By Jodi Badershall
A scroll through your social media account will bombard you with numerous memes depicting runners disregarding injuries and doctor’s orders to get in miles. Motivational quotes portray ultra runners as being too tough to quit, able to push through the pain, and overcome any obstacle in their path. Posts like these are great when they inspire you to get out of bed in the morning and hit the trail. Unfortunately, they can also have a very negative effect on our mental and physical well being. I have pushed through injury for years, there were times when I couldn’t stabilize myself on one leg to get dressed or walk without pain, but I had figured out how to compensate to push out some miles. On the days I couldn’t run a step, I’d break down and feel like a failure. I would hit the stairmaster or bike because I knew I could push through. The next morning I’d lace up the sneakers and head out the door again, hoping something had changed. If I could power through it, I’d do enough miles to put me back at a walk again. That is what makes me a true ultra runner, right, being badass enough to run through anything and NEVER succumb to pain. (Death before DNF)
I won’t take all of the blame for my current injury getting as bad as it did. I did seek medical intervention many times over the past decade with no relief or answers. This also falls back on the fact that I continued to push. Doctors did not fully realize the extent of my problem because I was still running. I don’t think they had dealt with many patients with true “no pain, no gain” mentality. In 2017, I did have x-rays, which showed that the femoral head was shaped wrong, told that I had FAI and was sent to months of PT. Nothing was alleviated, but I ran Leadville as planned, and continued to push through training until the next spring. In the spring of 2018, I was doing PT at least once a week and still had days where I couldn’t run, but I had Leadville on the calendar again, so I asked for a cortisone shot in the hip. I had less pain, but still very little stability. It’s hard to explain, I felt I was constantly fighting to not fall on my face. My top half was not communicating well with the bottom. I would constantly roll my ankle or catch my toe, often resulting in bloody knees. I was able to get through both Leadville and Moab 240 on grit and determination, embracing the pain cave, all the things we are supposed to do in order to be true ultrarunners.
It wasn’t until this past summer, when I didn’t do the races I wanted to because I lacked the stability to run on flat surfaces, never mind trails, that I was determined to push again, but this time it was to get answers. I started by contacting Michele Yates. I knew Michele had faced hip issues, actually having surgery on both, and had been able to return to a successful, winning ultra career. Michele was a Godsend! She not only responded to my email, she invited me to a Rugged Running boot camp session. It was at the session, where I realized to what extent I lacked stability and strength on my left side. When I attempted to do drills, isolating the one side, I would collapse. Through gait analysis, all of my compensations became apparent. I had, as Michele put it, “the most jacked up gait” she had ever seen. I was fortunate to spend some of my time while I was in Colorado working with Michele and continued to follow her strength program when I returned home. Michele helped me realize the importance of being a strong self-advocate and in October, I addressed the issue with my doctor again. I was sent for an MRA which indicated signs of hip dysplasia; coxa valga, shortening of the femoral head; degeneration; and labral tearing. November 20, I had surgery to preserve what was left of the hip. Unfortunately, the degeneration had reached the extent where a microfracture procedure had to be done to stimulate the production of new cartilage. Fortunately, by following Michele’s program for two months prior to the surgery I was able to go off crutches at 3.5 weeks, instead of the normal 6-8! Even though the surgeon explained that my fitness level made for a successful surgery and initial recovery, I still have a long way to go. I am limited to the stationary bike, a return to running is months down the road, yet this time I don’t feel like I’ve failed. I’m not weak, or any less of a runner. When I get through this, I will be a strong, smarter athlete. I have learned that pushing through the pain is not the answer, that there are times you do need to stop. It isn’t quitting, it is another form of training. Learning to listen to your body, take care of those nagging issues and seek the help of others. As athletes, we know our bodies better than anyone. We need to trust that fact and advocate to get the support and answers we need.
Through the recovery process, I think it is important to stay focused on your goals. You may not be able to run, but set yourself up a training program doing what you can do. Find other athletes who have faced similar challenges and setbacks, use them as a source of motivation and support. Stop scrolling through social media platforms and focusing on those “motivational” posts encouraging us “badass” runners to push through pain. Many of us identify as a runner, and an injury often leads to us losing that identity. Use this time to hone in other aspects of your life. I have been able to spend precious time with my niece, take courses to renew my personal trainer certification and focus on personal and professional goals that had been pushed aside by running.
I feel like I have rambled through this blog. I instruct my students to make outlines, draft and revise. I have done none of those things and I hope that isn’t glaringly clear. My hope is that if you are reading this, you are left feeling like you are not any less of an athlete for addressing an issue rather than pushing through it; that you advocate for yourself, even when doctors don’t understand the severity of your issue; and that you realize that life has more to offer besides running and focus on those things through the recovery process. My Rugged Running family has been a constant source of inspiration and support through this process, and I hope I can be the same to you.