To run or not to run and how running can make you sick

To run or not to run and how running can make you sick

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.”


Copy of running 001(1)

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?

26 Responses

  1. overachiever2

    When you are building up your stamina again, what is your indicator of “enough” when “too much” has always been the norm?

    • Slightly Lost Girl

      I think it is best to regulate your breathing and heart rate if you have a hard time with stopping when your body tells you to. Heart rate shouldn’t exceed about 130 BPM (check out a heart rate chart as this varies with age). You shouldn’t pass a “moderate level”….and if you are out of breath, stop. Good luck!

  2. I was un-officially diagnosed with crohn’s disease in 2004 after being hospitalized with a small bowel obstruction which followed several years of unexplained illness. (I’ve been sick off and on since I was 21) I can’t run. I wish I could! I too used to run track in jr. high. I flare every time I do any type of high intensity exercise or even speed walking on the treadmill. I also love pilates and yoga and am currently starting my 6th week of Brazil Butt Lift dvd’s with much success. (I do modify and don’t do the jumping when they do it) I also discovered paleo when searching for a way to eat and feel better. I’m also lactose intolerant so steering clear of dairy completely is imperative. This way of eating has definitely made me feel 100% better but I do still get sick…even when I follow the rules. 🙁 Thank you for sharing your story and I pray for your continued strength and wellness. Now I know I’m not alone.

    • Slightly Lost Girl

      Thanks for reading and commenting! It is so hard to be limited by illness, but it sounds like you are doing a great job finding ways to keep healthy and active! I am just finishing up a post about Brazilian body image and gyms….they have all kinds of crazy butt exercises….and they work 🙂

  3. I did a half marathon back in 2008 (this was pre-kids, so no time for running these days!). I frequently injured myself (shin splits, horrible pain in my feet), and also gained 15lbs. There are pictures of me after the race, and my face is so round and fat – almost like I was bloated. I’ve always questioned why this “healthy activity” made me feel so awful. Thanks for the insight…

    • Slightly Lost Girl

      Yes, endurance activities are unfortunately not for everyone….thanks for reading!

  4. i am new to and loving your posts — thank you, from a fellow Crohn. i am a 16 year veteran. was never good at nor liked running to begin with, but now… 5 years of working hard on diet and drug waves and i just recently have been able and interested in running. gently. i’m a 2-miler. i love it so much. it was actually inspired by reading an excellent Nature article on the cardiac consequences of long distance running and the benefit of going until your body tells you to stop, as you’ve described. best to you.

    • Slightly Lost Girl

      Thanks for reading! I am so glad that you are able to run without hurting your body, that is awesome! Keep up the good work, and I hope you keep on feeling good 🙂

  5. i have been exercising pretty consistently for the last two years, bootcamp, running etc, as my crohns has been active, I have been noticing that my crohns has been more painful on the days i exercise…I am def going to take it easy from now on, I haven’t been in remission for over a year and im steriod dependent. I am just about to start whole30 diet in the hope that food and natural remedies will put it in remission. thanks for sharing your storing. It is very motivating and helpful.

    • Slightly Lost Girl

      Oh man, isn’t it terrible when something you like doing turns out to make you feel worse? Maybe you will feel better doing yoga or walking or something more mellow. I am so sorry about the steroid dependency it can be so hard to get off those buggers! The last time I tapered it took me more than two weeks per mg. Blah. Good luck and feel free to contact me if you need ideas….or just to vent 🙂

  6. Hiya. Just found your blog. Very nice. I was diagnosed in 2009 —> Prednisone, Remicade, Imuran. SCD since 2011 and med-free after 3 months of starting. I had same experience with running so really try to listen to my body– hiking, walking, horseback riding, yoga, RESTING. I do have frustrating arthritis that I know is from the autoimmune component. STRESS is my #1 relapse guarantee. What a fine balance, aye? All the best to you on your journey to optimal health.

    • Slightly Lost Girl

      Thanks for reading….it seems like we really have to work on listening to our bodies with autoimmune disease. Congrats on being medication free for so long, keep up the good health 🙂

  7. antyKristen

    Continually impressed with your articulation, deep thought, and sharing. Truly inspiring!

