Marathon #50 – 26.2 for Shannon


Shannon’s Story:

I love running. I love the way I can be myself when I run. I also love that it’s only me with my own thoughts out there when I am running. Running is that time for me where I don’t have to answer to anyone. I’m not a banker, I’m not a teacher, I’m not a mom, I’m not a sibling, I am me.   

Running can be a team sport but it is largely an individual sport because it ultimately only takes me, myself, and I. My feet hit the street and everything else is kicked to the curb for that amount of time. Running releases those feel-good chemicals called endorphins and exercise is the most effective way to boost serotonin, that key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. This hormone impacts your entire body as well as your mood and its source can different for everyone. Some just need to spend time in the sunshine while for others it can come from eating certain foods, like chocolate. Others use meditation and breathing exercises to relieve stress and feel those happy hormones. For quite a few people it might be the simple joy they get from being around furry friends because having a pet can increase serotonin levels. For me, my way of getting those endorphins is exercise, more specifically running. I love running and I’m thankful that I get to live my joy almost daily. Personally, running, it has and ALWAYS will make everything seem better.

It all started back when I was younger. I was a soccer player on my high school team and as an underclassman I was bitter about not being on the field starting for the varsity team. I wanted to be out there, playing, running, taking part in the sport, but since I didn’t get the opportunity to do that I said to myself, I’ll just quit. The only problem now was that if I quit soccer I’ll have to find another sport otherwise I’ll have to take part in PE class.   

With soccer, I was a midfielder which meant I could run so track seemed like a logical option. With that thought I figured I could hack it. Boy was I humbled! I couldn’t find my event, it turned out I was not fast enough for sprinting events, I was good at and liked distance and there wasn’t a distance long enough for me on the track. My track coach often would have me run 2 to 3 miles before the 2 mile run, because I just needed to get warmed up. It was during this time that I started to realize I was good at long distances. I was able to get in the zone where I could run the same pace all day long; it was what I was good at. This is where my love for running long distance and helped turn me into the runner I am today.

Flash forward some, and now having running some longer distances, it made perfect sense for me to train for a marathon. I mean after all, my brother, who was older, was trying to do something monumental on his 30th birthday so I thought, why not support him and try to run a marathon? More specifically the 1993 Chicago Marathon. With very little training, my longest run being only 17 miles, most marathon training plans have you reach 20 miles on your long run at least once if not a couple times before marathon day; I was able to finish with a finish time of 3:43 and change. The best part is I felt amazing the entire time! There were over 5,000 runners that year and I made friends with more strangers out on that course. I became a marathoner that day and running had me hooked.

After Chicago I ran a second marathon, a third marathon… I was really getting addicted to this awesome sport and I was having a lot of success. But, something happened to me in 1994 that resembled something I remembered from high school. It was that nervous stomach that had me in the bathroom all the time, it was painful, it was stressful and I thought it was just nerves.

At the time, in 1995, I had an HMO, so I had tests done for all kinds of intestinal problems, but I was ultimately told it was all in my head. For something that was “just in my head” I ended up losing about 15 to 20 pounds and I was tired all the time. Also, as disgusting as it was, I was having really painful diarrhea and nothing made me feel better. At one point I was told by my HMO doctor that it could be Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative colitis and he said he wouldn’t wish that on his worst enemy. That is not the way you want someone to describe a disease you might get diagnosed with.

In order to try and get some answers, I basically stalked a gastro intestinal specialist and was able to convince him to finally take me as a patient. Finally I got news and it’s pretty sobering to be called while at work, and told we can’t tell which disease it is; you either have ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

Treatment for IBD back in the 90’s was a lot different than it is now. I tried so many different medicines for months and months and at one point I think I took 31 pills! Yes, you read that correctly, 31 pills! I was going through all of this while trying to teach elementary school and it was hard.   

In the beginning when all this was happening after hearing it was either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, I thought this was my own fault, my own doing. Maybe I put too much stress on myself to be the best at work or to be the fastest new runner to emerge on the running scene in Oklahoma. Remember this was the mid 90’s so there wasn’t a lot of information out there. There was not a lot of places for me to turn to, no support groups, no meetings, no social media… nothing….I felt very depressed and alone.

