Detoxing from Doing Epic Stuff

Four months have passed since I had my hip surgery/labrum repair. In that odd way our perception of time works, some days it seems like it hasn’t been that long. On other days, it feels like it was a lifetime ago. Enough time has passed that I am now starting to reference time in terms of ‘before’ and ‘after’, much in the way I have done with cancer, marriage, divorce, becoming a mother and many other major life changes.

During the ‘before’, I spent nearly every spare moment running mountain trails. I often put in a couple of 20+ mile runs in the hills each week. Now, the ‘after’ looks a lot different. I have trouble fathoming what I was doing at this time last year. But the happy news is I am indeed running!

Return to Running

I started running right at 12 weeks. Following my prescribed progression, I started with one minute of running followed by four minutes of walking, repeated a few times. Now I have run as much as three consecutive miles without taking a walking break. I am still transitioning back into being a runner.  Some days I walk and some days it is a mixture of walking and running. I am also getting into the foothills for hiking/running a day or two each week.

I am genuinely grateful to be able to do what I am doing just four months after this extensive surgery. I have worked very hard to make it to this point. I expect I will continue to improve, though I still have no idea what that will ultimately mean for me in terms of running. I have little doubt I will continue to run but I don’t yet know if the ‘after’ period will involve racing. The jury is still out and I won’t make any decisions on that until I am further along in the healing process.

Measuring Time

For the last several years, training for an ultra has been an incredibly important part of my life. In some ways, training for these big races is how I have come to frame the passage of time. That may sound odd, but when you spend months dedicated to preparing for an event, thinking about it, dreaming about it, planning it, it becomes intrinsically entwined with your memories of that particular moment in your life.

What do I remember about 2012? That’s the year I ran my first two 50 mile races. 2013 is the year I ran my first 100 miler and 100K…and then had surgery for pancreatic cancer.

Vermont 100 July 2013

Packet Pick-Up Vermont 100 July, 2013

Bear Chase 100k

Bear Chase 100k September 2013

What do I remember about 2014? I ran a 50 mile race three months after finishing chemo.

Bear Chase Trail Race

At the finish line of the Bear Chase 50 with RD and all around great guy, Ben Reeves.

2015 was the year of training for the Bryce 100. I trained in a lot of snow that spring…and the race was amazing.

Bryce Canyon 100

Beautiful scenery early in the Bryce Canyon 100 mile race.

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What I remember leading up to Bryce: slogging through deep snow in the spring.

2016 was the year I spent in the hills around Colorado Springs training for Run Rabbit Run 100.

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Most of the time I am content to be where I am right now, but there are difficult moments. Not having a race on the calendar for 2017 sent me into a temporary tailspin not long ago. Logically I knew all along I would not be running any races this year. I knew there was a distinct possibility I would not be running at all in 2017 (or ever) following my surgery.

Cruising Ultrasignup

All the same, I felt some moments of panic with the realization that training and racing were out of the question for the year. I suddenly found myself cruising Ultrasignup.com looking for a race hookup like a junkie. I looked at Run Rabbit Run and thought, “Oh look! There are spots still left in the 50! I could probably hike the whole race if I had to!”

After a few hours, I was able to reel myself back in to reality. I am used to trying to just power through diffiulty, but this is something I cannot force through sheer will and/or mental and physical strength. The body heals on its own time table. I can do things to help the process, but I can also do a lot of foolish things that would hurt the process.

I tried to put my finger on what it was I felt I was missing…or maybe missing out on.

Run Rabbit Run 100

Foliage on full display at the Run Rabbit Run 100 mile race in September, 2016

olympian aid station

Olympian Hall Aid Station, Run Rabbit Run 2016

I Need Something but isn’t more Cowbell

After spending the last 20 years running the trails and roads, going for a run feels like fulfillment of both basic and higher needs.  I love the ritual months-long build-up before a race, working towards short-term and long-term goals. I miss the early mornings spent on the trails, lost in my thoughts of how to make the world a better place and myself a better human being. I long for the feelings of freedom and power that come from exploring the trails, alone and unafraid.

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Enjoying solitude on the trails.

While I love working towards a race goal, the months of effort, the hard work involved, is what makes the experience gratifying for me. When I see articles about running a 100 mile race on extremely low mileage, I immediately think, “Why on earth would you want to do that?” The race is merely the celebration at the end of months of putting in the hard work. I spend weeks, months, years earning my way to the festivities. The dedication to the process is its own reward.

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My running partner, Willy.

I went early today for a few miles alone with Willy in Cheyenne Canon. Somewhere along the way, I realize that one key component I have missed out on during my recovery from hip surgery is the joy I feel from the solitude of being alone on the trails. I have spent plenty of time out walking in my neighborhood or at the gym or in the pool. There are benefits to all of these activities and being dedicated to them over the last four months has gotten me where I am now. I can get physical exercise anywhere, but only time in the mountains seems to bring the sense of peace I need.

