I feel like an explanation is in order.
I’ve lacked the motivation to write for over a year now. Was it simply a prolonged spell of procrastination? Have I been writing another blog on the side? The truth is that my lack of inclination comes down to something out of my control.
I’ve spent nearly half of 2015 in and out of hospital. I’ll tell you the whole story from the beginning…
The Story, as it was, from the beginning
It all started last summer, towards the end of July. I was juggling a stressful job, with an 80km running week and at the same time trying to squeeze in some quality family time. My big race goal was the short version of the GRP – The Grand Raid Pyrenees – and I was looking forward to finishing the summer race season with some uphill only, time trial races. It seems like a lifetime ago now.
The first sign that something wasn’t quite right was when I came down with a bout of diarrhea. After three weeks of constantly dashing to the toilet I decided that it was time to see the doctor. I explained how I live the mountain running dream, and just like Killian et al, I love to drink from mountain streams. In fact I’m so hardcore I’ll often drink out of water fountains in villages marked “Eau non potable.” Now, my french isn’t that poor. I know that this means that the water is not “potable” buuut… You meet so many villagers around and about that will tell you, “Ahh, pas de souci! Elle est bonne.” Of course, this could be a reference to a particularly attractive local lady, but they might also be explaining that there is no worries and the water is “bonne.” You’ve got to take a gamble. In all seriousness the do not drink sign is often put up because the local authority can’t be arsed to analyse the water which is a requirement if it is to be offered to the general public.
Anyway, like I explained to the doctor, I had a drink from one of these potential fountains of death and very soon afterwards the diarrhea started. Copious blood tests ensued and one after another they came back negative. They couldn’t find a virus, bacteria or a parasite. It was “un mystère” (I take it by now that my non regular readers realise that I live in France.)
So after a few weeks of back and forth between my doctor and the blood test laboratory it was decided that I ought to see a Gastroenterologist. I made an appointment with the local hospital and within a couple of weeks saw my first consultant, Dr Fernandez, a very attractive Spanish doctor who’s accent afflicted French was very hard to understand. Little did I know then, but she would soon be probing my anal passage with various types of cameras…
First off I was tested for Coeliac disease, turns out that I have amazing gluten anti-bodies so that was a relief as I do love a toasted baguette and a croissant. There really was only one thing for it apparently. I would have to have a full on colonoscopy. Fortunately in France this is done under full anesthetic, they wheeled me in, I fell asleep then I woke up again. During my unconsciousness a camera was supposedly inserted all the way to the top of my colon and a bit of the way in to the intestines…Biopsies were taken and a few weeks later a diagnosis confirmed. I had Ulcerative Colitis.
Ulcerative Colitis is a shit disease.
Quite literally actually. On the outside you look fine, and people treat you as if you are fine, but without medication you are rushing to the loo frequently and it’s not at all fine. Quite often there is blood. It’s horrible. For the first few months the medication I was on helped enormously and I would describe my symptoms as mild, or mildish. I wasn’t feeling great, I was very tired most of the time and getting loads of mouth ulcers. The mad dashes to the loo came to halt though but I abandoned all hope of racing and even gave up drinking. I spent new years eve 2014/2015 drinking coffee.
I did however manage a very nice snowy hike up to Picou on new years day – it was lovely to be the first to top out on the summit for 2015 and the first New Years day that I haven’t had a hangover on for as long as I can remember. Little by little I got my strength back. Work was my priority and I slowly got back in to it, I started to run a little bit more – everything was looking good. Then Dr F changed my medication…
The treatment I was following was not working as well as it did at the beginning. I had just had a second colonoscopy and things were looking better but I was still passing blood from time to time and my test results were still showing signs of inflammation. I was put on another drug. This time a more hardcore immune suppressor called Azathioprine, it was spring 2015 and for the following few months I was okay… Then suddenly in June I went downhill. Very quickly.
I was put on another drug, an even more hardcore immune suppressor called Remicade. Now this drug isn’t simple at all. You have to have it administered in hospital via an intravenous drip, it takes about 2 hours in total and can have very bad side effects. Luckily for me the only side effect I experienced with Remicade was it’s complete ineffectiveness. After the intial 3 weeks of treatment I flared up again, this time it was even worse. I lost 10 kilos in a week, everything ached, I coughed constantly and I was rushing to the loo about four times an hour. Even during the night. I’ve never felt so bad in my life. My body seemed to consume all of my muscles – my hard earned mountain running legs disappeared and were replaced by two match sticks. I looked bloody awful. Like a Tour de France cyclist.
I was hospitalised again, and after a couple of weeks spent locally I was transferred to a specialist Gastro hospital in Toulouse. I passed a week in intensive care where they managed to get me in to a sort of remission with a huge dose of IV administered corticosteriods. I was sent home but fell ill again, and contracted Colostrum difficile, I was admitted to Toulouse again where I ended up in quarantine for a week. Great stuff.
There was a further complication that I haven’t mentioned yet. My rectum was really inflamed due to the amount of toilet trips I was making. I couldn’t sit down for very long, if I did it would trigger the need to “go” and more often than not hardly anything would come out. It was a proper pain in the ass. As a consequence of this I spent the best part of five months lying down, either on the sofa at home or in the hospital bed, I was wasting away.
After another few weeks at home not getting any better it was decided that none of the medication was working and that surgery was the only option…
17 days ago I had my colon removed.
The first few days post Op were rough, but with the help of Delphine and the never ending morphine pump I got through it. I now feel great. I’m back home, I’m managing a 2Km hike, with a steep uphill section, a couple of times a week. every time it gets a bit easier. As a result of the operation I now have an ileostomy bag attached to my tummy. This has taken a little bit of time to get used to, but really it’s not too bad, I have had a few teething problems but things seem okay now. I’m off nearly all my medications, eating what I like and I might even go back to work next week! It’s given me a new lease of life. In a few months I will be able to have a “take down” operation, where they rejoin the end of the intestine to what’s left of the rectum. If this all goes well I think it won’t be long before I’m back to running again.
And hopefully writing a few more blogs too…
Anyway, I hope that explains my slackness this year. Pretty good excuse don’t you think?
I’m going to give Nearly Shoeless a bit of a face lift for 2016 – I’m planning on doing fewer kit reviews and concentrating more on the real nitty gritty of trail and mountain running. I’ve gravitated away from barefoot and minimal running over the years and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I tend to stick to shoes with 4mm drop and a bit more cushion these days. My new years resolution is to add a zero drop, minimal shoe to my rotation. Before my illness I was getting pretty good at uphill running and I would like to compete in vertical KM and uphill only races. I’m looking for a “light as fuck” shoe to take on this task.
But I don’t think I’ll ever be running ultras in minimal footwear. in fact I fully intend to have some time off ultra running and just stick to shorter race distances. During my illness I had a moment to reflect and I realised the amount of time I spent training was beginning to be a strain upon family life. I have a somewhat physically and mentally stressful job as a carpenter, couple this with an 80KM training week and I think it was no surprise that my body fell apart last year… Things will change and I know now that I have to avoid too much stress. So maybe I won’t get back in to ultras until the kids are grown up.
Time will tell, I know I’m in a good place right now.
Thanks for reading, back soon.
Hey, if you want to find out more about Ulcerative Colitis and it’s nasty cousin Crohn’s Disease follow the link here