An Update On My Recovery

AJWs TaproomSeven weeks ago in this space, I wrote a column about my break from racing ultras for the year. At the time, I also wrote that I would, from time to time, provide updates on my health and recovery in the hope that such documentation might provide others with constructive information in working through their own issues. Therefore, as we celebrate the spring equinox this weekend, this seems to be a great time for an update.

It was three months ago, after running the Hellgate 100k, that I realized things were not right with me. The normal aches and pains were far worse and my body was having profound difficulty bouncing back from a long year of running. Since that time I have run very little. In fact, the few attempts I have made to return to running have been unsuccessful and demoralizing. So, I have tried to simply stay patient.

I have been receiving steady physical therapy, I have trained in the pool and on the bike, and I have spent considerable time reflecting on what is most important to me about running. I can’t lie, I really, really miss it.

Last week, after hitting the 10-week mark of not running, I went back to my doctor. Dr. Bob Wilder is known here in Charlottesville, Virginia as the “running doctor.” For over 25 years he has been putting runners back together and getting them back out on the roads and trails. He is one of those doctors who always believes there is an answer. Well, after his exam last week he scheduled me for an MRI. The results came back yesterday: Mild arthritis in left hip joint but no worse than 2013, severe tendinopathy in the glute and hamstring, bursitis in the hip, and a slight labral tear. In his words, what I have going is “hip soup.”

He laid out the options for me: Surgery now to clean things up, an injection in the joint, continued active recovery, patience. As of today, literally, I am still weighing my options.

Certainly, I want nothing more than to get back out there running again. But, if 20 years of running ultras has taught me anything, it’s that I must take the long view. My need for the immediate gratification of a beautiful spring run on the Appalachian Trail must be canceled out by the long-term goal of running into my old age. Simply put, my head must trump my heart with this.

In a way, it is that part of this year off to recover that may ultimately be how I learn the most from all this. It may be that the battle of the head and the heart is something I need in my life right now. Being forced to take stock of my own limits, indeed, of my own mortality is something that I never expected but now must welcome. I have to believe I’ll be back out there enjoying what I love. I know I will. And, in the meantime, I have much to be thankful for and that makes all the difference.

Bottoms up!

Bells Oarsman AleAJW’s Beer of the Week

From Bell’s Brewery in Comstock, Michigan comes Bell’s Oarsman Ale, an eminently drinkable wheat beer that blends the best of Belgian-style wheat with the down-home-brewing excellence of Bell’s. Balanced, slightly tart, and quite smooth, this is a perfect beer with which to celebrate the spring equinox.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Are you in a similar injury boat as AJW? If so, what’s going on with you?
  • Have you ever found that an injury is taking longer to improve than expected or hoped?
  • How have you emotionally coped with an extended break from running when you’ve been injured?

There are 7 comments

  1. bklynbridge

    "Being forced to take stock of my own limits, indeed, of my own immortality is something that I never expected but now must welcome."

    If AJW is now immortal, perhaps he can go for that coveted 100 Day Buckle.

  2. ClownRunner

    OK, serious comment from the ClownRunner here…my only "claim to expertise" is a similar addiction and obsession with running…In Moby Dick, Ahab "discovered" the whale as an object, but he "perceived it" as a symbol of his own making (OK, yes, I may just have borrowed from Wikipedia a tiny bit).

    For as many years as you built up the notion of running as a sublime symbol of intense personal meaning…it may take an equal number of years to re-discover running simply as an everyday "object" that holds no special meaning.

  3. klickteig

    There are so many times where we get caught up in our own instant gratifications and forget the big picture. Life is not a mere 10 or 20 weeks, it is a lifetime. I know it is hard to think about the long term future for many, especially when we are young. However, to be proactive now and reserve patience is vital for a long healthy and happy life. By bringing your story up front and in person is a good reminder for us all. Thank you and best wishes to choosing the right decision.

  4. @EasyStej

    I'm in no way the same league as most of the runners on here, but I absolutely feel your frustration in not being able to run, AJW. I recently returned from an ultra running trip to China & Japan, the trip went well, and I posted a couple of PB's, but I've been struck by Peroneal Tendonitis since then. It's now 6 weeks or so since I've been able to run, and each day I get more fidgety in my chair…!

    Spring is coming here in the UK and I see more & more runners out & about. Generally at this time of year plenty or people are finishing their preparations for the London marathon. I just wish to run another mile, but I guess I'll read another write-up on Peroneal Tendonitis instead…haha!

    It goes without saying that these enforced breaks that occur give us the satisfaction and energy to enjoy other aspects of life, be it a simple meal with our family, a new hobby, or just sitting in the garden and reading a book. Me? I'm heading to Nando's tonight for a belated Mother's Day gift for my dearest!

    Take care each & every one of you, and have an awesome weekend.


    1. @StefanaMarie

      Also, good thoughts here! I got overly excited about the beer.

