12 Ways Marathon Recovery Is Like Hernia Surgery Recovery

Marathon recovery and hernia surgery recovery are remarkably the same. Going into surgery, I had no idea these seemingly different experiences would be as similar as they are. However, in the days following surgery, the parallels began to appear. Here are some ways marathon recovery and hernia surgery recovery are the same. Can you think of more ways marathon recovery is like hernia surgery recovery? If so, please share them below!

1. Compared To Hernia Surgery, Marathon Is Just Another (Less Violent And Extreme) Form Of Soft Tissue Damage

2. You’ll Want To Go Easy At First

Your level of discomfort will be more or less than someone else’s. The discomfort will come and go. Sometimes, it’s unpredictable. Other times, it’s unavoidable. When it’s present, you’ll find yourself limiting your range of motion and activities to manage the extent of the pain.

3. Discomfort Is Consistent With The Extent Of The Injury And Effort Applied

After some marathons, I’ve been sore for four days and had limited range of motion and difficulty getting out of bed on the first couple of days. After others, I had no issues other than a little soreness the following day.

Pain is your friend. It’s a tool for understanding and managing your injury and recovery. Monitor it. Measure it. Rate it on a scale of 0 is pain-free, to 10 is the most intense, excruciating pain you can imagine. Name it. Describe it. What color is it? If your pain took up physical space, how big would it be (a jewelry box, a bread box, a toy box, a swimming pool)? Compare and contrast it to other forms of pain, like knee pain when you walk. Own it. It’s yours and yours alone, and it’s one of very few objective measures of your progress from injury to recovery. It’s always there when you need it to give you important information about your progress. Make it yours, and use it to your best advantage.

4. It’s Best To Go Light On Pain Killers And Relievers

Two foil-backed plastic sheets containing pills.
Pain meds.

Be ready to know and manage your own pain level. You won’t re-injure yourself when it hurts, because you’ll stop at the pain signal. You will injure yourself when you can’t feel that you’re doing damage. I’ve concluded my doctor is a genius for keeping his patients in relatively light pain meds and calling for anything less than 6 out of 10 as acceptable level of pain. I requested a stronger med the day of surgery, when I barely held a pain level of 6 for a few hours that afternoon. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep at that level. His team discouraged use of the Percoset, but he prescribed it, and they were clear about how they proposed I use it. Ultimately, my pain became tolerable that evening and I didn’t use it, which they were glad to know. It was always still an option to escalate the med, but they’ve coached me to be as close to the pain as I can tolerate. Their recommendation is wise. I can say with pride and amusement than I’ve never used Percoset during marathon recovery or hernia surgery recovery!

5. It May Be Horrible At Times

You can handle more pain than you may think. Choose it. Accept it. Toward the end of the marathon, it’s this ability to work through the pain and continue, despite your most visceral desire to quit, that will get you to the finish line.

My surgeon’s goal for my pain level after hernia surgery was 6 or less. That means he would offer no further pain relief if my pain was at a level 6. Ouch! I don’t recommend this to anyone, although, it’s still better than having the hernia. Sometimes I (accidentally, or because of pain) moved in a way the doctor had explicitly advised against. The level 8, 9, or 10 burning, stabbing pain I experienced on multiple occasions is one you can only appreciate through experience. I recommend against any attempts to replicate it. If you’re able, let this exquisite experience be one only others can talk about with authority.

6. Ice And Elevation Are Your Friends, For Managing Swelling And Discomfort

A green ice bag.
An ice bag. Apart from my scar, this will be my only remaining souvenir from hernia surgery.
Laying in bed with an ice bag on my sore spots
Rest and elevation are key to marathon recovery and hernia surgery recovery

If you can’t get your hurt parts high, get the rest of your body low. Laying down is your ideal posture of last resort. Fluids run downhill, and so does your blood. You want the inevitable bleeding to drain out of your wound into places that will hurt less when they become loaded with blood and plasma. If you let them load the wound or sensitive areas like the areas around your testicles or spermatic cord, you will be privileged to experience rare and exquisite forms of discomfort.

7. Compression Clothing Makes A Difference

Apply some consistent mechanical compression on your sore spots and support your dangly parts. It really makes a difference in your comfort level. Enough said.

8. Movement = Blood Flow = Healing

Movement promotes minor additional damage. As a result of these minor injuries during a broader range of motion, movement enables a full range of motion post-recovery, instead of a more restricted, fixed, sitting or lying position. Thus, movement enables more rapid return to a greater range of activities. If you can’t or won’t inflict the pain yourself, you can do it with a physical or other therapist. In any event, you have to keep moving, despite the discomfort, if you want to return to a full range of your former activities. Video of Dylan walking, post-surgery. (img_6606). Many thanks to my running coach, Chris McClung, of Rogue Running, and to my home running coach, Lori Brown, for continually reminding me of this sometimes uncomfortable fact!

9. You May Be Paying A Coach (Doctor) Who’s Done This Hundreds (Thousands) Of Times. Take The Coaching.

Your coach (or doctor) and his team have vicariously experienced and coached others through marathon recovery (and hernia surgery recovery) more times than you ever will (thankfully). Get all the advice and insight you can, about what it’s like, what’s going to happen, what to do, how and when to do it, what not to do, and for how long. Then, carry out the advice. You didn’t get here alone, and you won’t get out of this alone. Accept the help and wisdom that’s available to you.

10. This Is Just Another Training/Recovery Cycle

  1. Train (or operate), injuring tissue.
  2. Recover.
  3. Train (or even just move), re-injuring tissue in less extreme ways due to improving strength and recovery.
  4. Recover.
  5. Repeat the last two steps over time.
  6. Avoid regression from overtraining and overdoing it.
  7. With consistency, and over time, fitness returns and improves.

11. There Will Be Many Small Victories On The Path To Recovery

  • Lori rejoices after a small victory.
    Lori rejoices after a small victory (getting a job offer).

    At first, you may need to use your arms for support while sitting down and standing up. You may even need help from someone else!

  • On yet another day, you can step down without consciously managing the event.
  • Still later, you’ll notice you’ve gone a full day without consciously fearing the pain that may come with your next movement!
  • Progress comes slowly, steadily, and reliably, if you take the coaching and don’t get ahead of yourself.

12. Before You Know It, You’ll Talk About It Like It Was No Big Deal!

Dylan and Lori win age group 2nd and 1st place, respectively, in the 2014 Austin Distance Challenge. Thanks, Coach!
Dylan and Lori win age group 2nd and 1st place, respectively, in the 2014 Austin Distance Challenge. Thanks, Coach Chris McClung!

Do you know how you can tell a marathon runner? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

Easy, right? You can do this, too!

Consider And Act

  • Who do you know who’s running a marathon or may need hernia surgery? Share this article with them!
  • Share your advice, information, referrals, or story below.
  • Contact me directly below.


Also published on Medium.

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Hi,
I’m Dylan Cornelius.

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