Arnie Pollinger Dr. Su RBHR 4/9/12
M55 Arnie Pollinger of Holliston, Massachusetts, is a rare bird — he runs roads and sprints. Recently, he wrote me: “I realize my running and jumping might not be noteworthy except for the fact that I am doing all this with an artificial hip.” His surgery was in April 2012, and he’s run dozens of distance races since this list began in 1997. He’s also prolific in the 60, 100 and 200 — and long jump. New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery posted a great profile of his case. “My hope is that other masters runners with degenerative hip arthritis who have been told they will never run again will read my story and realize there is a viable alternative out there,” he says. So I dug for more info, and he graciously responded.
Masterstrack.com: If you hadn’t had hip resurfacing, what would you be capable of now?
Arnie Pollinger: In lieu of hip resurfacing, I’d have had a total hip replacement. So I imagine I’d be on some kind of anti-depressant since I would no longer be able to run. I’m sure I’d be much fatter and probably would drink a lot more. I’ve been running my entire life (my mom told me I could run before I could walk).
So without being able to run, a huge part of my life would be torn away. I would try and keep active — I do think you can still ski with a total hip replacement, so I’d still do that. I love playing ice hockey — not sure if I’d still be able to do that. I guess I would do a lot more hiking. I don’t like to swim, but I imagine I would do lots of mountain biking.
What was recuperation like? How long before you were full speed?
I trained for my surgery like it was a goal race. I worked on my upper body and core strength and as much cardio as my hip would allow. This helped my recovery immensely. My surgery was 4/19/12. I was walking a mile on crutches after a week, and was off crutches at two weeks. I did my PT stretches religiously every day.
By one month, I was walking three miles a day. At six weeks, I started Active Release Technique. ART is an amazing system performed by licensed practitioners to break up scar tissue. One of the biggest recovery issues people have is that scar tissue from the surgery builds up and restricts movement (and also becomes painful).
I have been doing ART for years, long before I needed hip surgery. I continue ART on my hip (and any other body parts that need it) every month. ART is the main reason I have been able to remain injury free (other than requiring an artificial hip, of course) and I recommend it for anyone.
At three months, I was cleared to ride a bike, so I would ride my bike five miles down to the lake and then do aqua-jogging for 30 minutes a day, and ride home. Aqua-jogging is like it sounds. You strap a flotation device around your waist and hold floats in your hands and run in deep water. I would actually spend the 30 minutes as though it were a track workout — some jogging and some intense “sprinting.”
At four months, I was cleared for light jogging on grass and started the 16-week resurfacing to 5K program. At five months, I was able to run on the track (just jogging still). At six months, I was cleared to run on the roads.
Seven months after my surgery, I ran a 5K, the local Turkey Trot. In a few more months, I was running 20 miles per week. I knew that many people had returned to distance running after hip resurfacing surgery, but as best I could tell nobody had ever successfully returned to sprinting up until that point in 2012.
When I first consulted with my surgeon, the famous Dr. Edwin Su, in NYC regarding sprinting, he saw no reason why I couldn’t return to masters sprinting, so I knew I had to try. But I also knew I had to get into shape before I could hit the track for some serious workouts. I spent the winter of 2012-2013 doing P90X, the extreme fitness program.
After completing that, I hit the track for some quality speed work and on May 17, 2013, just over 12 months after my surgery, I won the silver medal at the CT Senior Games in the 50-meter dash. I had hoped to also compete in the 100 and 200 that day, but I strained my hamstring, so had to stop after the 50. But I had proven to myself (and possibly to the world?) that it could be done. I know that since then Kay Glynn has had great success sprinting as well as all kinds of T&F events, but I’m still not aware if anyone had previously competed at masters sprinting after hip resurfacing.
Anyway, I sprinted a little more that summer, then turned my attention back to distance running. Two years after my surgery, I ran the Boston Marathon for the seventh time. I also ran a 20-mile race, a 16-mile race, a couple of half-marathons, and a mountain race that year.