What made things worse was with the running aspect. It was just when I was starting to get really good at something, I got sick. And I couldn’t control it, no matter how much medicine I took, I was sick and I even losing blood in my stool at this point. The timing of this couldn’t have come at a worse time with running because it was going so well and I was achieving so much success. Right when this was starting I was in the process of training for the Olympic trails in the marathon distance. Yes, you read that correctly, I was training to run and train for the Olympic trails marathon. I had found some great success in running and I was finding my stride. I went to a high-altitude camp, and met actual Olympians and they wanted me to train with them!  I picked the marathon I wanted to run, the Cleveland Marathon, to get that finish time I needed to make it into the Olympic trials. I was hoping to qualify and running hard, running 100 mile weeks, pushing myself mentally and physically all while dreaming that this hard work would pay off in the end!

Looking back, I honestly don’t know how I even made it to that point, but in 1998, I ran the CVS Cleveland marathon. Just three weeks before this race, I knew I was in the midst of a bad flare. I couldn’t eat anything and was on a BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast). Not the ideal was to prepare for a marathon three weeks out, but that was all I could eat leading up to the race so that became my marathon food plan. It was by the grace of God that I was even able to run that race. I had so many mixed emotions going into the marathon, there was so much training leading up to it, including the countless one hundred mile training weeks. I had a great coach and a sponsor, I was invited to run the race, and it was all so much. It was SUCH a hard training cycle leading up to this race and the whole time no one knew about my disease.

In order to qualify for the Olympic Trials Marathon that year you must run a USATF certified course, which the Cleveland Marathon was, and finish in a time of 2:50:00 or faster. How did the marathon go for me? What was my result? I finished with a time of  2:50:04. I was four seconds off of what I needed to qualify. Four seconds… One, two, three, four, that was it! I missed the mark so that meant no Olympic Trials Marathon for me.

A 2:50:04 finish time works out to be about 6:26 a mile for 26.2 miles. Despite missing the qualifying time, I should have been ecstatic! I ended up finishing first overall American female. I was fifth overall female that resulted in winning prize money at this race. However, I was not happy and I finished in tears, so sad that I did not hit my goal. I was so sick and this flare was the worst! 

I ran my fastest marathon, in the midst of the flare of my disease that would ultimately end in my large intestine being removed less than a year later. Now, at 51 years old, I have run 11 marathons. My PR Distance in the Marathon you already know.  I have run a 34:43 10K. I have run a 17:03 5K. I’ve run a 5:04 mile. I didn’t run competitively in college and I was average in high school, but I’ve accomplished some amazing things in this sport since then. Running that marathon in Cleveland in 1998 while dealing with a flare was the last time I would run the marathon distance until 20 years later in Chicago. Coincidentally both marathons hold special meaning to me and are both tied to my disease.   

As special as the Cleveland Marathon was in 1998, nothing compares to running the Chicago Marathon in 2018. Like I said, this was the first time I would run a marathon since 1998. It would be the first time that I would run with my Ostomy Bag. It was the first time that I ran truly grateful for my health. It was here, that I had the pleasure of meeting Marc, and running for something so much bigger than myself. I was able to fund raise for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, for Team Challenge!

There was a silver lining in Chicago too, not only did I meet amazing people along the way, but I had a BQ, a finish time fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  

Now, I have an Ostomy Bag, and I chose it! I have been through and survived 11 surgeries. I’ve had a J-pouch, which is an internal pouch that I actually chose to reverse when my daughter was three years old. Why have I been through all of this over the years? The answer is simple, because I want my life back. I have had 20+ years of inflammatory bowel disease but I’m still here and I’m still running. Inflammatory bowel disease is awful and no one wants to talk about it. It’s not glamorous, no disease is glamorous, but nobody wants to talk about digestive disease. Team Challenge is a community where it is alright to talk about it though. When I was first diagnosed I didn’t have a place to go, anywhere to turn to, but today, now there is a place, a family where you can talk about all these things. To be able to run for Team Challenge 20 years after my last marathon was very special for me. 

I wouldn’t change a thing. I chose a permanent Ostomy Bag, and I am so transparent now. I am also a mom of two beautiful and healthy kids, and I did it for them! 

I have met the most amazing people, like Marc, who asked me to share my story. He runs for others that have this disease and because of that he is my hero!

I feel confident, there will be a cure eventually but until then I’ll keep posting, I’ll keep fighting, and I’ll keep running hopefully until I’m 81 years old. Why? Because I love it! Running makes me happy!

Marathon 50 – Recap

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