From Illness to Ultramarathon

It was 2008, and at 5’3″ and 178lbs, I no longer recognized the girl in the mirror. My 110 lb, size 0 frame was long gone. I was sleeping 20 hours a day and wearing a heart monitor. My digestive system had shut down almost completely. I couldn’t even feed myself cereal. The spoon would be empty with shaking from the effort it took trying to get the spoon from the bowl to my mouth. I was depressed and weak. In fact, I was dying. It would take several years, numerous tests, and a partial diagnosis of a thyroid problem before I would start feeling somewhat normal again. The doctors would diagnose and treat me for an under active thyroid. We didn’t realize they were wrong.

Over the next five years, I would lose weight and gain energy, only to gain weight and lose energy a few months later when my body rejected my medicine. It was a slow, painful dance. The constant weight change and sleep patterns weighed heavily on me. I was full of anxiety and terrified I would return to that helpless, obese woman.

The Fall of 2013 was life changing for me. It was not because my doctors found the right answers, but rather a combination of two unrelated things. I had finally decided to start fighting aggressively for my life and I was desperate to find out what was causing my 10 year old to have tummy aches.

My friend in Oklahoma was celiac. She thought that Keely was too and suggested we remove gluten from our diets for two months to see what would happen. Since doctors were not finding answers, I felt I had nothing to lose. I decided to go organic as well. I also began running the same week my family went gluten free and organic.

couch to 5k

I started with the Couch to 5k program. That first day, I couldn’t run a block. It was demoralizing. Two weeks later, I was 1 1/2 miles into the program, when I had to stop for sore, bloody heels. My “running” shoes had eaten my heels. I took them off and limped slowly and painfully back to my house. I then drove to Robertson’s and got fitted for my first pair of shoes. When I returned home, I hit the road, determined to finish my program.

The balance in learning to run, while completely changing a way of eating and keeping house as a single mom of two, was daunting. However, I was determined. I started out by switching noodles and cereals to gluten free. That way, it was not such a shock to our mental systems. Now, we don’t eat cereal at all and noodles are a rare treat. I would have at least 10 fruits and veggies cut up and available at all times. Keeping things easy and handy proved to be the key. The girls and I slowly adjusted to a new way of eating. Keely would ride her bike to accompany me on my runs. She would blast Pandora from my phone in her basket, and we would laugh and talk over the music. Sometimes, she would pace me. She liked yelling at me to catch up, saying I could do it. We lived for those days after work and school.

I lost 36 lbs and ran my first half marathon three months after starting running. It was hilly and I finished in 2:33:01. I said I would never try a full after that. How little I knew myself. Seven months after I started running (and 4 after saying I would never run a full), I completed my first marathon, the Hatfield and McCoy (one of the toughest 15 fulls in the United States). One year after I started running, I ran my first ultra. Although I went home and slept for 17 hours, I had never felt more alive. During my Spring racing season, I gained back 30 of the 40 lbs I had lost. What was going on? I took in a food diary to prove I was not overeating or eating junk. My doctor was stumped. How could I be running 75 miles a week and gain that much weight? I should be pencil thin, not gaining. The answer was to be found in gluten and another diagnosis.

exercise and hashimoto's

In addition to removing gluten from our home, I began researching everything I could find about celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. I joined several groups on Facebook. Thanks to a Facebook suggestion, I stumbled upon an endocrine disease called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. This endocrine disease causes your body to attack your thyroid. If left undiagnosed and untreated, you can die (year 2008 for me). I looked into it and discovered I had most all of the symptoms. The main one being easy weight gain that was ridiculously hard to lose. Could I have just found my diagnosis? We added gluten back into our diets after several months. Keely and Paige had no visible effects. We discovered shortly afterwards that Keely’s stomach issues were caused by stress. We found the cause and she’s had no other issues. Although Keely was not sensitive to gluten, I quickly discovered that I was. I had been cheating and eating gluten when I carb loaded for races when I was out of town. Gluten and carbohydrates were causing all of my weight gain! They were also causing me to be sick and have terrible digestive issues. I had been thinking I had a sensitive stomach. I stopped cheating and found other ways to carb load. The weight dropped right back off and I stopped getting sick. I felt I had enough information now to get the answers I needed.

I made an appointment with the Cleveland clinic for testing. It was worth the five hour drive. I finally received the right diagnosis. I had Celiacs and Hashimoto’s. For years, I had been fighting a battle for my health with all of the wrong information and tools. For the first time in over eight years, I finally felt like I was in control.

I had been moving in the right direction when I removed gluten from our home. However, with Hashi things are much more complicated when it comes to diet. Food plays such an integral part in your health. I discovered through a long trial and error phase, that I am lactose intolerant and intolerant to about 70 percent of all foods. I went on the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP diet) and found that my bloating, digestive issues, weight gain, and a host of other symptoms disappeared. I was starting to feel like a normal person again.

As I began healing my body through food (and Armour, a more natural thyroid medication), I began running more. Keely surprised me and joined the cross country team. We began running together. My anxiety and fears slowly started to disappear. I was getting healthier and happier with each passing day. I was finally living my life again, not just surviving it.

race day essentials

Today, I weigh in at 115 and am once again wearing size 0’s and extra smalls. I stay in constant communication with my team of doctors. It’s extremely important to be proactive and aware of any changes in my body and sleeping patterns. It’s easy for my health to spiral out of control if it’s not closely monitored.

Running has changed me and I cannot imagine life without it. Since December 2013, I’ve completed 26 half marathons, 15 full marathons, 5 ultra marathons (with a 50 mile being my furthest distance to date), and many miscellaneous distances in between. I had two ultras I was unable to finish due to injury (mile 28 and 17) and it broke my heart. I’m fortunate to have a child that loves running as much as I do. Since starting cross country last fall, my 12 year old daughter has completed 2 half marathons, one 15 mile, and one 25k trail.

running to health

I have an incredibly difficult and exciting race schedule planned this year. Three one-hundred mile races are the highlight of 12 ultras on the calendar. I feel the most alive when I’m out on the trail, pushing myself to go further, willing my body to go the distance. I finally have control over Hashimoto’s and my life and I plan on living it to the fullest. I’m no longer dying or surviving, I’m thriving.

Editor’s note: Thank you, Tasha, for sharing this incredible story! If you want to keep up with Tasha’s running journeys follow her on Instagram.