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It’s Not You, It’s Me

Research provides plenty of evidence about the benefits of spending time in nature. I have never doubted the findings because I have experienced them myself. Today, while out away from technology and traffic and noise, my mind shifted into its creative space and I finally realized I am not really ‘missing out’ on anything at all. This summer has actually been exceptionally busy and while I love racing and the social aspect of running, what I really crave is the ‘quiet’ I can find only when I am alone on the trails.

I managed to get in 9 miles on the trails early this morning and was thrilled to see no other humans until I was over 7 miles in. In this world of ‘afters’, 9 miles is nowhere close to 20, but it felt just as wonderful. It was emotionally satisfying and physically challenging in exactly the way I needed. While I love my running friends, in this world of #zerolimits and baddassedry, right now I am content to go at my own pace, concentrate on healing and take care of my own needs.

Do I still Exist if I Don’t #DoEpicShit ?

Instead of looking back on 2017 as the year I did some ‘epic’ race, I will remember it as the year of recovery and no racing. I cannot and will not cap off the year by completing one big goal. Instead I am making a bunch of intermediate goals in the form of a list of trails I want to explore over the coming months. I am grateful I can still find peace, solitude and joy from doing something purely to feed my soul. If I continue to be smart and patient with my healing, hopefully I can soak in the tranquility and beauty of new open spaces as summer winds down and the cool winds of fall usher in the magnificent colors of fall.

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My Hippie Life

March 30th, 2017 marks the day I officially became a hippie. On that day, somewhere shortly after noon, I had hip surgery at the Vail Valley Surgery Center with Dr. Marc Philippon.

Hip History

My hip gave me some trouble several years ago. In 2009, I turned 40 and my ass fell off. Maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but, I trained really hard and ran a couple of good (for me) races, culminating with an 8th place finish at the American Discovery Trail Marathon. I won a little cash and enjoyed the race tremendously.

Tonia ADTM awards

I went home, very sore and spent the rest of the day reclining on the couch. The next day, I could not stand up straight. I was bent over like a 132-year-old person. Imagine my surprise when I saw my picture gracing the front of our local newspaper’s sport section (photo courtesy of the Gazette).

Tonia ADTM Gazette

How on earth did I go from feeling good and running well to being 132 years old?

An Eternity in the Pool

After ADTM, I spent months seeking a firm diagnosis on what was wrong, but doctors could not seem to agree.  ‘Maybe’ it was a labrum tear. I definitely had a stress reaction or hairline fracture to the pelvis. Some soft tissue damage. The possibility of labrum surgery was introduced at that point in time, but after doing a lot of research on the procedure, I decided I really needed to spend a long time trying to recover and rehab. I could not put my body through a procedure with an extremely long recovery without knowing for sure if the labrum was torn.

No Love at First Sight

I spent the next 9 months not running a step. I decided I would swim for recovery. I am not a swimmer. Sure, I can keep myself afloat long enough that I will not drown, but I have no technical swimming ability under my belt.

I hated every minute of swimming. The pool was cold and I was miserable every single time I got in the water. As much as I hated it. I never gave up. Over the course of 9 months, I swam nearly every day. Sticking with it paid off in spades when I got back into running. Becoming a terrible but committed swimmer kept me in great shape. When I started running again, I was grateful I had spent all of those months in the pool.

Eventually I got back into running, then racing and ultrarunning.  I never went back to the pool. I never thought I would need to.

Groin Pain or Hip Pain?

While the outside of my hip did not bother me, I occasionally developed what I thought was ‘groin pain’. As it turns out, ‘groin pain’ can actually be hip pain. For months following Run Rabbit Run, I did all I could to get better, but the pain never went away. Sometimes it was more or less intense than others, but it was always there.

Hip Surgery

After consulting with several medical professionals, I decided it was ‘now or never’ time. The labrum was now definitely torn and I needed to get it fixed soon or it might never happen. Results for this surgery seem to depend upon multiple factors, including the surgeon, the rehab work after surgery and the joint itself. If there is too much arthritis, the outcome of a labrum repair will not be good.

Fortunately for me, Dr. Philippon at the Steadman Clinic in Vail was willing to take me as a patient. (Read about the Steadman Clinic HERE) When his clinic contacted me and said he was willing to take me as a patient, I was thrilled. He is a pioneer in hip arthroscopic surgeries and has worked on many professional and elite amateur athletes. (Read more about Dr. Philippon HERE) Though he has strict criteria/requirements for his surgical patients and their recoveries (patients must stay in Vail for Physical Therapy for 4-5 days minimum post-op), I felt that going to Vail would give me the best shot for coming back to running.

