injured runner

Your doctor and his/her team may provide a lot of information about your upcoming shoulder surgery, but I’m here to give you the skinny on what it’s really like and to share tips that’ll help you survive — and thrive.

While I’m not a medical professional, I have had four — yes, four — surgeries on my right shoulder. The first was probably related to my tae kwon do days, the second and third were due to falls, while the fourth involved my 115 lb. dog pulling on her leash. Hard.

Let me tell you that having the surgery was no fun, but a month after my fourth go round, I can say that they’ve all been worth doing. I don’t want to do it again, mind you, but I don’t regret taking care of tears that wouldn’t have healed on their own.

So, what do you really need to know? Here’s my week-by-week look into what shoulder surgery recovery looks like. Keep in mind that I cleared all of my activity with my doctor before surgery, so please talk to your doctor about what you can do and when.

Week 1

Surgery day: I make sure to wear something that’s super comfortable to the hospital or surgery center. After trial and error, I settled on a camisole with a shelf bra, a hoodie and yoga pants/sweat pants. I have to remove my top and bra for surgery. Afterward, I pull the cami on from my legs/hips with el husbando’s help; the straps are stretchy enough to go over the ginormous bandages on my newly stitched up shoulder.

I was handed socks with grippers and a lovely hair net, too. The nurse sticks a thermometer on my forehead. I look hot.

Stylin’ just before shoulder surgery.

I don’t do well with anesthesia, so I was nauseous and woozy after the procedure. El husbando tells me that I had complete conversations with the surgeons and surgery staff, but I have no memory of anything until the time when I was getting on the wheelchair to head home. I almost faint, so back to bed I go for a little bit. A little juice and I’m well enough to go home.

Back to the ginormous bandage. I was sent home with what they called an ice buddy, which holds ice that cycles through a hose and pad to help with pain management. You should know that you’ll either need a gazillion buckets of ice or frozen water bottles because you’ll wear the ice buddy 24 hours a day for the first three days.

I was also wearing the arm brace, which holds your arm in place so you don’t accidentally do something stupid.

Speaking of pain, follow your doc’s instructions, but mine told me to start taking my pain meds as soon as I got home. I set my phone alarm to make sure I don’t miss a dose. Yes, even at 2 a.m.

Don’t plan on doing much of anything this first day. My kids’ abuela lives with us, so she covered meals and snacks, which was a godsend.

The most exciting thing I do is watch a bunch of TV in bed, propped up on pillows. I nap a lot.

Days 2-3: Feel a bit better already, but still a little off. Probably a combination of the anesthesia and the meds. I spend most of my time in bed, watching TV. I read a little bit and feel well enough to check social media, but not much.

Switched to PJs with the tops that have buttons so I could put the sleeve over the injured arm much more easily.

Since you can’t get the bandages wet, showering is a pain in the behind and frowned upon. I use baby wipes the first day. On the second and third days, I cover up the bandages with a plastic garbage bag and take a quick shower.

The ice continues. The boredom starts to set in, but I don’t feel awesome, so it’s easy to just do a whole lot of nothing.

I switch to Tylenol on the evening of day 3 because I don’t like how I feel when I’m on meds. It wasn’t really enough for the pain, but I would rather deal with pain than side effects. Again, follow your doc’s orders on medication.

Day 4: Bandages can come off, finally. You will probably want someone to help. I remove them  myself because I’m stubborn that way. I use baby wipes to clean around the incisions/stitches and under my right arm, but you still can’t get the stitches wet for the rest of the week. I once again cover my shoulder with a garbage bag and am finally able to wash my hair with just one arm.

My hair looks like a 3-year-old styled it, but it’s clean.

Tip: a washcloth comes in handy, especially when washing under your surgery arm. Trust me, you’ll definitely want to wash and dry well under that arm. It’s hard to use deodorant, but absolutely necessary.

At this stage, I still can’t use my surgery arm, so everything is difficult. But I start to feel a whole lot more awake. Still watch a lot of TV and do a whole lot of nothing.

I walk a mile on the treadmill and feel like I accomplished something.

Walking on the treadmill with the arm brace is ridiculous, but doctor approved.

Days 5-7: Pain is much better so it’s harder to keep from using that hand/arm, even with the sling. My doctor had me wear the thing all the time — including when sleeping. At this point, I have dreams of burning the sling, but I can appreciate it’s purpose.

I have my first post-op visit, have my stitches removed, get a script to start physical therapy and another one to go back to work.

I drive myself to the doctor’s office and feel comfortable enough to run an errand, but am exhausted and have to rest when I get home. Exhaustion is a common theme for the first month.

