Running with a colostomy bag has been so much better than running during a Crohn’s flare up and running after performing a colostomy irrigation has been every better, but there are risks.
Early Colostomy Bag Runs
Back in April 2020 I started running again post-surgery and I had a taste of the some of the potential issues you can experience running with a colostomy bag – I had a few mid-run bag changes, I experienced ballooning but overall my experience was good. I even managed to complete some races including spending an entire day travelling to Lundy Island and running a 14-mile trail race. I was always prepared for bag changes with spare supplies.
Then I stopped running again and after more surgery I switched to irrigation which was going to bring even more benefits.
Running After Irrigating
Due to ongoing issues with the colostomy bag I made the decision to switch to colostomy irrigation and it was a game changer. After irrigating I could head out the door for a run without worrying at all about what would happen with the bag. The irrigation had flushed everything out so apart from wind, there was nothing to come out.
I restarted my running seriously 4 months after starting irrigating so by this time I had become confident about running after an irrigation and initially I would take spare supplies with me but then gradually started to forget. In some ways this was a very important step to being more ‘normal’, to not think or worry about the stoma, to just head out the door and run.
My irrigation schedule was originally every day but I’ve managed to get that down to every other day largely without any issues. I’ve used this to my advantage when it comes to following a training plan as I can fit in early morning runs without getting up extra early to irrigate.
I’ve been back running for 5 months and have increased both the frequency of my runs and the distances that I’m running. For many runs where I wouldn’t take anything with me such as a drink, I also wouldn’t take any colostomy supplies and things have always been fine. For longer runs I have been taking some basic supplies with me consisting of a single colostomy bag, poo bag and a dry wipe. I never needed it and thought it was enough should I need a bag change during a run.
Last week my training plan called for a 21-mile run and I adjusted my irrigation plan accordingly so that I could get up on the day and not worry about irrigating before the run (another reason is being cautious . I had already runs of a similar distance without any issues although they were not all run 24 hours after irrigating. For one or two of them I had irrigated the night before just in case and that probably helped reduce the risk of any issues arising.
For this run I headed out 24+ hours after the last irrigation with the usual minimal supplies (actually an afterthought as I originally didn’t pack any) and didn’t think there would be any incidents.
Around 9 miles into the run I started to feel some sensations around the stoma and presumed that it was related to the parastomal hernia so carried on but at 11 miles I experienced a ‘warming’ sensation in the same area and stopping to take a look revealed that for the last couple of miles the bag had been leaking.
At this point I was in the middle of a housing estate with some choices to be made. Do I stop now and finish the run? Do I attempt a quick bag change in the housing estate or do I continue until I find somewhere more secluded to change? Do I continue further and hope the hernia support belt ‘keeps everything in’ before changing the bag?
I was determined to get a good time for the distance so was gutted I had to stop so decided that I would do a very quick change and try and clean up as best I could. Unfortunately I don’t carry plain water with me (there’s usually some electrolyte mix added to it) so I couldn’t use that to moisten up the dry wipe so cleaning up was challenging. That said, I think I only lost 3 minutes before I was back up and running and eager to finish the final 10 miles carrying my little black poo bag.
Running through a populated area I thought I would be able to quickly get rid of the bag but it took 6.5 miles before I encountered a bin to deposit the bag. To make matters worse, by this point the replacement bag had also started to leak, and leak quite badly. I only had a few more miles to go, and I was running home, so I ploughed on and hoped the hernia support belt and other clothing would keep everything in place.
I was conscious of both appearance and smell as I was running in an increasingly built up area but I’m sure most people weren’t aware of the situation. Underneath the clothes things were getting pretty messy but I was determined to keep on track and get a good time, and I was pleased with the end time, and the hot shower!
What Have I Learned?
Irrigating has been such a big game changer in allowing me to run without worrying about whether I will need to a bag change but I really need to start carrying a better change kit with me on longer runs. I was lucky that I was close to home when the accident happened rather than on one of my ‘town-to-town’ runs that I like to do. For the runs that are far away I think I need to irrigate on the day of the run or the night before if I need to start the run very early.
I still think I can get away without the need of a change of bags on runs below half marathon distance but beyond that I need to ensure I take a better stock of supplies, and some wet wipes. Looking back I used to suffer terribly with the runner’s trots and then things improved greatly with the colostomy bag and with irrigation improved even more. Apart from the odd accident like this one, in some ways I’ve got an advantage over other runners.