I received excellent care in Vail and cannot say enough good things about the Steadman Clinic and Howard Head Sports Medicine. Within hours of my surgery, a physical therapist visited me in the hospital and got me on an exercise bike. (Visit Howard Head HERE)

Vail hospital Bike

I went to physical therapy twice per day for four days after surgery. On the fifth day, I went to morning PT and then all the hip patients went to the Avon Rec Center for a session in the pool.

hip class

How Did I End Up Here?

My labrum tore due to Femoroacetabular Impingement, a condition where excess bone on the hip socket (pincer type) and/or femoral head (cam type) causes damage to the labrum and cartilage. I had both types of impingement, so I ended up having the femoral head reshaped and excess bone cut off the socket. In addition, Dr. Philippon repaired the labrum and fixed several other problematic areas.

The Aftermath

The post-operative pain has been surprisingly manageable. I will be on crutches for approximately six weeks. I must use a ‘Continuous Passive Motion’ machine for 6-8 hours per day. The recommendation is to use it while you sleep, but that just doesn’t seem to work well for me. I do what I can and then make up the rest of the time during the day.

CPM

I am back visiting Kevin at Synergy Manual Physical Therapy in Colorado Springs. (Visit Synergy HERE). I ride a stationary bike and do my PT exercises twice per day, three or four days per week. On the other days, I am swimming/deep water running in addition to doing the PT exercises. So far, recovery feels like I am doing two-a-day training sessions for an ultra. In a way, I am.

incisions

It is amazing to me what surgeons can do arthroscopically these days. All I have are three small scars and a big bruise (not shown).

Lessons Learned…Looking Ahead

The good news is surgery went well. Dr. Philippon and the PTs at Howard Head believe I will be able to do whatever I want to do in time. The recovery from labrum surgery can be long and at 48-years-old my body does not bounce back from trauma the way it used to. I am trying to keep things in perspective and rely on my ultra marathon mentality to get me through the long road ahead.

I have already learned a few things in the last week-and-a-half:

  1. I hate being dependent upon other people. I knew this, but it has become even more apparent this past week-and-a-half. Since I am on crutches, I feel essentially helpless. I can’t carry anything. I can’t do laundry. I can’t fix dinner. I can’t carry a cup of coffee across the house. I need to ask for help with pretty much everything and it really bothers me. Why hasn’t anyone created crutches with robot hands? I would definitely buy them.
  2. Sometimes when you try something the second time around (or even third), you find you like it better…or at least you don’t hate it anymore. It was like that with running for me. I didn’t fall in love with running until the third time I tried to make it a habit. This is the second time around with the pool for me and I actually have been really grateful to have it as an outlet. I am thrilled to get real exercise and get my  heart rate up. I come home thinking, “I am tired and calm and that actually didn’t suck.”
  3. The pool feels warmer when you aren’t as skinny as you used to be. Also, swimming is hard work. Neither of these are bad things.
  4. Using crutches and wearing a brace makes everything take way longer than you think it will.
  5. As much as I hate it, sometimes I really have to rely on others for help. My mom, my husband, other school and volleyball parents have been life savers. I am grateful for their help.
  6. As much as I love running, I won’t die if I have to take some time off. I learned this already, but I am relearning it. Life will go on. I miss seeing my running friends. I will miss certain events this year. But, I will get back to it.
  7. It is good to have goals during recovery. Dr. Philippon and the PTs have all talked to me about my goals and I already have some in mind.
  8. I want to run again. I thought I would be doing Run Rabbit Run 100 again this year. Clearly I won’t be. But I believe I will run again.
  9. I also want to do some other things. Maybe I will take swim lessons. Maybe I will learn to rock climb when my hip is better. Maybe I will hike the Colorado Trail. I want to run but I hope to also discover joy in some new activities.
  10. I sometimes believe the universe is giving me signs. The gentleman who had hip surgery immediately following mine and who I spent lots of time chatting with at PT lives in Steamboat Springs and can see the Run Rabbit Run course from his house.
  11. I could live in a one room cabin with my husband and be happy.

For now, I am focused on getting through these next 4-6 weeks of crutches and equipment. While I know some days will be difficult, I am pretty at peace with the process for the moment. I don’t have a choice, so I may as well make the best of it. The mountains are still calling and I will be there…in time.

Seven Bridges selfie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What if this is ‘The End’?

When I ran Run Rabbit Run 100 in September, 2016, I had no idea that it would likely be my last 100 mile race. I was blissfully unaware that my little 100+ mile jaunt through the mountains in and around Steamboat Springs might be my final ultra or possibly even the conclusion of my running ‘career’.

