It goes without saying that during times when you are struggling with illness your family and co-workers are there to help support you but I’ve also found that the running community that I’m a part of has also proved to be a great benefit during the times when I’ve been struggling with Crohn’s, the lead up to surgery and during recovery.
The club which I joined in October 2016 (Parc Bryn Bach Running Club) has become an integral part of my life and I’ve made many good friends in the time I’ve been a member and in a way I’ve got to know even more members through having Crohn’s.
During the ‘Flareup of 2018’ and the subsequent surgery of 2019, I feel as though my running club, and the wider running community, has contributed to helping me cope with both Crohn’s Disease and the recovery process post-surgery.
When my last Crohn’s flareup occurred in April 2018 I quickly went downhill and was suffering with many of the horrible symptoms associated with the disease. Not long into the flare up I found it difficult running and eventually after failing to complete runs I made a concisous decision to stop running until the flare up was sorted. I’d gone from completing a 50-mile ultramarathon in Paris in March to barely being able to complete 1 mile in the local parkrun before pooping my pants!
Deciding not to run meant cancelling races that I was keen to run (including the inaugural Lundy Island Trail Race) and not being able to compete with other club members in club focused events such as cross country and the road race series. At this point I could have distanced myself from the club and the running community but the club had become an integral of what I did in my free time so I still supported club members by travelling to races and cross country fixtures to photograph them. And every time I was always made feel welcome and people would take a genuine interest in how I was coping with Crohn’s.
I had started photographing races whilst I was still running and now that I had stopped running I would have the opportunity to photograph them on a more regular basis and initially I was just photographing club members but as I got to know more members from different clubs I found myself photographing entire races. By doing so more runners became aware of the disease and would offer words of encouragement and even though they were appreciative of me photographing them at races they were looking forward to seeing me racing again. That felt good!
Support When I Was Down
There are many hidden symptoms of Crohn’s and one of them is depression. There are many contributing factors to the depression caused by the disease such as all the horrible, and even debilitating, symptoms that control almost every aspect of your life. Then, when you’re struggling to deal with all of those, something that you love, such as running, is made very difficult to do, so much so that you have to temporarily quit.
When a flareup lasts a long time such as the 10 months I had to endure, it can take its toll on your mental health. When I was feeling down, which was very frequently, I knew exactly what was causing it and I knew that I would come out the other end feeling good again but feeling down was still something that I could not avoid and could not control.
Luckily, members of my running club were there to offer support, either when I met them at races, through social media or even when they came to take me out for a beer. A group of members even surprised me by putting £50 behind the bar for me at my local Tiny Rebel bar!
Support like that helps so much and even though the disease still has the audacity to remind you it’s there on a daily basis, and ultimately still affects your mental health, you know that you have people to turn to for support and it’s the disease controlling how you feel so it’s all about riding the wave until you you get through the flareup.
Electing to Have Surgery
In August 2018 I after trying various treatments and none having an effect on the flareup I decided to elect to have surgery to remove my sigmoid colon, rectum and anus (still doesn’t sound saying you’re having your rectum and anus removed!). Despite it being major surgery that was irreversible, it was a decision that I didn’t spend long contemplating but in the back of my mind I was aways thinking if it was the right decision.
Many runners in my club work for the NHS so were aware of people who had the procedure, or a similar one, had worked with people that had undergone the surgery and some were even aware of the surgeons that would perform my procedure.
From early on in the flareup I was open about sharing my experiences on social media and the same applied to electing to have surgery. As such, not only members of my club were aware of my decision, members of other clubs were too. At races where I was photographer, other runners would frequently offer words of support and would also share information about people that they knew that had undergone surgery and lived fulfilling lives afterwards and continued to run.
All of this information proved to be invaluable in helping reassure me that the decision I was making was a good decision and probably the right one.
Surgery took place on January 15th, 2019 and as soon as I had been fitted with a new bum club members were checking in on me and even visiting me in hospital. A large number of members even contributed to a fund to buy me BrewDog beer and a large Amazon voucher. I felt so lucky and humbled to be part of such a great running club.
Everyone knew that it was going to be a long journey to recovery support and reassurance that I would be running in no time has helped me keep focus on making sure that I take the recovery seriously and don’t push myself too far.
I was keeping everyone up-to-date with the intimate details of my new bum and even though I was completely out of action for many weeks, so many club members kept in touch with me and through my role of updating the website, I still keeping up-to-date with what all the races that everyone was competing in.
Getting Back into Running Community
After 5 weeks recovering I started to get back into the running community by attending a race to be an unofficial race photographer. It’s something that I thoroughly enjoy and is a way of giving something back to the running community – who doesn’t love a good race photo!
It felt so good being welcomed back after being out of action and by both members of my club and by members of other clubs who had been following my battle with Crohn’s. I was even approached by a member of St John Ambulance who admitted that they barely knew me but had been enjoying following my updates on this blog. He daughter also had Crohn’s and had also undergone surgery. I wish I had asked her name.
My recovery continues and I’m gradually getting back into fitness. It’s still too early to start running but I’m so looking forward to when I start and can run alongside club members in both training and races.