No stitches means that I can shower without a garbage bag. I still am washing one-handed and my hair still suffers, but it feels good to be completely clean.

Walk on the treadmill for one or two miles a couple of times this week, so I walk four miles outside on Saturday and feel really, really good.

Week 2

I’m still home from work and spending a lot of time watching TV, reading and catching up on social media. Doing anything (including taking a shower) exhausts me. My pain is better, but my body is telling me to take it slow.

Highly recommend tops with buttons in the front to make dressing easier and nothing with zippers because you are still only able to use one arm. I fill my days with Mad Men reruns and running a handful of errands. By the weekend, I’m really looking forward to going back to work.

I have groceries delivered, which was a great help. The whole familia pitches in so I don’t have to do a whole lot around the house.

Physical therapy includes a lot of massage and checking my range of movement.

I get a haircut to help with the styling issue. It doesn’t help a whole lot, but I’m doing the best I can.

Walk a few times on the treadmill, between one and three miles. Very slowly and carefully, wearing my sling. On Saturday, walk five and a half miles and feel great. Walk three miles on trails on Sunday.

Week 3 

Monday: Holy mother of … it hurts. First day back to work is a disaster. I totally overdid it.

The laptop? Yeah, I used it way too much. Taking notes during meetings is almost impossible. I have no energy and can’t wait to get home. Once home, all I can do is sit with the ice buddy and think of ways to minimize the damage the following day.

I’m back at work, arm sling and all!

Just how much Aleve can a chica take safely? There’s not enough Aleve in the world. I go to bed early, but barely sleep. I’m regretting coming back to work.

Tuesday: I ask a colleague to print some materials for me so I don’t have to use my laptop. I grab a much smaller pad of paper and put it on my lap to take notes. I accept offers of help for even the most simple tasks like opening doors and getting my coat on and off. My friend brings me flowers, which lifts my spirits.

I don’t dream of popping Aleve like candy, but I come home to sit and ice again. I feel like I can do this.

Wake up in the middle of the night in terrible pain. Crap. Can’t sleep. Tomorrow will be better. Right? Right?

Wednesday and Thursday: I spend the days with awesome people. Have very productive meetings with partners. Spend very little time on my laptop and use my phone to answer any email.

Better. I still ice when I get home, but I get some relief and sleep a little better. I am so very tired. Did I mention I’m in pain and exhausted?

Friday: I work from home where I can sit in a recliner and ice my shoulder all day. Read a lot of printed materials, rely on my cell phone for any email and avoid the laptop as much as possible. Still get a full day’s worth of work in.

The pain is starting to lessen. Realize that I should have come back part-time for week three. Or not at all.

Weekend: Since I walked a few times on the treadmill (between one and three miles each) during the week, I walk six on Saturday and three on Sunday. Feel good.

Week 4

Much better. I know to spend as little time as possible on the computer by using my phone for email, for reading documents and to call people instead of emailing.

Walking outside with my friend Michelle was just the boost I needed.

I also spend most of the week in the car, driving to towns over an hour away for meetings. Totally worth it and not too bad, given how miserable I was the previous week.

I ice my shoulder in the evening for the first two or three days, but don’t need to after that. The pain has lessened noticeably. It still hurts, mind you, but it’s not unbearable.

Physical therapy continues to be very mild. The therapist asks me to continue to wear the sling 100 percent of the time. I have visions of shooting the sling, setting it on fire and flinging it off the top of the Mackinac Bridge.

I pull Hal Higdon’s plan to walk a half marathon so that I have something to look forward to, even though I had to cancel my May half marathon under doctor’s orders.

At this stage, I still use my arm very little. When I do, I feel where the repairs were made and sometimes I have shooting pain. As much as I hate it, the sling prevents me from overusing the arm while also being a visual reminder to myself and others that I’m still not able to do all the things I’m used to doing.

It may be spring, but it’s still snowing in the Michigan tundra and I have to wear the arm brace over a puffy down coat. It’s about as awesome as it sounds.

I’m fortunate that I have a lot of support both at home and at work. I have learned to accept help and to adapt my expectations of my abilities given that I can only use one arm.

Getting dressed and doing my hair continue to be a challenge. I can put a shirt on (without buttons in the front) by slipping the sleeve into my right arm, then pulling it over my head and, finally, putting my left arm in the other sleeve. But I’ve gotten stuck a few times taking shirts and dresses off. I’ve learned to pull on the back of the shirt/dress behind my neck with my left hand until I have enough fabric to make it OK to pull out my right arm.

