Two weeks ago, I had back surgery. Today, I had my first follow-up appointment, and a nurse removed my sutures. The incision is healing nicely. There were no signs of bleeding or infection. The area around the incision was slightly inflamed for the next few hours, but I don’t expect it to cause me any significant discomfort.
Last week I had a great deal of pain on my right side. I think some muscles and/or nerves were inflamed after the surgery. Sitting was often uncomfortable. Lying down was downright painful. This week, the pain began to decrease. I’m cautiously optimistic that it will gradually go away. I’m transitioning from prescription painkillers to small doses of ibuprofen.
I can finally take a shower without wearing a waterproof bandage, but most of my other restrictions are still in place. I can’t do any high-impact activities for the first 12 weeks after surgery. That includes running!
I have several other restrictions that are only in place for the first six weeks. They include most forms of exercise. The one notable exception is walking. I’ve been encouraged to walk several times a day.
Before I left the hospital, I asked one of the nurses how far I should walk. She said to start by walking around the block. After that, I could lengthen my walks by about five minutes each day.
When we left the hospital, I walked to the parking ramp. The next day, I started joining Deb for her daily one mile walks around our neighborhood. Since then, I’ve also been walking on a treadmill.
I go for walks three or four times a day. I always walk at least a mile. On at least one of my walks, I go farther than I did the day before. I’ve been consistently adding a quarter mile each day to my longest walk. Today, my longest walk was four miles.
At first, I stuck to a pace of three miles per hour. That’s a “casual” walking pace. If you use a site like Google maps to get walking directions, the estimated time will be based on that pace.
After a few days, I picked up the pace to 3.1 miles per hour. That pace still felt pretty easy. Since then, I’ve been bumping up my pace every two or three days. I’m currently walking at 3.5 miles per hour.
I’m not supposed to bend or twist my back, so I’m paying close attention to my arms and shoulders. I’m sure I could walk much faster, but I might start to have a vigorous arm swing. That, in turn, might translate into movement of my back, which could slow my recovery from the surgery. Runners and race-walkers usually bend their elbows at a 90 degree angle. I’m keeping my elbows straight, so my arms hang loose by my sides. They move back and forth a little, but not nearly as much as they would if I bent my elbows. With this minimal arm motion, my shoulders remain square. As long as I can do that, I’m reasonably confident I can walk without twisting my back.
Because I can’t run for 12 weeks, I have to cancel a lot of races I had planned to run. I’ve already cancelled my travel plans for five races. I expect to cancel plans for a few more, but I might not have to cancel all of my summer races.
Later this month, I’m scheduled to do the first two races of the Prairie Series. These races don’t have any time limits, so I’m tempted to walk at least one of them. Even if I walked at a casual pace, I probably wouldn’t be the last person to finish. I can drive to those races, so there aren’t any flights to cancel. If I don’t do them, I’m only out the entry fees. I can wait until the day before the first race to make a decision.
Technically, walking a marathon wouldn’t violate any of my restrictions, but I’ve been told to build my mileage slowly. At the rate I’m going, I wouldn’t get all the way up to a marathon in just a few weeks. That would be a big step up.
The only other races I’m reluctant to cancel are two international races that I was going to run in August. It was a rare opportunity to make one trip to Europe and do marathons in two different countries. I’ve already paid for the flights. Unfortunately, these races do have time limits. One has a six hour time limit. With six more weeks to work on my walking proficiency, I might be able to do that. The time limit for the other race is 5:30. I have serious doubts about being able to walk that fast. I would need to average 12:35 per mile. I once did a half marathon at an average pace of 11:49, but I had a pretty vigorous arm swing. If I was confident I could finish at least one of the races, I would make the trip.
I discussed these marathons with the nurse at the neurosurgery center. He had reservations about the Prairie Series, even though I’d be able to walk slowly. The problem is that those races are only a few weeks away, and I would need to make a big step up in distance. He didn’t veto it. Ultimately, I need to pay attention to how I feel and be willing to stop if walking is giving me discomfort. He was afraid once I started the race, I would be unwilling to stop.
Surprisingly, he had no problem with my attempting to do the European marathons, even though I would need to go much faster. I think the key there is that those races are two months after my surgery. When I discussed this with Deb, she asked me what I would do if I was 25 miles into the race and realized I couldn’t make it within the time limit. Would I be tempted to run?
I haven’t made my final decisions about any of these races. For now, I’m going to keep up my daily walking. It’s the only exercise I’m getting, so I’m embracing it. Last week, I walked 32 miles. This week, I’m on pace to walk 48 miles. Walking is much more comfortable than sitting, so I don’t mind if it takes up most of my free time.
The main advice the nurse gave me was to let pain be my guide. If I’m walking so much (or so fast) that it causes me discomfort, I should stop. Likewise, if I have to continue taking painkillers in order to walk so much, I should stop. For that reason, I plan to ween myself off painkillers as soon as I can. After that, if I can walk without discomfort (either during my walks or later in the day), I’m doing OK. If not, I need to back off. I have a couple more weeks to see how it goes more making decisions about races. Then, if I’m going to start a race, I have to be willing to stop if I’m having discomfort.