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My Story: Running with Ulcerative Colitis

In 2003, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis (UC) and, at 23 years old, had never heard of it and just wanted it to go away.  I was much more concerned with partying with my friends and having a good time and this was just going to get in the way so I just wanted them to take it away.  It would be a long journey for me before I realised that that this chronic illness could not be taken away and it was something I was going to have to accept and learn to live with.

For those of you who have never heard of UC, it is an inflammatory bowel disease.  They have no idea what causes it and there is no known cure.  You can have your entire colon removed but that is only recommended when there is no other option.  I am not going to go into too much detail but it is a debilitating, horrible disease.  When I was first diagnosed, I took the medication I was prescribed and asked no questions, things improved and I was OK.  About a year and a half later, I had a flare up and ended up in hospital on a cortisone drip.  This is how things went for a number of years.  I would be OK for a while, but then I would flare and would be hit with cortisone in order to control my bleeding and inflamed colon.  Besides my UC, I always felt that I was healthy.  I had always played football since I was five years old and still continued to play, I was a vegetarian and I thought I ate pretty healthy food and I only really drank on weekends but I was continually plagued by regular flare ups every few months.

About four years ago, I returned from a holiday in the UK and was in a bad state.  I was having a terrible flare up and decided that things had to change.  My body was obviously trying to tell me something and I could decide either to listen to it or to keep living the way I had been for the last few years.  I did some research over the Internet and decided to try the natural route and hopefully get more joy out of the situation.  I found a holistic doctor in Cape Town and with his help stopped taking all my medication.  I was in a full flare, probably the worst one I had experienced, and I was taking no medication.  I was on a major detox and was living off fruit and fresh broths and water.  My weight plummeted, I was losing about two kilograms a week, but I was determined to stick with it.  It was a long nine month struggle and I lost nearly 26kg in the time.

Eventually I started to see an improvement and things started to look good.  My weight bottomed out and I started to feel alive again.  My skin was clear, my eyes sparkled and I could feel the “life force” return.  My entire life style had changed, I stopped drinking alcohol, was extremely conscious about what I ate and how I ate.  I became so in tune with my body.  It was about this time that I discovered running.  After a football season, a friend and I decided to start running just to stay fit.  We would meet regularly and just head out together.  As time went by, we found we could go further and for longer.  The bug had bitten and I was hooked.

My first half marathon I ever did was the Two Oceans half and I finished in a time of 1hr 45 mins.  When my other mates would be out drinking and partying on a Friday night, I would be tucked up in bed so that I could be up at 5am to hit the road.  Those morning sessions became my “party place”.  Some friends think I am crazy and question my sanity.  It’s hard for them to understand because they are not runners and they haven’t experienced the high that I get from running.  When your health has taken away from you and you literally do not have enough energy to climb a flight of stairs, you learn to appreciate your health even more.  The feeling I get from running tops the feeling from any alcohol or drug.  Out there on the open road, pure energy moving together and you are free to go for as long as you want, it’s amazing.  I am overcome with so much happiness sometimes; it feels like I could burst into a million little pieces.  If I really concentrate on my breathing, everything falls away and it’s just perfect.  I guess it’s hard to explain, I think you need to experience it to really understand it, but its amazing.

Following a number of flares I have been forced to go back onto medication but I am still super strict about what I put into my body.  There are obstacles I face with my running, I need to be very careful about what I eat and drink.  I have a very limited diet and can only eat certain foods.  No dairy, no gluten, no wheat, no fizzy drinks as all these things can upset my gut.  It’s quit a challenge eating right before a race and there are also challenges during a race.  I can’t do fizzy or energy drinks either.  I usually just drink water and use little homemade sachets of honey for energy. 

At the moment I am training for the Two Oceans ultra and hoping that I achieve my dream of completing it.  I missed out last year because I was unwell and had a stint in hospital.  For now, I’m just taking it one day at a time and enjoying my good health, because who knows, I may not have it tomorrow. 

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