before the injury, without causing any more harm. I really enjoy running. And I like being active and pushing my body. I feel healthier when I exercise. I eat better. I am more focused and alert during the days. And I need to get back down to a healthier weight again.

This was a long, probably very boring, post – but I needed to talk through all of that to get to where I’m ready to make some promises to myself.

I WILL run again.

I WILL take it slowly and not push myself to run faster or farther.

I WILL NOT ignore nagging aches and pains that may warn of injury.

I WILL start eating better again.

I WILL keep doing yoga, swimming and doing other cross-training like cycling and elliptical. When I’m able, I may even let my close friend and running buddy, Kristi, convince me to give Zumba a try with her.

The bucket list plan is for Kristi and I to run a Disney half marathon in 2023, when she turns 50. I’ll be 52. And I WILL be there, running by her side.