Recovery from a Hip Stress Fracture

The last 49 days have been a test of my patience.

I was somewhere around mile 40 at Desert Solstice when I knew the pain in my hip that was spreading was likely more serious than soft tissue pain. Yet being the stubborn runner that all of us ultrarunners tend to be, I continued trudging through the pain. After successfully setting the 50-mile American age group record, I thought to myself I could probably stop and still feel somewhat successful. But the 12-hour record was within reach. So, I continued to push forward. 

We all fight through pain in ultras. I recalled the year I had a severe IT band issue at the Burning River 100-mile race. Every step became excruciating, yet I still finished. I told myself this was like that.  It would hurt like f*&^%$ hell, yet I wouldn’t do permanent damage and it would heal. But every time I stopped for nutrition or for a brief walk break, restarting was pure agony.

I successfully set two more records, the 100K and 12-hour.  I then thought I could probably call it a day. Yet, I didn’t come all the way out to Desert Solstice to run with so many amazing elite athletes just to go 62 miles. I needed to come home with at least the 100-mile buckle. So I hobbled on some more.

A typical femoral neck stress fracture will cause pain in the groin. Yet most of my pain was on the outside making my coach and physical therapist, Stephanie, never suspect an actual fracture. It wasn’t until the next couple of days that the groin pain became just as severe as the pain on the outside of the hip. Had I expressed pain in the groin during my race, she would have realized it was a fracture and made me stop. I’m just a freak of nature I guess.

I limped across the timing mat 16 hours and 37 minutes after the start of Desert Solstice with 100.165 miles and that was all I could muster. The hip could tolerate absolutely nothing more.

I think most ultrarunners are hard on themselves. I had big goals of completing 140 miles in 24 hours. I was disappointed and questioned my “toughness.”  We are perfectionists.

Yet we celebrated what I was able to accomplish despite things not being 100%. Here I was running just a few months after having serious health issues, including a stroke that put me in the hospital for a week. I worked my ass off with Dr./Coach Stephanie, rehabbing first so I could simply stand, then walk in a straight line, then slowly begin running again. It was a long journey. And I still somehow by the grace of God was able to break 3 American records and place 3rd female in the 100-mile at the prestigious Desert Solstice, a top ten most competitive ultra event in the country. I needed to be a little bit more forgiving of myself.

The next day it was not easy to walk. Walking through the airport was a bit humbling.

This is what my hip looked like the day after (I blacked out my bootie to spare y’all):

I arrived home on Monday. Tuesday Stephanie strongly encouraged me to get an x-ray, so I went to the walk-in orthopedic clinic. The results were devastating to me. I had a femoral neck stress fracture. The physician’s assistant reviewed the x-ray and left the room to consult with the surgeon to determine if surgery would be advised. Luckily, he was optimistic that it would heal on its own, but I would be non-weight bearing for at least 4-6 weeks. My first thought was, “OK, but can I still run?”

The stress fracture was likely caused by a combination of having the stroke a few months earlier which completely shut down my ability to run for several weeks. My competitive and stubborn nature led me to be overzealous when I was able to run again, and I piled on the miles much more quickly than I should have. My left leg was much weaker than my right as a result of the stroke causing me to overcompensate and put more stress on the right hip.  Furthermore, I was on (and still am on) lupus medications that cause bone weakness. This was a detrimental combination that ultimately led to my hip’s demise.

I crutched my way out of the doctor’s office and immediately messaged Stephanie. There had to be a magical solution to this. Stephanie is a miracle worker, yet nothing heals a bone except for time. And I didn’t feel like I had a lot of time. I had to prepare for the biggest race of my life. Badwater was just 7 months away. I began doing calculations in my head. It was early December. Six weeks would be mid-January. And that would just be when I could start walking again. Give it a couple more weeks probably before any running would occur. I would likely not be running my 80-100 mile weeks until April if I was lucky.

Stephanie is wonderful in how she redirects my negative thinking and transforms it into something more positive. It was time to focus on what we could control. I would need some down time anyway being I had just run 100 miles. Some rest would be beneficial to my body before building up again for Badwater. I could also focus on strengthening other areas that are often neglected with the amount of running I do and the lack of time. Now I had the time for more strength training. After a couple weeks I was also able to get on the bike to keep my cardio up. 

Stephanie and I also took a fun trip to crew a couple of our running clients at Bandera. This helped tremendously, getting me out of the self-pity mode and focused on our runners. Not to mention, we had the biggest Margarita I’ve ever seen- so big we received high fives for consuming it. This picture doesn’t do it justice. We drank it all!

64 ounce strawberry margarita at the San Antonio Riverwalk

I recall when I was completing my Master’s degree, I arrived at this idea for a theory. I would name it “Opportunity Theory.”  I was inspired by Viktor Frankl after reading his book, Man’s Search for Meaning

Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, author of “Man’s Search for Meaning”

He survived the Holocaust and endured and witnessed terrible suffering. Yet he never lost hope. He writes that what kept him going, what gave him the strength to continue fighting, was finding meaning in his existence no matter how brutal. He called this “logotherapy.”

My idea of “Opportunity Theory” was that in every situation of life, good or bad, there are opportunities. Every disappointing thing that occurs leaves you with opportunities for growth, for joy, for taking a new path, for improvement. Stress is an opportunity to become stronger. Failure is an opportunity for learning. Losing a job might be an opportunity to gain a better job, maybe move somewhere new and more enjoyable. Losing a friend gives you the opportunity to make new friends.

As a runner, there’s absolutely nothing worse than being told you can’t run. And it is much worse when running is your outlet for major life stressors and you lose that ability to escape. Let’s just say there were a lot of tears. Yet how could I see this as an opportunity?

The interesting thing is, my stroke affected my left side leaving my left leg significantly weaker. It remains weaker to this day. So, by fracturing the opposite hip I had the opportunity to catch the left leg up to the right. In addition, I now had more time for strength training. I had the opportunity to become stronger than I was before.

 I also had the opportunity to spend more time with my family. There would be no long runs on the weekends taking me away from my kids for hours. And furthermore, I had the opportunity to appreciate and be grateful for the many years of good health I had as a runner. I rarely was sidelined with an injury. Now that I was out for so long, I would appreciate every future run that much more. I would never take a run for granted again.

So what did my recovery look like? I consider myself to be one of the luckiest ultramarathon runners out there because of my coach who happens to be a physical therapist and also happens to be one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known. Upon learning I had this stress fracture she began sending me research article after research article on treatments. She sent me vitamin D and K and all kinds of supplements that I now take daily. She brought me an electromagnetic pulsating machine to attach to the hip to speed up bone healing. Additionally, she let me use her infrared light that I expose the hip area to for an hour every day. I was doing everything I possibly could in order to quicken the process.

Stephanie wrote a new strength training plan for me. Obviously I was unable to do much with the right leg, yet I could strengthen the left as well as work on core and arms. I eventually was able to use an Airdyne bike which shockingly gave me an incredible aerobic workout!

After nearly two months of recovery, this past week I was able to begin a tiny bit of running. This progression was likely much faster than the average person would return to running after a hip fracture. And that is pretty incredible considering my other health issues. I attribute this of course to my coach and physical therapist.

I suppose another opportunity this experience gave me was the chance to learn patience, as difficult as that was. Waiting this out and not being an idiot with my need to run has left me in a pretty good position right now. I have 5 and a half months to prepare for Badwater. No, I’m not running 10 miles per day yet. But I believe if I continue listening to my coach, I will be there in plenty of time to reach my peak performance for Badwater this July.

Crewing for Patsy Ramirez-Arroyo at Badwater 2018

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