Lessons learned

As someone who is so active, I’ve struggled with so much sitting around. But because I’ve done this three other times, I know that taking the time to heal now will mean that I’ll get to do all the things I want to do later.

I’m grateful that my physical therapist, surgeon and physician’s assistant have all told me it’s realistic for me to train for both the Woodstock 50K in September and Detroit Marathon in October.

So instead of bemoaning my lack of running now, I’m choosing to see this time as part of my long-term training plan. Because allowing my body to heal now will mean I will get to those finish lines.

Have you had surgery before? How did you cope? What did you do to get back to your previous activities? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

We had heard the stories beforehand: The time when Shannon almost died. The steep hills. The shoe-sucking mud pit.

But nothing prepared us for just how hard it would be to get through one of two loops for the Old Farts Running Club‘s The Mummy Trail Marathon and Half in Lowell, Mich. It kicked our butts!

With a bum knee bugging me for the past couple of weeks, I signed up for the full marathon on race day, thinking that I would DNF (did not finish) halfway if I had to. I really wanted the gear, which was pretty awesome and included a zip-up jacket, neon-yellow running T-shirt and a towel. All items had either the mummy logo or the name of the race.

Race organization

I arrived at 7 a.m. for an 8 a.m. start. Registration was super quick and organized.

There were stacks of jackets, T-shirts and sweatshirts to riffle through, but each runner got to pick exactly what they wanted. There were stacks of even more clothes after the race and each runner got to pick another item which now included stacks of sweat pants, track pants and shorts.

The gear was stacked on a picnic table, but we all took home a really nice jacket or sweatshirt and there were plenty of sizes and styles to choose from.

There are flush toilets in a building right by the start line and the race is small enough that the line was short.

Speaking of the start line, the race director gave clear instructions, we all lined up and we started right on time.

The trails were very clearly marked with small flags, spray-painted arrows and homemade signs that both encouraged and taunted us.

One of the many taunting signs along the trail.

The race organizers also have some sort of sick love for Chuck Norris who managed to make us feel unworthy every time we saw his face.

Hold me.

Water stations were tidy with plenty of cups and big trash cans. The station at around mile 8 had three of the Old Farts whose names grace some of the toughest spots along the course. They lulled us into a false sense of security by giving us sliced watermelon, cookies and Coke.

Don’t let these smiling faces fool you. The men were friendly but the portions of the race named after them were brutal.

Difficulty

It quickly became apparent that if we were going to do two loops and finish with 26.2 miles, we were going to have to reserve some energy, so we did a lot of walking. Looking back, that was one of our biggest mistakes. One mile had hills so steep, it took us 45 minutes.

How steep, you ask?

We had to crawl on our hands and knees a few times before reaching ropes that helped us climb, but that also made us feel like we would fall backward and plunge to our deaths.

But because climbing up steep hills wasn’t hard enough, this one had huge rocks.

Rocks? Sure, because the hills weren’t steep enough on their own.

And the trees. Oh, the trees. Trees blocked the trail so many times that even when we were running, we quickly had to stop to go over — or duck under — downed trees. At least two of us banged up our knees and got nice cuts and bruises. Never say I didn’t bleed for my running!

We crossed a few streams and slid down a few extra-steep spots on our bums.

 

We were grateful for the ropes, but wanted to lie down and cry whenever we spotted them because we knew what they portended.

No happy ending

We survived the toughest trail race I’ve ever seen. Even the Two Hearted Trail Half, which I considered relatively technical, and the Run Woodstock 50K were easier than today’s course.

Toward the end of the first look, the course gets a lot less technical, so my friends and I discussed going back out to do a second loop. My knee was holding up pretty well, but we were all plum tired. And we must have looked it because one of the race organizers (who happens to be a coach) basically told us we were done.

And we were perfectly OK with that. He even gave us half-marathon finisher medals and told us we did great. So we technically didn’t DNF and it felt like we earned those darn medals.

Lessons learned

There is no way I could do the full marathon at Old Farts. Well, maybe at some point. This was definitely not my year.

Would I sign up for the half? In a heartbeat. And I would run a lot more than I did today, knowing that we “only” had to do 13.1 miles (or more like 13.5 by my watch), making it a shorter trip.

I also was very glad that I had my friends’ support. I can’t imagine going through all of that by myself. There were many times when we encouraged each other, helped each other face our fears and pushed each other to get to the finish line.

The chicos both finished the full, but the chicas and I did one loop instead. That we’re all smiling after the race is a testament to our friendship.

In the end, it wasn’t the race I had signed up for, but I wouldn’t trade the experience — or my crew — for anything.

