On the Road, we conquer


By ASHLEY BELLER
A conqueror from Cave City

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ashley Beller is a consistent top finisher in local races, second-place woman and 10th overall in Saturday's 1040 Tax Run 5K at 22:14.76. That's 7:10 a mile on her surgically repaired hip.

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Check out our archive for previous travels On the Road, and remember we invite you to share your own story, cause or advice with our members.

Hi. I'm Ashley Beller, and this is my Achilles' heel.

Ashley Beller can prove
she does not have a screw loose

Okay, you're right, it's actually my left hip. My doc says those three metal pins, smiling in the photo, are roughly the size of ball-point pens. I haul those pins with me everywhere I go, but I don't let them slow me down anymore. Here's the story.

I was a decent runner in high school, but I hadn't run anywhere on purpose in years. I needed some regular exercise, though, and had witnessed a few of my friends being bitten by the running bug. The stars aligned when I stumbled upon the Couch to 5K app in the summer of 2010 and convinced my husband, John, to do the 8-week training program with me. We muddled through and, in August, lined up for our first ever 5K race. When the race director shouted through the bullhorn, asking the mass of adrenaline-addled runners if we were ready to run and fists went into the air as runners whooped and hollered, I knew I'd been bitten, too. The gun hadn't even been fired yet, but I knew I'd do this again — lots of times.

We continued to train and race and get faster. In February, I attempted a 10K on my treadmill for the first time. It felt great! I could do longer distances! I could run forever! But, as soon as I stepped off the treadmill, I knew that something wasn't right; by bedtime, I couldn't even walk. The pain in my hip was searing.

Over the next several months, the pain fluctuated between uncomfortable and unbearable as doctors were perplexed by my condition. Eventually, I was diagnosed with a labral tear in my hip that would require surgery to repair the cartilage and carve out the abnormal bone structure that led to the tear. Further complicating this diagnosis was the benign bone tumor in the same region that was discovered during a diagnostic MRI. If we repaired the tear without stabilizing the tumor, I'd be at risk of breaking my hip doing just everyday activities.

Obviously, running was out. Some days, walking was out. I had a constant limp. And, my, how I missed running! I missed it as an activity that John and I could do together. We'd had some of our best conversations running around the local track in the dark; and one of my favorite runs was the Sara Low Memorial 5K of 2010 that we'd run in the pouring-down rain, crossing the finish line together. But, now, I found myself sidelined, sent back to the Couch from which I'd come — week after week, month after month.

Finally, after nine months of pain, the docs were confident enough in their diagnosis to proceed with the surgical repairs. So, two rough surgeries, three giant metal pins, and countless hours of therapy later, I could walk again to the bus stop to meet my girls at the end of the school day. A month after that, I could pick up our 2-year-old son again. And by six months post-surgery, my doctor grudgingly gave me the green light to begin running again. Shaking his head in disbelief that I'd even want to, he made me promise to take it slow.

The Sprint for Seniors this past summer was my first race back. As I crossed the finish line with John by my side, I was elated, exuberant, and tearful. I was back. Finally.

People who know my story frequently ask me whether my hip still bothers me when I run. The doctors had told me that following so much "bone trauma" and new hardware, I could expect some mild pain from time to time. I wouldn't call it pain exactly. My hip just talks to me. On days when I've really been training hard, it speaks just loudly enough to remind me with every footfall of all that we've been through together — how far we've come. Thankfully, it rarely screams at me anymore. Hopefully, our relationship has moved permanently to a better place.

If there's one thing I've learned as I've gotten more plugged in to the running community, it's that my story is not unique. Nearly every runner has a story to tell of overcoming obstacles. We all have Achilles' heels of some type or another, whether they be weak knees, depression, weight gain, stress, or anything else that holds us back or makes us doubt ourselves. Nearly all of us are running away from something, or more precisely, racing against something, and we're all leaving it in our dust. After all the past couple of years have brought me, I'm thankful to be back on the road and to count myself a part of this community of conquerors.