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Win’s Story: Running with Ulcerative Colitis

I’m currently on vacation in Jamaica so I’ve lined up guest posts for you.

Check out the guest posts so far:
Alaina’s Story – My Path To Bliss
Matt tells us about barefoot running

Today’s post comes from my friend Win. I was excited that Win wanted to do a post because a) he wanted to write about running and you all know I’ve been pretty light on the running topics lately and b) it’s great to have a male perspective. Win doesn’t blog but was eager to share his story about his diagnosis of ulcerative colitis, how it’s impacting his running and lifestyle changes he’s made to deal with it.

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I played sports growing up and through high school–soccer, little league baseball, and little league basketball–but I was always the kid on the bench who occasionally got playing time and who scored a goal maybe once a season.  Needless to say, I never considered myself an athlete.  Instead, I focused on school because people told me that I was good at it (whatever that meant).  My head stayed in the books, and I never exercised in college or law school.  It didn’t appeal to me, and it bored me when I attempted it.  That all changed, however, when I needed a way to relieve stress while studying for the bar exam. Suddenly, I became a runner.

Not being able to run a single mile was tough at first, but I stuck with it for some odd reason. For motivation, I registered for eleven races during my bar exam summer–every distance from a 5k to a 10k and even a sprint triathlon the day after the exam. I ran a 10k at 4:30 a.m. both mornings of my bar exam.  Friends and family called my running an obsession–I called it a passion.  There was one downside, however.  I started dropping weight at an unhealthy rate.

Thunder Road Amica Insurance Half Marathon 2010
Charlotte, NC
December 11, 2010
(I’m almost at my worst, despite PR’ing that day)

Initially, I thought my sudden weight loss was due to my running and the fact that I “cleaned up” my eating to get lean and to get faster. I cut out red meat and pork, fried foods, refined carbs, etc.  I eventually became a vegetarian while still having fish occasionally. Further, I continued to build up my mileage in the early fall and ran two half marathons–the Dowd YMCA Half Marathon and the Thunder Road Half Marathon within a month of each other.  I continued to lose weight, no matter how much I ate, and it was starting to seriously affect my health and running.

The low point came on Christmas Eve of this past year when I spent the entire day in the emergency room after having extremely painful stomach cramps and other serious digestive problems for a few weeks.

The holidays were spent in the bathroom, and no one knew what was wrong with me.  A few weeks later, I had an upper endoscopy and a colonoscopy.  As the doctor put me under, I asked him if I was going to be able to run a half marathon that weekend.  The last thing I remember before being knocked out was him laughing.  A few weeks passed, and the tests revealed that I had ulcerative colitis (U.C.)

An inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis is a condition that causes the colon to swell and to have sores.  Like Chron’s disease, U.C. is idiopathic (no one knows what causes or triggers it), and it is incurable.  Further, U.C. was the reason for my sudden and continued weight loss–my body was not absorbing anything that I put into it.

The doctor told me to cut back my mileage significantly, and prescribed medicine that I will have to take for the rest of my life. The diagnosis was devastating to me.  Would my running passion be taken away from me just after I found it?  Will I ever get back into the running shape that I was in? Being my stubborn self, I started running again two days after my upper-endoscopy and colonoscopy.  It felt like I was starting from scratch.  Over the past few weeks, I had lost everything–my legs, my muscles, my lungs, and what little fat that I had left.  I kept my mileage low and slow, and I tried my best to keep thoughts of my running career ending out of my head.

St. Patty’s Run Green 8k
Raleigh, NC
March 5, 2011
(I’m enjoying a post-run beer and looking and feeling much better.)

After a few months on my medication, I was getting better, but I still suffered from digestive problems that did not allow me to heal as fast as I had wanted.  I decided to switch to an almost completely vegan diet in an attempt to further improve the healing process. I cut out all animal products (eggs, dairy, etc.) except fish on rare occasions, which, more than anything, was for convenience in social dining situations.

I’ve been on my medication for a little over four months now and have been almost completely vegan for about two months.  My health has significantly improved, and my running has never been better! I still have a long ways to go in terms of overall health and weight, but I’m currently running faster and longer than ever before.  I’ve shaved minutes–not just seconds–off of my PRs!

Foxfield Races (Horse steeplechase)
Charlottesville, VA
April 30, 2011
(I had an awesome time in Charlottesville while visiting my brother at
UVA.  I look noticeably healthier and happier!)

I’ve also discovered trail running, and I cannot begin to count the ways that it is better than its asphalt and concrete cousin!  I ran my first trail race this past weekend, a 15k, and I’m running the Blue Ridge Relay (208 miles along the Blue Ridge Parkway) in September, along with several other trail runs, 10ks, and half marathons in the meantime.  Oh, and I found out a few weeks ago that I got into the 2011 ING New York City Marathon in November!

After all of this, I’m not a runner with ulcerative colitis.  I’m still just a runner.

