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Outrunning Crohn’s: Part 1

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Staying active when you have chronic illness can be extremely difficult. I live with Crohn’s Disease, which affects my entire gastrointestinal tract. So when I tell you that trying to stay as active as I can during a flare can be hard, I truly mean every single facet of my life is affected. I have to somehow how a way work to around these challenges, err.. with these challenges.

According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, Crohn’s Disease can differ from person to person, but in general,  it affects a part of the GI tract.  However, there are some common symptoms experienced among many including persistent diarrhea, abdominal cramps and pain, constipation that can lead to bowel obstructions and rectal bleeding.  These are just the “tell tale” signs of IBD. There are many others I write about to engage other runners in why I do what I do.

There are a few things I do to help me stay engaged, active and in touch physically, so my illness doesn’t impact me in the most negative of ways. It’s important to contact your doctor to see what types of exercise or movements are appropriate for you; what may be good for some, may not be for others. Finding ways to adapt to these barriers can be difficult and challenging, but when you start to see results, you feel like you’ve hit the jackpot.

Adapting your physical environment

If you live with chronic illness or are undergoing some type of treatment that makes it hard to accomplish set tasks, like working a full-time job, parenting and participating in activities outside of your home life, like training for a race, it’s hard to tell how far to push yourself. For me, when I’m feeling good and trust my gut enough to run or walk a 5k around my town, I don’t need to make a plan of where I’m going. But for many, this isn’t the case. Lately, since I have not been able to train for events, go outside and run or even swim, if I’m feeling good enough to go around the block, I have to plan my route around the restroom. Luckily, I live near gas stations, public libraries and places that don’t mind public restroom access. Using Apps with uploaded GPS locations helps me plan my route, while seeing where public restrooms and “in case of emergency” areas are for me. By uploading maps to my phone and based on how I feel starting out my physical activities, I am able to trust my gut a little bit more when – and when not – to push myself even further.

Doing what you can, when you can.

I get a lot of feedback (good and bad) regarding how I’m physically able to do something one day and not the next. The reality is: it’s not up to me! Some days, I might be able to swim 2300m, the next day I might not be able to move. Without the right physical conditions, sometimes it’s hard to admit, but you just physically can’t. And this brings me to my favorite word in my endurance dictionary: Fartleks! Without them, I’m not sure how I’d ever complete any events. Because my arthritis & IBD make it nearly impossible to foresee how I might feel the next day, I end up doing intervals when I’m able to run. Most of the time, they are never done on a track. I hike, sometimes easier courses, when I know I’m “well enough” to be away from the bathroom for more than 1 1/2 hrs. And with a lot of prayers, most of the time I’m successful.

Sedentary but swinging

Kettlebell swings – squats, yoga, STRETCHING. For a lot of people hearing the term “muscle memory” rings true – for someone living with illness, especially one that makes you dramatically lose and gain weight, this can be especially difficult. Medications to help control your disease may give you some nasty side effects, like weight gain, mood swings, lack of energy, etc. Many days, the difference between getting stuck in a rut permanently or having that mood be short-term is simply choosing to get up and do something. No matter how small – stretching on your yoga wheel to adapt to what you’re able to do that day, doing laps around your block (or laps around a hospital wing) or lifting light weights can make all the difference in your physical and mental state. And it gives you motivation to wake up and do it the next day!  Whatever makes you motivated to get up and get moving, is reason to keep putting one step in front of the other. Not able to make it to the gym? Stretch! I can’t tell you how important stretching is for your body and for those of us with an illness, if we don’t use our muscle, we lose it quickly. Even if you stretch for 10-15 minutes when you wake up and before you go to bed, your endorphins will thank you both short and long-term!

Check out Part 2 of Outrunning Crohn’s tomorrow!


  1. Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, What is Crohn’s Disease?, Online Publication