Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Running with a broken elbow (or, "It's just a flesh wound!", or, "Come back here! I'll bite your legs off!")

Yes, you can!
When I broke my elbow at Zumbro (story in a future post), I googled "running with a broken elbow" and "running with a broken arm" the same night.  There's not a lot out there on the internets about running with a full arm cast (though a number of stories about short arm casts), so I thought it might be helpful to share my experience.  The summary?  Yes, it can be done.  If you're a little nuts.

At my first appointment with my orthopedic surgeon, I asked "Can I run?"  It was 5 weeks before Superior 50K, my first ultra, and I was not going to miss it, by golly.  She assured me that I could run as soon as it was in a cast, a week after surgery.  Before, that, low/no impact exercise was fine.

That curvy piece off to the left is supposed to be attached to something.

With my arm in a giant splint and a doctor's blessing, I was at the YWCA bright and early the very next morning.  I hit the elliptical [I believe that may be a first for me! I didn't even die of boredom], then cranked the treadmill up to 15% grade and walked, briskly, for 30 minutes up a big imaginary hill.  Hey, it beat another half-hour of elliptical.

As an aside, you want some funny looks and great conversations, go do a really sweaty workout at your local Y or running trails with a full arm splint or cast on.  Had a great talk with a guy who broke BOTH wrists and several fingers two years ago in a bike accident, recovered, and decided to bike across the country.  He concluded his story, "So you WILL get better! Hang in there!"  Oh yes I will.

My awesome orthopod fixed me up four days post injury with a ginormous plate and six screws.
Talk about race hardware!
I enjoyed two days of frequent naps, quality cat time, and Vicodin, then swapped the good drugs for Tylenol and hit the Y.  Still in a splint, I biked, elliptical'd, and did lower-body strength work (lunges, squats, situps, whatever I could think of).  Got into a cast on post op day 6 and the next day I ran a mile, on the indoor track at the Y.  It was slow and awkward, but nothing hurt.  The next day I ran 5.4 miles, no slower than usual.  (There's nothing like an 10 day, unplanned, radical taper to help your speed).  The 50K was ON!

On post op day 10, 4 days after getting my cast, I did the last big training run before Superior -- 25 miles at Afton State Park.  I wore my Hoka Stinsons, my go-to trail shoe at that point.  I carried a Velcro luggage strap in case I needed a field sling.  (I didn't).  Reasoning that I tie up my only functional hand with a handheld, I exchanged my usual Ultimate Direction bottle for a new-out-of-the-package Nathan Intensity hydration pack.  (Luckily, it worked magnificently the whole day).  I filled it with Nuun, stuffed 900 kcal of snacks into the front pockets (Shot Bloks, Gu and Roctane, Picky Bars), and I was off, in 39 degrees and crisp air, at 5:30 am.  A 30-minute out-and-back while waiting for others to get there, then the 15.5 mile race loop, then a very slow and gimpy solo 7 miles back around Africa Loop/Back 40.

It went pretty well, considering my entire dominant arm was in a massive fiberglass cast.  A little IT band problem on the opposite hip in the first 3 miles or so went away fairly quickly.  It came back in the last 5 miles with a vengeance, and I mostly walked the last 3 miles or so, occasionally jogging a segment or two.  I've never had IT band problems to speak of before or since.  I theorize they related to decreased arm swing on the right because of the added weight of the cast.  I had a pretty serious bonk at the end of the full loop, around mile 18, but got a second wind after eating an entire Picky Bar.  It was very difficult to get back up and head back out for the last 7 miles, but I did it.

I was in the cast for 3 weeks and ran over 75 miles in it.  It was funky, and awkward, but it worked okay.  I always felt like I would feel worse if I didn't run, so I just kept going for runs in it.  When I got it off and graduated to the articulated arm brace, it was a relief, but also a triumph.  Nothing was going to stop me from doing my 50K.
Graduated to a brace. I added the Superior bling myself.

14 comments:

  1. When I broke my arm, I didn't bother googling whether racing was OK or not. Just power-walked a half marathon in 85 degree weather. Not a lot of fun.....

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    1. You are HARD CORE. (And I bet you got some funny looks too!) I feel like I busted my arm at just the right time of year -- not bitter cold (since I couldn't wear a jacket over the cast), not super hot.

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  2. Love that you googled this! I ran in both a short arm and long arm cast/splint! I was training for Boston 2011 and fell on the ice resulting in an elbow fracture (luckily just made the non-surgical cut off). Doc bargained with me to take 1 week off running and then stick to treadmill or dry surface for another 4-5 weeks. It got hot and stinky but I didn't care!