As hard as Run Rabbit Run was for me, I had an amazing time. (You can read more about my race experience HERE) Even though there were moments in time where I was really ready to be done, I knew without question I wanted to run another 100. In the immediate aftermath of my previous 100’s, I told myself I was finished with the distance. Only days, weeks or months later did I start entertaining the idea of running another one. At Run Rabbit Run, however, I knew before I even crossed the finish line that I would sign up for another one. Except now I think my days of toeing the line at ultras is over.

finish-rrr

Injury

It turns out the self-diagnosed ‘groin strain’ was something entirely different. I have a tear in the labrum of my right hip that is causing pain and making running difficult. While physical therapy can sometimes improve the symptoms of a labrum tear, the labrum will not actually heal on its own.

Complicating things a bit is my age. As we get older, we typically have signs of osteoarthritis in our joints. If there is too much arthritis in the hip joint, the surgery will not be successful.

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Soaking in the scenery (Photo courtesy of Tim Englund)

Debating Surgery

I have debated with myself whether to have surgery or not many times over since I first learned the nature of my injury.The recovery from hip labrum surgery is known to be very long and challenging.  If I don’t get the surgery, I might be able to keep running, with pain, for a while. Running in the hills puts extra strain on the injury, so that would be out. I could run short distances on flat trails to try to minimize the damage, but for how long? And would I be happy with that?

On the other hand, if the surgery is not successful, I may not be able to run again at all. What is the right thing to do? Take a chance on the surgery so that maybe, just maybe, I could get back to doing what I love? Or should I try to settle with what I consider to be a poor substitute for an unknown amount of time?  Do I take a chance on my passion and risk giving up running entirely? Or do I play it safe and hope to just be able to get in a couple of miles each day around the neighborhood?

Vermont 100

What would I have done if I knew it was the last time?

When I found out that I might not be racing or even running in the future, I was devastated. I thought about Run Rabbit Run and how I had absolutely no idea it was likely my final 100, my swan song. If I had known, I wondered, what would I have done differently? It was a race, after all, so maybe I would have tried harder, despite being injured, to turn in a faster finish time. Maybe.

I love competition and I get fired up by seeing how well I can do under any given set of circumstances. However, in this instance, I think I would have tried harder to soak up every second of the experience. I have wonderful and very fond memories of this experience, but I wish I could hold on to every second in my mind: the beautiful scenery, hugging my daughter at the Aid Stations, Larry’s amazing stories, the spectacular full moon that Laura made me take in, the sunrise with my husband and even those final hot and painful miles downhill to the finish line.

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As we go through life and become acutely aware of how quickly time passes, we all seem to want the same thing- the ability to slow down time so we can savor the experiences. I have no regrets at this point about my running experiences. I have run many, many roads marathons, trail marathons and ultra marathons. I am three for three on 100 mile finishes.

Memories and Miles

Each race is special snapshot of a particular moment in the times of my life. I remember something from each experience which carries meaning for me. Sometimes those memories relate to where I was at a particular point in my life. Sometimes it is something as simple as the crowds at Boston or the scenery in the mountains. Either way, the memories the races evoke are incredibly special. I wouldn’t want to change the races where I ran as hard as I could. Still, all I can think when I recall Run Rabbit Run is how I wish I could replay the whole experience. I want to slow it down in the same way parents want to slow down time as their children grow.

More importantly, I carry running memories with me that have nothing to do with racing. I think back to how I started running with my dogs when I lived on the Gulf Coast. I remember the people I have run with over the years. I envision the beautiful trails I have spent so much time on since I have moved to Colorado. I have pushed my children in baby joggers and I have developed deep friendships on the roads and trails. My relationship with my husband has become richer and more rewarding as it has evolved over the years of running together. This is what makes running meaningful for me. It isn’t the races or the medals or the t-shirts. It is the all about the moments, the experiences, the time spent alone and the time engaged with others.

elk

I recently purged a bunch of my old race t-shirts. I even tossed an old Boston Marathon jacket I had. My husband was incredulous. He knew that jacket had once meant a great deal to me. At some point I realized, however, that it wasn’t the jacket that was important to me. The memories of the experience are what matter.

Who Am I if I am not a Runner?

In three weeks, if all goes well, I will have hip surgery. I hope to come back to running in time, but at this point I have no idea what the future holds. As with any major life change, it is frightening to have to give up something that has long been a big source of my own identity. I have now been ‘a runner’ for 20 years. Will I cease to exist as I once was? How will I see myself? How will others see me? Will I survive the long recovery period with my sanity intact? Will something else take the place running once filled in my life?

tonia run

Maybe I will come back to running, or maybe this will be the beginning of something new and undiscovered in my life. Either way, I cherish the memories I have built over these past 20 years. Push yourself. Run Hard. Run Fast. Run Long. But every once in a while, take the time to slow down and revel in the moment because you never know if it will be your last.

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