Billy’s Story: From Double Hip Replacement to Long Distance Runner

By Billy Brannigan

Billy Brannigan with friends after the Great Ireland Run

Billy Brannigan with friends after the Great Ireland Run

When I was young I played a lot of sport & generally stayed fit & healthy. I played soccer, gaelic, hurling and rugby and some weekends I would often play up to 3 games. I never suffered with any injuries during the years playing football until at the age of 24 I suffered a bad injury to my back while playing football (I broke 2 vertebrae at the base of my back). Due to the injury I stopped participating in sports and suffered in pain for years. The pain and stiffness was almost constant and it affected my quality of life. Simple daily tasks like putting on a pair of socks became an ordeal at times. I was diagnosed as suffering with arthritis in both my hips in around the summer of 2009. I felt relief that the cause of my pain and stiffness had been identified and that I could now look at the options available to me to manage my situation. After a lot of research and speaking with my doctor I decided that the best course of action was for me to have hip replacement surgery. I had my first hip replacement in February 2010 and my second hip replacement in May 2011. I am now aged 44; I haven’t looked back since getting my hips replaced and feel better now than I have done for years.

Billy Brannigan 2Over the years I became very unfit and overweight as a result of the lack of physical exercise, and I used the excuse of my aches, pains & stiffness to avoid getting involved in any activities. I made a decision that once I had both my hips replaced and I felt I was making good progress in the recovery that I was going to get myself fit again and lose weight (my weight went up to almost 18 stone). I watched my wife, 2 of my brothers and 1 of my sisters run the Spar Great Ireland race last year and decided that if my doctor gave me the go ahead to run, that I would run it this year. Initially I joined a gym and after a few months of using the cross trainer and exercise bike I felt a reasonable level of fitness returning and I lost a bit of the excess weight too!!

In January 2013 I joined Dunboyne Athletics Club for the couch to 5km in eight weeks training programme. This programme was aimed at complete beginners and I got great support and encouragement from the coaches Sinead and Eleanor. I completed my first 5km run in the RTE Operation Transformation run in the Phoenix Park in February. I have been running 2- 3 times a week with Dunboyne Athletic club. The training involves warm up stretches and a combination of both running and walking circuits of the track. Everybody trains at their own pace, with no pressure but plenty of encouragement. At the end of March I completed a 4 mile race. I gradually increased the distances of my training runs and I have just completed the Spar Great Ireland 10 km run in the Phoenix Park in 63 minutes. I have decided to raise funds for Arthritis Ireland as arthritis is a condition which I have suffered with for many years. My father also suffered from arthritis and he too had both his hips replaced as a result of his arthritis.

From a personal point of view I would never have thought that I could be in a position to even think about running a 10km race (& aim to complete it in 63 minutes) a few short years ago when some days I could hardly walk! I had days when I needed someone to tie my laces and hardly a day passed without me needing to take painkillers just to get through the day. The hip replacements have been a complete success and have given me a new lease of life. I now enjoy an active lifestyle and felt a big sense of achievement on completing the Great Ireland Run – having set that as a goal 12 months ago, although realistically I didn’t really believe I could do it!!

I continue to train with Dunboyne Athletics Club and I recently joined their fit for life Billy Brannigan 3programme. This programme is a step up from the couch to 5km programme, but again everybody trains at their own pace. I find the atmosphere in Dunboyne Athletics club is very friendly and everybody involved encourages all the newcomers. The couch to 5km programme catered for all ages, both male & female (most athletics clubs around the country carry out this programme) and I would highly recommend it as a way of getting involved in running for complete beginners. I aim to complete more 10 km races throughout the year, but have decided that I will not try any further distances, as much as I would love to attempt the Dublin Marathon!

Sometimes I do feel a little stiff the day after running, which can be normal after any physical exercise and this is why it’s important for me to warm up and stretch before running and to cool down and stretch again after running. I have had no reaction from running with my hips. In the couple of races which I have run in I have found it best for me not to run for about 3 days beforehand just so as I’m feeling fresh on the race day! There are plenty of 5km, 5 mile and 10 km runs all around the country throughout the year. Participating in running is a great way to meet new friends, whether it means joining an athletics club or just signing up for a run. These races all cater for all levels of fitness, so many people will be seen to complete a 5km race by running and walking the course. In the runs which I have participated in there have been great crowds of spectators cheering on and encouraging everybody all along the course.

Billy BranniganI have since completed the Samsung Dublin City 10km night run in 57 minutes and again I felt a great sense of achievement on crossing the finishing line. Almost 7000 people took part in this run and the majority of these people wore a bright yellow t-shirt which was given to all entrants and seeing so many people running in these tops in the dark around Dublin City Centre added to the buzz and excitement of the occasion. My next targets are a 10km run at the Curragh Racecourse in County Kildare and then a 5 mile run in Terenure, Dublin. The fact that there are so many races organised all over the country gives me something to aim towards and I find that having these goals helps keep focused on training. In a week when I have a race I will only train twice & this will involve running / walking approximately 6 to 7 km’s. If I do not have a race lined up I will usually aim to run approximately 8km on a Saturday morning. I still train in the gym – usually once or twice a week, just to vary my training. In the gym I will usually use the exercise bike, stepper machine, cross trainer or hill walk on the treadmill.

Every week – no matter where you are in the country- there are lots of challenge events taking place close to you. If you would like to take part and raise funds for Arthritis Ireland, click here to register your interest of call Orla on (01)7470209.

10 thoughts on “Billy’s Story: From Double Hip Replacement to Long Distance Runner

  1. What an inspiring story it really is. I am exactly in the same position as you were on painkillers, can’t put on my own socks, lace shoes forget about it, even walking is a struggle so on a crutch now. It’s not the quality of life over the years that anyone should live with, i’m 40 now and it effects everything I have PA and arthritis runs in my family too.
    I am getting my first hip replacement on June 5th can’t wait for it, and will need left hip done too , hip, hip hooray excuse the pun! So I can’t wait to turn my life around health wise like you have and oh to live a normal life again espically with no pain. Best of luck and continued good health.

  2. hi billy it is great to see you doing so well. keep up the good work. i had tkr 3 months ago and its the worst decision i made constantly in pain stiffness burning only to be told it takes time

  3. Won’t be walking or running but from feeling like a 90 year old at 49 when I had my hip replacement, I haven’t looked back .. . and it got me to the Antarctic and back – so am jolly happy with that!

  4. Hi Billy may I use your story for a book about volunteer’s called volunteer voices. the book is for charity. I am nowhere near publication, still collecting stories of inspiration from volunteers. see volunteer voices face book page.
    thanks Deirdre Gleeson

  5. Congratulations Billy.

    This is exactly where a strong willpower pays of. I am totally happy for you and you have my full respect for achieving your personal goal. This is inspiring to everyone out there. Personaly i suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, but it doesn’t stop me from doing light weight exercises aswell as participate in self-defense classes. However, those stretching and weight exercises keep me fit and flexible even with the disadvantage of rheuma. Thanks alot for sharing your story, totally motivates me!


  6. Hi. It’s been nearly 2 years since my 2nd hip replacement, and before the surgey was generally quite fit but as with these things became a little out of shape. I have found my muscles adjusting quite challenging, everything seems to have changed and I was just wondering whether you had any particular advice, training programmes, etc that you could share. Being young with 2 hip replacements isn’t so common and my doctor isn’t sure of the limitations or damage that could be caused by long distance running. I’m 27 so I don’t really want to go and ruin his good work but at the same time I have never had this kind of freedom so want to enjoy it and have committed to running the London Marathon in April. Helen

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