Instead of just writing about my training and current life, I think it’s important for me to share some stories from my past as it pertains to my experience with getting sick and having an ostomy. A lot of what I’ve posted so far has been pretty positive and upbeat, which is how i choose to approach difficult situations in my life. That being said, there have certainly been times where that was not the case. Today, I’m going to talk about when I first developed painful symptoms associated with Colitis.
When I was diagnosed in July of 2013, I had just come down from a month of training at altitude in Flagstaff, and was in very good shape. I had been running 80-100 miles a week and was, for the most part, feeling pretty good. I was going to the bathroom 6-8 times a day, seeing blood in about half of those visits, but didn’t realize the potential seriousness of the diagnoses I had been given. I wasn’t experiencing any pain, and had so far not seen any significant changes in my blood levels.
I did a small amount of research online about Colitis after my diagnosis, but was assuming that since I was such a healthy person that my experience with the disease would be fairly short-lived and easily controlled. I had 5 days at sea level where I got the sigmoidoscopy, and then I headed back to altitude in the Tahoe mountains for the annual 3 week training camp with the UC Berkeley team.
It was my final year as a Golden Bear, and I was coming off a disappointing track season. I was the captain of very promising young squad, and was ready to leave my mark on the program by leading the most successful team in the universities history…or at least that was the plan. When I got up to Tahoe, my symptoms began to evolve and become a problem.
The first week I was up there, things were close to normal. I was running well and enjoying every minute of my final team-camp experience. The only real difference was that I had to duck into the bushes to use the bathroom at least once a run – an annoyance, but honestly not that uncommon for any distance runner while adjusting to altitude. The second week however is when the pain started.
I remember waking up one night around 1am and running to the bathroom with some SERIOUS urgency. It was the first time I remember having a painful bathroom experience. When I woke up the next morning, I had a similar experience before heading out on our 7:30am run, but I kept it to myself and started the run with the team like usual. Less than a mile into the run however that sense of sudden and overwhelming urgency came on again, and there was no bathroom nearby. We were running around the small neighborhood town in Soda Springs where we rented our cabin, so I didn’t have the option to go into the trees or forrest yet. I stopped and told everyone else to continue on their way, that I would catch them in a few minutes. This was not the case. I walked the clenched straight legged walk Crohns and Colitis patients know well back to our cabin and burst into the bathroom with milliseconds to spare before an accident. I remember sitting on the cold porcelain toilet staring at the tacky wall paper thinking, “this is not good, I might really be in trouble here”.
I took the day off of running and spent my time researching more in depth about what I was dealing with. When the team got back, I told them I was having stomach issues, but didn’t feel the need to explain in more depth than that. At this point I was still thinking that I would be fine, but I’ll always remember that day as the one where doubt first crept into my mind.
The next two weeks at camp continued very much along the same path. I would be fine for a run one day, and the next unable to make it more than a couple minutes. I was changing my diet and keeping a record trying to figure out what it was that was causing all of these problems, but there was no real pattern that I could see. It’s a shame, because the time spent up at those summer training camps with the Cal teams are among my most cherished memories of college, but memories of Tahoe camp in 2013 will always be tainted as the starting point of the worst 2 years of my life.*
Looking back at the beginning stages of my Colitis up at camp, I don’t think my diet had a whole lot to do with the flare. I was under a tremendous amount of stress at the time. I was entering my final year of school, which meant I needed to be thinking about what I was going to be doing when I graduated (I had no idea). I was running 100 miles a week at 7,000 ft. elevation for the better part of 2 months to prepare for what I assumed would be my last chance to run in a Cal jersey. I was on a team full of freshmen and sophomores who were all looking to me to lead them in the right direction. Add in the fact that I had recently ended a 2-year relationship with my then-girlfriend and you’ve got a pretty strong stress-cocktail to make a bad Colitis flare even worse.
*I want to say that despite how frustrating and painful Colitis had been for me at the camp, it was STILL an incredible experience to have been up there; one that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It certainly softened the blow at the time to be surrounded by my best friends to finish off what was still an amazing summer