What’s the toughest race you’ve ever done? Would you consider our change of plans a DNF? Have you ever DNF’d? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

 

The day began at o’dark-30 on Saturday morning with a 45-minute drive from our campground in the great metropolis of Beulah to Traverse City Central High School to meet up with the other runner chicas.

Tip: Look at a map before you book your hotel/campground so you are not surprised on race morning that you have to drive FORTY-FIVE minutes at 5 a.m.

My friend Vicki was her usual wonderful self and picked up my packet on Friday night so I could just board a school bus to take us to the finish line, about 20 minutes away.

Tip: Arrive early because the parking lot gets super busy and you don’t want to miss the bus to the starting line.

We arrived with plenty of time to freeze use the port-a-potties twice, take lots of selfies and catch up with friends.

Tip: Be prepared to wait to use the aforementioned toilets. The lines were super long.

While there are no pace groups for the half marathon, Bayshore does provide markers so you can line up by estimated pace. The crowd is huge, but we didn’t have any trouble finding a good spot to start and quickly got into our 2:1 interval rhythm.

Tip: Be sure to line up with your proper pace group because you don’t want people to shove you out of the way like a certain president.

I should note that the race begins with a significant incline and continues with many smaller hills. Train appropriately.

Tip: There are also 10k and full-marathon options.

Lots of runners walked the first, big hill.

Vicki, plus our friends Jen and Lindsey, and I easily got into a great rhythm, mostly following the pre-programmed timer that told us when to walk and when to run. While I prefer to just run, I followed Dr. Awesome’s advice to try the intervals as a condition of being able to actually run this half.

Tip: Try the intervals if you’re building up your mileage. It’s a great way to run further distances without dying.

Vicki, Jen and I trained many a Saturday for this race.

We had already decided that we would enjoy this race, no matter what, so we did stop a few times to take photos.

An amazing view early on during the Bayshore Half Marathon.

The vineyard and lake views are really why many of us signed up for this particular race, so we made a point of enjoying them.

We also enjoyed the amazing course support, from the organized water and Gatorade stations to the random set ups from people who live on the course. There were a few particularly fun ones, including the stop where everyone was wearing red, blue and white onesies, the one with the ladies holding signs that read “If Trump can run, so can you!” and the group that was blowing bubbles across the road.

Another fun feature were the chalk messages on the asphalt, including the usual “good job” and “keep going,” plus our names in front of the Team Playmakers tent around mile eight.

Tip: Make sure you’re paying attention when grabbing a cup because some tables held beer in addition to water and lime Gatorade.

It was heartwarming to see just how many families set up in front of their homes along the course, blaring music, yelling encouraging words or just making a racket with cowbells.

Despite some whining, Vicki, Jen, Lindsey and I finished strong. We were tired, yes, but there was Moomers ice cream to be had, so we perked up right away.

The Moomers ice cream was worth the 13.1 mile run.

Tip: Spend a little bit of time at the tents. In addition to soda, chocolate milk, the ice cream and cold water, there was a ginormous tent full of homemade cookies — the chocolate-cherry oatmeal cookies were to die for.

In the end, the race was fun, well-organized and definitely worth the trip. I plan to repeat it and hope to see y’all there!

With Vicki, Jen, Lindsey and her kids.

Have you run Bayshore? What did you think? Would you do it again? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

Some runs mean just getting through the miles on the training plan. Others, well, let’s just say that they are more than just putting one foot in front of the other.

I’ve known for a while now that there’s something about the Marl Lake trail near South Higgins Lake State Park in central Michigan that can feel magical or whimsical. There’s just something special about a trail that can assault your senses with both the sounds of your trail shoes crunching on dry leaves and the smell of pines that smell like Christmas.

Marl Lake

Today’s experience assaulted something I didn’t even know I had: fear. Fear that a recent diagnosis of runner’s knee would finally bench me.

Sure, I’ve come back from hurt shoulders and my dumb butt. And I’ve been trying to remind myself that if I take a step back, invest in my recovery and do what I’m supposed to do, that I’ll get better.

But there was always that voice in the back of my head that wondered if that was really true.

Just a quarter of a mile into my run, I felt loose and relaxed. And then the runner’s high snuck up on me, like I did on the poor couple taking each other’s pictures and who jumped when I got closer (sorry!).

Runner’s high is strong with this one.

The trail was relatively smooth, with little to trip me. I was in the zone.

Until a couple of dogs darted toward me, barking but with tails wagging, their owners close behind. They warned me about upcoming flooding, but encouraged me to go forward, even offering up a long branch one of them was using as a walking stick.

Declining with a smile, I set off again, grateful that others were also enjoying the beautiful scenery.