      I've been injured in the past, for almost a year and had to take a big step back. The bigger picture is way more important. I love running, but I am not defined by it. Finding a balance does wonders, both physically and mentally. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm glad I dealt with a serious injury. It's made me a smarter and more appreciative runner.

      You will be back at it soon! Keep working on the the patience, and in the meantime take up a knitting class :)

  5. @JeanPommier

    First break in 20 years, Andy? I wish you a good and as fast as possible recovery of course, but that streak is still pretty amazing given your outstanding (Auburn) track record! I've been stranded for a week, possibly Peroneal Tendonitis like @EasyStej, and I found that way too long already… In your case though, you bring up the concern and question about the human and body limits, as well as the reversibility of some injuries or pain, like potential wear out. Sincere thanks for sharing your experience and relating on the struggle we all have with patience. Ultra mind therapy… :-/ Good luck and see you soon on and at the trails.

  6. EmersonTA

    You seem like a bright guy and have likely tried just about everything. However, if you have not (1) been on a strict anti-inflammatory nutrition program (for your "itis" or inflammation issues), (2) bagging LOTS of sleep, and (3) doing PT for all the imbalances you have in your feet, knees, and hips, then I would postpone the knife and see if these work. You are in a deep hole because — let's admit it — lots and lots utrarunning can be very injurious and unhealthy. I look at some ultrarunners in their 40s and they look ragged from lots of miles, tons of sugar carbs to "fuel" the miles, and a complete lack of functional mobility. You seem smart and patient enough to dig out and re-assess the paradigm of having to run 50s and 100s. Best of luck.

  7. wMichaelOwen

    Hip Soup doesn't sound like good soup. You're being smart by taking the long-view on things. Keep everyone updated – I'd like to see more detailed view of your Phys. Therapy if you would like to share. Hoping for the best.

  8. @williamgread1

    I really feel for you. I don't have any good answers either. I am in a similar situation myself. I don't technically know if I am injured per se or merely in the process of breaking down due to age (57 years old); however, I am putting my money on the latter. My medical issue is insertional Achilles tendonitis, after 40+ plus years of steady running. Right now for me it's a matter of taking what your body will give and living with that. I have been able to run essentially pain free for 9 months now so I can run but I have to avoid long fast stuff and any hope of being competitive even for my age. My weekly mileage is low right now but I seem to be able to run this 6 mile run with 2k vertical up then 2k down about once a week without problems other than it's hard to do and it takes me 1:40 to do this so at my level I am getting my running fill. I spend most of my time doing a lot of calisthenics which has actually brought a lot of positive health benefits except it has not helped my Achilles tendonitis at all.

  9. todd

    I had a labral tear in my hip a few years ago, and had it surgically repaired, along with having the bone in my femoral neck shaved down to (hopefully) keep it from happening again. It was a rough rehab, but…if you have to go that way, I am back to feeling stronger than ever. It has really helped me to slow down–too many of my runs as a younger runner were too fast. That was harder than the rehab at first…but so worth it, looking back. Good luck, I look forward to reading reports of your running again!

  10. laurenmuirdpt

    I have had bilateral hip labral tears. Take it from a physical therapist and ultra runner, get in contact with Dr. Philippon at Vail Valley Medical Center in Vail, Colorado. He is the labral repair "God". The labrum can not and should never just be "cleaned up". It needs to be repaired. I have happily recovered from both procedures and I am back running ultras and training for Leadville 100 once again. If you have any questions regarding this, please contact me!

    1. @sdjackie

      I'm glad your hips turned out well after surgery. As you may or may not know the outcomes are quite dismal for hip arthroscopy in patients over 50 years old and at any age if there is radiographic evidence of arthritis.

      1. laurenmuirdpt

        If there is significant (severe) arthritis than you may be correct. With labrum tears there is almost always extra bone growth on the femoral head that may lend to a little irritation. This can easily be corrected. Thank you for your comment.

  11. nelsonprater

    I'm sorry you are not running right now. I regularly encourage my training group to be thankful for each run. A good way to spend this time might be to finish up that book we are all eagerly anticipating getting a look at.

  12. EvanKimber

    I think your "immortality" slip actually had some meaning to it you may not have realized. Our modern society (myself included) is in pretty firm denial about impermanence and mortality. We are all on borrowed time, we could die any day without warning. Infact this is our only certainty. Yet we invariably grasp onto the things we value/enjoy (e.g., running) with an iron fist, and while we have it and enjoy it we do not take the proper time to prepare for and consider the fact that we will invariably lose it.

    I don't think your running days are over yet, Andy. I also realize how difficult it is to deal with not doing something you love so much. This is naturally difficult for any human being. But I also think times of injury are golden opportunities for real internal and spiritual development. It also can be used for gratitude building. Dr. Seuss said, "Don't cry because it is over, smile because it happened." A lesson we all have to (try) and learn in life.

    All the best with your recovery.

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