Sunday, September 28, 2014

4 Months Post-Surgery & My Return to Running

It's been 4 months since I had surgery for a hiatal hernia and I am now the healthiest that I have been in 11 years. I no longer suffer from acid reflux. I no longer have to take several medications a day. I no longer have stomach pain or trouble sleeping at night. I have the nissen fundoplication to thank for the extremely significant improvement in my health. For those not familiar with the nissen fundoplication surgery, my stomach was wrapped around my esophagus and my hiatal hernia was also fixed. When my stomach contracts, the wrap closes off the opening between my esophagus and my stomach so that the reflux no longer comes up. I also no longer have the ability to burp or throw up, which is both a good and bad thing. Some people are able to burp or throw up again after they have the surgery, but so far I have not been able to and that was definitely a challenge during the beginning of my recovery.

Even though I am healthy now, I still have some restrictions and I have had to make some lifestyle changes. I have to eat smaller meals now and I am not supposed to eat my food too quickly. Sometimes food gets "stuck" in my esophagus when I am eating, but it goes down eventually. I have 5 different incisions from my surgery and sometimes I get some occasional pain in any one of the incision sites when I overdo it. I don't really think much of these minor changes because having this surgery was the best decision that I have ever made.

The only part of my life that this surgery has majorly impacted has been my physical activity. There are some things that I will never be able to do again and there are some things that I have had to cut back on. Since I had a hernia fixed, I can no longer do upper body workouts or lift too much. Even though I am pretty much recovered, it was recommended that I avoid core exercises for a year to really give my body time to heal. I have to be careful with activities that include jumping or physically exerting too much. Despite all of my limitations, my body finally feels like it is back to normal, or at least my "new normal." I am able to walk, run and bike, which were the 3 activities that I did the most before surgery.

In the weeks following my surgery, I started using MyFitnessPal as a way to track my calories because I was not getting enough calories right after surgery. Since I was on a restricted diet, I was not eating as much and I did not have a lot of energy. The restricted diet also caused me to lose 18 pounds after my surgery. I was not fat before I had surgery, but I definitely had a few extra pounds. I am finally back down to the weight that I was in high school so I have continued to use MyFitnessPal to maintain my weight.

After I had surgery, it was a struggle to even walk a 1/4 mile. As I recovered all summer, I went walking everyday. I slowly built up my distance over the summer as my body continued to heal. Jay and I joined the FitBit craze and it was great motivator to keep walking. Despite all of the walking that I was doing, I thought that I would never be able to run again. At my 2 month follow-up with the surgeon, he lifted all of my restrictions and gave me the all-clear to start running again. I did not begin running right away, but I did continue to walk and I started biking again.

It took me almost 3 months after my surgery to finally feel ready to run again. If I had not kept walking everyday, then it would have been an even bigger challenge to get back into running. All of that walking made it a lot easier to get back into running than I had expected. I started out very slowly and did very short distances a couple times a week. I have continued to slowly build up my distance and my speed over the past month, but I still have an extremely long way to go. I still have a pretty slow pace and my longest run has been 4 miles. I usually go out for a 1 or 2 mile run, but I have had a couple of 3 mile runs. This is definitely a huge decrease in the amount of running that I was doing even a year ago.

It feels to good to be running again, but running will never be the same as it was before because my body is not the same. I will never be quite as fast as I used to be and I will never be able to go quite as far as I used to. I will certainly never run another marathon and I might not ever run another half marathon. I am not going to rule out another half marathon, but I know that if I ever run another one it will be a long time before I ever get there. I don't know if my "new normal" will ever allow me to go that far, but time will tell what my body will allow. I never even expected to be running 4 months post-surgery so that alone is a huge accomplishment.

It is hard sometimes to know that I cannot run like I used to. Sometimes I get a little jealous when Jay or my friends are running long distances and are running much faster than I am. However, they constantly remind me of the huge accomplishments that I have had in my running career. I have run over 50 road races including several half marathons and a full marathon. I am proud of all of the running accomplishments that I had before surgery, but sometimes I do miss running like it was before. I miss running several times a week and running far distances, but maybe one day I will be there again. For now, I am just happy that I am able to run now.

My running plan for now is to not have a running plan. I am enjoying being able to run whenever I want and how far I want without any pressure of any big upcoming races. I would like to do a couple shorter races in the near future, but I would definitely not be trying to go for a personal record. It is nice to be able to just run for fun again and not worry about sticking to a training schedule. I am going to continue working on building my speed and distance back up and just run what feels good. For the first time in a long time, I finally feel like a runner again and I am extremely happy to have that part of my life back.