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Titanium Triathlete...

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By Tim OBrien

MTN Guys - I wrote the below comeback story for a hip replacement forum (hip runner) recently. The forum is for active people considering hip replacement or coming back from it to share information and experiences. I modified it for the local MN tri community and thought it might be useful to anyone in our local community thinking about a hip replacement or coming back from a major injury. 

Sitting in a dark room recovering from ... right eye cataract (a 20 year old engine in a 65 year old body…stuff just wears out), I wanted to provide a summary of my experience coming back to racing after a total hip replacement for anyone considering or coming back from a major surgery or recent major injury.

Background: I twist broke my leg while cross country skiing in 2011. It was during a winter training season as I was building fitness to try and qualify for the 2011 Ironman Championships in Kona. Nine years later after multiple PT sessions, doctor visits and painful runs off the bike….it was finally diagnosed that my twist break most likely resulted in a labrum tear and I now needed a New hip. So in June 2020 with all the races cancelled and no ability to run any longer, I had a right posterior total hip replacement that included a titanium post in my femur, ceramic head and a titanium socket with synthetic lining....

I grew up as a competitive swimmer and switched to Marathon running in my early twenties switching again to triathlon in my mid 40s. I have run over 135000 miles, biked over 100,000 and swam over 10,000.

The day of surgery, the medical staff had me up and walking. The surgeon that did my hip replacement does not want his patients using anything but a cane the day after surgery to get around. He wanted me moving and said let pain be the guide. He also said with today’s technology, larger parts and ceramic head, that I couldn’t wear it out. He said I would wear out first….sad but true!

My goal following surgery was to return slowly with “no setbacks”. Consistency is the key to recovery and training versus any one big day, week or month. I progressed slowly walking around the neighborhood three times per week and gradually over the next six months, built up to 6 to 8 mile walks. I also added back in indoor biking and swimming once he wound healed and bone was set (after my six week check).

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At the 6 month mark, January 1st 2021 I started slowly back to running with 5 minute jogs and 1 minute walks. As I felt strong enough and didn’t have pain, I would add another 5/1 minute interval. I also started a mobility and balance routine 3 times a week to strengthen my body to adjust to the new hip and proper running form after 9 years of favoring my injured leg.

My first race back was a 5k in April that I walk/jogged with my wife. The race was in Denver at altitude and I hadn’t raced in two years so the goal was to just enjoy the day and run. Funny….I won my age group, the advantage of getting older….less people in your age group.

My second race was a sprint triathlon(Manitou). Again the goal was to just enjoy the day. It was the first time in 10 years where running off the bike I wasn’t in any pain, but my fitness was such that I walked a good portion of the 5k run. Still it was just great to be back and gave me new benchmarks on my fitness and things to build on like my run off the bike. I was 2nd in my age group (darn Luke) so that was a nice bonus.

My third race was also a sprint triathlon (Turtle Lake) and the goal was not to walk during the 5k run…..I didn’t care how fast I was.…mission accomplished placing me second to Luke again…..he is a rock star in my age group so I can’t complain.

The next three races were to prepare for next year when I will be traveling to try and qualify for the IM 70.3 World Championships. This meant going a little longer, traveling to a race and doing the 70.3 swim/bike pacing. I did an Olympic distance (Gear West) which included a 10k run placing 1st. I traveled to Atlanta to do a sprint distance, placing 2nd and then did a swim/bike aqua-man (Square Lake) race at the 70.3 distances (1.2 mile swim / 56 mile bike), placing 2nd.

Finally .... I did a sprint triathlon (One Last Tri) on the same course as my first tri race this year to check my progress. I swam, biked and most importantly ran faster….but Luke showed up to make sure I placed 2nd again.

Over the winter I will be continue to build back my fitness on the run and bike. I have read that it takes about eighteen months to fully recover from a hip replacement. Eighteen months for me will be January 2022. Next spring I would like to be able to comfortably run a half marathon off the bike so I will slowly be building my run and continue to build my sustained power on the bike.

In summary I would say that my success so far in my first year back to racing was building slowly and staying consistent. If I would have pushed to hard or to early I may have had multiple setbacks and would never have been able to achieve my current level of fitness. I now have a great base going into the off season to build upon for next year with some solid bench marks to improve on to build and reach my new 2022 goals.

I hope this summary is useful to those considering or coming off a total hip replacement.

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