I don't for a second expect anyone reading this to be nearly as excited as I am to be writing it. If nothing else, I haven't dumped this out in writing so it's good to get off my chest. I'm also a bit scared to write this...knock on wood.
It's been a tough year for me (in some ways...in other ways it's been one of the best of my life). To quickly recap, I had two hip surgeries that completely sidelined me from doing what I love to do more than anything; running. I also lost my insurance right before the second surgery, will talk more on that as we go. At the same time, I got engaged to an incredible girl, I met a ton of awesome people, started a business (eh, kind of...), made a house a home with my fiance and two puppy sons and have had a lot of very incredible opportunities/experiences.
Why a photo of a broken running GPS watch with a drained battery? Because it's very symbolic of the last year or so of my life (I put it on the charger for the first time in a long time right after taking the photo...).
There's a lot to the story but for the sake of keeping it at all interesting I'll hurry through the beginning part, anyway.
I F***ING love running. I picked it up my junior year of HS and never looked back. I ran XC and track at the University of Mount Union for four years and found some success. Upon graduating I quickly found half marathons, then marathons, then working at a local running store, then the Boston Marathon, then coaching our store running group, then another Boston, then ultra marathons, then winning a couple, having a TON of fun, attempting Leadville 100, then injury.
I was able to run a 2:42 marathon with minimal training (I definitely ran consistently, just no legitimate workouts or long runs over 16 miles). Found some success at the 50 mile distance, again with half ass training. In the back of my mind thought, "Maybe if I start training, I'll get better and who knows? I should try and maybe even see if I can get sponsored or at least win a couple more races and have some fun. Can't hurt anyway." ...it was something along those lines.
I really had it in my mind that I wanted to complete a 100 miler and then get seriously into trying to get faster at shorter distances. I don't know why, but I did. My buddy Josh Clemence and I both somehow got into the Leadville 100 lottery in August of 2015. We were so amped but so ill prepared both mentally and physically. I was determined. Again for the sake of keeping the story short, Josh dropped out at 50 with a bum foot and I dropped out at mile 75 with a really bad pain in the back of my knee that radiated up into my adductors and groin (a pain I experienced a month earlier when dropping out of a 50K at mile 24). It broke my heart. **I still need to get back there to finish the thing.
I had never been injured before so I flew back home to Cleveland, took a couple weeks off and got back to running (felt mostly pretty solid with minimal pain). I didn't really sign up for any more races in 2015 but had it in my mind that 2016 would be a break out year. I ramped up my training anticipating racing competitively. The plan was to start the year by competing in a smaller 50 miler called the Tillamook Burn in Oregon with some friends through Territory Run Co. I wanted to use it as a gauge and fun way to get going. My goal was to place at the race and then two weeks later run a fast marathon time at the Cleveland Marathon (looking back on it that was super dumb...) rolling over the fitness I accumulated from training for The Burn.
There was a solid amount of vert change during the Burn but I kept myself toward the front of the race and enjoyed every second of that beautiful place. It was absolutely breathtaking. If my mind serves me correctly, at about mile 45~ I was sitting in about fifth place and finally was getting some legs back under me/head clear after being in a low patch since mile 37 (I clearly remember the rough patch). I started to not only bomb downhill but bound up. I knew I had two people up ahead within closing distance and really wasn't going to let up until I either passed them or crossed the line. Whatever came first. I crossed the line but didn't see the two that we're ahead already finished. Weird. Maybe they somehow both took a bathroom break off trail in the last couple miles? Doubtful. I was told I took third place. "There's no way", I thought. Sure enough, several minutes later I was informed I missed a turn at mile 47 that would take me on a half loop to make it a solid 50 miles. To this day I don't believe it was marked but that's beside the point. Devastated. Oh well. Luckily my leg held up really well and I actually did find a lot of gratefulness there. Not to mention again, it was SO BEAUTIFUL. No regrets.
