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Hernia Surgery

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12/27/05

I had outpatient surgery to repair a hernia in February, 1985 at age 46 during my first running life. I ran with the hernia for more than a year....over 2000 miles and a couple dozen races, including two marathons. It never bothered me in any way. However, when the bulge in my abdomen began started to get bigger, I went to a surgeon, Bill Howard, who was the head (and founder) of the Sports Medicine Clinic at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, MD. I had been to him a couple of times before with tendonitis problems. He was also a runner and rugby player, so he understood athletes.  He told me that I had not hurt myself by running with it for a year; but that, since it had started to  grow , I was doing the right thing by getting it repaired before it became strangulated, which would have been very painful. My surgery was by incision, not laparoscopic. When Dr. Howard got inside, he found an internal hernia in addition to the external one and repaired both with mesh.

 

Dr. Howard told me to not run until I had a follow-up visit with him four weeks after the surgery. He also told me that I could cycle as much as I wanted to maintain cardio-respiratory conditioning since cycling doesn’t stress the abdomen. He recommended using a stationary bike because of the risk of having an accident with a real bike before the incision was fully healed.

 

The day after the surgery I went to my fitness center and rode a stationary bike briskly for 40 minutes. The stationary bikes were located next to an indoor track (24 laps/mile). I continued to cycle 40-60 minutes every day for the next 8 days....while watching with envy as runners circled on the track. Finally, on the ninth day after my surgery, I yielded to the temptation. After I finished my bike ride, I decided to try a slow   mile jog around the track. When I began, I felt tightness and a little ache in my abdomen at the point of incision, but it wasn't too bad. By the end of the quarter mile, it was feeling better, so I continued. After a mile all discomfort was gone, so I gradually increased the pace until I was running at almost my normal easy pace. I stopped after 3 miles.

 

I never went back to the bike. I ran on 13 of the next 18 days before seeing Dr. Howard for my follow-up exam. The runs were mostly 4-6 miles plus one 10-miler at easy pace, although one was a 10k road race 25 days after my surgery, which was three days before seeing Dr. Howard. I didn't run a PR, but I was only 30-sec/mile slower than my PR pace at the time. When I saw him and told him what I had been doing, he just smiled and said that he had more problems with runners not following his instructions to avoid physical activities that stress the abdomen during the four week recovery period from hernia surgery than with any other type of athlete. He also told me that his instructions are deliberately conservative, but his general philosophy is, "If it hurts, don't do it; if it doesn't hurt, then go ahead and do it". He pronounced me fully recovered and told me to carry on with my running

 

After the follow-up examination in March, I proceeded to gradually increase mileage and add speedwork over the next few weeks. I was back to a normal training regimen by May, which I continued through the rest of the spring and summer and then ran PR s in five of seven fall races....two 5m s, two 10k s and a marathon. My PR streak continued for another 15 months through 1986 and into 1987, during which time I ran another 15 PR s in 23 races.

 

I don t think the surgery set me back very far at all. In fact, I think the forced rest set me up for the string of PRs that continued for two years following the surgery. I think it was an example of the benefit of occasionally taking an extended break from a strenuous training regimen. I always scheduled two brief R&R breaks  (half of regular mileage and no hard stuff) of 2-4 weeks in my annual macro-cycle....one at the end of a spring 10k season and another at the end of a fall marathon season. However, the one that followed my hernia surgery lasted over two months before I was fully back up to normal training and resulted in a very abbreviated spring 10k season. In the  long run , I think it paid off with big dividends.

 

Good luck with your surgery. You should come back afterwards as a better and faster runner!

 

Jim2