Running with IBS

During this life we will come across many challenges. Challenges that will test us and push us to the limit. This has been by far one of the hardest things I have ever done.

I started running when I was 17 years old. I didn’t have much of a history of being physically active. In fact, I was pretty lazy, in terms of exercise, until about the age of 14 when I started to become more “body conscious”. I was very fat as a kid. Not knowing anything about nutrition and dealing with stress of  being a high school student, the numbers on the scale were constantly going up and down.

During my final year of high school, depression hit me like a ton of bricks. I was in a pretty dark place for about 2 years. During that time I was dealing with major digestion issues, binge eating, and eating foods that were terrible for my overall health. My anxiety was through the roof and insomnia was my new best friend. I lost my desire to live and was constantly having emotional breakdowns.

My sister started running and it did wonders for her health. She was able to manage her depression better than before. She was experiencing vast improvements, including weight loss, as she fell in love with the exercise. So, I decided I would start running. In my mind, it was simple: running=losing weight+better mental health+better me.

I couldn’t run very far, in the beginning. I could hardly make it 0.2 miles without having to stop. But, little by little I was improving and decided to go on a run with my sister. I wanted to run a mile and was looking forward to sharing our first experience together. I was fine the first 0.8 miles then something switched; I needed to go to the bathroom and needed to go now.

I remember the pain. It was like menstrual cramps x10. All I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and lay on the ground. I thought I was going to have stop wait for someone to come pick me up. No matter how hard I tried not to focus on the pain, it was like I didn’t have a choice. The pain subsided a little and I walked the rest of the way home. I ran inside and was on the toilet for 15 minutes before I could get myself to move. *TMI ALERT* I felt as though my system needed to empty itself completely. And yeah um…that’s exactly what happened.

This happened 3 more times before I decided that a trip to the doctor was necessary. Honestly, I resented running and a part of me was looking forward to the idea of being given an excuse not to run. I was expecting to be told that my body was just not fit for running. I was short and chubby, so in my mind that thought made sense. However, I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The doctor gave me medication and said to keep running.

Now, I am not a medical professional. If you really want to know what IBS is; do your research. Basically, my intestines suck and running really irritates them. Running started causing a chain of issues. Severe gas pain, diarrhea, poor digestion, and abnormal stool all occurred as a result of both the intense exercise and my inability to maintain the stress in my life.

I was angry when I was told to keep running. I thought that I was finally going to be given a reason to stop. I wanted to have an excuse for others as to why I “couldn’t run” rather than “I don’t like running.” However, this was no excuse. This was just a “temporary setback”.

So the question is; did I keep running? For a while, I didn’t run at all. I was afraid of getting that same pain that caused me to curl up in a ball and sit on the toilet forever. However, the doctor said I was not incapable. And to be honest, I was happy to have an excuse to void the exercise. But after a while, I got sick of telling myself “I can’t”. The stubborn side of me started to kick in and I was sick of feeling like a failure. After a while, I told myself I needed to keep running. I needed to run to prove to myself that I could.

One time after school I went running with my friends. I was confident and everyone was super excited to run together. Now at this point, I had been running 1-3 about 3-4 times a week. The people I was running with weren’t super athletic but they grew up playing sports. I was nervous but I was prepared to show off my running “skills” that I was becoming proud of. At the first hill, I immediately began to experience the pain. I couldn’t keep pace with everyone else in the group. I hadn’t even made it a 1/2 a mile and I already couldn’t do anymore.

I ended up walking the rest of the way and my friends kept looking back in a frustrated manner because I was holding them back. The hardest part about IBS is that there is no known cause. The symptoms are constantly changing and this makes it very hard to explain to people what the problem is. I felt like a complete failure and I could see that my friends didn’t believe me.

After this, it took me about 2 months to recover from my damaged pride. I HATED my body. I hated my digestion. I hated looking in the mirror. I hated that I even tried running in the first place. I looked like an idiot and didn’t see the point in trying.

That moment was the hardest moment for me by far. I still look back and feel that horrible sense of guilt and shame.

After the up’s and down’s of figuring out a diet that worked for me and doing my best to eliminate stress; I started running. The pain didn’t stop. That “I need to go and I need to go now” feeling didn’t stop. However, I was getting better at managing the pain and I was SLOWLY able to run farther and farther and farther.

The key? Listening to my body. If I needed to stop, I stopped. If I needed to use the bathroom, I used the bathroom, even if that was a 10-15 min bathroom break. If I needed to walk 60% and run 40%; that’s exactly what I did.  I told myself that the runs when I had to take it easy were just as important as my best runs. I had to accept the fact that if I had to walk; I needed to walk. If I set out to run 3 miles and only ran 2, it is OK.

It has been 2 years since I started “running” and about 5 months since I made running a ritual. I didn’t notice a tremendous difference in my runs up until about 3 months ago when I ran the Thanksgiving Day Race.  Running the race was something my siblings have done for 3 years and I  was peer pressured into doing it myself. I had signed up to run the 6 miles which was the farthest I’ve ever run.

The day of the race I was super nervous. I hadn’t run with anyone since my embarrassing experience with my friends. I stopped about 10 times but I was able to prove to myself that even though 6 miles was a lot, it was still achievable. It was a massive breaking point for me physically and, even more so, mentally.

As of today, I have signed up for a half marathon and have been given a glimmer of hope that a full marathon is in my future. I never thought I would EVER say it, but I love running. I find that I keep proving myself wrong and have been able to push through the intense pain. This road HAS NOT been easy and it is still just the beginning.

This process has taught me our journeys are so different. There are some of us that are born with natural athletic abilities, and some of us that have to work for it. I used to resent the people that had these “superhuman” capabilities. However, I would never trade my journey for theirs.

My IBS has given me the opportunity to take something painful and embarrassing into a something that has pushed me to better my person as a whole. I have gotten addicted to proving myself wrong. My running journey has become something that I am very proud of and I can honestly say running has made me a better, stronger person.