Monday, March 1, 2010

My Story

My name is Jim Balcom and I have decided to create a blog that talks about my running and all things related to it. I began running regularly in July 2009. For the past 20 years, I have exercised 4-5 times per week, almost always on the Stair Master and often by playing basketball. On the Stair Master, I would go hard for 30 minutes (usually level 12) and then would cool down for 15 minutes (for a total workout time of 45 minutes). I was in pretty good shape from this. Once in a while I would run on the treadmill (never outside because I never knew how fast I was running, and I need to know this), but after about a week or two of running my right knee would hurt and that would be the end of my running for 6 months. In July 2000, knowing that I was in great shape from my tough Stair Master workouts, I ran 10 miles with my friend RL in Chicago after not having run at all, and a week later I couldn't extend my right knee and ended up getting a cortisone shot to the knee. That helped but I figured that I wasn't cut out for distance running. In high school, I was a sprinter and ran the 110 meter and 300 meter hurdles (as well as indoor high and low hurdles). I was pretty good, not great, and won a fair amount of track meets (I still have the medals). My senior year, I won the Kenosha, Wisconsin county 110 meter and 300 meter hurdles titles. I made it to sectionals (right before state), but wasn't good enough to make it to state. I think my best 110 meter hurdle time was around 15.1-15.2. Not bad, but not good enough to make it to state or the next level. At this point, I HATED running distance and never, ever thought that I would become a distance runner. I remember thinking "distance runners are nerds, who would ever want to do that" or "they only run distance because they aren't fast enough to be a sprinter". I never would have imagined that 20 years later that I would, in fact, become an obsessed distance runner. Running has changed my life in so many ways, I am an addict. I am in the best shape of my life, healthy, energized, and my weight as of today is around 192. I am able to wear clothes that I haven't fit into in 15 years and no longer get tired in the afternoon. I haven't been sick in a long time, and all this, I believe, is because of running.

In early 2008, I began having some numbness in my toes as well as fatigue and exhaustion, despite being in what I thought was good shape. I exercised regularly, although my weight, usually around 200 pounds for most of my thirties (I just turned 40 on January 12), had climbed to over 220. I have Crohn's disease and am accustomed to fatigue and inflammation, but this was much worse. I saw 2 neurologists and had multiple brain and spine MRIs as well as 2 EMG tests (those of you that have had an EMG test know that they are not pleasant). I was even hospitalized for 1 day with suspected Guillan Barre Syndrome (because I was having a lot of weakness in my arms and legs). They were looking for MS or ALS (my uncle died of ALS at the age of 57 - in my mind, the worst disease there is - he was diagnosed at 50 and was in the best shape of his life). All of my tests were negative (thankfully). Once again, no explanation for my symptoms whatsoever.

I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 1994 when I had a severe flare up and was hospitalized for 10 days, where I almost lost my colon and almost had a blood transfusion. Luckily, I recovered (I tend to get very sick and then heal quickly). Over the last 15 years, the doctors have changed their diagnosis of me to Crohn's Disease, as I have consistent inflammation in my small intestine (usually ileum). I also get severe ulcers in my esophagus and mouth (as I write this I have about 15 of them in my throat and mouth and they are so bad that it is hard for me to swallow). I have consistent chronic inflammation in both my large and small colon. Since 1994, I have been hospitalized at least 10 times for Crohn's colitis flare-ups (most recently on 12/31/09 because the capsule I swallowed to take pictures in my small intestine got stock in my terminal ileum and caused a full small bowel obstruction - luckily, they were able to get the capsule out without major surgery) but I spent New Year's Eve and New Year's Day in the hospital. I have had severe pneumonia (Christmas day 1999) where I had 105 degree fever for 7 straight days and both of my lungs were almost completely filled with fluid, and typhoid fever (when I spent a month in the hospital after working in India). My immune system has always been very weak. As a result, I have always exercised 4-5 days a week. Exercise keeps me healthy by keeping my immune system strong. I haven't had a severe flare up of my Crohn's since 2004.

In 2008 and into early 2009, despite exercising regularly, I started gaining weight and reached 220+ (I am 6'1"). I was so tired in the afternoon that I needed to do something. When I was laying around watching TV one night, my heart felt like it was skipping a beat. I saw a cardiologist and got a stress test, and my heart looked good and fit. Next, I wore a holter monitor for 24 hours and it showed that my heart wasn't skipping a beat, but that it was actually adding beats, sometimes 500 extra beats an hour, even while sleeping. My doctor said that some people have this problem and live with it everyday. She said that I could take medication if it was bothering me. I opted against the medication since it wasn't bothering me much.

So, here I was, June 2009, 220+ pounds, having numbness in my arms and legs, with a heart adding beats for no reason, and feeling absolutely exhausted by mid afternoon. When a co-worker said to me one afternoon "do you need to take a nap?" as I was almost falling asleep during a meeting, I knew that I needed to change things up. I said to myself "what am I doing wrong? I gotta do something to change how I feel".

My answer - start running outside. 8 months later, I feel unbelievable and have more energy than ever.

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