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Marathon Training with a Chronic Illness (Running Coaches Corner)


When you live with a chronic illness, full and half marathon training can seem out of the question. But I am here to tell you that marathon training with a chronic illness is absolutely doable! Time to live beyond expectations! Link up with Running Coaches Corner!

This is an update to an older post. New info!

My motto is Live Beyond Expectations, and I developed that motto and approach to life when I started training for half marathon and later, full marathons. As a coach for Team Challenge (and a past participant), as a private running coach, I work with runners who defy the “limits” of their bodies every day. When approached with care, resiliency, and adaptability, marathon training while living with a chronic illness is completely possible.

If you are considering a fall marathon or half marathon but are worried that you might not be able to handle the training, check out my tips for getting through marathon training with a chronic illness, and off course email me to ask questions!

Marathon Training with A Chronic Illness

Marathon training with a chronic illness like Crohn's Disease is absolutely doable if you follow these 10 tips from @suzlyfe! Link up with Running Coaches Corner! http://suzlyfe/marathon-training-with-a-chronic-illness-living-with-crohns-disease

Before I get started, I want, as always to remind all of you that I am not a doctor, I’m especially not YOUR doctor, and though I am a Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Running Coach, I am (likely) not YOUR CPT/Coach. So please, please, PLEASE always consult with your private physician and fitness professional before beginning an intensive fitness training program particularly if you have a chronic medical condition. 

1) Start with a stable condition and your specialist’s blessing

As lovely as it would be to say that you pushed through a flare and conquered your training…. it just isn’t worth it. Intense physical activity affects not only the muscles that you are actively working–it places stress across your entire body. Crohn’s Disease is, by definition, an inflammatory condition, and also one that reacts/can be triggered by stress, hormones, and dietary changes, all of which are likely to change/increase during training. So why start a lap behind and try to win the race? Marathon training, in particular, is difficult enough for a perfectly healthy body. Imagine what it can do with one prone to issue. 

2) Gradually work up to your big goals

Though I have worked up to the big race rather quickly in the big scheme of things, I didn’t start with marathons. In fact, when I was in 9th grade, I had a doctor’s note to keep me FROM running because of the stress that it might cause. It wasn’t until I was stable later on that I started my running routine, and then it was largely for fitness.

I started running more seriously in my final year of undergraduate (I worked up to about 5 miles then), and I took on my first half marathon two years later during my last semester of grad school. I tried my first marathon 18 months later, and my second a full year later. Incremental increases in distances, and numerous set backs and injuries as I had to make up for my lack of running knowledge and physical issues helped me improve.

3) Conservative Training Plans

For my first two marathons, I trained extremely conservatively, and even the training for my Boston Qualifying marathons were conservative by the majority of marathon training standards. During marathon training, I run 3 times a week–2 mid-week runs and one long run for the first two marathons and with the addition of another run (for coaching) in my later marathons.. My midweek runs are generally about 8 miles and consistent with regards to pace. I try to throw in speed work when I can, but my goal is a happy, injury and pain free marathon, not elite status.

suz pose victory phoenix marathon

I’m elite in my mind

Every thing that I accomplish is gravy beyond the finish itself. It isn’t that you need to do the minimum or “get by,” it is that you have to know that you are already playing with fire. I think that most of your all know by now that I don’t really use any of the popular ones. My training plan is to get my 3 runs, do yoga at least 2 times a week, PT exercises 2-3 times a week, and strength training of some variety 1-2 times a week. And, of course, rest.  

4) Flexibility and Patience

Flexibility and patience are not just keys to successful training, they are keys to living with chronic conditions, PERIOD. So is a sense of humor. Sometimes? Your body is just going to give you the middle finger.

invincibilitySometimes? You are going to wake up and not be able to hit your miles or your speed work goal. Set yourself up for success respecting that–pick an objective that you can hit, and move things around a bit. Don’t ruin your chances at your long term by going after what you want in the short term.

5) Learn to Listen to Your Body

One of the most frequent comments that I receive is that I know and listen to my body so well. First of all, I have had a few years with it to do so, but, to be honest, yes, I am one of the most in-tune-with-their-body-people I know myself. Sometimes my body cries wolf, and I have worked hard to figure out what that feels like. Don’t force yourself to fit into some other expectation or mold of what training looks like. Keep notes, figure out what is working, what isn’t. 

