Fighting through IBS and Running

Everyone’s story is different. Everyone’s body is different. This is a glimpse into my life living with IBS-C.

*This is a lengthy post. This worked for me, but you may be a completely different story. Do your own research. Listen to your own body.

What is IBS-C?

IBS-C stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome- Constipation predominent. “Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a functional bowel disorder of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract characterized by recurrent abdominal pain and discomfort accompanied by alterations in bowel function, diarrhea, constipation or a combination of both, typically over months or years. The cause of IBS is unknown.”- Source: ibsgroup.org

How did it start?

I’ve been dealing with IBS-C for 6 years. Looking back, I remember most of my issues starting during a 6 week trip to Mexico. I had problems with constipation before this trip, however, it was exacerbated during my study abroad time. It was so bad I started bleeding when I went to the bathroom. I went to see a doc there and he gave me some medication to make it bearable at least. My mom made me an appointment to immediately see the family doc when I returned home.

What did the doc say?

During my initial visit to my family doctor, he diagnosed me with an anal fissure (cut in the rectum) that was made worse with constipation. If I didn’t fix the constipation, I wouldn’t stop bleeding. He gave me a referral to see a GI specialist. A blood sample to rule out Celiac’s came back negative. So on to the GI I went.

What did GI say?

I had to have a colonoscopy at the age of 22. It came back unremarkable. The GI doc examined me and gave me recommendations to relieve the constipation naturally and artificially. This was the appointment where he recommended I start taking Miralax. Six years later, I have been taking it every day since that appointment. My gastroenterologist preached “fiber, fiber, fiber” more than anything, which I quickly found was difficult to do. I turned to artificial means of increasing my fiber, such as supplements like Metamucil. I also began to eat 100% whole wheat everything, beans, Fiber One bars, high fiber cereals, pretty much anything I could find that had high fiber content. I thought that was the answer. 

I was wrong. Because of the increase in fiber in my diet I began having tummy troubles. My stomach would hurt at random it seemed. I felt I had no control over my body and how I felt. It began to be a waiting game throughout the day. Would I feel good? Would I be in pain? I just had to wait it out and see.

This is how my life was from 2007 to 2012. It affected my social life, my work, and my eating. I wasn’t hungry when I had pain. Alcohol made it so much worse. I would have the opposite problem after a night of drinking. I would exercise in cycles. I belonged to a gym and tried to get there regularly, but honestly I wasn’t committed at that point to exercising. I was wreaking havoc on my body.

The Tipping Point

Last year my husband and I decided (kind of out of the blue) to do a half marathon. We didn’t think about it too much and just signed up. I wasn’t a runner at this point. I would exercise for a couple weeks consistently, and then fall off the wagon and wouldn’t exercise at all. I set out to begin training for the half marathon with a couple miles here and there. I didn’t love running, but was committed to training for this half.

My mom became unexpectedly sick at this time. We had no idea how sick she really was or that the symptoms she had was cancer. Her stomach was bloated, almost making her look pregnant. She was diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer. On June 17, 2012, a short two weeks after we found out, she passed away from complications of her surgery to remove the cancer. It never crossed my mind that my mom would die. She was my absolute best friend and it still brings tears to my eyes as I write this. So what does this have to do with my IBS? I told my mom before she passed that I would run the half marathon in her honor. She was fighting cancer, I could fight through running and IBS.

Our Photo by Adam Shea Photography-0237

My mom and I on my wedding day.

As I ramped up my training for my half marathon my stomach pains became worse, almost unbearable. During and after my runs the stomach pain I experienced greatly intensified. With short distances I faired better, but I also knew I had to increase my mileage if I was ever going to make it 13.1 miles. The stomach pains became so bad after running I would lay down in bed all day. I was still taking Miralax and eating as much fiber as I could. It wasn’t working and I was at a loss of what to do. 

I gave up. I “ran” here and there, knowing and dealing with the pain that was to come. I completed the half last September. I did it for my mom. It wasn’t fun and I can remember being in so much pain by mile 8. The only light at the end of the tunnel was seeing my dad at mile 12 and having him walk the rest of the way with me. My husband also caught up with me at mile 13 and we were able to finish the race hand in hand together. I finished in 2:54.

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Not finishing strong, but finishing.

When did things begin to change?

