Training for a half marathon after double hip replacement

Bruce after completing the 2009 Two Oceans Half Marathon.
Bruce after completing the 2009 Two Oceans Half Marathon.

Running is the one thing I can do that clears my mind, no matter what is going on. Whether I’m happy or sad, going for a 5km or a 21km run can put me on cloud nine.

Excruciating pain

I’ve always been an average runner. I used to hit the road four or five times a week – for three or four days I’d do 8km, and once a week I’d aim for 14km. I have five Two Oceans Half Marathon medals on our mantelpiece that I achieved from 2008 to 2012. In 2011 I got a decent time of 2 hours and 12 minutes, but 2010 was still my personal best – in just under 2 hours. It bothers me to this day that my official time is just over the 2 hour mark, because of starting line chaos.

During the 2012 run I knew something was not right with my body. I constantly felt excruciating pain starting around my groin and hips, shooting up into the pit of my stomach and down into my knees. A few months after the Two Oceans we went up to Knysna to run their half marathon. I had been training my mate to run a half marathon for the past few years, so we went up together.

The hills in that marathon absolutely killed me inside – and if it weren’t for my mate being just that, I wouldn’t have finished. I kept muttering “My body’s stuffed” and “Something’s wrong, mate”, only to be shot down by my friends.

Once I got back to Cape Town I went to a local doctor who did a bit of pushing, prodding and stretching. Then he simply said: “You can never play sport again in your life”. I was too shocked to hear the explanation.

Read: Exercise builds good bones

I went for a second opinion to the man who was to become my hero. Dr Brendon Dower is a hip and knee specialist who has apparently worked on a few Stormers rugby players and Cobras cricketers. Within an hour of meeting him I’d had X-rays done got informed that I have a bone disease called "Perthes". It’s a mission to explain but if you’re interested, here’s a breakdown

Damaged beyond repair

The two options I was given were simple: continue to do what I was doing, carry on crushing the bones against each other and deal with the pain, or check myself in to have a bi-lateral hip replacement. Both hips were damaged beyond repair – and I needed two new ones.

Dr Dower is such a positive guy, and the moment I met him I trusted him. He suggested that I have the operation, so that was that. I was wheeled in to theatre on 19 September, 2013, the week after the hockey season had ended and almost two weeks after my 29th birthday. The op was supposed to be like a good game of football – 45 minutes a side. My hips were so bad, though, that it took five hours.

You don’t quite appreciate the wonder that is morphine until you need it most. That beautiful liquid helped me for the next week or so, until I was sent home. I’m a huge Foo Fighters fan, and I can’t explain how many tears were almost shed to their song “Walk”. I must have listened to it on repeat over 1000 times over the next year.

I was bedridden for a month or so but was determined to get back on the sports field as soon as possible. I was walking within a few weeks against family’s advice and doctor’s orders, and after three months I made myself available for an Action Cricket match. My team constantly asked "What the hell are you doing?" while I tried to convince myself I was OK to play.

'If I can do it, so can you'

After six months, I attempted to play hockey on the opening day of the new season. I tried my hand at cricket and golf too, but quickly realised that I was not OK at all and it was still hurting.

It’s now been 14 months since the op and all I want to do is try and complete a sixth Two Oceans Half Marathon.

Today I am going to try and hit the road for a 3km run. I know it may hurt, I’ll be utterly exhausted and it will be demoralising to be tired after such a small run. But, according to the Two Oceans site, there are over 100 days until race day. I may fail to be fit and “race ready” but I’m bloody well going to give it my all. The time to dust off my old running shoes is now.

I’ll post updates here every now and then about my training and how it’s going. If anyone wants to join me, ideally novice/slow runners, I’ll send you my training schedule and we can run together on race day. For those who think 21km is too far and out of reach, I can legitimately say: "If I can do it – so can you!"

This was originally written by Bruce Dunn for his blog, The Leftbacks. Bruce is a serious sports fan who lives for cricket, golf and soccer. Follow the @LeftBacks on Twitter to track Bruce's progress and to join the sports banter.

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