2016 was supposed to be a year of triumph for me — at least that’s the way I visualized it in my head for a few years. My marathon career had been maturing steadily since I made my disastrous debut at Chicago in 2014, and I was heading into 2016 after chopping nearly four minutes off of my personal best in Berlin (I was on 2:10-low pace for 36k until the wheels fell off a bit and I slowed to 2:12:28). 2016, of course, was an Olympic year, in which I truly believed I could make the US Olympic Team.
Fitness is a funny thing. I know I was fitter heading into the Trials than I was prior to Berlin. I had six more months of marathon training and several thousand extra miles in my legs, and workouts were going better than before, but for some reason I felt like I was in superior shape for Berlin. I think it’s because my improvement before Berlin bested my improvement before the Trials, if that makes sense. I had a big jump between the LA Marathon in 2015 and the Berlin Marathon in 2015, and don’t think I necessarily matched that same trajectory between Berlin and the Trials, but I digress – I was fit.
We tried doing things a little differently before the Trials, mostly out of necessity to try to account for the hot weather we were bound to face in LA. Our team trains in Flagstaff, Arizona, and we were having a rough winter with lots of snow- and ice-covered roads during our buildup, so we left altitude two weeks early and descended upon San Diego for a little sea level training camp, and, perhaps more importantly, for warmer weather. I prefer to stay at altitude until two days prior to competitions, but that wasn’t really an option this time around. We had a good setup in San Diego, though, and I don’t necessarily think this alone impacted my performance on race day.
The bigger deal for me was my deteriorating body, which up to this point I’ve only alluded to briefly in a few interviews. Two and a half weeks prior to the Olympic Marathon Trials, just days before leaving for San Diego, I got an MRI done on my pelvis. I’d been dealing with pain that was getting worse by the day, but I was determined to make a full-fledged attempt to qualify for the Olympics, so I tried to push it to the back of my mind and told my doctor that I didn’t want to know the results until after the race. I found out after the Trials that, according to the radiologist who read my MRI, it was inconclusive, but did show significant inflammation in my pubic symphysis.
Fast-forward a couple weeks, and we all know how that race played out. I ended up in 6th place, in what was a really bittersweet day for me. I was proud of the way I competed, finishing much higher than what many people predicted before the race, but obviously disappointed to see the fulfillment of my Olympic dream get put on hold for 4 more years.
After the race, I could barely walk, and running was definitely out of the question. A few people assumed it was due to typical post-marathon soreness, but deep down I knew otherwise. I took two weeks off and tried to go out for a jog. My body screamed at me to stop, so I did, and immediately started scheduling appointments with various doctors. I tried rest, physical therapy, a cortisone injection into my pelvis, massage, chiro treatment, more rest, more physical therapy, and nothing was working. On account of a conversation with a fellow professional runner, I decided to visit a private surgical center in Philadelphia, the Vincera Institute, helmed by famed surgeon Dr. William Meyers. Even though I really didn’t like what he had to say after he took another X-ray and MRI, I finally had some answers: two torn rectus abdominis muscles, two torn adductors, two torn pectineus muscles, severe osteitis pubis, severe damage to my pelvic floor, and a partially torn labrum in my left hip (the last of which, in itself, is not all that uncommon in distance runners). He deemed surgery the only option, so the next day, I went under the knife (this was the first week in April 2016).
It took me a little while to get back into the swing of things over the next few months, but before too long I was back to workouts and building mileage. I committed to a Fall Marathon – NYC – and put a few races on the calendar to bust some rust after taking 4 months off post-Olympic-Trials. Truth be told, it was the best training I’ve ever had BY FAR. I was running more mileage than ever, and easily hitting paces in Flagstaff (altitude 7,000 ft), that both excited me and made me nervous that I was over-doing it. I went into the NYC Marathon almost 10 pounds lighter than the Olympic Trials, and I felt ready for a breakthrough. Once again, the race didn’t play out the way I planned (poorly executed on my part as I didn’t stick to my race strategy), and once again, I struggled to walk afterwards. I tried to test some prototype spikes for Hoka One One a week and a half later, and stopped immediately. The pain was eerily similar, but 10-fold what I felt after the Olympic Trials. That day, I called the Vincera Institute in Philadelphia, and 4 days later, I was on a flight back East.
Another X-ray and another MRI were taken. The result? A completely torn labrum. I was devastated. Another surgery – this one requiring a longer recovery, but I didn’t have a choice. The next day I had a hip arthroscopy and opted to have my surgeon re-explore the surgery he did 8 months prior to make sure everything was still intact. On the first post-operative day, I began my extensive rehab, some of which I did alongside NY Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (“JPP”), who was in town for a well-publicized core muscle repair with the same surgeon who did the same surgery on me in April.
So this is why I’ve been hiding for the past couple of months. From last February up to now, I’ve taken 8 months completely off, so to say that this has been difficult for me is an understatement. Running is not only my full-time job, but it’s also my passion, my outlet, and my most-enduring relationship. Every day during my recoveries that I woke up and didn’t run, I tried to keep believing that soon I’d be back and this would all seem like a distant memory, but, man, has time been dragging. I’ve watched my teammates do some incredible things in the past year, all the while wondering if I’d ever be able to run competitively again.
Well, guess what! I’m starting to see the light again. I’m currently on a plane to Arizona flying from the East Coast, where I had a 5-month follow up with the hip surgeon, who, just yesterday, lifted all of my restrictions and cleared me to progress back into training and racing. Relieved. Exhilarated. Grateful. Giddy. Motivated. These are just a few words running through my mind as I type. I’m hopeful that I can put these injuries permanently in my rear-view mirror, and I don’t have any plans of looking back.
I have my sights set on a Fall Marathon, but I’m going to hold off on announcing that for now until I start to get back into the groove of training and make sure my body comes around the way I’d like it to.
Email me with any questions and maybe I’ll use them as inspiration for another blog post!