Injury, surgery, and new perspectives while building back from the ground up.

By Brittany Peterson


In this blog installment, professional mountain runner and First Endurance Factory Athlete and coach Brittany Peterson shares her journey of recovery from hip surgery – and how she found gratitude in the process. 

Three little words

There are three words no athlete wants to hear: “You need surgery.”

Unfortunately, I heard them, and this has been my reality for the entirety of 2023: no running, two surgeries, a lot of rehabilitation, and a very long expected recovery time. With this has come grief, loss, fear, and the need for a lot of support. However, with a diagnosis and a plan in place, there was also relief and hope. I was able to end the years-long cycle of ups and downs with running.

Prior to my diagnosis, I’d get into a solid rhythm with my training. Then without warning, I would feel like all of my biomechanics were off and I couldn’t get my glutes to fire. As it turned out, this, in fact, was true. I was diagnosed with “FAI” or Femoroacetabular Impingement with both CAM and Pincer deformities and labral tears in both of my hips.

This essentially means I had bony buildups around the socket of the hip joint that limited my range of motion, resulting in a change in biomechanics because my hips would shift to compensate, which would put my hamstring on stretch and inhibit my glutes from firing properly. With this diagnosis and the choice to pursue surgical correction, the frustrating cycle I had been on could end and a path forward was now beginning. 

From prehab to rehab

The path forward certainly has had its challenges. My timeline thus far has been two months of no running while I waited for surgery – or my “prehab period.” Then I had my first hip surgery (my more impaired side), and seven weeks later I had my second hip surgery (my less impaired side). After that, I essentially re-started my recovery from the ground up.

I am now at five months post-op on my first side and three months post-op on my second side, and I am just starting my return to running process. I feel fortunate to have gone into surgery at a relatively high level of fitness that included a foundation of solid strength, because the acute phase of my recovery included limited weight bearing and restricted range of motion, which brought on atrophy and significant deconditioning. However, now my body is actually able to rebuild more effectively.

From the ground up

Recovery and healing, activation and relearning proper firing patterns, re-strengthening everything – rehabilitation following surgery has been a gradual progression, and I’ve been navigating it while ensuring I wasn’t falling back into my old patterns or habits.

This is the grueling phase of recovery.

My cardio was limited to swimming with a pool buoy and spinning on a bike without resistance, and the bulk of my outlined recovery protocol was tedious work in the gym. Small wins were when I could add resistance to my biking and transition to biking outdoors. However, the emphasis still had to remain on the rehabilitation process and exercises to ensure I was strong enough to use my newly accessible glutes – with proper firing patterns – and also ensure that this motor planning transferred into other activities, including hiking and now running in walk-run intervals.

I get daily reminders in my current phase of recovery that the gym work, strengthening, and working on activation in running-specific exercises remains the priority – but it still takes all of my willpower to prioritize a session in the gym versus getting my endorphin rush with an outside cardio activity.

I still have a long journey ahead of me. For much of the recovery period, I was limited to 20 minutes of running in up to 3 minute intervals at a time, so even when I did run, it was far from satisfying. I didn’t feel like I was floating on the trail. I wasn’t running without thoughts on my form. I wasn’t building toward lofty goals as a professional athlete.

Now, at five months post-op of my second surgery, I’m running a more typical training volume of 50-60 miles per week. I’ve also extended my long run to half-marathon length, and I’ve introduced some light speed work into my training. Building strength continues to be the greatest priority.

Arriving at gratitude

It’s been a struggle, but I have taken away many lessons from this journey.

Some of these lessons felt like I had to kick and scream to get through, and thankfully my support system helped me dig out of some pretty deep holes at times. It was really challenging to not have running as a stress relief during a long period of time where I was undergoing significant change. The changes weren’t just losing access to my passion, altering my daily routine, or missing out on competition – the change in activity level even impacted my hormones, and my body felt foreign to me. All of that was coupled with seeing my competitors and friends chasing goals and smiling at finish lines that I had thought I’d be at.

It was easy to sit in a pity party, and it took practice to continue to find joy in my own journey, even if it wasn’t a glorious one filled with kudos and PR’s. But the journey has also been one of lessons learned – however painfully – and perspective gained.

One of the most important lessons I feel I have taken from my time away from running is gratitude. I’ve gotten to sit with and lean into other aspects of my life. I’ve gotten to enjoy getting my feet back in dirt, even if it is in a lesser capacity than I’ve done in the past. I’ve gotten a glimpse of what life after professional running may look like and how to transition into that without regret or despair. I’ve gotten to reduce my need for external validation from running and get running back to what it should be: peace, joy, and adventure.

That is where my running is today, and it’s impossible to not feel gratitude for gaining this perspective.

Obviously, I still have the tenacity and desire to build back as a professional athlete, chase my dreams and explore my potential. But now I get to do it with curiosity and excitement. I was granted the opportunity to be an even better athlete, I just have to pursue this with patience and keep gratitude at the forefront of my priorities.            

You can follow Brittany as she continues in her recovery from surgery and back to her happy place on the trails and mountains she loves on instagram: @runhappyb.

October 24, 2023 — First Endurance
Tags: inspiration

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.

Join The Conversation

Did you find this post interesting and valuable or was it a waste of your time? Do you have a topic you’d like us to cover or a question you’d like answered? If so, leave a comment below and we'll get back to you right away.

    1 out of ...