Soon, I saw the water-covered trail the women warmed me about.

There’s always a way.

I easily walked over the logs someone had gathered over the big puddle and kept on going. Hmmm. Someone else had seen this obstruction and done something about it.

Things got wetter and wetter on the trail today.

And then, well, I just couldn’t get around. There just was no way to avoid the lake-like puddle on the trail.

No way around this one.

Sure, I could have run through (I see you, Corey Baker) and gotten my feet soaked, but I instead backtracked and re-read the trail sign, which showed another way.

Trail maps, love ’em.

Thankfully, the new route was flat and soft, covered with either dead leaves or pine needles.

Like with our running journey, sometimes the trail is smooth.

And then it hit me: the day’s trail run was an allegory for my running journey.

Sometimes, it’s perfect (runner’s high), but it’s often full of surprises (sorry again, surprised couple!) and detours (did I mention I’m injury prone?), but I always manage to get to the other side.

And then, wham, a fallen tree (or an injury) tries to stop you again.

A giant tree blocked my path during today’s trail run.

I could see that there was already a narrow area of trampled grass where others had obviously been running or walking. They’d created a new path around the fallen tree.

Just like I’m not the first person to ever get a runner’s knee diagnosis. Others have been there before and found a way to get back on track. There’s always a way, even if it means taking a step back or making your way around.

I’m not alone. I just have to follow the trail set by others to get to the other side.

With that comforting realization, I picked up my pace, running faster than I ever have on the trails before. My heart lighter than it’s been since the diagnosis. A smile on my lips.

Have you ever been injured and worried you’d never get better? What helped? Also, do you run through or around a big lake-size puddle on a trail? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

The neighbors may not have thought so, but the portable karaoke machine was brilliant.

The dancing? Spectacular.

Brandess showcasing her dance moves.

And that’s what set the tone for today’s volunteering at the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Boy, we were exhausted. This gig sure tired us out.

Despite the hard work, we were all smiles today.

This chica, hard at work.

Both Brandess and I were waylaid by injuries and couldn’t pace the race as we’d planned. So we signed up as course marshals and were blessed with a blue, cloudless sky and relatively warm temperatures when we set up at 7:30 a.m. after dropping our other friends, Mira and Shannon, near the starting line. Our friend Janet spent the night in Grand Rapids, but we caught up with her later.

While I had volunteered at one previous race where I smeared Vaseline on a random guy’s nipple, this was my first as a marshal. Thankfully, I was with a pro, so we were all ready for the day.

Our well-appointed spot at near miles 3 and 10

Here are some tips, should you find yourself being volunteered volunteering at a race:

  • Check the forecast. We knew we’d have cold temperatures, so we dressed in layers (guess which one of us looked like the Michelin Man) and stripped as the morning got warmer. Remember a poncho, sunscreen and bug spray, if the day calls for any of it.
  • Get there early. We had all been to Grand Rapids many times before, but a couple of wrong turns had us arriving just in time to our location. Had we cut it too close, we would have had trouble even getting to the spot because so many streets are closed off for the race.
  • Park as close as you can. We were just a few feet from my car, so we could have easy access to the aforementioned gear, plus we didn’t have to walk through half of Grand Rapids with a bunch of stuff.
  • Bring stuff. As in camp chairs, blankets, snacks and drinks. I even brought a small, collapsible camp table. This was especially convenient because we got to park so close.
  • Have clarity. Even if you have a map or have done the race in previous years, talk to the race organizers about your role, including where runners will come from and about what time, and where you should direct them.
  • Be loud. While we did help many runners stay on the course, we also got to cheer them on. Plain old poster board signs wouldn’t do. Instead, Brandess lugged a cowbell and karaoke system, which was conveniently paired with her cell phone’s Bluetooth connection.
  • Bring a camera. Your friends and their friends will love seeing the photos you shot in between the dancing, yelling and high-fiving.
  • Remember why you’re really there. Most runners were all smiles when we saw them on their way out, a little bit after mile three. On the way back at mile 10? A few were struggling, shuffling or just plain done. We saved a lot of our energy (who are we kidding — we’re both Energizer bunnies!) for those runners. We got a few to smile, a handful to pretend we were the Soul Train Line, and even got some fluids into the race’s last runner.

That’s Janet, giving a thumbs up while pacing the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon.

Some of our awesome runner friends!

 

While I thought I would be bummed to miss racing Gazelle Girl, spending time with my friends and being surrounded by so many awesome runners made the day special. I still want to run the race again next year, but this volunteering thing? Yeah, I’ve got it down now.

What about you: Did you race this weekend? Have any tips to share for a race volunteer? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)