We all know what this is like. The “oh no, I need a bathroom and I need it now!” revelation is never fun, particularly when it’s accompanied by a bout of abdominal pain. So last May, as I congregated with 20,000 friends in Brooklyn, ready to run the Brooklyn Half Marathon, I found myself waiting in an insufferably long line as that subtle feeling became an overpowering sensation, screaming at me, “you need to go NOW.” Pre-race jitters became near-panic because I was buried in the middle of that long line.
That’s when I realized, I might as well speak up. So, I did. I stepped out of line and headed to the very front and politely explained that I had a medical condition called Ulcerative Colitis. I asked if it would be okay to cut the line and guess what, it absolutely was. In fact, the girl at the front of the line understandingly shared that her roommate in college had UC. Here’s the thing: when you are open with yourself and with others about this disease, you realize pretty rapidly that you are not alone.
So, I ran my race. It wasn’t my best. I had some pretty nasty pain. Also, I was still trying to reclaim fitness that I had lost the previous winter after a bad ankle sprain was followed directly by a worse colitis flair. Needless to say, I was not running much that winter. Don’t get me wrong, I tried very hard to get out and pound some pavement. But truthfully, there were days that I could not even make a pathetic attempt to leave the apartment for work. Many evenings, I would be sitting on the 2 or 3 train, barreling underground from TriBeCa to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and would nod off. I was so exhausted from anemia, thanks to my bleeding colon. The whole thing was both painful and painfully frustrating.
When I could, I would go to speedwork with my team and be exhausted. I’d run a pickup and need to run to the bathroom. Or, running to bathroom would be the pickup itself. I would be so demoralized when I simply lacked the energy to be fast. I lagged far behind those with whom I typically ran with ease. One evening, after a trip to the bathroom, my coach, a good friend who knew about by UC, reassured, “Don’t worry about this. Run with the slower group. Just do the workout. You are having a bad day, but pushing through this will make you stronger when you are well.” He was right – and not just about that evening’s workout.
Persevering through a flare, whether it’s simply by staying positive or being open to new therapies makes you tougher when you are well. Staying as fit as you can when you are feeling unwell helps you to bounce back more quickly once you are feeling good. Certainly, if you are not feeling up to running, don’t. There are days where Netflix and the couch are exactly what you should be doing. Other days, you might be running and stopping at the bathroom every few miles. That’s totally okay.
The more you take your guts out for a run, the more aware of their cues you become. Depending on the what’s happened throughout the day or during the prior evening, I have a pretty good idea of whether or not I’m going to need the bathroom when I’m on my run. Those are the days that I am particular about sticking to a route where I’m familiar with (multiple!) bathroom options. On early morning runs when the bathrooms in Central Park are not yet open, I’ll shove a wad of toilet paper into the back of my bra. I know I’m going to have to go, so why not be prepared?
Other days, when I’m visiting the bathroom incessantly and know that an outdoor run is going to be a literal sh*t-show, I’ll opt for a treadmill with a bathroom nearby. It pains me to do this on a beautiful day, but there will be others, just as lovely, when running outdoors is possible. During critical training, when I am being compulsive about mileage, I’ll run 2-a-days. Not only do these bad boys make you really, really strong, but if you feel good in the morning and have a crappy afternoon, you’ve still managed to log some mileage. FYI, this is more great training advice from my coach/friend. I texted that I was going to miss a workout due to “intestinal distress” and he proposed doubling up for fitness and peace of mind.
This brings me to another point, be honest with your friends, families, and running buddies about what is happening. You will be amazed by how supportive and understanding they will be. A few weeks ago, I was back in New York for a week (my husband and I recently moved to Seattle) and was meeting 2 friends for an early morning run. I was to meet A at one spot then 10 minutes later, we were going to pick up K. I was running up 5th Avenue, when suddenly, I had to go. So, I popped into a (super-swanky!) hotel to use the bathroom. Of course, this made me late. A was no longer at our meeting spot, so I headed out alone along the route.
At 6:15 am, Central Park was coming to life as runners and packs of cyclists were enjoying the crisp morning air. I had assumed that A had gone to meet K. Maybe they would wait for me together, maybe I’d run alone. A few minutes later, there were A and K. A had gone to meet K, then my friends returned to meet me. When I apologized for my tardiness, A cheerfully responded, “Don’t worry, we figured that you needed to go to the bathroom!” The 3 of us picked up the pace and ran as the March sun rose over New York.