Coming Back from Injury: My Story

By Amy Primorac.  Amy is a teacher by day and the race director for the Sprint for Monroe in her off hours. 

I never thought I’d be someone who ran. I used to quote that line from the movie Real Genius: “Do you run?” “Only when chased”. But once I started with the Couch 2 5K program, I couldn’t stop. I ran my first 5K in November, 2011. I ran it in 43 minutes and change and couldn’t wait to do it again.

Me after the NYC Half Marathon in 2015.  This was one of my proudest moments.

Me after the NYC Half Marathon in 2015. This was one of my proudest moments.

I started pushing further, trying to go faster. I increased my mileage and my duration. Eventually I took on my first 10K and then my first half marathon. I was averaging a race a month and truly loved the sport. Even though I was never a very fast runner, I still loved the competitive nature of a race.  I pushed myself in a way I didn’t on my training runs.  It never got easy, was always exciting, always a challenge.  I was competing with myself. Always trying to improve my time, my stamina, my mileage. I love the freedom of running. I love the community of running. I love pinning on a bib and trying to do the very best I can do.

So it was a huge surprise to me in May 2016 when I signed up for probably my 40th or 50th 5K and found myself struggling.  I’d earned a PR on the course the year before and was hoping for an even better result.  It was a fast, flat course in Bridgeport that I’d run three times prior.  I knew the course, knew when to push and pull back and was ready for fun.  But somewhere in the first mile things felt different.  I was struggling in a way I shouldn’t be struggling.  By the second mile I was taking a lot of walk breaks, and soon enough I was struggling to just put one foot in front of the other.  The pain in my right thigh was excruciating.  I considered a DNF, but the competitive nature in my just wouldn’t let myself.  I limped through the finish, but I made it.

I found out two days later, after ignoring the continuing pain in my leg, that I’d fractured my right hip so badly that the top of my femur had completely separated off the bone and was rolling freely around in my hip socket.  I underwent surgery to pull my bone back together with a rod and screws, and I couldn’t put any weight on my right leg for six weeks.  It was six more after that before I could walk without the use of a walker or crutches.  It was five months before I could don a bib again in a race, and even then I struggled just to walk the 3.1 miles.  It really was more than a year before I started feeling strong again.  Three years since my injury, I am truly just starting to feel like I’m close to where I was in terms of fitness.

My advice for a runner who is finding themselves faced with a serious injury:

    • Don’t wait to see a doctor.  My injury was made worse because I didn’t seek treatment right away.
    • Listen to your doctor.  I followed my doctor’s orders religiously and didn’t put weight on my right leg for six weeks.  It was awful, but in the end, I healed faster because I listened.
    • Find a good physical therapist.  When I walked into my first PT session, she asked what my goal was.  I said “to get my life back”.  At that point I couldn’t walk, or drive, or grocery shop or even cook a meal.  Eight weeks later, I was back at work and able to do most everything that “normal” people do.  My physical therapist worked miracles.
    • Start back slowly.  My first exercise after PT was yoga.  It was painful and awful, but was probably the best exercise to help increase blood flow and get my range of motion back.  My yoga instructor was able to modify poses so that I could still do them without hurting myself.  Finding the right yoga instructor was key for me.  Thank you Bliss Yoga!

Me finishing the Women’s Triathlon in 2018, post injury. I finished 7 minutes faster than when I did the race before my injury in 2015.

  • Work yourself back into activity.  I struggled at first just to walk a mile.  My pace was embarrassingly slow.  But I listened to my body and accepted my new limits.  Eventually my stamina returned.
  • Find new, lower impact activities.  Last summer I wanted a big challenge but I didn’t think I was ready for a half marathon with my compromised hip.  I signed up for a sprint distance triathlon and spent the summer training for it.  The balance of training for biking and swimming kept my running days manageable to my body.
  • Don’t Give Up!  It is frustrating and challenging to come back from a major injury.  It is tough to look back on where you were and where you are now and all that you’ve lost.   Don’t get trapped in that mindset.  Put one foot in front of the other and focus on today and what you can do today to move yourself incrementally forward.
  • Enjoy the journey!  Or, don’t push too fast.  It can be easy to take one good day and decide you can amp things up faster than your doctor told you to do. The worst thing you can do is keep reinjuring yourself.  It might take a long time, but that’s OK.  The saying “life is a marathon, not a sprint” truly does apply here.  Be grateful for what you can do today.  Being active is an amazing gift to your body and you want to be able to be active for as long as possible.