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Ulcerative Colitis Didn't Keep Me From Running a Marathon

photo of runner in marathon
Brett Gaul - Blogs
By Brett GaulSeptember 20, 2021

Running is my favorite form of exercise -- one I have enjoyed for almost 30 years. So, I was concerned when I was hospitalized with ulcerative colitis (UC) a month after having run a personal best in the marathon. “Will I still be able to run?” I asked my doctor. I was relieved when he assured me that I would.

It has been almost 5 years since I was hospitalized, and I’m happy to say that I continue to run regularly. Although I haven’t been able to better my pre-ulcerative colitis personal bests, I still enjoy running.

When I was struggling to control my condition with medication, running was occasionally a challenge. Ulcerative colitis affected me most during a long run in March of the year I ran the marathon. I was 5 miles into a 10-miler when I thought I felt something slip out of my bowels.

If I had been running in town, I would have stopped at a place with a bathroom. However, that day, I was running on a country highway. Besides an occasional farm, there was nothing but leftover winter snow, empty fields, and bare trees. There was no place to stop. When I was about 3 miles from home, I felt a little more slip out and moisten the back of my shorts. I knew I had a problem now!

Fortunately, I saw a baseball field with a public bathroom, so I ran to the door and pulled on it. Locked! It was too early in the season for the bathroom to be open. So, I kept running for home, hoping things wouldn’t get worse.

My worst fears were realized when about a mile away from home, I stepped off a curb and my bowels completely let loose. I could feel a lump in the back of my shorts as liquid ran down the back of my legs. I shuffled home, hoping no one could see anything and nothing would fall out of my shorts.

When I got home and saw the mix of blood and stool, I knew I had a serious problem. If my long runs were going to be like this one, maybe my running days were over.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to stop running. Over the next 6 months, my doctor prescribed a succession of medications. Each would work for a while and then stop working. It was like taking two steps forward and one step back. I’d get better for a while, but then I would start to backslide and have to start a new medication. Backsliding was frustrating and stressful, but I was determined to run that marathon.

The morning of the race, my body woke me up earlier than my alarm, because I urgently had to go to the bathroom. My loose, bloody stool convinced me to take some anti-diarrheal pills so I could make it 26.2 miles without incident. Happily, the pills worked, and I didn’t repeat what happened during my March run.

After the marathon, I took some time off from running. Because the medication I was taking then wasn’t working, the timing was great. I didn’t have to worry about having an accident while running. However, my health was declining. That’s why my doctor prescribed a biologic next. Biologics have kept my ulcerative colitis symptoms under control, and me running, for 5 years now.

Running makes me happier and healthier. Whatever your favorite form of exercise is, talk to your doctor about how to keep doing it while managing your ulcerative colitis.



Photo Credit: Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy/The Image Bank via Getty Images

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About the Author
Brett Gaul

Brett Gaul has lived with ulcerative colitis since 2016. A philosophy professor, Gaul enjoys sharing his passion for philosophy and helping students live more meaningful and successful lives. When he’s not having interesting dinner conversations with his history professor wife and three children, he likes reading, running, and rooting for Minnesota sports teams.

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