From Injury to Ironman: The Road Ahead

Every journey has a beginning. I believe every challenging journey provides and opportunity for growth. This is my journey from labral repair surgery to the major lifetime goal of becoming an Ironwoman. Hopefully documenting my recovery and experience, will help other cyclists or athletes going through the same.

What is a labral tear?

It all started back in March. I was ramping up training for the no longer existent Wildflower triathlon located in California, when it screeched to an abrupt halt during a speed workout at the track. I took off for my first stride, prior to our main workout set, and with an upward thrust of the knee, I felt a sharp and sudden pain. Unfortunately, after an MRI and hip arthrogram (an x-ray where they inject dye into your hip to help visualize things), it was confirmed: I had a labral tear and FAI, which stands for Femoral Acetabular Impingement. I had a slight bump on my femur that actually caused a tear in the cartilage, or labrum that lines the hip socket. This is called a labral tear. It causes pain, discomfort and a reduced range of motion when cycling and running.

So you might guess that I was shocked, but actually I wasn’t. I had a successful hip arthroscopy repair surgery for the exact same injury on my right hip 6 years ago.

6 years ago:

The surgeon had warned me that the shape of my femur was probably genetic, and therefore it was likely I had similar anatomy on the left side. It was not out of the question that this injury, which he thought was brought on by repetitive motions during cycling and running at hip angles greater than 90 degrees, would recur later on down the road. Lucky for me, the surgery went well and I made a full recovery.

Nine months later I competed in an Olympic triathlon. The following summer I competed in my first half ironman race in Muskoka, Canada, qualifying for the 70.3 world championships with no pain! So in the end surgery worked out, and I feel confident that hip arthroscopy can fix this problem.

Today, 3 weeks Post-Op:

So here I am now, three weeks out of hip surgery, 6 years later. It’s December, exactly 9 months from when I discovered the injury. Luckily, I had amazing care from a surgeon named Dr. Marc Safran at Stanford, who is known as the best hip specialist in the area. I am very glad that I chose surgery. After going into the hip during surgery, the doctor also found that I had a badly damaged and inflamed ligament inside the hip joint and loose cartilage that were causing me pain in addition to the tear.

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Waiting for my post-op appointment with my mom , crutches, hip brace, and surgery images!

I can’t say that it’s been an easy three weeks, however I am now off of the crutches (I only needed them for 2 weeks which was fortunate), and feel good again. I was on strong pain meds for about one week and the reaction I had to them was actually worse than the surgery pain itself.

I used a passive motion machine every day for about 4-6 hours. I also had to wear a hip brace to restrict movement for 2 weeks. Walking is getting easier and I can stationary bike with no resistance. I have started glute and hip flexor physiotherapy exercises. I can also swim (pull only).

3 tips for anyone else undergoing hip arthroscopy, or anyone with an injury for that matter (these have helped me a lot):

1. It’s ok to feel like you are losing motivation: be easy on yourself. 

This is not a major or life-threatening injury, however, surgery is not fun and neither is a long pause in your training plans. Allow yourself to go through feelings that are natural, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Acceptance is key.

 2. Be positive and focus on what you can do (glass half-full). 

Although you need to accept what has happened and may feel a lack of motivation or discouragement, remember that this can be fixed and you can come back stronger than ever. Stay focused on things that make you happy. We all know we have a life outside of cycling (or do we?). I tried to focus on exciting travel, and work, both things I could do. Better yet, plan your next race, even if it’s months away. Plan your training strategy in detail.

3. Stay as active as you can pre and post surgery. 

Although you are injured, try and stay active in a modified way. Cross-train or try something new, like yoga. Try anything to stay fit and strong before the surgery. Being in great shape will only help speed recovery and it’s good for your mood and overall state of mind. After the surgery, do what you can (or are allowed) to speed recovery. Stationary bike with no resistance as soon as possible, as it will help you regain motion.

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My recovery machine

I am hoping to recover quickly enough to complete an Iron distance race sometime between next late summer and fall 2017. However, I realize that if recovery doesn’t go as planned, I may need to postpone until next year. I am excited, nervous, but most of all determined to accomplish this goal, which has been a dream of mine for the past 5 or so years.

Documenting this process with my goal in mind will be a motivational experiment. So, we’ll see what happens! Hopefully I can provide a resource for those who have also undergone labral tear repair surgery. The two races I am considering right now are Ironman Mont Tremblant and Ironman Los Cabos. Stay tuned for more information on this journey.

I would love to hear any thoughts or comments!

Happy riding,

Leigh

6 Comments

  1. Good to be positive and focus on your recovery & training. Have you decided which race will be your focus for next year ? Looking forward to following your blog & ironman journey

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks. I am considering either Ironman Mont Tremblant in Canada or Ironman Los Cabos!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] recently posted on my experience with hip arthroscopic surgery for labral tear repair and FAI here. The journey has been tough at times, and my goal has been to stay positive and motivated. Now 2 […]

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  4. […] my focus this spring is to get stronger on the bike, in the hopes of training for an Ironman. I have heard some pretty good things about Zwift, the virtual reality training app. I decided to […]

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  5. Glad to hear you had such a good recovery. I had both hips done as well but managed to fracture my pelvis on both sides in between surgeries. Messed up my second recovery tremendously but now I am doing much better. It’s a long journey but I am getting there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is tough! I’m glad to hear you’re doing so much better now.

      Like

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