We had a few more days in Oregon to enjoy and vacation then fly back home to Cleveland. Redemption would follow at the Marathon.
Marathon day, two weeks later. No plan other than to go out fairly quick and run off feel. I was running on pace to come in at about 2:35 through mile 16. It was bitter cold that day, sideways rain...and more rain, and hail, maybe even a bit of snow? This was a late May race. I started to fade a bit around mile 17 but was still striding toward the finish. More likely I'd finish around 2:45 at this point.
At mile 25.2 on the Route 2 bridge heading into downtown, my right hamstring locked up on me in a way I hope no one ever endures. The whole posterior, right side of my body knotted up so badly it literally pulled my shoulders down toward my back, making an arch in my lower back. I was out there helpless, unable to bring my body forward, in the pouring rain and wind on the bridge. I literally couldn't move. Finally after about 5 minutes I pulled my shoulders forward, straightening out my back and loosened my hamstrings enough to hobble into the finish. That was more or less the end of my running for the next year and a half. I did some damage that day or maybe it was the bit of liquid that overfilled the cup.
After that race my whole right side felt weak, unstable and just a general soreness without any relief. The rest of 2016 I spent seeing chiropractors, getting massages and not running. It sucked the life out of me and was really hard to cope with. I was ambitious and so focused on getting back and making 2017 the year I'd break out and starting running fast times and winning big races. I felt it. 2016 was done but 2017 was it.
At the tail end of 2016 I had talked with a couple people shopping at the running store (still felt it was a sign they all came in in a matter of weeks with the same recommendation), described my pain and they insisted it sounded like an injury they dealt with and to go see "Dr. Rosneck at the Clinic". Sure enough, Rosneck was quick to diagnose me with a femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) and a torn hip labrum. We agreed that surgery was the move. I scheduled for late January, 2017. I hated the news but there was an undeniable relief in figuring out what my injury was after not knowing for so long, that it would be fixed and I'd undoubtedly be able to get back to doing what I love. The sweet spot was 6 months. "Give it six months and you'll be just about 100%". I rehabbed like a mad man. Six months was nothing. I stretched and foam rolled every morning and night. Cleaned up my diet. Drank less alcohol. Got more sleep. Man on a mission. I got back to running and really was surprised how little fitness I lost. Even signed up for a 5K in July and ran a 17:30 off 3 solid weeks of uptempo runs.
I just didn't feel good about it. My left hip had been giving me a bit of pain all along and I had a premonition something was seriously wrong again. Back to Rosneck. They insisted it was inflammation and soreness from overcompensating during rehabbing the right side. Friends and family optimistically insisted the same. I felt different. After more or less begging the Clinic I needed more help did they find I did indeed have a bilateral FAI/labral tear. Back to surgery. Shit, this sucks but again, let's get it done with (especially after meeting my deductible) and move on with my life. Surgery went well and I really felt mentally and physically better off, knowing what to expect the second time around. I got this. Rehab and recover was easier, no doubt.
*All the while still working at the running shop, coaching our marathon program and leading my own running group called Run Wild CLE. It was hard not to be running myself but was living vicariously through others.
Speed bump. I went to pay my monthly insurance premium as I had realized I was a couple weeks late (drugged up post surgery and just not thinking). I noticed "plan inactive" on my account homepage and all my coverage wiped clean. WTF? Call to insurance company (I won't even name them but...excuse my language...F*** THEM) and, "Oh no sir, your insurance was terminated. You were late on your payment." Not only terminated but retroactively terminated to date before the second surgery. Enough on that, you get it. It was some of the hardest news I've ever received and still get sick to my stomach thinking about it.
Luckily Matt Stevens of Pure Physio in Strongsville, OH is an incredible person and agreed to rehab me for free as he's a good friend and even better guy. GO SEE HIM. (I also rehabbed with him for the right leg). After a while Matt and I agreed I knew enough to rehab on my own but he continued to write me programming for training.
