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Back in the Groove: Sidelined by Surgery

Technically, January is the start of the new year but September is when it really feels like time has turned a page. Maybe it’s because of the first-day-of-school pictures, where you can measure how quickly the kids are growing. Maybe it’s because the air is crisp after August’s heat. Or maybe it’s because all of your favorite gear companies are releasing a new round of fancy pants.

Whatever the reason, this is a great time to get back into a running groove. This week, we’re diving deep into stories from BAMRs who have misplaced their running mojo through injury, pregnancy, or relocation.

First up is Jen Rucker. She’s a mom to son, Wyatt, who is nine.

Jen on her first run back.

How did you lose your running groove?

In late June, I had a lumbar discectomy, which is surgery to remove a piece of a herniated disc that was pressing on my motor nerve. Prior to this, I spent six miserable months in various stages of PT, rest — and running through an injury I later found out was only going to be fixed with surgery.

Since 2010, I have been running marathons. My typical schedule was train from May-October for a fall marathon (or two), easy light running in November and December, then into training for a March half. April was usually fun, easy miles before launching back into marathon training. I would repeat this type of schedule every year.

This injury presented as a hamstring injury for quite some time so that's how I treated it. As the winter passed and spring started, I was convinced I would heal and be ready to train for my two fall marathons: Wineglass and Marine Corps. As I was starting my marathon training, I ran the Brooklyn Half, a race that had been on my list for years. I completed it, but ended up run/walking the last three miles due to excruciating pain in my knee. That is what finally brought me back to the doctor. Two MRIs later and I found out I had several compression stress fractures in my knee and a herniated disc. Surgery was immediately scheduled since I had been dealing with it for so long. May 20 was the last time I laced up shoes for almost three months.

How are you working on getting it back? 

The recovery for this surgery was relatively quick, all things considered. Just 12 days post-surgery I was cleared to ride a recumbent bike. Six weeks post-surgery, I was cleared to start run/walking. I tried it immediately, then gave it a few attempts, and just wasn't feeling ready.

The hardest part of this has been figuring out what are my true feelings versus what I have convinced myself to believe are my feelings. I was actually excited to have the surgery because I knew it would lead to healing. Healing would lead me back to running. Running would bring me back to fitness, time outside, stress relief, and my running friends. Volunteering at water stops and texting is not the same as running side-by-side for hours.

The run/walking wasn't feeling as easy as I had hoped and I started to convince myself that I would be okay if I couldn't run anymore. I've always wanted to try barre classes. Now I could. My running friends are still my friends; we’ll just have to make plans to see each other. Plus, I would have so much extra time on the weekends. I could read more. I could keep the weekly cleaning schedule I always seemed to create but never could execute. No more 5 a.m. alarm on a Sunday. I even canceled the hotel for a half in December that I was secretly hoping I could run. For the first time since 2010, there are no races on my calendar.

Last week, I was feeling better and decided to try to run one mile without walking. I did it and it felt good. Two days later, I did it again. All of those feelings I convinced myself I was feeling? I was wrong. I would not be okay not running anymore. Twelve minutes of putting one foot in front of the other, with my Garmin on my wrist, and I knew which were my true feelings and which were not.

I can't help but smile when I think of running again. However, I'm going to take my time and make sure I'm truly ready to be out there again. I'm going to stick to my self-made rule of no races in 2017. If all goes well, I have a March half picked out!

Will Jen make it back to Wineglass again?

What are three pieces of advice you’d have for anyone in a similar situation?

My first piece of advice is allow yourself to feel all the feelings. Different stages of the injury and recovery will lead to different feelings so just let yourself experience them. Secondly, be patient. Your body has gone through a lot and it needs time to heal. Finally, going from 40-50 mile weeks to nothing is tough so be kind to yourself.

If you’re looking to get your groove back with a group of like-minded runners, there’s still time to Stride into the School Year. This five-week program is all about forward motion, fitness, accountability and community, not about training for a specific race. The workouts are one-size-fits-all, whether you’re a walker, run/walker, or runner, and whether you’re just starting to run, coming back to it after a decade off, or just need a little push to get you jump started again.

3 responses to “Back in the Groove: Sidelined by Surgery

  1. I am so there with you ladies. Mine started over a year ago as weakness behind my right knee and dull pain in my hamstring. Sitting, especially driving, was the worst. My knee started bothering me and ultimately underwent meniscus repair. Four months out and I’m still dealing with it. My husband, who has had two L5/S1 procedures kept telling me it was my back. After reading Dimity’s blog (and crying) and listening to the podcast (and crying again), I made the call to my ortho asking for an MRI on my back to find out if that’s it. I just turned 61. I’m also dealing with loss of cartilage in my left knee and osteoarthritis, but am still holding onto hopes of running without the debilitating pain the follows the next several days. I so so miss running with my friends. Wishing you ladies the best.

  2. I had an L5/S1 microdiscectomy on July 10th, 2017. My disc had ruptured out and was compressing the sciatic nerve in my left leg. I lost strength and feeling in my left leg from my hip down to my toes. I am currently 9 weeks post op and am not recovering nearly as quickly as I expected. I am still numb and walk with a slight limp. I have felt some improvement strength wise, which gives me hope. It’s been a long haul. I can’t describe how touching Dimity’s post/podcast was to me this past week. There were tears, lots of tears. I also, have considered giving up running but deep down pray it isn’t true. I hope to continue strength and cardio on the elliptical and get back to running when my body tells me it’s ready. I turned 40 this year and hopefully have many more miles to come.

  3. I so needed this right now. I was supposed to be running the Chicago Marathon, but hurt my back a month ago and have been unable to run since. it actually came on in almost the exact same way as Jen’s injury did and has been diagnosed as a low back strain due to a hamstring issue. However, it seems like I’ve reached a point where I’m no longer improving and MRI is the next step. I’m so frustrated with myself and keep thinking it happened because I did something wrong or wasn’t doing something I should have been. Sometimes it’s necessary to be reminded that we need to be kind to ourselves.

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