On July 24th I completed the biggest challenge I’d ever set myself — running 72 miles around the border of Newport. The run was by far the furthest I’d ever gone which was a challenge in itself, but what about the stoma and parastomal hernia?
About the Challenge
When I briefly started getting back into running after having a stoma in 2019 I was keen to set myself a challenge so whilst sat at the bar in Tiny Rebel in Newport in May 2019 I wondered how long the border around Newport was so fired up the OS Maps app and plotted a route.
Surprisingly there are enough public footpaths to stay fairly close to the border and the total distance was somewhere between 71-72 miles. That sounded like something I could set as a target for myself and had the aim of attempting it in 2020. Things didn’t go too well health-wise and I wasn’t going to be able to attempt it but now that I’m back to normal I set myself the challenge of completing it this year.
This was going to be my biggest challenge to date and the toughest. The furthest I’d run to date was 50 miles and I had some experience of running ultramarathons so was (quietly) confident that it could be something that I’d be able to conquer.
Challenge Day Plan
The challenge was going to take a long time so I needed a very early start and decided on 4am. This would mean that I’d need to be up by around 2am to get ready, eat and get everything loaded into the car. Based on how long I’d be running I would need to perform my colostomy irrigation beforehand but the question was when? I could either get up extra early and do it or do it the night before. Both have their pros and cons being that if I do it on the day I can never guarantee that everything will be complete by the start of the run and if I do it the night before I can still experience a bag leak on the run (I’ve experienced both). I decided to irrigate around 9pm as that felt the safer option of the two.
Bag Changes on the Day
From experience I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go for the entire 72 miles without changing the bag at least once but I didn’t know when. As I was running between miles 17 and 21 I had noticed increase in wind and was questioning whether the bag itself may have been filling up with more than just gas (I wear a hernia support belt so it’s not straightforward to tell what’s going on down there).
When I reached the aid station I had already decided that it was best to change the bag. The combination of 20+ miles of sweat plus some thunderstorms meant that the glue on the bag was becoming a sticky mess and when that happens it starts to deform allowing smells to emanate. I was rueing the fact that I hadn’t brought some adhesive remover with me as it was so hard getting rid of the excess glue from the bag. Apart from the degradation of the bag, there was nothing in there which was a good sign and I was hopeful that this would continue.
The new bag did well and made it as far as around mile 45 before I started to sense that perhaps it had started to degrade again. Even though I had irrigated there still a chance that there could be some output and there was a tiny amount but due to the bag degrading again I could smell the output. At mile 48 I took the opportunity to make a second bag change. Much like the first bag the glue on the base plate had become quite gooey and difficult to remove and I was wishing that I had brought some adhesive remover with me.
Based on how long the bags were lasting the third should get me another 20+ miles and at mile 69 and the last aid station the smell was noticeable again and not wanting to cause a stink at the end of the challenge I swapped the bag out for a new one.
On previous long runs I’ve had changes at around the same distance depending on whether I irrigated the night before or on the day but I’ve also gone a lot further without a single change. A month or so before the challenge I ran 35 miles without changing the bag (although it was in desperate need of a change when I finished).
The Parastomal Hernia
The ever-present, ever-noticeable hernia rarely causes issues and only once during training did it sink in before a training run causing too much discomfort (it popped out after a couple of hours and the discomfort subsided). Other than that it’s completely fine on runs and I always wear a hernia support belt. The challenge was no different and I had zero issues.
Running an Ultramarathon with a Stoma? No Problem
It didn’t take me long to realise that having a stoma doesn’t affect the things that you want to do and running an ultramarathon was one of those things. I completed the 72+ mile run in 17h 38m 54s with three bag changes along the way. It was one of the toughest things I had done but with preparation and ensuring I took the correct supplies with me the stoma didn’t cause any issues and I could just concentrate on getting through the physical and mental pain of running the distance.