Lessons learned the hard way

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Running injuries stink.  They just stink.  Over the last few years, I’ve been fortunate to only be temporarily sidelined by very minor issues:  sacroiliitis while I trained for my first triathlon in 2009.  An undiagnosed (yet very painful, but I never went to the doctor for fear of the “stop running” prescription) hip injury while I was half marathon training in 2010.  But in 2011, despite running 1300 miles in 12 months, I didn’t have anything worse than the occasional sore muscle.  2012 was a different story.

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Don’t I have pretty feet? I didn’t think so either.

2012 didn’t start out so good…by the end of February my foot was bothering me.  Xrays and MRI showed ligament strain, so a little rest, ice, ibuprofen, and new shoes did the trick.  Temporarily.  By the end of May, my foot was acting up again.  I rested, iced, kept up my steady diet of Vitamin I (that would be ibuprofen), and cross trained.  I decided to try a run when we were on vacation, and I ran a 5k in the Bahamas…and went straight for the medical hut to get ice when I finished.  Upon our return, we determined that I had a stress fracture…but the root cause was a nasty ugly bunion that had originally been referred for surgery 20 years ago.  My biomechanics and footstrikes were so messed up, as I was compensating for that very painful bunion.  The “pretend it doesn’t exist and hope it goes away” method of treatment wasn’t going to work forever, I guess.  And running a couple thousand miles in a few years probably hadn’t helped matters much either.  So…to the surgery consult I went, and I had been mentally preparing myself for this since my foot had started hurting months ago.  Diagnosis was no surprise, and neither was the treatment: bunionectomy and 1st metatarsal osteotomy.  I had a very brilliant, yet very ornery orthopaedic surgeon, who I didn’t think knew how to make eye contact or smile until 7 weeks after my surgery, although my husband said he really liked him and he had a great sense of humor.  Sure.

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Three weeks after surgery. Stitches out!

I make a terrible patient.  I don’t like to sit still.  I don’t like people to wait on me.  I felt about as valuable as a pile of dirty underwear as I couldn’t do anything for a couple weeks other than wait for someone to bring me a fresh bag of frozen corn (makes a great ice pack!) every couple hours.  People told me that there were positive things to be found in the process of surgery and recovery (look for the silver lining, right?)…I’d come back stronger…I wouldn’t have the foot pain that I’d been dealing with for years…I could wear cute shoes…but I didn’t really want to hear, and I certainly didn’t believe most of them.  I was convinced that I’d never be able to run again (mostly because my surgeon told me not to expect to run more than 10 miles/wk or think about another marathon) and that my lifestyle (and friendships with amazing women who had become so important to me through our shared passion of running) was going to take a dramatic dive southward.  However, heal I did and stronger I became.  It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t painless (mentally or physically).

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Left: Before. Right: After. Notice that nice big screw? Yeah, I do too and it’s coming out in a few weeks.

So what did I get out of the process from injury to surgery to recovery?  In the purest of the surgery outcome sense, I got a new an improved foot that I’m not ashamed to put in flip flops anymore.  Truly, there aren’t adequate words to completely explain it.  I learned that I have an amazing husband who is a saint and really meant the “for worse” part in our wedding vows (trust me, I’m not a very nice person when I am forbidden from any sort of exercise for 7 weeks).  I learned that my kids have amazing empathy and that they love to sit and play endless board games and read books.  I enjoyed having the time to read, and I went through more books while recovering from surgery than I had in the previous year.  I learned that I have the best friends in the world, who brought meals, drove my kids around to their various activities when I couldn’t, and listened to me while offering nothing but words of support and encouragement…followed up with amazing and selfless actions. I learned that my surgeon is an “under promise, over produce” philosophy kind of guy, and that he really is a nice guy with a smile and a sense of humor.  I learned that a fantastic physical therapist who understands your goals and helps you work towards them is a valuable piece of the recovery puzzle.  I learned some serious empathy for others who have, who are, or who unfortunately will deal with injuries and recovery at some point.  I learned that I actually DID come back stronger…if not physically, then definitely mentally.  I learned that the ability, motivation, and desire to run is a gift, something that many people don’t have, and I’m extremely thankful for that gift.

Now what?  A little more than six months after surgery, I’m pretty much 100%. It took months of clawing my way back in very gradual progressions of run/walk intervals, but I made it.  2013 is off to a much better start.  I logged 100 running miles and a half marathon in January.  I’m looking ahead and setting goals.

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My BRF, in her first 5k after ACL repair surgery, stopped to bring me and my post-surgery boot across the finish line with her. I have the best running friends in the world. I know I do.

I don’t think it’s really that I feel that I have something to prove (either to myself or my surgeon who warned me not to set my goals and expectations too high)…or maybe it is…but there are races I want to do.  Those on my “definite” list are the Blaine Triathlon, a spring half marathon (very likely the From the Heart Half Marathon in Owatonna) and the Great River Ragnar Relay.  There are a few more on my “want” list: races with my Moms on the Run running buddies like the Women Rock Half Marathon and Women Run the Cities 10 mile.  Then there’s the one that my surgeon told me never to expect to run again.  The one that takes all the desire+determination+discipline I can muster — not to mention the important support network of my family and friends.  That race that’s on my “dream” list for this year is the Twin Cities Marathon.  Whatever happens, I’m definitely looking forward to (relatively) painfree miles of smiles and being thankful for every step.

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