I am one of those weird people who truly love exercising. I love it because it keeps me youthful, increases my energy levels, makes me feel good about my body, allows me to focus, and improves my quality of sleep. Today, my normal weekly exercise routine consists of either yoga, Pilates, interval runs, long walks on the beach, weight training or hiking. These are all exercises I enjoy and are healthy for me, but I haven’t always exercised in the healthiest way.
My favorite exercise routine in the past was what I now call “chronic cardio.” I would hop on the elliptical for 45 minutes to an hour six days a week or hit the pavement to run long distances. I rarely did any weight training or any other form of exercise. I did these type of workouts for two reasons (1) I didn’t really know how to workout and these were easy things to do and (2) I thought if I wanted to be healthy and “fit” that I needed to workout for long periods of time. I ran several half-marathons (13.1 miles) and even a full marathon (26.2 miles). However, I never lost weight while training for either, in fact, my weight was up a few pounds after running the full marathon. Now, who wants to run 26.2 miles only to gain weight? Definitely not me.
I did chronic cardio for several years and can honestly say I enjoyed aspects of it. I enjoyed the “runners high” and the sense of accomplishment after completing a race. Running 26.2 miles takes lots of dedication and physical hardwork. It feels great to know I accomplished something that not everyone can physically. However, my body took a beating from all the training and I suffered some ill health effects. Just to name a few, I dealt with hypoglycemic episodes during long runs, painful hips, and gastrointestinal bleeding, which was the most unpleasant. One Saturday morning, I was out running 10 miles for my long run of the week. I was about 4 miles into the run when all of a sudden I got a painful urge to go to the bathroom. Running had always “upset” my stomach in the past, but this time it was different. It was unlike any other abdominal pain I had ever experienced. It felt like someone had a tight grip on my intestines. Luckily, I was only about a half mile from a restroom and was able to make it there quickly. I freaked out once I got there because I had bloody diarrhea. I didn’t know what to do and was still about four miles from home. I did the only thing I could and ran/walked the 4 miles back to my house in pain. I went to the hospital and they confirmed I had blood in my stool, but my hematocrit and hemoglobin were stable enough so they sent me home to rest. I was told to rest for the rest of the weekend and was scheduled to have a colonoscopy the following week.
It is recommended people have colonoscopies starting at the age of 50 and every ten years after if there are no problems. It is an embarrassing test to say the least, but especially when you are a young female in your 20’s. I did it though. I had the colonoscopy that next week and it showed nothing. The gastroenterologist said everything looked normal and that I probably experienced gastrointestinal sloughing, which is very common in runners. Basically, he believed that the lining of my intestines became irritated from running and not receiving the oxygen it needed and then sloughed off. Kind of like how a blister forms on your heel from wearing shoes and then peels off later. He told me there was nothing I could do, but take it easy for a few days. He told me if I felt better that I could still continue my training and race, which is what I did. I was in denial that running long distances was not good for my body. Afterall, I was exercising to be healthy, right?
After the race, I still ran, but no longer than an hour at a time. I quit doing long distance runs for a bit, but about two years later I got the “bug” again. I decided this time I wanted to finally do a full marathon. I wanted to do it to prove to myself that I could do it. So I signed up with a local running group that met for a long run every Saturday morning. Our long runs started at 13 miles and each week we added a mile. I did these long runs every Saturday, plus I was running 3-5 miles 2-3 times a week. As you can imagine, it was intense and my body paid the price. I saw a chiropractor twice a week because of my chronic hip pain. I was exhausted after the long runs because my blood sugar would drop way too low, even with food. Then I started experiencing gastrointestinal upset and bleeding again on my long runs and even on days I wasn’t running. Thankfully, there were plenty of bathrooms along our path for the long runs. About two weeks out from the marathon, my doctor was frank with me and said, “You cannot continue to do long distance running. It is doing more harm to your body than good. Promise me after this race, you will stop doing this chronic cardio.” I knew she was right, even though I still did not want to admit it, but I promised.
After the marathon, I quit running for almost a year. I only did hot yoga five or six times a week and walks every once in a while. I gave my body, especially my digestive system the time it needed to heal. It was the right decision for my body. Exercise shouldn’t damage your body. It should help it heal and keep it strong. Some people do well with distance running and feel great, but I am not one of those people. Although, I do still love the “runner’s high” and have started running again, but I refrain from long distances and limit it to a couple of times a week. I believe it is important for one to explore all different kinds of activity and find what makes them feel energized and healthy. Share with me what exercises you love and that work for your body. Also, I would love to hear if you have a similar story. The more we share, the more people we can help.
Enjoy your holiday week! And, remember, exercise is a great way to relieve stress during the holiday season, just make sure it is the right type for your body.