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I am impressed by Win’s dedication to healing his body and passion for running. I can’t imagine how Win felt as he dealt with an unknown illness and then hearing the diagnosis.  I think we’ve all experienced road blocks along the way with our running goals (although some maybe not as serious as Win’s). What types of things have you had to overcome to be the runner that you want to be?

{ 30 comments… add one }
  • 1
    Emma (Sweet Tooth Runner) May 17, 2011, 7:45 am

    WOW what an amazing and inspirational story Win!! Thank you so much for sharing!! And good luck with the NYC marathon! I’m jealous- that one’s on my bucket list! 😛

    • 2
      Win May 17, 2011, 8:04 am

      Emma,
      Thank you so much! I’ve followed Sweet Tooth Runner for a while now, and I’m eternally grateful for healthy living bloggers like you and Jen! Keep up the good work!

  • 3
    Meghan @ StruggleMuffins May 17, 2011, 8:30 am

    What an inspiring story! I completely understand how attached you can become to running – there’s something about it that’s just so freeing, and the idea of having to give that up in the face of health hardship is a tough pill to swallow (pun intended 🙂 ) That’s awesome that you were able to change the course of your own health by adopting a healthier diet – rock on Win 🙂

    • 4
      Win May 17, 2011, 1:45 pm

      Meghan,
      Thanks so much for your comments! I agree–there is nothing more freeing than running, and it’s difficult when something hinders what frees you. Nonetheless, it all makes you stronger in the end!

  • 5
    erin May 17, 2011, 9:01 am

    Your story is very inspiring, Win. I recently started running and definitely never considered myself an athlete when I was younger, so for me, it’s encouraging to see a previous non-athlete turned avid runner. I’m hoping to do the same.

    And I really admire your perseverance after your diagnosis. What a great example of handling what life throws at you, taking care of yourself and pushing through. Good luck in NYC!

    • 6
      Win May 17, 2011, 1:48 pm

      Erin,
      You’re awesome–thank you so much for your kind words! I equally admire you for following the same path from former non-runner to an all-star runner! Thanks for the luck in NYC!

  • 7
    Marian May 17, 2011, 9:45 am

    Great post, Win!

  • 9
    Becca B May 17, 2011, 10:12 am

    great story. thanks for sharing! i admire your persistance and really relate to it. i have been battling some weird nerve damage in my lower leg and pushin through it seemed futile at times, but at the end of the day, no matter what changes we all have to make and adjust to, it can only make us stronger!

    good luck going forward!

    • 10
      Win May 17, 2011, 1:52 pm

      Becca,
      Keep pushin’! You’re exactly right–everything that hinders us only makes us stronger! You’ll get through the nerve damage and absolutely come out on top. Thanks so much for comments!

  • 11
    Courtney May 17, 2011, 10:17 am

    Love to hear you are healing and doing better. I also have Ulcerative Colitis (diagnosed at 17, now 33) and know how soul destroying it can be. I started running seriously about 6 months ago and am running my first half marathon next month. I have mild UC, but it can still screw up your training, energy levels, and focus. Despite that, I am staying motivated (by stories like yours) and can’t wait for my race. Thanks for sharing! Very inspiring.

    • 12
      Win May 17, 2011, 1:55 pm

      Courtney,
      My UC is mild as well, but it can absolutely screw up training! Unfortunately, I know the energy level fluctuations and focus problems all too well! Stay motivated, and I can’t wait to hear about your progress.
      E-mail me at winbassett@gmail.com or find me at http://www.twitter.com/winbassett. I would love to talk to more about UC and running!

  • 13
    Sydney Robyn May 17, 2011, 12:24 pm

    This is an amazing story of perseverance and dedication! As someone who is trying to becoming a runner (with ludicrous difficulty) hearing about how, despite overwhelming health concerns, you dedicated yourself so fully and passionately to an activity you never saw yourself doing is truly inspirational. I hope you continue running and regaining health! Thank you for sharing!

    • 14
      Win May 18, 2011, 7:59 am

      Sydney,
      You’re not trying to become a runner–you already are one if you’re out there running at all! Keep it up, and thanks so much for commenting on my story!

  • 15
    Dory May 17, 2011, 5:30 pm

    You look so much healthier! I’m glad you were able to take care of your health while still doing what you love. I know I’d be sorely disappointed if I was told I could no longer run!

    • 16
      Win May 18, 2011, 8:00 am

      Dory,
      Thanks so much for noticing that I look healthier! It is often difficult seeing results by yourself, so your noticing means a lot!

  • 17
    Amy May 17, 2011, 6:54 pm

    Does anyone see the irony in Win’s name? Win! Your name says it all.

    I can relate to your drive and wish you only the best in the future. A runner’s motto that I’ve learned to live by…..

    Grant me the strength to get out on the road
    The Courage to keep going
    And the wisdom of knowing when to stop (and rest)

    All the best

    Amy

    • 18
      Win May 18, 2011, 8:01 am

      Amy,
      I feel like I have the best name ever! Thanks for the motto–that last line is one of the most difficult things in the world to accept!

