I ran my last half-marathon running race ten years ago but, right after that race, a hip injury set me back to the point that I thought I would never run again. However, a couple of weeks ago, I almost won a 10K (6.2 mile) trail race at age 61. I was in first place at the six-mile mark and was passed by the winner in the last 100 yards.
I became an avid runner in my twenties. It helped me turn away from alcohol, which I wrote about in my AGEIST article Recovery from Cross Addiction. I was a strong runner and won the US Denver Half Marathon in 2004. There were 300 participants in that race. I also diversified my exercise portfolio to include swimming and cycling and I also competed in numerous triathlons. Many years later, I started lifting weights too.
In 2012, I hired a triathlon coach and set a goal to beat my Olympic-distance triathlon-course record that I had set at age 35. I competed in seven triathlons and placed in the top 8% of triathletes in my age group nationally and I did beat my personal record I had set fifteen years earlier. But I started to notice hip pain at the end of my runs. I ignored it, hoping the pain would go away. It did not.
In 2013, I entered the previously mentioned half marathon race. I expected my hip to hurt after my race and, while I was slightly disappointed with my time (which was certainly caused by my hip), my hip did not hurt the way I was expecting. Two days later, I was on a run and after a couple of miles my left hip was on fire and I could not finish my run. At that point I knew that my hip was in trouble and needed attention.
I was diagnosed with a torn labrum. I tried several types of therapy including stem cell treatment and platelet-rich plasma (PRP). I coupled these therapies with traditional physical therapy. I would not run at all for months and then try to run. The pain returned. This pattern continued for several years and I had accepted the idea that I would not be able to run again. Hip replacement seemed like my only option. I resisted the temptation because I understood that if I ran on a replaced hip, I would likely need a second hip replacement in my lifetime and I was not interested in that.
Even though I could not run, I was still able to walk, hike, swim, bicycle, and lift weights without pain. So the hip injury was not the end of me, but I really did want to run and race again.
A few years later, I casually mentioned to a new massage therapist my hip issue. He suggested I use a lacrosse ball and seemed confident that it would help me. Without much expectation, I tried it. I put the ball on the ground and rolled my hip on the ball. It took a few weeks of regular treatment, but the results were nothing short of amazing.
I have been running again for about three years with negligible hip pain. I was so excited I was able to run again that I started running three miles, then four, and up to six miles. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for running resulted in me injuring my right hamstring. I have been getting physical therapy treatment for the hamstring but continue to run through this injury, which probably explains why it hasn’t completely healed.
Anyone who knows me knows that my flexibility is poor. It always has been. I believe that the reason the lacrosse ball therapy works for me is that it gives my muscle and connective tissue a little bit of extra length to avoid irritation and inflammation around the joint.
Even with my nagging hamstring injury, I recently was 2nd overall in a 10k trail run with 124 runners at age 61. The next runner in my age group was over ten minutes behind me. That trail run is part of a race series so now I am signing up for the other runs in the series. I was also the fastest runner of the 24 men in my triathlon group with a 7:17 minute per mile pace for a 5k. This is as fast as I was running in triathlon races 11 years ago. This is way beyond anything I thought was possible a few years ago.
I would be very happy to be able to run at all. I used to love half-marathon distance races but I am quite content with the shorter distances as I don’t want to risk re-injuring my hip and not being able to run again.
What a roller coaster this has been. The lesson here is to not — let’s go with never — give up on that which is important to you.
I am dedicating this article to my triathlon coach in 2012, Steve Pye. In 2017, Steve was killed while training on his bicycle outside of Denver, CO. I had previously ridden with Steve exactly where he was killed. My favorite memory of Steve is when we were racing the Boulder Peak triathlon together and we were in the same swim wave. Steve was much better than me in all three disciplines of triathlon, but he encouraged me by saying, “Stay on my toes.” Steve was not only an amazing coach but gave back to the community. He coached a local track club every week because he wanted to encourage everyone. Steve, I miss you.
Written by Greg Damian: I am a 61-year-old author, motivational speaker, health and fitness disruptor and a coach. My book, Abs at 60: The Four Steps to Look and Feel Younger at Any Age is now available on Amazon. My mission is to help men over 50 to overcome perceived limits of their age to look and feel younger. I do this by applying my four-step DOLR(TM) system that is described in the book. Each chapter has a set of questions for you to answer. You can download a free workbook that includes all of these questions at www.absat60.com