I’m Still a Runner: A Recovery Story

By Adam Pritchard

2011 looked great! 2010 was a year of progress. I had dropped my half-marathon PR from 1:40 down to 1:23 and was enjoying every hard-fought step of one of my favorite parts of life; running! I had a plan, too! I was going to train my pace into some longer mileage and ramp up my conditioning to be ready for the 2010 Salt Lake Marathon, run a Boston Marathon qualifying time, and in whatever way possible try to get myself back to one of my favorite cities on Earth, Berlin, to race two of the most prestigious marathons in the world in 2011.

On January 6th, 2010 I was musing with my friend, himself being quite into BMX and other types of two-wheeled nonsense, about how much I enjoyed the use of my legs. How, seeing the state of some people’s health, I couldn’t understand the lack of enthusiasm over using what has been given to us as a natural ability. To run, jump, bike, swim, and in general enjoy life with any number of verbs at our disposal. Unfortunately, there was no wood around to be knocked on. The next day while enjoying some of my other favorite verbs on the mountain with a friend, I sent my body careening into an aspen during a rather routine maneuver through some trees. “It’s all over!!!!” (referring to my Boston dreams) is what I screamed over and over while dragging myself to somewhere where I could be scraped up by Ski Patrol. At first I hadn’t realized what I had done. All I knew was that my left leg wasn’t working. We found out very quickly that I had snapped my femur in half. All of a sudden, I had destroyed a very large part of my identity. I was a Runner! Runners run. How could I be a runner if I couldn’t run? Everybody working the ER was inundated with my constant questions. Everybody from orderlies to my surgeon heard “When can I run again?” “Can I start training for the Salt Lake Marathon in February?”. I even went so far as to ask about the race weight of the titanium rod they were going to implant. “Doc, how much is that titanium rod going to weigh? Will that slow me down? The weight I mean….” Nobody wanted to hear it. I had destroyed a huge part of my anatomy and their concern was putting old Humpty-Dumpty back together again.

After surgery I awoke to a new race schedule arranged for me. The first day I was asked to get myself out of bed. I ignored the nurse as she instructed me. How hard could getting out of bed be? After seeing that my foot wouldn’t even move to the edge of the bed, I realized it was going to be VERY hard. I now had a marathon ready right leg and an unresponsive left leg. At first, I had a very “woe is me” mentality. I soon replaced it with a very mach and stubborn mentality that I’m all too familiar with. Sure my leg was broken, but I was still strong right? I was still an athlete. I didn’t see every gain for what it was. All I wanted was to get to the next big step. Ok, I had gotten out of bed, now let’s walk. Now let’s do some stairs. Now let’s get home. Now let’s make our own lunch. After all, I was a marathon runner. How difficult a challenge could a set of stairs pose to me, the big bad marathon runner?  It seems that I hadn’t learned my lesson from this. I was still taking something for granted.

On the 12th of January, five days after the initial accident, I awoke to a feeling I had never felt. My heart was racing and I was sweating. My heart rate had never acted like this and I had never been this out of breath in my life. Even after all my mile-repeats at the track. It felt like I was using only half of my lungs…..because I was. They call it a pulmonary embolism. A blood clot had found its way into my right lung and now just sitting and breathing was too much stress for my cardio-vascular system. I now had no legs to run on and no engine to power them. I was in my second ER in a week and I was humbled. I can say honestly, that for the first time in my life I was put into my place as a mere mortal. All of the close calls I had experienced during adolescence did nothing to prepare me for this lesson being taught to me. Being released from the hospital for the second time I now had no expectations for recovery. I was just happy to still be around. I sat around for about a week until my mother announced she’d be taking me from our house in Park City for a visit to Salt Lake! I could go crutch around the mall and buy myself something respectable to wear and present myself to my coworkers at Salt Lake Running Co who I knew had been concerned. After, turning down an automatic scooter offered to me in a store and slowly making my way around for about half an hour I realized something very profound. I had paced myself. Even though I had been released from hospital, I was still operating on a substantial amount less oxygen than my body was used to. Getting around that store required pacing myself, concentrating on my heart rate, taking it slow. Tearing up over my accomplishment, I saw then that in the bigger picture I needed to pace. I’m young, 22 years-old. Boston will still be there in 2012. Also, I’m sure Berlin will continue to run a marathon. For now I need to slow down. January of 2011 was Mile 1 of the marathon I’m currently running. Mile 26.2 will be my first mile I run in 6 months. But I need to worry about miles 2-25.

There’s a lot to life. Running can be a big part of life, especially if it teaches us how to deal with some of the trauma life is sure to hold for us. My race schedule has now been replaced with physical therapy appointments and I’m sure my future holds many afternoons in the pool whether it be swimming or running. I’ll write more on my recovery soon. For now I have one thing for everybody to take from this: Once a Runner, always a Runner! I’m still a Runner!

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