July 2, 2013
by JoAnna Kai Cobb
On April 18, 2003, my doctor told me that getting well was possible. For months, I had suffered from a mysterious condition that caused severe abdominal pain, weight loss, fever, and more. The culprit was Crohn's disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive system. My own body was destroying my intestines, slowly killing healthy tissue. Strangely, this knowledge lifted my spirits. Understanding the problem meant there was a solution, and my doctor had said that with a positive attitude, a healthy lifestyle, and medication, a normal life was possible.
As time passed, I gained strength. Even though abdominal pain was always present, I learned what made it feel better and what made it worse. While walking one fall day, I decided to run. After less than a quarter-mile, I had to stop to rest. However, while huffing and puffing on the ground, I discovered something. The Crohn's pain was gone.
Employing logic, I reasoned that if I ran longer, I could prevent the pain longer. That night, I registered for the 2007 500 Festival Mini Marathon. Soon thereafter, I questioned my doctor about the safety of training for and participating in an endurance event. His answer was familiar.
As expected, the Crohn's pain in my abdomen lessened as I trained. Long distance runs rendered me pain free. Running brought more energy, more zest for life, more healthiness, and a more positive attitude. I finished the May 2007 Mini in 2:18:22 without stopping to walk and considered it the greatest accomplishment of my life.
In subsequent years, my Mini times dropped - 2:15, 2:08. I began to dream of a sub-two finish. When I asked my doctor if he thought my body could handle that goal, I was pleased with his reply.
Every time I tried to reach my goal, Crohn's seemed to get in the way. Unfortunately, Crohn's affects more than the digestive system. It softens bones, weakens joints, and sabotages kidneys. Stress fractures, feeble hips, and kidney stones often halted my running efforts.
In late 2011, I devised a plan to thwart Crohn's and reach my goal. I improved my core strength to support my joints and was more careful with training mileage and nutrition. I started slashing previous PRs in a myriad of distances. I was poised to break two hours in the 2012 Mini. However, a nagging "twinging" in my left hamstring wouldn't subside.
Ten days before the race, I learned I had a stress fracture in my left femur that was two-thirds the diameter of the bone. I was devastated, broken, and on crutches. The relationship with my sub-two goal was gone for another year thanks to Crohn's, and I mourned the loss. How would I manage Crohn's pain? How would I make it another year until next May to try again? Should I even try again?
Could I even try again?
It was clear I needed a positive attitude. I joined a gym to maintain fitness safely in order to hit the ground running when I was allowed. To get my running fix, I advised other runners, which is how I learned about the Monumental Half. Scans showed that my leg was healing more quickly than expected, and I asked my orthopedist if he thought I could run a half marathon in November.
With my core strong from gym workouts, I started training again in late summer. Fearful of another fracture, my training featured low mileage and plenty of core work. My goals for Monumental were simple: make it to the start line, run consistent splits, and finally break two.
On November 3, 2012, I stood at the start line of the Monumental Half, adrenalized by the knowledge that my body was ready to break two. I was euphoric to have reached that first goal. I had never made it that far! As the gun sounded, I was near tears. This was finally happening.
The scenic course took me on a twisting tour of my favorite big city. The pack was energized, and the spectators were motivating. I heard the roar from Monument Circle long before I reached it. I encountered a running buddy at Mile 6, and he patted my shoulder and said, "You're finally going to do it."
After waving good-bye to the full marathoners, I began to experience abdominal pain which slightly slowed what had been consistent mile splits. Undeterred, I pushed forward. I had come too far to lose my goal now. The last miles on Meridian were particularly difficult, but the knowledge that it was possible to reach my goal pushed me forward. When I turned onto New York Street, my Dad was there. I managed to say, "Dad, I'm going to do it." His presence gave me the final push I needed.
I had dreamed of this moment for years, and it was finally mine. I finished the 2012 Monumental Half in 1:54:19. Reaching my sub-two goal was made sweeter by all the effort it took to get there. Crohn's had won many battles, but I won the war. All I could say was, "I did it. I did it." I was overcome with joy, thankfulness, and triumph. However, I was not shocked, because deep within myself, I always knew I could reach my goal, just like anyone can reach his or her goals. Life will provide obstacles, and goal realizations will be more satisfying as a result of the efforts to overcome those obstacles. It can be done.
JoAnna Kai Cobb