It’s hard to say if marathon training contributed to those flare-ups, but my doctor and I agree that they have historically occurred during times of high stress. Going to college, studying abroad, getting promoted, and moving all triggered symptoms.
Marathon training can obviously fit that bill, but I wanted to give it another go. I hadn’t had a major flare-up in a few years, mostly because I found a medication that works for me. I also have an amazing gastroenterologist, who is actually a marathon partner. He understands how important running is to me, both for my physical and mental well-being, so we’ve worked together to figure out when I really need to back off and when it makes sense to keep running.
I’ve also identified my trigger foods (corn, popcorn, and jicama, which is actually one of my favorite foods), and I prioritize getting enough sleep, which for me is seven to eight hours each night. I think running helps too. Just being outside does wonders for my mental health.
But even when my Crohn’s is fully under control, it’s something I have to think about every day. It’s been like that all my life. Having been diagnosed when I was seven years old, I don’t even know what it would be like to wake up and leave the house, carefree. And this is even more true with respect to running.
Let’s say, for example, that I start my morning with an eight-mile run. On a normal day, even when I’m feeling fine and not having a breakout, I usually poop two or three times before I leave the house, and I usually make at least one bathroom stop on that run. I just guarantee myself that I’ll stop at that point because that’s when my stomach is most active. I might go again once I get home, but by lunchtime, I’m usually good for the day.
It definitely took a bit of trial and error to figure out what works for me. And while I think everyone needs to experiment to find out what works for their situation, here are some of the strategies I keep coming back to that help me continue to adjust to Crohn’s disease.
Please bring your own bathroom essentials.
Being prepared is not negotiable. I’m not talking about “normal” things like dressing for the weather or making sure you have enough water. They are also important of course, but for me, I need to consider everything I might need in case I need to go to the bathroom when there are no facilities in sight.
I always carry paper towels and a ziplock bag to put them in, in case I can’t get to an actual bathroom and have to go outside. Unfortunately, that happens sometimes, and I hate it. I don’t think it’s funny or cute, but it’s not going to stop me from running.
In winter, carrying my bathroom gear is easy; I put it in the pockets of my running vest or jacket. In the warmer months I keep it in the pockets of my shorts if they are roomy enough. If not, I keep it in my Koala Clip, which is designed as a stand for your phone, but also works great as a place to keep other things.
Research the route in advance.
My pre-race preparation also includes route reconnaissance. Other runners check maps to check mileage and elevation, but I’m looking for restrooms. I’m not just trying to find out where the public toilets are, I also need to know the details. Need to request a password or access code? Is there likely to be a line? Is it just a single bathroom versus multiple stalls?