  • 19
    Danielle May 17, 2011, 10:39 pm

    This was a very inspiring post!

    • 20
      Win May 18, 2011, 8:02 am

      Danielle,
      It makes me so happy that you were inspired by my story!

  • 21
    Alaina May 18, 2011, 8:59 am

    I definitely echo the previous posts: How inspiring what you’ve had to overcome. You look amazing Win and congrats on all of the races you’ve done!!

    • 22
      Win May 18, 2011, 4:05 pm

      Alaina,
      Thank you so much! You’re too kind–keep rocking on!

  • 23
    Harsha July 29, 2011, 11:12 am

    Win,
    I have been diagnosed with UC recently and I just started running again. It as not been easy, but this article really gave me the confidence boost that I needed. Thank you

  • 24
    Terrie July 4, 2012, 9:10 pm

    thanks for the blog about running and ulcerative colitis. I didn’t take up running until just a couple of years ago. I was diagnosed with uc (pancolitis-the entire colon)in 2006 at the age of 36 but had gotten ill at the age of 19 with nearly the same symptoms and they couldn’t figure out what it was. I have been in remission for nearly a year and am signing up for my first half marathon this fall. I am so glad I found someone with uc that has done it. It’s like a personal test of mine, to say that I can do it despite the uc. Thanks for sharing!

  • 25
    Marlene Michaels September 19, 2012, 2:55 pm

    I have UC and have been in remission for over 20 years. Started running about 4 years ago but my worry about having to go to bathroom really puts a damper on the enjoyment.
    None of my frends have any bathroom problems so I feel awful when I have to continuely go.
    Any advise?

  • 26
    Cam December 3, 2012, 11:26 pm

    I have just been diagnosed with UC. I am afraid I will have to give up running too.
    I have a half marathon this weekend. I am going to go vegan after reading your story. Thanks.

  • 27
    Anna March 1, 2013, 4:56 pm

    Thank you for sharing this story. I am an avid runner and was recently diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, and I have been looking for some information like this! My issue is that since I got sick, every time I run I just feel horrible during my runs and especially horrible afterwards – plus, because my body isn’t absorbing the nutrients it should be absorbing, I feel really weak all the time. It is incredibly frustrating and I am looking for ways to manage it with diet – I am hoping this isn’t something permanent and something I can manage. Do you have recommendations for diet, timing, anything else you’ve found that helps you stay running even during bad flare-ups? Thank you so much!

  • 28
    Sherri July 17, 2013, 1:50 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story Win. I am a vegan and a runner, and was just diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. I am currently awaiting the biopsy results to determine if it is Crohn’s or Colitis.
    Your story made me laugh because I too headed out running immediately after my colonoscopy despite my parents and spouse shaking their heads at me. Running is such an amazing feeling that nothing else compares to, hard for non runners (aka my family) to comprehend.
    I am having difficulty though with attacks ruining my runs lately and am curious how you got past these setbacks. I had to frantically find a washroom 3k into my run today, tried to continue after my break but once I hit 5k it happened again and I just packed it in for the day. This is terrifying for me as I am currently training for a half marathon and have a few 10k and 8 mile races coming up.
    I am also intrigued by the fact you went vegan, and am curious of what your daily meals plans look like. I am finding that I have to modify my eating habits, despite being vegan, as many of my usual meals seems to set me off.
    It is so reassuring to hear your story though, as with the number of parallels I feel confident that I too will soon be able to manage my IBD while continuing to do what I love most, running!

  • 29
    Matthew July 26, 2013, 4:51 pm

    This story was pretty inspiration for me (and many others, I’m sure). At the beginning of the summer, I started to notice the symptoms. I pushed through them but as they got worse, I couldn’t get more than 2 miles without having to desperately find a bathroom. Sometimes to almost dangerously embarrassing results (thankfully never anything close to that bad, but still..) In early July I went to see my GI, had the colonoscopy, and the result was colitis. I suppose I can consider myself “lucky” that, as far as the UC spectrum goes, mine is on the less severe side of the spectrum, but it still has forced me to change my diet and wonder if I can ever go back to running the way I was before. Running was, more or less, my joy in life.

    Reading stories like this keep me going. I have a two-day event in California on Labor Day weekend (a 10K and a Half), and while I haven’t been able to run at all over the past month, my symptoms have alleviated somewhat to get me out and trying again.

    Thanks for sharing your story Win. I’m a little late to the party, but it’s good to hear that people are finding ways to push through despite the physical limitations their bodies impose on them. The spirit keeps going.

  • 30
    Diane Montano October 12, 2013, 11:00 pm

    this is really inspiring. i too have UC and still in high school have had problems with my running. I have had similar experiences, but it is good to know how other people can recover and continue to improve. last year i was in the hospital a week, and couldn’t run for 4 months due to my health at the time. this year Ive been healthier and better than ever in running 🙂 i PRd by 3 minutes and have improved a lot in training. it makes me really happy to read this story 🙂

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