Thursday, November 21, 2019

Fitness Keeps Me Well and Sane

Present Day-54yrs Old
I know it's not a cure-all, but I truly believe that fitness and good eating habits go a long way in
ensuring good health, physically and mentally. Recently, I've been dealing with an Achilles issue that's kept me from running. So glad to have the fitness classes I lead to keep me challenged and motivated while out from running. My early morning boot camps at the studio and two corporate tabata group fitness classes I lead at the Volvo Group North America Headquarters keep me fit and focused. I'm probably about 20 years older than many of the participants in these groups and this grandpa is making them huff and puff and sweat too! It's been so awesome to see members of these groups get stronger and more confident.

Even in my 20s and 30's I was always in pretty good health, but I realized the true importance of good health about 19 years ago. By 2001, I had run numerous 5K and 10K races and had already completed two full marathons. Then in 2001 when at my 3rd marathon (Chicago), I got sick (as in the night before the race sick). I could not stop using the bathroom. I ended up flying back home and not running the following day. I was depressed and sick as a dog. I went to my family doc and he just thought I had acid reflux. Acid reflux!! My mom had ulcerative colitis and my symptoms seemed awfully similar to her's. I shared my family history with my doc, but he didn't seem to take it seriously. It got so bad, I requested to see another doctor in the practice, and she did a test in the office and immediately said, she thought I had ulcerative colitis. She sent me to a gastroenterologist to confirm her diagnosis. I did indeed have Ulcerative Colitis. UC is one of two Inflammatory Bowl Diseases. The other is Chron's. UC affects the large intestine. Chron's can affect any part of the digestive tract.

Me (38yrs old) at the 2003
Country Music Marathon
It was a rough few moths following the diagnosis. Tried several different medications. Some blew me up like a balloon. Others seemed not to have much effect at all. In 2002 I began having severe pain and they were not sure what was causing it. I ended up in the ER. They sent me home with strong pain meds, but I ended up back in the hospital soon after. Probably too much info, but they discovered I had a fissure in my rectum. I had to have surgery to remove it and kind of reconstruct things. It was a pretty long recovery, but I did well.

I realized in recovery that I needed a goal to keep me from wallowing in my situation and to help me focus on getting better. So, what else would you do....decide to train for a marathon, right? (Keep in mind this was well before RunnerDude). My surgery was in early summer of 2002. Later that summer I began walking to get my strength back. Then slowly added in running. That fall, I focused on getting my strength, stamina, and endurance back. That December, I began training for the 2003 Country Music Marathon in Nashville. I completed the race in 4:10:00 and felt strong. It felt great to accomplish that goal. From then on I ran about one marathon each year for several years in a row.  During this time, working with my doctor, I found a medicine (Colozal) that really worked for me. It worked kind of like a topical medication. I had to take like 6-8 huge capsules a day. They were time-released and would open when they reached the large intestine and coat the walls of the intestine which helped reduce and stop inflammation an ulcers in the large intestine.

In December of 2005, I had a stress fracture in my heel that put me out of running for 4 months. Instead of going stir crazy, I decided to join a gym (remember this was pre-RunnerDude). It was this initial gym membership that I really began to learn the importance of full-body fitness. I also began to pay more attention to my diet and eating healthier. By the fall of 2007 I had set my PRs in the 5K (19:58), Half Marathon (1:30:42) and Marathon (3:42:00). That marathon was Chicago. I had to return and conquer it. 2007 was the year of the big heat wave at Chicago. They actually closed the race at 4hrs. Because of my time, I made it to the finish, but with heat exhaustion. I was on cue to qualify for Boston at mile 18, then the wheels fell off. I was severely dehydrated. But a PR was a PR and that race was really more about redemption for having to miss the race back in 2001.

Around 2008 -2009, my gastroenterologist shared how pleased he was with my progress in managing my UC. I had not had a flare-up in a long while. He thought it was time to wean off the medicine. I did. It's now 2019 and I've not been on medicine for UC since. I've completed 15 marathons, 1 ultra marathon and too many 5Ks, 10Ks, and half marathons to count.  I contribute my remission to my focus on exercise and healthy eating. Yes, I still eat crap sometimes, but in general I'm pretty good about what I put in my body. I'm not quite a vegetarian, but I eat very little meat. When I do, it's lean turkey, chicken, or fish. I eat lots of fiber from fruits, veggies, and whole grains. I'm probably 95% bread. LOL!  I'm a big believer in moderation and accountability when it comes to eating and exercise.  Today, occasionally, I'll have a mild UC flare-up, but nothing like in the early 2000's and today's flares seem to be more stress related. Hence the need for the mental and stress-relief benefits of fitness.

So, if you're not running or working out, give it a try. It will greatly improve your quality of life. I'm a testament to that for sure.

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