Many thanks JennyChan for prompting me to write this post, which I have been planning in my head since the beginning of this year, when I started the C25K programme. I have noticed that there is very little information on this forum about the issue of stress incontinence, even though I know it’s a problem that affects many female runners. I hope this post helps someone.
Apologies in advance for what may be a bit of a long and rambling read, but I think it’s helpful to put things into context. Also, it may be a bit TMI for some.
Let’s wind the clock back to around 2010. My youngest child (of 3) had just started nursery school, and I decided it was time to get back into shape. I started running three times a week, and discovered Parkruns. In 2011 we moved to France. A very snowy winter kept me indoors for a couple of months but I got back in the saddle and kept on running through the summer of 2012 and into the autumn. One autumn day I was running my usual route along a disused railway when I felt a gush, and realised my bladder had given way. I was shocked and mortified, and immediately turned around and walked back home. I tried another couple of times but the leaks continued, so I stopped running.
Not long after this I was laid low by a severe bout of gastro-enteritis or food poisoning. I spent two weeks on the loo, and the diarrhoea had blood in it. The gastro cleared up eventually but the blood didn’t. I went to the doctor, who told me not to worry, it was probably haemorrhoids, try this cream and come back if there’s no change. There was no change, so I went back, and he reluctantly (because I was over the magical threshold of 45) referred me to a gastroenterologist. It turned out to be colon cancer, so 2013 was spent in surgery and chemo.
In 2014 we moved, again, and I was doing plenty of walking by this time. One of the side-effects of the chemo was a loss of sensation in my extremities, and I found myself stumbling every now and again, because I couldn’t feel my toes. And when I stumbled, I tended to leak. I got used to wearing sanitary towels whenever I went out. I mentioned the problem to my gynaecologist, and she suggested a TVT operation. I thought about it but somehow there never seemed to be a good time to be unable to drive for a few weeks.
Another year went by and then in 2016 I decided enough was enough. I’d had enough of letting incontinence restrict my life and stop me from doing what I wanted to do to support my health. So I had the operation in November 2016. It was pretty straightforward and the discomfort was minimal. According to the literature, I could resume “vigorous exercise” 6 weeks after the operation, so 28 January 2017 was the day I marked on my calendar to begin the C25K programme.
I still leaked when I ran, this was expected in the early days, so I continued to make sure I was well padded before I ventured out. I thought I saw a bit of improvement in the incontinence, but nothing dramatic. I carried on with the programme anyway.
I think it was in week 8 when I had a horrendous run – almost as soon as I set off I could feel that familiar gush. But I didn’t turn back and completed the run. By the time I got back home my lycra leggings were damp to the knees and I headed straight for the shower before any of my family could see me.
I decided that what had gone so horribly wrong was that I’d run in the afternoon for the first time. Previous runs had all been first thing in the morning, or just before lunch. So for the next run I went back to my old routine and everything was fine.
So here we are. I graduated from C25K and am now training for a 10k in October. I still suffer from stress incontinence, although not as much. I don’t know what to say about the TVT operation – it has been in the news recently, and although I haven’t had any pain or awful side effects, I don’t know if it actually helped me. I have the feeling that the reduction in my incontinence has as much to do with running as the operation. As my general muscle tone and core strength have improved, I think everything has tightened up a bit. I manage the incontinence by making sure I am amply protected (I haven’t succumbed to Tena Lady yet, normal sanitary towels work fine) just in case, and ensuring that I am mildly dehydrated when I go for a run (sorry IannodaTruffe but that’s what works for me). Just before lunch, after drinking copious amounts of coffee through the morning, is my best time.
There was a point, about halfway through the programme, when I remember deciding that, even if I had to wear nappies, I was going to continue running anyway. The sense of being in control that I got, just from deciding that I was going to be a runner, more than outweighed the loss of control over my bladder.
So my advice to others suffering from similar problems is – invest some time and effort into learning how to manage it. Management will include timing, clothing choice, protection, diet, choice of route, possibly surgery, probably other things I haven’t thought of. And once you have a management strategy, just go out and run.