Left leg was getting strong but noticed some pain coming back to the right leg. Without insurance I haven't been able to get in to see doctors. I was convinced something went wrong again with the right side. I had several "false summits" where it really started to feel better, I'd run a mile thinking it was the start of my big comeback and wake up the next day with severe groin pain. It just didn't get better with anything I was doing. Such a mental rollercoaster that took it's toll on me. I was convinced I had done some type of damage to the right side, again.
I contacted Kelly McKinney of 212 Degrees Training (she used to train me in Cleveland but moved to Florida) and she agreed to train me via video calls from Florida. She was confident we could rehab and to put my trust in her. Long story short after trusting her guidance and expertise the last several months and living like a monk doing everything in my power to take care of my body I finally have started to feel some relief and have some belief that I might be finally on the right track to getting back to running and my life again. I've been obsessively reading as much as I possibly can about hips/pelvis, anatomy and strength and rehab.
Mix that with Kelly's training and it's a solid recipe. She's had a huge impact on me the last couple months and even served to keep me mentally sharp and confident that I can come back. I won't say I'm completely convinced just yet, but I sure am feeling 10x better.
*Sidenote (sort of): I feel for anyone going through some injury or hard time in life. It consumes you. I've spent so much time, energy and money the last year trying to gain health.
So where does the broken watch with a drained battery come in? Soon after the Marathon in 2016 I stopped logging a lot of my short runs as I felt I'd be soon taking time off. I really only wore the watch to keep time during the day. One day the band broke when taking it off, I stopped charging it and it eventually died (plug for SUUNTO that the thing actually stayed on for a long time...). I thought to charge it, fix the band and keep wearing it for time but just felt bitter toward it. I didn't want to even look at it because I was in such a bad place mentally with not being able to run. It just sat on a table in my basement for months and months.
For much of the last year, with the rollercoaster of feeling good for a day and then being in pain for the next week and the cycle of such, I was convinced I'd give up running and find new hobbies. I would try to convince myself running wasn't that fun anyway and was "bad for your body" like you so often hear non-runners claim. Much of this last year have been a mental grind and struggle to not let myself fall into a darkness.
I don't know what the future holds but today I grabbed for my GPS watch and plugged it in. Tomorrow I'll go to my parents and borrow my dad's tiny screwdriver set to fix the band and start wearing the thing again. I do think, after the last year and a half, two surgeries and a lot of time invested I'm finally on the right track. How fitting, too that I'm writing this on the very tail end of the year and will most likely log my first run via GPS on January 1, 2018. A fresh start.
The hard part: TAKE IT EASY. TAKE IT SLOW. DON'T GET TOO EXCITED. DON'T GET TOO DOWN. I'll have good days and I'll have bad days. Ride it out and keep working.
It's been a difficult year for me but undeniably there are people fighting much greater battles than myself and for my overall health and happiness I'm grateful. In a sort of sick way, I'm grateful too to have gone through this as I've learned SO much about myself, about injuries, about the body, about improving running form, avoiding injury, how to mentally grind through a tough time. It's been one big experience that I will carry in my back pocket the rest of my life. The wealth of knowledge is pricess.
To anyone battling something, an injury, a break up, the loss of a loved one, unemployment, sickness. It seems like the "light at the end of the tunnel" just isn't there. Keep fighting. Don't take NO for an answer. If you can't find help from a professional, the internet is a bottomless pit of resources and information. Dig yourself. Keep fighting.
Also, if you are someone reading this that has an experience with injury, especially running related or FAI, CAM or anything to do with the hips and want to connect, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I really have no idea what 2018 will bring (other than getting married in July!) but I do feel hopeful. I'm not giving up just yet on running fast times and getting back to the running I was several years ago. Not yet.
Adversity is a tool. Learn from mistakes. Realize much of life throws speedbumps, not roadblocks in your way. Get over them any way you can.
Here's to an incredible year ahead.
Find me on Strava...