I stopped running after that half last year. I was so terribly sick the day after the half that I called in to work. I thought I wouldn’t run again. This year rolled around and I really wanted to participate in local runs. I knew without stomach pains I would really enjoy the different races. So I, again, went to see my doctor. I had been researching running and IBS without finding much, until I came across someone mentioning a low-FODMAP diet. I asked my doctor for a referral to a dietitian to get started with the diet. The diet includes an elimination phase for 6 weeks to remove foods containing Fermentable, Oligosaccarides, Disaccharides, Monosaccarides, and Polyols. These molecules can be found in many of the foods I had been eating. After the elimination phase, the diet indicates to add back foods one at a time and keep a journal of side effects. This approach to eating has changed everything for me. 

My dietitian visit was disappointing, as she had no background in the low FODMAP diet. She had never heard that many runners also have GI issues. She, like many doctors I saw, told me to go back to increasing the fiber in my diet. She also told me to give up running (!). I was frustrated, but determined to figure this out on my own and take back control over my body. 

The Low FODMAP diet

I checked out every book I could get my hands on that had to do with IBS and low FODMAP diet. I journaled when and what I ate. I followed and still follow a mostly low FODMAP diet while still eating natural fiber. I ditched the artificial means of fiber and the high fiber cereals, bars, and breads. I get my fiber now from oats, specific vegetables and fruits, and seeds. And guess what? My stomach pains have gone away. I’m not constipated anymore (at my low point I would go once a week). It’s not perfect. I still take Miralax everyday and still bleed sometimes. I don’t miss the foods I “can’t” eat because I know how good I feel not eating them. I’ve identified trigger foods including raw onions and watermelon. I feel GOOD. I feel in CONTROL. That’s a wonderful feeling. I can run without pain. I can run long distances without having to lay in bed all day afterwards.  It’s a combination of diet and exercise that has made the most difference. It occurred to me a couple weeks ago that I don’t even think about my stomach when I run anymore. That is exciting beyond words. (!!!)

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Running my 4th race a couple weeks ago!

What did you learn?

  • Doctors don’t have all the answers.
  • I know my body better than anyone.
  • It’s important to educate myself.
  • Periodically I need to journal my food, fiber, and feelings.
  • Not to give up. 

If you are curious about low FODMAP diet, please do your own research. There aren’t a ton of books, but there are some good resources out there. Here are some that I found helpful:

*The low FODMAP diet continues to be developed so not all foods at deemed safe/unsafe at this point. It was developed by Sue Shepherd in 1999, who continues to do research at Monash University in Australia.

If you have any questions about what worked for me, please feel free to email me at grabyourkicks@gmail.com. I’ve had to do much of this on my own and I’m no professional, but I can give you insight into what worked for me.

That was long winded, but that’s my story.

*Big thanks to my husband who has supported me through everything. Don’t know what I’d do without that boy.

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About the picture above….

For me, running started about a year ago when my husband and I decided to run a half marathon. Thinking, of course, that’s not that far! The novice in me not realizing that there was all sorts of great websites to research, we set out on our own “training” schedule. My longest run before the half marathon was 8 miles. During my training last year, I was also battling IBS-C (and I continue to, but it as gotten better). Anything further than 3-4 miles sent me to bed feeling very sick. I can especially remember the sickness after the 8 mile run. We geared up anyhow and ran the half marathon in September 2012. I finished just under 3 hours with my husband holding my hand. Literally, he had to drag me across the finish line, as my legs gave out after mile 9.

That being said, I am DETERMINED at this year’s half marathon (same half in September) to finish stronger. I have been adamantly reading running blogs for the past couple months and they have greatly inspired me. I feel I know LOADS more now than at this point last year. I honestly thought I would give up running after completing the half last year. I was so sick after running that I almost did give up. However, my desire to run lead me to really look at my diet and how it was affecting my body not only after running, but day to day. I have dealt with IBS-C since 2008. After numerous disappointing doctor appointments and seeing a dietician, I realized this is my own battle to conquer. After all, who knows my body better than me, right? I read every IBS book I could get my hands on and I finally feel a sense of control. I no longer feel it’s not up to me whether I feel good or bad. I have running to thank for that!

What I have found that works for me is a low FODMAP diet (which my dietician had never heard of…disappointing visit to say the least). Since following a mostly low FODMAP diet, my random stomach pains at night have ceased and I feel so much more in control of my body. Pain after running has also, for the most part, subsided. For me, it’s a combination of eating the right foods for my body and making sure I’m not constipated (i.e., the big “C” in IBS-C). Since I started the change in March I have not only felt better, but I have fallen in love……with running! It’s such a rush during race day, something I don’t feel at any other point in my life right now. I also relish in the individual  accomplishments I reach after each run. “I did it!” is such a great feeling.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”
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