This year we tried to start a Q&A section in our weekly newsletter. When you guys come into the store, you always have so many great questions that we thought could really benefit other runners! One of the questions we got for our Q&A section recently was, “What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome when running, and how did you handle it?”. Linda immediately told me I should be the person to answer this one. I argued with her for a while, but I know that this question can’t be answered in just a paragraph.
I hesitate to answer this question because I always try to go as long as possible without telling new people I meet that I have Celiac Disease. I guess it’s because of the stigma surrounding being “gluten free,” and it embarrasses me when I have to be a pain in the butt about food-related things.
You may be thinking, who cares? What does having to eat tiny, expensive bread have to do with running? Well – Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease, meaning it literally affects my entire body and every aspect of my life, including running. If you have Celiac Disease, eating gluten triggers an immune response in your small intestine. When the body’s immune system overreacts to gluten, the reaction damages the villi which are tiny, hair-like projections that line the small intestine. Villi absorb vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from the food you eat. If your villi are damaged, you can’t get enough nutrients, no matter how much you eat.
Carb-loading with a big spaghetti dinner at the expo center the night before your big race? I brought groceries with me on the 4 hour drive to get there and rented an AirBnB so I could have a kitchen to cook my own food. No one wants to get sick the night before a race they trained 6 months for!
Stopping at an aid station mid race to mindlessly grab some gels or food to fuel up with? I’ve been lugging my pack or flip belt around for the last 20 miles because I have to bring my own fuel with me. There’s no time mid race to check ingredient labels of the food or drink at the aid station or to make sure there is no chance for cross contamination of the food there.
But I swear I’m not complaining! Before I was diagnosed 6 years ago, I could hardly run. I realized how much I loved running back in high school, but I was constantly last in meets and at practice. It was disappointing, but it didn’t matter to me – I loved to run so I kept showing up. Before my sophomore year of track season I went for my physical and the doctor refused to sign my paperwork. He said I lost too much body fat (I know this sounds totally ridiculous) when I ran and would have to sit this season out. I went on to be the manager of the track team that year, and at every meet the coaches of the opposing teams would buy me a bunch of food from the concession stand when I told them why I wasn’t running!
Until a few years ago, that was my last time being involved in running. I took the season off, fell off the wagon and couldn’t get going again in time for Fall Cross Country. Running became too hard. In college I would try to run when life was stressful, but I would only get a couple of minutes in before I felt like my muscles were cramping up and I became light-headed and would have to stop. I figured I just wasn’t any good at it and gave up.
A little over 6 years ago, after coming come home for the summer following my junior year of college, I spent a week in the hospital being poked with needles to find out I had Celiac Disease. There is no cure for Celiac; the only way to manage the disease is by eating a very strict gluten-free diet for the rest of your life. So I jumped right into the new diet and slowly but surely, I got healthy and gained all the weight my high school doctor had wanted me to!
Now that gluten is out of my life, the last three years or so I have been healthy and able to get more serious with my running. In 2017, I started the year out with a 5k and worked my way up to running the Harrisburg Marathon by the end of the year! I’m incredibly grateful that my particular disease is manageable through diet and lifestyle – but my challenges with this disease are what help me get up a mountain with a 13% grade in the heat of a race! I just use David Goggin’s Cookie Jar method and remember the time I couldn’t walk across a room without feeling like I was going to pass out, and power up that mountain!
“The cookie jar is a place in my mind where I put all things bad and good that shaped me. Some people try to forget the bad in their life. I use my bad for strength when needed, great lessons learned. In that cookie jar, I pull out whatever I need for the task at hand.” – David Goggins