Off the Deep End

Forty Days ago I had hip surgery. This past week I hit some major milestones. I am now cleared to drive my car.

driving

A driving selfie just because I was so darned happy to get to drive myself for a change!

I got to go on my first short walks with my husband and the dogs.

Sadie rolling

I am mostly weaned off of my crutches, only using them when my leg becomes very tired or sore.

I have been faithful to doing my physical therapy exercises. I go to the pool 3-4 times per week. I went from barely being able to swim for 5 minutes to now being able to swim a mile (using the buoy) with relative physical ease. I am still grateful for the ability to swim for exercise. If it weren’t for the pool, I would have no way to work my heart and lungs for the first twelve weeks post-op.

The Pool: The Depths of Sadness

Yet I still don’t love swimming. Every time I go to the pool I have to have a serious heart-to-heart talk with myself. It takes me several minutes to psych myself, first to the leave the house and then, when I get to the pool, to go in. There is something I find depressing about the pool.

At first I thought that it is because you can’t really talk to anyone while you are swimming, but then I realized it is more than that. The pool, for me, amplifies feelings of isolation. When I head to the pool, I convince myself it will be a time of solitude and reflection. But the pool seems to always be busy. Instead of relishing some time to be alone with my thoughts, I find myself surrounded by people, often in close proximity, but without being able to connect with anyone. There are cursory words, ‘hi, mind if we share this lane?’ But that is about as far as the conversation goes. There is a profound sense of isolation that comes from being surrounded by people without any real sense of connection.

Isolation Vs. Being Alone

It isn’t that I don’t like being alone. But the experience through running is different. I have spent countless miles and hours alone on the trails. I come away with a clearer head. On the trails, I can focus on the world around me, taking in the beauty of nature, while allowing my internal world to work through life’s problems. I come home feeling freer, lighter, calmer. The time on the trails gives me a perspective that is hard to reach in other situations.

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Being alone with one’s thoughts without traffic, noise, technology and other distractions is a rare gift these days. Several recent studies have shown how important time in nature is to our mental health and well-being. After spending nearly 6 weeks without a single excursion to the trails I love, I realize how important that time is for my own sense of mental and emotional peace. Being alone on the trails gives a sense of connection to the universe. Being in the pool surrounded by people I don’t know leaves me feeling empty.

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The Intimacy of the Trails

There is something else that sets swimming in the pool apart from running the trails. There is a sense of intimacy that comes from relationships built on the trails. I joke that running is a sort of ‘truth serum’ that causes you to share things with people that you might not every share otherwise. Run with a partner and you will soon know everything about that person. When I think of my closest friends, the image that comes to mind is often a particular conversation or snapshot in time on a trail. Topics we might never bring up in other circumstances become subjects of intense debate, scrutiny and mutual understanding on the run.

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The Things I Learn About Running from Not Running

I don’t crave large numbers of friends built on superficial relationships. I live for the few people with whom I enjoy deeper conversations and connection. I desire the closeness that comes with truly knowing others. I want the relationship where we love one another not despite our flaws and inner secrets, but because we trust one another enough to share them.

 

Those are the moments I miss right now. It isn’t training or racing or putting in big miles or tempo runs or hill repeats that I want at this point. I long for those moments of being purely alone in the mountains. I miss the quiet moments with one close friend. I yearn for feelings that cannot be quantified or measured, those moments and conversations that leave me both energized and grounded in a way nothing else does.

So for now, the pool leaves me feeling cold, both emotionally and physically. I will keep going because I know eventually it will pay off and allow me to return to what my heart and soul crave most. For the time being, I will try to envision the mountain vistas with each stroke and breath as I try to stay afloat, forever moving forward.

Tonia Jacks

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.

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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