In 2015, three years after surgery, I started back with long jumping, having been extra cautious with that event.
What are your all-time track and running bests? Any major youth achievements?
I ran track in high school — 100- and 220-yard dash (as is the case with many of us old-timers, meters hadn’t been invented yet), and the 50-yard dash indoors, as well as the long jump. I did win a few races in high school — (100 and 50) but that’s it. Attached is a photo of me running the 100 in HS (I am second from the right). Note the cinder track.
My best performances (note that I am not a competitive distance runner, just a midpack hack): 100 yards – 10.4, 220 yards – 24.0, Long Jump 19-6, one mile – 5:30, 5K – 20:04, 5M – 34:33; 10K – 43:16; 10M – 1:17:37; 1/2 Marathon – 1:41:07; Marathon – 4:21:07; Mt, Washington (7.6 miles up): 1:59:29.
I think what I am most proud of though is how all the races have piled up over the years. I have run seven Boston Marathons, 14 half-marathons, nine Reach the Beach Relays, numerous mountain races, including the Mt. Washington Road Race, which I have done twice, and literally hundreds of other road and trail races of all lengths.
What do you do for a living? Still live in Holliston?
I am an actuary at Fidelity Investments. Yes, my wife of 30 years and I still live in Holliston. One daughter is a senior in college (Chapman University) and one daughter just graduated from Bowdoin last year.
How do you train for both long distance and sprints?
You can’t train for both at the same time. I learned this the hard way, trying to do both. That’s a great way to pull a hamstring and/or groin. So now I decide before the season what type of running I want to do and what my goal races are.
For distance running, total mileage is very important. I don’t have a lot of distance running talent, so I need to compensate by training my butt off. That pays off in many races when my training helps me to run a negative split, frequently passing many runners who may be faster at distance runnig, but have not trained as hard as me.
For a marathon, I will slowly increase my mileage peak at 50-60 miles per week. I always do speed work, but a distance running track workout is different from a sprint workout. A typical workout might be 6 x 800 repeats with 400 rest. But these 800s are done at 10K pace. You won’t see me winning any age-group awards in a distance race; I am a proud midpacker. But I always train hard and take races seriously; I am not one to just show up at a race without proper training.
Sprinting is a different animal, of course. It requires not only a different approach to training, but also more upper-body strength. Once I’ve decided to focus on sprinting, I will work hard in getting in shape even prior to getting on the track. I’ve gone through the extreme fitness program P90X a few times and for this indoor track season I’ve been doing “Insanity” created by the same company.
Both of these really work on your upper body and core (not to mention your legs, lungs and heart). Track workouts are twice a week. Whereas for a distance running speed workout, you can just jump right into the workout. For a quality sprint workout, I take a good 20 minutes of dynamic stretching beforehand. I subscribe to the Roger Pierce method of training – high quality over quantity. Anywhere from 900 to 1300 meters total of sprinting per workout, all done at high intensity, with no rep longer than a 300.
How do I decide whether to focus on distance running or sprinting for a particular season? I try and mix things up. I like the variety, For instance, after running the 100 and 200 at Outdoor Nationals last July, I took a week off, then started running three miles every other day, eventually building up to 40 miles a week to run a half marathon in October.
Then I took a week off, and started to get in shape for this indoor track season by doing the Insanity workouts (the name by the way is apropos) for six weeks before starting to incorporate sprint workouts in December.
A lot has to do with my actual age within the age groups. I know my limitations. Although I am much better at sprinting than distance running, I know am not as fast as many serious masters sprinters, especially at the national level. So I try and milk being at the younger end of the age grouping (I am 56 now), and when I am at the older end of the 5-year age group, I tend to do more distance running instead of competitive sprinting.