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    1. Oh my, we should start a club, or a support group, or something! It's amazing how many people have broken-arm stories that come out when you're wearing a cast... so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at how many runners have gnarly broken-arm-running stories!

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    2. Say: do you recall the particular name for that cast? I've had bilateral upper extremity surgerical interventions/reconstructions, so that bent-at-elbow, all the way to the shoulder, cast a few times, before and after surgeries, and forget the distinctive name. My surgeon worked for the Raiders, and Cal football etc [Cal Sports docs ftw, btw. former gymnast, I learned how to be less of an easy takedown in the causal dv traumas that sent me to them. '94, Anthropology.] I associated the name of the cast with football, as its kind of a distinctive look; the name was confused with some stinky cheese, which, y'know, can be confusing of recall when you get that thing off and see/smell your poor atrophied arm... This is going to plague me til I hear/read it. Hand surgeon non pareil is not one for phone chats. At least his gatekeeper sure isn't. ;) Hope this spurs cocktail banter someday, if you knew/recall the special cast type. Argh. Gracias.

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  3. Hi Robyn... so this is my first night after breaking my forearm in three pieces with my bike, and I got to you by googling what you googled. You gave me a lot of good energy. I am at 8 weeks for the Madrid Marathon (would be my third one) and I am really looking forward to doing a sub 3:30...

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    1. Eynar, thanks for the note. You can do it! (I have no idea what this does for your sub-3:30 prospects, but you can definitely finish and have a good time!) I hope you heal well and that your race goes magnificently.

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    2. Thanks! This is day 3 for me, fingers cross! So far I am a newbie lefty.

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  4. 64 year old grandma tripped on the edge of a concrete gutter and fell hard on the sidewalk. Non-displaced fracture of the radial head. Bummer! Your story gives me hope I won't have to sit around getting out of shape for 6 weeks.

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  5. 64 year old grandma tripped on the edge of a concrete gutter and fell hard on the sidewalk. Non-displaced fracture of the radial head. Bummer! Your story gives me hope I won't have to sit around getting out of shape for 6 weeks.

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  6. 57 yr old experienced marathoner tripped on a curb while enjoying a chat too much in my last long run BF marathon on 4/9. After a wild odyssey of 2xs rescheduled surgery and a change of orthos, I had surgery to repair broken and displaced radius. I now have extra hardware inside, but running a marathon in a wk in problematic since the cast is just over my elbow. 1st ortho said I could be running in a wk.I had it 2 change bc insurance issues, and this ortho is well known but not used to serious athletes. He said don't run until NO CAST (6 wks!!!!) bc I might trip. But I could trip in my house over my 3 dogs!:-)
    Anyway, if you read this, did you do your 25 miler in a cast over the elbow? My marathon is to BQ, but no injured I can run sub 3:40, and all I need is 4:10, so I can be slow. Your blog gives me hope, but I know I have to listen to my body. It's postop day1, so too soon to tell. But I feel good and only Advil so far.

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  7. 57 yr old experienced marathoner tripped on a curb while enjoying a chat too much in my last long run BF marathon on 4/9. After a wild odyssey of 2xs rescheduled surgery and a change of orthos, I had surgery to repair broken and displaced radius. I now have extra hardware inside, but running a marathon in a wk in problematic since the cast is just over my elbow. 1st ortho said I could be running in a wk.I had it 2 change bc insurance issues, and this ortho is well known but not used to serious athletes. He said don't run until NO CAST (6 wks!!!!) bc I might trip. But I could trip in my house over my 3 dogs!:-)
    Anyway, if you read this, did you do your 25 miler in a cast over the elbow? My marathon is to BQ, but no injured I can run sub 3:40, and all I need is 4:10, so I can be slow. Your blog gives me hope, but I know I have to listen to my body. It's postop day1, so too soon to tell. But I feel good and only Advil so far.

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    1. Hi Runningprofg,
      Bummer about your break and medical odyssey! To answer your question, yes I did do my 25 miler with a full cast over my elbow (that picture at the top of the blog is at the end of that run). Every fracture is different and every person is different, but my ortho (who was used to serious runners) said I could run once it was in a cast, and I did.
      Best of luck to you with your BQ attempt! Sounds like you're a speedster, so even if you decide not to go for it on this one, you've got the fitness and speed to give it a shot later in the season! If you think of it, come back and let me know how it went!
      -rr

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  8. Robyn, this is inspirational!!! Exactly what I needed to read now.

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