About a month ago, after six months of training and what I thought was a heroic recovery from a stress reaction in my right femur, I ran the Austin Marathon:
You may notice that things get really slow for the last four miles or so. Here’s the deal with that.
I hadn’t run much in the six weeks before the marathon, because I had a persistent pain in my right hip. It was diagnosed via MRI as a “stress reaction,” where the bone marrow swells due to stress on the bone. It’s a precursor to a fracture. I took three weeks off running, and worked with a physical therapist to rehabilitate the hip. I spent hours and hours simulating long training runs on an elliptical strider (do not try this). I did low-body-weight runs on an AlterG, a wacky device that supports your weight on a bubble of air while you run on a treadmill.
In the days leading up to the race, I was cleared to run by my physical therapist. I had some pain in my hip, but it wasn’t like the bone pain I’d had before the diagnosis, so I chalked it up to soft tissue. I was worried that I wouldn’t make it far, but I wanted to start the race on principle, since I’d trained so long for it.
Things started out better than I could have hoped. I had only a little bit of manageable pain in the hip one mile in. I felt strong. I made it 5 miles in, and crossed the river. I tried not to get too excited. I made to the 11 mile mark where the marathon / half marathon split was, and I took the marathon route. I couldn’t believe my luck! By mile 17, I was starting to hurt more. Walking was more painful than running, but as long as I could get moving after water stops, I was okay. Someone who saw me around mile 17 reported that I was running pretty funny, but I didn’t notice it. I was elated that I might finish.
At mile 22, there was a quick increase in pain in my right hip. I tried to take another stride, but I couldn’t. I was sure I had pulled a muscle or ligament or something. The bone was healed, after all.
I started limping along at a slow walking speed, determined to finish. I knew I’d be laid up on the couch for a day or two recovering from whatever I’d pulled, but, I told myself, it was worth it. A good friend who was running with me caught up a couple of miles into my ridiculous limp and offered to walk with me the rest of the way (he has several marathons under his belt). Boy, it was lucky that he did. We made the rest of the way, somehow, and I walked across the finish line on my hands (haha, what a joker!). Then he steered me into the medical tent, you know, just to be sure I was okay. Here I am 100 yards or so from the finish:
After I was examined and nothing serious found, I realized that I couldn’t really walk. So, I asked for some crutches to get back to the car. I crutched over to my poor pregnant wife who was waiting for me, and the pain in my leg was pretty extreme. We decided to head to the hospital, you know, just to be extra careful in case there was a fracture.
An hour later, exhausted and sweaty on a bed in the ER, I learned that I’d fractured my femur. The break was bad but not complete–it went halfway through the neck of the femur. If the fracture had gone all the way through, I would have needed a total hip replacement. As it stood, I likely needed surgery to insert screws in the femur to stabilize the fracture so I did not get worse. They offered to prep me for surgery right there, but I was exhausted, hungry, and a bit distraught at the idea of having screws permanently put in my body. So we went home to think about it.
It took about 24 more hours of internet research on femoral neck fractures to conclude that surgery was the right choice. If I didn’t get it, there was a chance that a fall at home could complete the fracture, leading to hip replacement, a terrible outcome. The screws reportedly did not have any lasting limitations. So I waited five days for the next available surgery appointment, leg hurting excruciatingly whenever it got bumped or moved the wrong way.
The surgery was quick and easy. I was told I would probably be admitted, unless I was feeling okay after the surgery in which case I could go home the next day. We showed up at 5am for the 7am surgery, Leslie bizarrely watching me get rolled away to the OR in a last minute role reversal. I was awake again 45 minutes later and the surgeon said everything had gone fine. I stepped off the bed with crutches and immediately could put weight on the leg. I was so relieved. I got to go home with some awesome X-rays of my new titanium-enhanced leg:
A month after the marathon, I’m still on crutches, but only because of doctor’s orders. I have almost no pain any more moving around. I’m getting exercise by swimming. I’d say I’m doing better than my very pregnant wife at this point. The doctor said I can ditch the crutches as soon as the baby is born :)