I started running in middle school and I wasn’t very good at it. When I ran, I would get all red in the face and before long my breathing would become a raspy, gaspy, disaster…kind of like Darth Vader. Remnants of childhood asthma made going very far very fast a huge challenge. This didn’t stop me from falling in love with the sport, and ever since I have loved putting on my running shoes and hitting the trails. In high school, I began to run cross-country on my high school team and made varsity out of sheer determination. I didn’t really win very many races, but because of my leadership in practice, I was chosen to be the team captain. I was also the poster child for over-training. I ran 6 or 7 days a week, with 10 mile long runs on Sundays, and quickly ended up with stress fractures in both my shins and my foot. Ouch. I remember one time my mom told me that her chiropractor had recommended a book about training. The author advocated a training method that involved only running until you were tired and then stopping. I laughed at her thinking, “If I were to stop running when I got tired I would never even start.”
high school running chick
After high school I mellowed out a bit, but continued to run…even when I was on vacation in Mexico and backpacking around Europe. There is nothing like getting chased down a dirt road by a possibly rabid, stray dog to get you running fast in the morning! I saw beautiful sunrises and sunsets, as well as hidden places that I never would have seen if I hadn’t been running. One of the most devastating moments of my euro-trip, was when I woke up one morning in an Amsterdam youth hostel to find that my running shoes had been stolen from under my bed while I slept. I continued to run recreationally in college. My best friend and roommates were on the University of Washington track team, so I still lived in a competitive athletic atmosphere, even if I couldn’t actually keep up.
Shortly before my diagnosis with Crohn’s Disease, I trained for and ran a 10km race in Cordoba, Spain. I came in 3rd in my age group and was the 18th female over-all. Standing on the podium was a thrill, and my love for running was stronger than ever! Unfortunately, my plans of glory were undermined by my illness. When I first got sick I tried to keep running, but when your intestines are upset and full of bleeding ulcers, joggling them around is pretty much a terrible and painful idea. After my first two hospitalizations there was a period of time during which I was relatively healthy. So what did I do? Began to stress out my body by training for a ten-mile race in Brazil. The race was stunningly beautiful. It started on one of the popular beaches in Vitoria, crossed a huge bridge to the neighboring city, Vila Velha, and wove its way along the beach and through the town before ending at the enormous Garoto chocolate factory. The day after the race I saw blood in my stool again, and shortly thereafter was in a flare that would continue for more than a year.
Before the race, and a photo of the beautiful bridge
Before had I started to run again, I had scoured the internet for information about running with Crohn’s disease. The few articles I found were vague and inconclusive. Most sources said that exercise was encouraged especially when in remission. I even found a few marathon runners who had Crohn’s disease. So why did I get sick again? Now I know that I wasn’t looking at the right parts of the internet. Endurance sports can cause chronic inflammation. The stress that distance runners put on their bodies by doing such prolonged, frequent training can cause increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut). Leaky gut is present in most if not all autoimmune disease. For someone like me who already has an autoimmune condition strenuous training can be a complete disaster and possibly cause flares. Which is something no one wants.
For me this is devastating. It is “Santa doesn’t really exist and your parents have been lying to you your whole life” devastating. I enjoy doing yoga and Pilates, and am a fan of beach walking, but as any former or current runner can tell you…it is NOT the same. There is nothing like running. The way your body feels after a long run, the mixed pain and pleasure of a speed workout, running in the rain… I could go on forever. So now what? This is my plan… Remember that book I laughed at my mom about? Well…I am going to ask her to send me a copy. I may never run a marathon or ten-mile race again. But I will run. I will run until my body tells me to stop. Even if that is 30 seconds. Life with autoimmune disease is full of compromises, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up everything we love. Running doesn’t have to be the strenuous activity that it is for competitive endurance athletes, and that it was for me. It can be more gentle. So here goes, I’m off to run/walk with my buddy Ace.
my new running/walking buddy
What about you? What are the biggest sacrifices you have made for your health?