    • Slightly Lost Girl

      Thank you Kristen! and thanks for always being there for me 🙂

      • antyKristen

        Thanks to your post (I was inspired!) I went for a jog for the first time in 5 months.

        • Slightly Lost Girl

          I’m so glad…..I have been reading about the psychological (in addition to physical) benefits of walking….if you are feeling like running is no fun even just putting on the shoes and walking can make a big difference. Running is the best though!!!!!!

          • antyKristen

            Admittedly, walking just isn’t the same. When I walk (briskly) it seems to put MORE stress on my knees. It feels like more work…. I just listened to my podcast and didn’t look at a clock. It felt good to just listen to my body and go; some walking too. I wish I could take Izzy but she has an awkward gate and insists on zig-zagging right in front of my feet.

          • Slightly Lost Girl

            I know. Walking isn’t the same….at all, but they say it is good for us. Check out this woman’s blog: ….she has a lot of awesome info about how to run and walk without hurting yourself and all kinds of interesting stuff about biomechanics

  8. Thanks for sharing your story. I haven’t ran in years. But after doing AIP, I now have the energy and lack enough pain to run again. I currently run once a week with a multi-leveled group. Afterwards, I do acupuncture. I found this mix enables me to recover and reset my autonomic regulation. On other days, I hike, practice Pilates, weights and yoga.

    • Slightly Lost Girl

      Congratulations! So awesome that you are feeling strong again 🙂 I hope to have the same results!!!

  9. Janelle Wilton

    After multiple 1/2 marathons, my autoimmune flare happened while training for my 40th birthday, first marathon. I could hardly walk 1/3 of a mile. From long runs of 16 miles to neuropathy, double vision and staggering like a drunk after getting the common flu. I love to run. Yes, in the rain is my favorite. I miss it tremendously. But I’m not there yet. And I KNOW a marathon might not be a goal that I can reach, not in the near future anyway. It’s a bitter pill to swallow. But living is better. There’s always a silver lining. It’s good to know in in good company.

    • Slightly Lost Girl

      Oh man….. I am so with you! Hopefully by doing all we can to recover our health through diet and lifestyle changes we will be able to run again, even if it is just a few miles. I am pretty sure I will never be able to run as competitively as I used to, but you are right! Living is WAY better 🙂 Thanks for reading

  10. Heather

    My story is almost identical to yours. I also have Crohn’s and am (was) a marathon runner. I have struggled with the same things you have. My pattern goes like this: run for awhile, build up my fitness, get sick, go on meds, start all over again. You have a great attitude though and that’s what you need for this disease. Never give up. Maybe you and I should talk and exchange advice!

    • Slightly Lost Girl

      I would love to chat Heather! It is always great to trade experiences. E-mail me through the contact form and we can talk 🙂

  11. Samantha


    I just found your article today, almost 3 years after you posted it! I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2008, after my disabled daughter was born, and hospitalized for 4 months. To say this time of my life was stressful is an understatement. After my severely disabled daughter was discharged from the hospital, with more tubes protruding from her body than I ever thought was humanly possible, my symptoms became so severe, and I became so dehydrated that I passed out waking up during the night to feed my daughter. Fell face first into the hardwood floor, broke a tooth and injured my knee (did I mention my husband was traveling for business during this time?!). Anyway, as you can imagine my exercising came to an extreme halt. I ended up having a bowel resection surgery to remove severely damaged intestine three years ago. This is when my GI doctor said he forbid me to run! I HAD been a runner, running 7-10 miles 5-6 days per week. Your article spoke to me because I feel the same way you do about running….there just isn’t a more gratifying physical activity! I have recently begun going back to the gym and started with the bike, which I do not like. I do it because it is considered a lower-impact exercise, but I don’t appreciate it, and it certainly doesn’t make me feel the way running does! So I started walking quickly on the treadmill, and have increased the incline to get a decent workout. BUT I MISS RUNNING! I really just want to thank you for your article because there are so many articles about people, and women, running with Crohn’s Disease. Yet, my GI refuses to allow me to do it, and I fear that my symptoms will return and the inflammation will begin to damage my intestine. SO I stay away from running despite all the encouraging stories of other people with Crohn’s that do run. I want to thank you for posting an honest article that is also consistent with my GI doctor’s recommendation to NOT run. Thank you.

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