Being active in two separtate running clubs (Mass Velocity for sprinting, and I am the VP and track coach for the Greater Framingham Running Club) It’s hard to hold back sometimes. For example, every year I am captain of the the GFRC’s 26×1-mile relay team. This is a fun event with as many as 12 running clubs competing, where you have to get 26 people to each run a mile (plus one lucky person doing the 0.2) so the total distance is a marathon.
But last year it was about three weeks before outdoor nationals. So I had to hold back and did not run the mile (although I was still captain), to not screw up my sprint training. I had to tell many confused distance running friends that a hard one mile run is not a sprint! It’s a fast distance race! And doing it would have set myself up for an injury. Distance runners do not understand fast-twitch training. And of course, spinters think any race where you can’t see the finish line is crazy.
What meets are you pointing for this season — nationals, worlds, etc.?
I am not doing indoor nationals this year for a few reasons (too far away, promised ski vacation with daughter), but am aiming for the USATF New England and Easterns on 1/31. I see the outdoor nationals are in Michigan and I had a great experience last July at Jacksonville (except for that heat – I am not a hot weather person), so I will probably do outdoor nationals again.
I’ll be 57 then, so that could be my last nationals until I turn 60. As for worlds, well, again, I know my limitations. My goal is to make the national finals. The worlds seems like it’s a bit out of my reach. While I know I would not embarrass myself, it seems like a long way to travel just to be eliminated in the first round. Seeing another part of the world is a big plus, but I think it might be hard to enjoy when I am hyped up to prep for a race. Maybe after I’m retired.
What’s your advice for people with similar hip problems? How should they evaluate surgeons?
A total hip replacement is very common and generally a safe operation. However, if you have hip arthritis and running is important, then you should definitely look into hip resurfacing.
Do not accept the opinion of any orthopedist who says that hip resurfacing is not done anymore, not safe, not viable, or otherwise dismisses it out of hand. This is your body, your life!
There is as a lot of misinformation out there about this type of surgery. You’ll hear about lawsuits and recalls, about toxic metals and so forth. But any orthopedist telling you that is simply mixing up all metal hip implants together to conclude they are all bad, and is unwilling to get out of their safe zone (i.e., total hip replacement) without digging deeper into the type of implant, the manufacturer, the level of skill of surgeon, all kinds of hip resurfacing factors.
Some implants have been recalled, but one is FDA-approved. But such an orthopedist won’t give you those kind of significant facts. Do your own research, and find yourself a top hip resurfacing surgeon. There are two excellent websites out there.
Surfacehippy.com and hipresurfacingsite.com have a wealth of great information about what hip resurfacing is and isn’t, who is a good candidate, who isn’t what you can expect from recovery, as well as lists of respected hip resurfacing surgeons.
It is a trickier operation than a total hip, so you definitely want to go to a top surgeon. If you are a serious athlete, there are about 6-10 top hip resurfacing surgeons that you should consider. I’d also be happy to correspond with anyone who wants to email me directly. But any runner with degenerative hip arthristis owes it to himself or herself to look into this. Just look at Kay Glynn and me (not to mention MLB pitcher Colby Lewis and ex-NHLer Ed Jovanoski).
What’s your favorite masters track moment?
When I ran on a 50+ 4-by-100 meter relay team at the Penn Relays back in 2009. I had just turned 50, so I was not lacking anything in the confidence department and I would highly recommend the experience to anyone who is considering it. Of course, the team had an injury on the 4-by-400 team, so I got drafted to run that. That was not nearly as enjoyable.
Anything else people should know about your masters career?
Four years ago, when I was told by three respected orthopedists from various Boston hospitals that I would never be able to run again, I was devastated. Getting hip resurfacing surgery has been the single best decision I’ve ever made in my athletic career, and has given me newfound appreciation for being able to enjoy the world of running, whether sprinting or distance running.
Of course, I still train hard and always want to do my best, but I never beat myself up or get discouraged because I know that there will always be another race and another day of running in my life. People ask me how my hip is, and my answer is always the same — the hip is great, I don’t even think about it any more (except when I set off metal detectors at airports).