the patient celiac


jess running

Running has played a major role in my ability to cope with and heal from celiac disease and my other autoimmune issues.

Although I ran track in middle school and high school (sprinter), I really struggled with endurance and running during my undergraduate and medical school years due to anemia, fatigue, and chronic joint pains--symptoms which, looking back, were probably due to undiagnosed celiac disease. I vividly remember trying to return to running after having my 2nd child in 2008 when I was 30 years old. I was trying to get in shape via a podcast program called "Couch-to-5K” and I felt like I couldn't catch my breath. It was freezing cold outside, I slipped on ice and fell, and started crying on the side of the road because I felt out of so out of shape, sore, cold, and helpless. By the time I worked my mileage up to a 5K I was pregnant with my 3rd child (she was born 17 months after #2), and after she was born I got very sick from celiac disease.


After my celiac diagnosis in March 2010 and starting the GF diet, I found that I was able to pick up running again rather quickly, as I felt healthier than I had in years. I trained for and ran my first 10K, the Green Bay Bellin Run, in June 2010.  This was followed by my first half-marathon in September 2010, and I've completed multiple half-marathons since then. I ran my first marathon, the Cleveland Rite Aid Marathon, with my friend Melinda in 2013, and as of writing this post I am training for my 5th marathon.  I’ve also participated in several relays, have been able to volunteer with my daughter’s school’s running club, and ran the New York City Marathon for the  Celiac Disease Foundation's Team Gluten-Free in 2014.


Since my celiac diagnosis I have run with neighbors, cousins, and friends, through heat and the Polar Vortex, across bridges and along beaches, at the crack of dawn and in the middle of the night. It is when I am on long runs I find that I am able to be truly in the moment and feel connected to the world. Running is my therapy and it makes me a better person, wife, and mother.


I’ve been asked by many for tips on running with celiac disease. From my personal experiences, I’ve found that the following things help me. Please keep in mind that we all have different experiences with celiac disease, so what helps me may not help you (and vice versa).


Diet: I am 100% gluten-free and I never cheat. In the weeks leading up to races I minimize processed foods as much as possible and eat tons of green leafy vegetables, lean meats, bananas, and sweet potatoes.  I do increase my intake of GF carbs prior to long distances, including brown rice pasta, risotto, squash, and GF oatmeal. I am soy free, sulfite free, and dairy light. The Paleo diet did not work for me when I tried it in 2012.


If I am travelling for a race, I scope out restaurants far in advance and I rely a lot on social networking for recommendations for gluten-free, celiac safe recommendations. Laura from the Gluten-Free Traveller and Erin from the Gluten-Free Globetrotter have been very helpful. I also make a ton of phone calls to possible restaurants in advance.  I also always travel with a stockpile of emergency gluten-free food, including Zing Bars and Vigilant Eats Superfood Oat-Based cereals.


Hydration and Electrolytes: I bring water with me on any run greater than about 3 miles and use Nuun tablets for runs greater than 7 to 8 miles. All flavors of Nuun tablets are gluten-free and I’ve found that my system tolerates them much better than Gatorade. I do sip Gatorade when I run through aid stations during the half and full-marathons though.  I use the vanilla flavored Gu Energy Gels for runs longer than a 10K. Although all of the Gu Gels are GF, vanilla are the only ones that do not given me GI distress.


Yoga: I go to a heated Vinyasa yoga class 1 to 2 times a week (less the weeks I am on service in the NICU or travelling). I use my yoga sessions for stretching, strength training, and flexibility.  Since starting yoga I’ve had less injuries and the I-T band issues that developed during my first year of distance running have disappeared. Yoga seems to also help my body to reset quicker after getting "glutened."


Accidental Gluten Exposures: This usually happens while I am travelling because our entire home is GF. I am not able to run at all within the first 24 hours of getting glutened because I usually feel like I’ve been food poisoned.  If I have a long run planned and am in the middle of training for a race, I just delay the long run by a few days. If it’s a short run I skip it totally and try not to worry too much about making it up.  I drink as much fluid as I possibly can after I've been glutened and try to take at least a brief walk the day after. Fortunately, with time and experience, the accidental gluten exposures have happened less and less.


Finding Time to Run: I bring a gym bag with running clothes, sneakers, and deodorant in it everywhere I go, so that I can fit short runs in if the opportunity presents itself. I have run on a treadmill in the rehab room at my hospital and I have run laps around playgrounds while my oldest kids have been playing. Just last week I dropped my niece off at a day camp on a college campus and I fit in a 3 mile run on the campus trails.  I literally "run" my errands as often as I can, and have run to pharmacies, Redboxes, the library, and the grocery store. I do not care if people see me when I am sweaty and/or stinky after running.


Following Blogs of other Runners with Celiac Disease: Here are a few that come to mind and inspire me. I am sure that I am forgetting some and will add them as I remember.


1. Rececca from Eat, Run, Crash.


2. Laura from G-Free Laura


3. Kim from Gluten Free is Life.


I plan for this page about running with celiac disease to be a work in progress. If you're also a runner, and/or would like to start running, and have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, please feel free to leave a comment, introduce yourself, ask questions, etc. I'd love to meet and connect with you.


Copyright Jessica Madden All rights reserved