Rosa Rosita White suffered a possibly career ending injury late September 2017. We spoke to the alpine hound about surgery, rehab and getting back into your running.
Whilst Rosa may be a little different from most of us reading – she’s German for starter – the lessons that can be learned from any full time athlete’s recovery from major surgery can be valuable to all runners.
The story starts in Italy. On a normal training run at altitude, just as many of us do, Rosa was chasing a marmot. A quick slip into a hole on the ground and something snapped…
Rosa: “I was just chasing this little hairy marmot and suddenly I was in so much pain. My right front leg had stuck in a hole and I had twisted round. It was so painful I yelped, but as I was with a group we continued on. That was my first mistake.
Fast Running: Ouch. Did the doctors diagnose the issue straight away?
Rosa: No, not initially. We went to several different vets before we got the right diagnosis. It’s the same for any runner, you need to see a specialist. Your bog standard vet isn’t used to dealing with the highly tuned body of an athlete. I could still run, but nowhere near my normal speed. The problem is, my damaged ability was still acceptable for someone my age.
FR: So what actually happened?
Rosa: On the third visit to a specialist we got an answer. It was a tear in the ligaments and cartilage in my right front foot. They were completely gone.
They actually got me into surgery that day. Dr. Fabrice Bernard is an expert in his field and had spoke to my local vet. They knew running was my life and wanted to help me.
All the ligaments and cartilage were removed. Now it was replaced with a metal splint and pins. They even took bone from my shoulder to fill in the gaps and help everything fuse back together.
FR: So how was recovery?
Rosa: Well the first day was quite funny.I was coming down from the ketamine they gave me and I couldn’t even eat a croissant without it falling out of my mouth. It probably helped keep me still for a day or so though.
As with any runner I just wanted to go running again. Luckily I have some good friends around to keep me sensible. Robbie and Natalie made sure I didn’t just go straight out, there was no jumping around in the house either.
So many of us just ignore the rehabilitation we’re supposed to follow and good friends help you stick to the plan. I wasn’t allowed to run for three months.
FR: Three months of no running? That must have been difficult!
Rosa: Well, yes and no. You can get caught up worrying about the past and the future, but I’m very much someone who deals with the here and now. Every day I could walk a little further on the leg was a good day. You have to just be happy with where you’re at.
Too many people focus on what they could do before an injury. They remember past times, how easy it is to jump over fences or how close you get to catching a marmot. But all that really matters is making the most out of what you can do in the present.
That first run back felt like I was on a lead. Nat’s helped me from going wild. We’ve all done it. Everything feels great and all the other muscles are rested so you fly off on those first few runs. Then you end up causing more damage. Once again having good friends around will help, they will understand.
I put on a bit of weight during the off time too, but it soon dropped off. I had to eat a few less croissants, but getting the mileage steadily built up, adding some sprints to the postman and back, that really helped.
FR: Were there any low points?
Rosa: Not really. There was the odd moment where I realised I couldn’t do something that would have been easy in the past. Trying to jump over a log on the trail I couldn’t bend my leg to get over. I tried a couple of times without realising that it just wasn’t possible.
I felt sad for a second or two because I couldn’t keep up. Yet again it was friends who helped out. Robbie carried me over the log and I was off again. I actually sprinted off up the hill just to prove how fast I still am.
Downhill is a lot harder now, the shock absorption is gone from that leg. It’s really painful on road or hard trail, but fine uphill. You just have to play to your strengths though. I race uphill only now and take the downhill at a walk mainly. If it’s more technical I can get ahead of the group and rest too.
FR: What’s next?
Rosa: I’m getting a little older now (Rosa is nine and a half) but I still have plenty of trails to explore. It’s become less about racing others, although I still burn everyone off uphill. You just change the focus of your running a little. There is so much to enjoy about our sport and so much to see.
I’d like to do a Bob Graham Round or at least see a fair bit of the course. In the past I would have struggled because of all the sheep distracting me, but I’m a bit older now I can keep focused. I might help Nats run a quick time.
FR: Last question. Any advice for others returning from injury?
Rosa: Plenty. Just focus on the moment. There’s a lot of catshit online about mindfulness but I really think it works now. If you get too concerned with how fast you were in the past or how you won’t be that quick in the future it can get you down.
Focus on being the best runner you can be on this very day, on the run you are currently on. It works for races too. Don’t worry about the miles gone past or ahead, focus on the mile you are running.
I rest more now too. Don’t get me wrong, I rested loads before, but it’s important to listen to your body. Some days when the gang are at the door ready to go, if I’m not feeling it I’ll say no. In the past I would have jumped at any opportunity to go running but now I’m more sensible.
Oh, and stretch. I stretch every time I get up, like a dog does. Just a couple stretches, but always before and after a run.
I no longer chase marmots anymore, even though the desire is there. Pond skaters and tadpoles are a lot safer, plus you’re in water cooling the leg off too. Still do the things you love, but maybe change them a little.
If you want to follow Rosa on her adventure she is on Instagram and posts daily.