25 Consecutive Boston Marathons: Jennifer Schubert-Akin discusses how a tibial plateau fracture almost shattered her dream of becoming the 10th woman in the world to complete this milestone

Jennifer completing the 2018 Boston Marathon

There are only nine women in the world who have consecutively completed the Boston Marathon 25 times. Determined to become the 10th woman, Jennifer Schubert-Akin completed her 24th consecutive Boston Marathon after overcoming serious knee injuries the year before.

Jennifer began running in her early 30s. “I was not in good shape, but a friend who ran cross-country at Arizona State suggested I start by putting on my tennis shoes and trying to run around my neighborhood for 15 minutes without stopping.” Three years later, she ran her first marathon – the Big Sur Marathon in California – and the next year, in 1994, Jennifer qualified for her first Boston Marathon. “In the years following, I kept qualifying for the Boston Marathon, so it started becoming an annual rite of spring. Also, because my sister has MS, I decided I might as well raise funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society while I was running, which I have continued each year.”

While training for the 2017 Boston Marathon, Jennifer sustained a tear in her IT band, so she began training on a body weight supported treadmill where she maintained and improved her strength, but only at 60 to 70 percent of her body weight. She did not foresee the impact that running on the paved roads along the Boston course would have, or the eventual toll it would take on her body.

“Going into the race, I felt great,” said Jennifer. But, just past the 13-mile half marathon mark, Jennifer felt pain in her left knee.  She continued on despite the rapidly escalating pain, stopping at a medical tent at Mile 18 in the famous Newton Hills section of the course, to have an ace bandage wrapped tightly around her left knee.  By the last few miles, limping badly, she was experiencing severe pain in both knees. “I was in such severe pain that, after I crossed the finish line, a volunteer helped me into a wheelchair, because I was unable to walk.” Jennifer had sustained tibial plateau fractures in BOTH knees. Tibial plateau fractures are most common in high energy trauma when the lower end of the femur is driven into the tibial plateau (upper part of the tibia).

“Many people asked how I was able to tolerate that level of pain. From 2000 to 2008, I ran several 100-mile trail races, including three finishes at the Leadville Trail 100 in Colorado. When you compete in races like that, you develop a high tolerance for pain. In this case, I knew my body was in pain, but I was determined to finish my 23rd consecutive Boston Marathon.”

After crossing the finish line in Boston, Jennifer returned home to Colorado and visited Dr. Millett at The Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado. “I live in Steamboat Springs, Colorado,” said Jennifer.  “My physical therapist recommended I see Dr. Millett in Vail.” During her appointment, Jennifer received X-rays, an MRI and a CT Scan that confirmed she had sustained knee fractures in both her left and right knees. The left knee fracture was displaced and would require surgery. “It was unimaginable to think she ran the last several miles of the marathon with 2 broken legs,” said Millett after seeing her.

Jennifer racing in the 2017 Boston Marathon.

“I immediately trusted Dr. Millett when I met him. I told him that I felt guilty that I had pushed my body to this limit. He pointed to the wall in the exam room, which is covered in accolades from former patients, and said, ‘Each one of these patients did the same thing – they had an injury and recovered. You were just doing what you loved.’”

In late April 2017, eleven days following the Boston Marathon, Jennifer had surgery to repair her displaced tibial plateau fracture. This was a complex surgery where a plate and screws were used to reposition the bone back into its natural anatomical position. She immediately started the rehab process. “There were so many positives that came out of rehab,” said Jennifer. “Dr. Millett’s physical therapy protocol was spot-on, and I followed it religiously. Since I was in a wheelchair and unable to be weight-bearing, I went to the pool with my niece. I learned how to swim! I began biking, swimming, core and weight training. I wish I had learned the importance of cross-training years before. Everything started coming together.”

In the late summer, she started short runs, and in late October, she began her regular training. Cross-training inspired Jennifer to compete in a short triathlon in January, 2018. “Leading up to the 2018 Boston Marathon, I was really nervous. I had to get past that mental block at mile 13, where the pain started last year. Once I passed that point in the race, I relaxed, ran strong and pain-free, and finished in 4:11:19!  And, my knees felt great throughout the race. The 20 – 40 MPH winds and cold, heavy rain were an effective distraction, and I really enjoyed the second half of the race.”

“I am so thankful to Dr. Millett for helping me cross the Boston finish line for the 24th time. Throughout my journey, he was honest and compassionate with me. I felt like he really cared about me. For patients who have sustained a similar injury to mine, I would highly recommend Dr. Millett!”

Jennifer is looking forward to her 25th consecutive Boston Marathon in 2019.  She also is pursuing her new goal of completing an Ironman Triathlon.

While clinical studies support the effectiveness of these procedures, individual results may vary. There are no guarantees of outcome. All surgeries involve the risk of major complications. Before you decide on surgery, discuss treatment options with your doctor. Understanding the risks of each treatment can help you make the best decision for your individual situation.  Always ask your doctor about all treatment options, as well as their risks and benefits. Only your doctor can determine the appropriate treatment for your situation. The clinical information and opinions, including any inaccuracies expressed in this material by patients or doctor are not necessarily those of Peter Millett, MD and should not be considered as substitute for medical advice provided by your doctor.

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