Make your mess your mission
Drew Canole, You Be You
As I mentioned in Running Free 1::3., I am running better than I ever have this season - at the age of 42, freshly single with 2 kids - which is completely illogical. June of 2018 I had my first anaphylactic reaction while running as described here. In an attempt to basically NOT DIE while refusing to give up my passion of ultrarunning...here is the rest of that story, as well as my explanation for what I believe is part of the reason I have been running so well this year.
After that rather misfortunate visit to the Grace Hospital ER, I visited my family doctor and left with a prescription for 2 more Epi-pens and a referral to an allergist. Five months later I still had not heard from said allergist and I had had 3 more scary allergic reactions while running, so I approached a sports medicine physician friend to ask if she could get me a referral to anyone sooner, seeing as it genuinely was a sports medicine concern: exercise induced anaphylaxis.
Well, the expedited visit she was able to arrange for me (totally appreciated if not epically disappointing) was with a new allergist who didn't even want to take my history, pricked my skin a few times for the common stuff (milk, horses) and proceeded to tell me that there wasn't any good research on exercise-induced anaphylaxis and that I should just run on the treadmill or run with a friend. Ya. Right. Did you listen to me at all?!!! He then sent me a copy of an article that I had already read on the subject via a simple google search. Thanks for your time doc...and I left fuming that I'd taken a half day off for a brush off from doctor google.
I decided I couldn't wait any longer and booked an appointment with Dr. Gordon Sims, the naturopath who had helped me recover from Zion 100. He is a very thoughtful analytical doctor and as a runner himself, he knew how much my running meant to me. He understood that not running was NOT an option. We rationalized that something environmental was triggering my reactions, but since they weren't consistent, it was possible that my auto-immune cup was operating at 7/8 full. When stress, diet, etc brought me to the brink, all it took was a little environmental exposure to tip me over the edge. When my cup wasn't full, I could run without reactions just fine (most of the time). This made perfect sense to me, and I proceeded to donate a HUGE amount of blood for a blood test to determine what other things could be maxing my histamine response and immune system. My issue wasn't that I needed to boost my immune system, it was that it was operating in overdrive. Ironically I never get sick, but my body defends itself too well. Go figure.
This is what came back from my blood tests:
Late November, I eliminated everything in my diet in the moderate and avoid categories. Do you know how hard it is to avoid garlic?! It's in everything from Frank's Hot Sauce to pasta sauce to chicken wings. I'm an all or nothing kind of person, so I read ingredients for hours in the grocery store and often left with just a few items. I was committed 100% which is why I didn't really have any cravings. For a month I existed on a very simple whole foods diet that was gluten/dairy/egg free, as well as almond/peanut free, garlic/black bean/tumeric/sesame/beef and ginger free. Pretty bland but damn did I feel great! I lost 5-6 pounds almost immediately, and lost more inches than the pounds seems to justify because I wasn't bloated at all anymore. Over time I've added some of the spices and occasional almonds back in, but I'm still very strictly gluten/egg/dairy free and when I cheat I feel so gross that it's just not worth it.
I'm not saying this is the diet for everyone, but this testing showed me this is the diet for ME. I call myself a vegan who eats meat and I feel AMAZING.
Since then I've gotten in to see a good allergist who turned my arms into a road map of hives. She came to the same conclusion as the blood test from the naturopath with regards to the tree allergies. On her recommendation, I carry 2 Epi-pens and an inhaler when I run now, I take Reactine every morning (2 on race day) and Monoleukast every night. No more Benadryl - she says Reactine is better. I'm not crazy about the meds every day, but I'm doing it for this season at least. As for my diet, she told me that if I feel better to continue. So I did!
Why am I continuing my dietary changes? The benefits I've found are too good not to:
1) Effortless weight loss. I haven't actually weighed myself in the last 6 months, but my clothes are all too big and I'm eating 5 meals a day. Enough said.
2) No bloating. My stomach hasn't been this flat since I was in my 20s.
3) No inflammation. My recovery post runs has been mindblowing. When once I would have to wear compression socks and take a week off after a 50K, I can now run up to 13 miles the next day and feel fine. I haven't had DOMS all season despite trying to trash my legs repeatedly.
4) Increased mental clarity. Much less early morning brain fog. No mid day energy slumps.
5) Needing less calories while running. I must be fat burning or more efficient with absorption because I can go longer with much less now.
6) I'm faster. The biggest benefit has been increased performance. Of course weight loss will help any endurance athlete gain an edge, but I feel more steady energy now too, and consistent power especially on hills.
If you follow any of the ultra running legends of the past few decades, you will hear a theme among them. They all trained hard early in their careers. They all found they were training as hard as they could, but hit a plateau that they just couldn't crack through...until they changed their diet. Scott Jurek. Rich Roll. Chrissy Wellington. Laird Hamilton. Sally McCrae.
Food matters. What you put in your body matters. I was in soft denial of this for years but I can't deny it any more. What the best diet is for you may not be the best diet for me. There are so many diets and iterations out there that it's hard to know which direction to go. My turning point was when I was tested and got a plan for my body at this point in time. It's not keto, it's not paleo, it's not vegan, but it's ideal for ME. I plan to be retested at least yearly, because as my gut heals, it should become less sensitive and my needs may change.
Ironically, I can be thankful for a life threatening incident almost exactly one year ago that was the catalyst I needed to change my diet. I am not thrilled about the fact that oak trees and grasses are trying to kill me given they cover the province I live in, but I can be so grateful that I have discovered the power of diet to change my life and my performance.
I didn't bargain and go half-way while slowly eliminating things.
I made my mess my mission. When on the road to rebounding strong...
For me at least....do or do not. There is no try.