Do you know the difference between pain and discomfort?

6) Hydration/Fueling Strategies

This can get tricky. Many people with Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis have had resections or colostomies that have removed critical parts of their digestive system and thereby makes it very difficult for them to absorb proper nutrients, especially to keep them hydrated.

and i want a puppy #thingsicanthave

and i want a puppy #thingsicanthave

Absolutely consult with your doctor about the best strategies for dealing with this. I make sure to hydrate the day before, of, and after my big runs. Same with nutrition. I spread out my refueling over 48 hours. Check out other Running Coaches Corner posts for more info on hydration and fueling.

7) Supplement Use

Again, consult your doctors. I take a selection of vitamins throughout the year (Folic Acid, Vitamin D, Probiotic, Women’s One-a-Day, a few others) throughout the year, but during training, I have also taken iron and stool softeners (Iron makes you constipated, as well as being rough on your stomach. CONSULT A PHYSICIAN BEFORE TAKING). I have a proven history of anemia (thanks to the ulcers and inflammation), thus an iron regimen, but I take a more powerful one when I am menstruating or training. Runners tend toward anemia often, so that + Crohn’s = likely the need to take iron. I did not this past time after my illness in November (and the constipation associated with it), but I have been advised to start again.

I do not take herbal remedies of any sort–you MUST consult with a physician before starting any of those, as they can have adverse effects on your medication or condition.

8) Carry the right equipment

Ok, full disclosure here. I run with a few sheets of TP, a little bit of money (in case I have to purchase drinks or the rights to use a bathroom), and ginger with me during my long runs. And I always run in a pantyliner. Let’s just say that I’ve had more than just the “trots,” mkay? I also have Uber on my phone.

9) Rest/Recovery are non-negotiable

You may be taking some powerful medications or downing a green smoothie every day, but that doesn’t mean that you are invincible. Some bodies need rest the day before the heavier days, some like rest after, some need both days. Figure out what works for you, but know that you might need more of it than the average person. That. is. OK.

alex massage team challenge

He is my minion. Like Despicable Me but less prone to wearing overalls.

Also, request more foot and leg rubs. Because, you know, chronic condition and all….

Here is a great post on Optimal Muscle Recovery

10) Have the right support team

Surround yourself by people who believe in you and want to help you achieve your goals. Support System for the Win!

What the Suzlyfe does best--obnoxious and loud and making people laugh by yelling ridiculous things at them as they ran by. We all have our skillz. Don't be jealous of mine.

What the Suzlyfe does best–obnoxious and loud and making people laugh by yelling ridiculous things at them as they ran by.
We all have our skillz. Don’t be jealous of mine.

Many people scoff at the idea of running a marathon for healthy people, many scoff at leading a “normal” life with a chronic illness. Try putting those two seemingly inconceivable notions together and see what reactions you get! But also? DON’T surround yourself with people who will just blow smoke up your ass. Ask them to be critical, but not critics, if that makes sense. You will be going through the same mental and physical battles as everyone else, after all! Sometimes, you will need that kick out the door, or someone to keep you from taking it. 

A chronic illness won't keep me from #marathon training with these tips! #runchat #running Click To Tweet

If you’ve never run a marathon before, or are worried about doing so with little experience, hire a running coach with experience with chronic illness such as myself (I can work with you and personalize your schedule) or look into joining a charity team. I ran with Team Challenge, and though I did not train with them, they were amazing for many of the runners who were running with chronic illnesses. At races, they have doctors just for TC use, in fact. Many of the mentors have the diseases themselves, or close family members, and they have all done this before–they will help you through. And, the sad truth is, you might not be “successful.” But regardless of what happens on race day, know that you are a complete, unerring success in taking your life to the next level and living beyond expectation. 

You are living Your life on Your terms. Know that the terms might change, but they are still yours. 

Chronic illness or not, what is your biggest challenge when it comes to training?

Join the link up and Running Coaches Corner for more great running advice and content!

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I am linking up with myself, Rachel, Lora, and Debbie for Running Coaches CornerPatty, Erika, and Marcia for Tuesdays on the Run, Nicole, Annmarie, Michelle, and Jen for Wild Workout Wednesday, and Ilka and Angela for Food and Fitness Sunday. 

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