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Welcome to my blog which I hope to develop with some interesting material on ultra running both on the trails and road including reports on races and interesting training runs, views on kit and equipment as well as anything else I find of interest. I love running for adventure, opportunity and well being. Enjoy!

Wednesday 6 March 2019

Hitting a crossroads & reflecting

***this reads more legibly from a smart phone format, desktop font contrast poor. Posted from Blogger via iPhone hence bugs, will sort when possible! ****

The glorified super human efforts of us endurance types sometimes need tempering. Our endeavours are often portrayed by too many glossy social media images, or other motivational feasts of words, and the realities often get buried or untold.

So herewith some tempering. I guess I’m at the stage where I can reflect more and more on the path I’ve taken through 15 years of running seriously; what has gone well, what has not, what I would change, what I would not.

The biggest danger of our sport and our associated traits as runners is knowing when to stop. We programme ourselves to push, push, push. When we over-step the mark, we’ll often create a public narrative to fuel more pushing; training harder, more early morning starts, greater demands all round. Balance is essential for sustainability; obsession in ultra running is such a fine balance. We are only human after all, and it’s only running.

I’m going through a fairly significant stop point - a gradual process initially, but far more abrupt this week. Since the days of my A levels some 20 years ago I’ve lived with Ulcerative Collitis (now seemingly drifting into Crohns) a life long Inflammatory Bowel Disease which at times hasn’t been much fun. I was fit and active as a teenager, albeit weekends were extremes of competitive school and club sport, weekend jobs and probably too much drinking. On diagnosis I became fitter with regular gym sessions, classes, beasting the ergo and running outside. I became determined to be as fit and healthy as I could be, despite my condition, giving my body the best possible chance of fighting through. There were so many times when gripey bowels and inner pains made exercising a tough ask to start with, but once into it, the distraction and endorphins did wonders for my positivity and ability to cope. I founds ways around the ‘logistical’ challenges of my illness, and my love for running rurally always helped. 

The transition into running came from occasional road events with friends, then a fundraiser for the National Association for Crohns & Colitis at the London Marathon in 2002. I sold myself a lie to train harder - it would be a one off and I would claim a reasonable time to move on to something else. As so many keen runners will relate to, that was of course was just the start of it, and I soon found that the obvious logistical challenges of running with bowel disease were far outweighed by the positives. 

Indeed, most people still don’t know I have suffered with illness all through the subsequent 15 years of competing at a range of distances from 5km to 200+miles, on all sorts of terrain and many different places. I’ve run for my country several times, claimed various course records and wins over the years, run all sorts of long trail projects and stood shoulder to shoulder with the world’s best on the biggest of stages. I’m so incredibly grateful for that, you wouldn’t believe.

This may start to sound like some sort of retirement statement, which it’s not. Despite the latest vicious turn with my illness I will be back out there, whether competitively or not. It’s mainly self-help reflection as I sit in hospital during an expected 5-6 day stint, admittedly rather bored, and trying to process where things might head from here. It’s also about being more open and accepting of my illness, perhaps linked to my competitive juices dropping a little, whether permanent or not.

The past few years have been really difficult with changing symptoms and more pro-longed flare ups. I’ve managed to keep things ticking over with my running, even squeezing in some consistent training weeks in here and there, but it’s been an increasingly fine line with constant fatigue and recovery issues from not absorbing all that my body needs. That final 20% of fitness to run like I used to has been simply impossible to achieve.

Something had to change, and having now seen on a video screen with my own eyes how bad the bowel inflammation is, it’s easy to accept the doctor’s recommendations for a spell in hospital for some more intense treatment and an attempt to properly turn it around. I knew it was coming after Fridays tests so I sneaked in my usual local jog on Monday lunchtime, just before the impending call from the admissions team on Monday evening. It was a real healer in processing a tough little spell ahead. 

So here I am, holed up and sedentary in a hospital room for several days, reading, listening to music and reflecting. It feels backwards to be in hospital, I don’t feel like a patient needing help, but that’s probably a classic symptom of a long term soldiering mindset. Last week I jogged my usual 50 ish mile week, managing my runs (!) as I do, and now this.

At this point to have a way forward feels essential and positive mentally, albeit there is a fairly stark realisation that surgery may be the only option after so many years successfully managing to fend it off. If that’s what it comes to, so be it, I will deal with it, and adapt accordingly. If I can get out on the trails most days, keep fit and active, I’ll be content. If I spend less time in the bushes when out running with mates, all the better... 

I suppose the reflection from all this is that everyone has their little battles in one way or another, but in so many cases you’ll never know without scratching beneath the surface.

The running community is special in so many ways, just appreciate every moment you have to get out there, support one another and don’t forget that for the reams of glossy material out there, it’s not all like that.



Unknown said...

I can empathise with your situation. I am in my sixties and a long-time very average but keen fell runner. I have had "bowel issues" for the last 12 years ending up in surgery last March where 14 inches of small bowel which wasn't functioning properly was removed.

I was back running after 6 weeks and have continued on the fells averaging about 25 miles a week.

Its largely been a success and my symptoms have radically improved although dashes to the bushes still feature. I was apprehensive abut the surgery and now glad I had it.

Running has and continues to help mitigate bowel issues and I will continue until I drop .

I write this to thank you for the blog and hope it works out for you. Your achievements are brilliant considering considering your condition.



mouse said...

Dear Jez, so sorry you are stuck in hospital - but what a great piece of writing and thank you for sharing this part of your journey. Here's hoping you are soon back on track doing all the many things that i know you want to do and in better shape. love and sympathy m

Angela said...

You’re in inspiration Jez to anyone with a long term health condition. So much is mind over matter, and your positive mindset is undoubtedly what’s fuelled your success. Hope you’re back running again soon and adapt to how your body is behaving.

Doog said...

I can sympathize to an extent; after a few years of fairly mediocre ultra running, I had a few years of illness followed by a few weeks in hospital and a diagnosis of Crohn's. A few years after that I'm still struggling with energy levels and anything remotely approaching fitness seems beyond me.

Knowing that you've been running at such a high level whilst dealing with IBD is rather inspiring though, so thank you for that.

I hope you recover well and quickly, and that the boredom doesn't get too bad.


Kim Wrinkle said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story and struggles.
I have had Crohn's since my teens (I am 60 years old now) and recently had a serious 31-day bout of pain, inflammation, intestinal bleeding, and fever. Somehow I managed to run a tiny bit each day (Twice each day, actually) and the hour or so of easy 2-mile jogs X 2 each day gave me something to focus on rather than the pain. This bout and your words here about attitude and "balance" will hopefully encourage me to be more willing to take things as they appear and not to "force" myself to fit some "schedule" or compulsion to train or to race.
I have NEVER taken running and health for granted, but posts such as yours (shared with me by a great friend whom you know as well) help me keep things in a better and healthier perspective.
Best wishes to you for a speedy recovery!

Kim Wrinkle
Silverton, CO USA

Unknown said...

Great read, thanks buddy..
Hope your out there soon and back up n running mate
Tc x

Anonymous said...

Wish you a speedy recovery!

Andrew James X