Interview: Running the Boston Marathon with IBD

Have you ever gone out for a jog and after about .5 miles realized “this isn’t that easy”?

Imagine running 26.2 miles! Then imagine running, training, and preparing for that incredible athletic achievement while also living with IBD.

That is reality for my friend, and talented runner, Caitlyn Pilkington.

She has been a highly competitive and successful runner since grade school. I met Caitlyn when we both mentored and completed TriRock triathlon in 2011 with Team Challenge San Diego.

She was one of the first to show me that living – and living actively – with IBD was possible. Prior to starting that triathlon training I wasn’t too sure I could/should/would complete that race. Seeing Caitlyn show up each week and knowing she lived with the same disease was incredibly motivating. And just trying to keep up with here on the swim and bike portion of training was a fun challenge – I knew I had no shot at running anywhere near as fast as her! We both have ulcerative colitis so that helped us become friends even quicker.

So when I heard that Caitlyn qualified for this little race back east called THE BOSTON MARATHON I wanted to ask her a few questions about her incredible achievement and what it will be like for her to run “the World Series for the average marathoner.”

  • Quick word of caution – her words will motivate you to get up and do something active…whether you are lying on the floor in pain from your IBD symptoms or living flare free and feeling healthy I think her words can be inspiring and motivating for anyone looking to live life with more strength and nutrition. 

Who got you started in running?

My dad got me into running. He ran competitively in high school and college, so naturally I inherited that gene. The best story I remember of how it all started is the one I was told about the high school track coach up in Petaluma (North Bay near SF) watching me pass everyone in my relay at the West Side Relays for 5th and 6th graders. I guess he looked at my dad and told me that I was for sure running for him when I get to high school. So I did! And I just kept at it for the next 17 years. 🙂

Who has inspired you and/or inspires you now?

Oh wow, so many people inspire me. My parents inspire me for different reasons. My dad for everything he’s accomplished in his running career and all the knowledge he’s passed down to me. My mom because she took up running much later in life and just kills it in every race she does. Us finishing TriRock together a couple years ago was probably the best race of my life. My sisters inspire me with everything they do and how they continuously accomplish these great things that make me out loud go, “WOW!” My Team Challenge family inspires me – I consider myself lucky to be as healthy as I am, but so many of them have dealt with much darker sides of IBD and still get out there and do what they can on any given day. My best friend, Kirsten, inspires me. Not only has she been my number-one running buddy since 2003, but she’s also so good at just grabbing life and living it. Nothing holds her back; she lives the way I love to run. I seriously cannot name all of the TCers in that family that inspire me, but Skip is definitely at the top of the list. I’ve never in my life met a person that gives as much as he does, along with his wife and coach, Linda. Those two are never first, even if it means moving their own training/life agendas around to accommodate another. I just want to live life like they do, and I want to train like a badass like I constantly see Skip doing and believe in myself like Linda is constantly showing the team how to do. My boyfriend, Ryan, continuously inspires me with his attitude to always be better than yesterday and always see the best parts of life. I run with more joy because of him in my life.


What has training been like?

Training has definitely had its ups and downs, and overall it’s been very different than training for Carlsbad, my first marathon. I felt like I had something to prove at Carlsbad, both by running a time that would get me to Boston and just proving in general that I could physically run a marathon. I’ve had some really amazing runs and I’ve had some really incredibly terrible runs that left me in tears. But I think my mind has gotten so much stronger these last four months, and when I realized I was gaining strength in an area I’ve always struggled with, training got a bit easier. Overall I think I’m not quite as physically fit as I was before Carlsbad, but mentally I’m much stronger, and I think that’s what’s going to matter most in Boston.

What has been your biggest obstacle to overcome with preparation for Boston while training with ulcerative colitis?

Haha, the question is, what ISN’T the biggest obstacle? I would say remembering to have patience, because you really can’t control when your intestines are going to act up. There have been mornings where I started a run an hour late because I was in the bathroom, and there have been others where I cut off the last mile because I’m cramping too much. You can eat all the right foods and do all the right things and wake up the next morning feeling totally shitty. I think the key for me, and really for anyone dealing with any disease and training, is to have patience and forgive your body. You literally can’t do anything but let it pass on some days—and it only took me 10 years to learn that! I’m about to run a freaking marathon, of course my insides are going to flip out. Patience is truly a virtue, both with colitis and with running a marathon.

When did you first want to run in the Boston Marathon?

I think every runner felt drawn to Boston in some way after the bombings happened in 2013; I know I felt like I was personally attacked that day. But I really wanted to run it when Meb Keflezighi won in 2014, becoming the first American man since 1983 to do so. That moment was so pivotal in so many ways; he gave every runner in this country hope after such a tragic day, it was almost impossible to NOT want to run after that happened. I’ll never forget watching them play the National Anthem (they play the anthem of the winner’s country after the race), and the camera zooming in so close on Meb’s face, you could see the tears streaming down his face and the wreath on his head shimmering. He looked like a total warrior. I cried that day too.

Where did you qualify for this year’s race?

I qualified at the 2015 Carlsbad Marathon.

mashup of photos the day I qualified (dude I ran with was my friend Dave Easa, who pulled me to my goal to break 3:30 over the last 8 miles)

Where do you see running leading you after Boston? Any other races lined up this year?

with Lauren Fleshman – outspoken in the running community, I’m going to her running/writing camp in September in Bend, Oregon
Nike media event at the 2015 Prefontaine Classic. Won the camp’s mile race.

Haha, Boston is leading me straight to a one-month hiatus from running! I don’t currently have any races lined up, but I’m eyeing the San Diego Half next March as a chance to try and shatter my half-marathon PR. I’m also being talked into MAYBE doing a trail race this winter…but we will see.

Why is running the Boston Marathon such a special event?

Wow…as the trailer for the documentary says, it’s “everybody’s marathon.” It’s the nation’s oldest marathon, with so much history behind it. I really learned why it was special when I worked as media at last year’s race. It’s like the Super Bowl of running for the age-grouper. It’s the World Series for the average marathoner. Running in Boston, especially after 2013, is a way to represent something bigger than yourself. I can’t even call it a race; it’s an experience. The entire course is lined with screaming—SCREAMING—spectators, and the entire city shuts down for the event (it’s Patriots’ Day, so no one is working). I’ve run so many road races I’ve lost count, and I’ve never seen anything like Boston in my life. I almost can’t even describe it, but I’m sure I’ll have something to say after I run it! This year is especially noteworthy because it’s the 50th anniversary of the first woman completing the race. The best showing of what it means is this trailer. To me, it’s the ultimate way to prove to my body that I can be bigger than ulcerative colitis and I can do something as powerful as Boston. 

How does running help you with your ulcerative colitis?

Running keeps me “regular,” if you catch my drift! It keeps my insides moving. From a nutrition standpoint, running forces me to fine tune everything I eat, thus encouraging me to really comb through what works and what doesn’t

a) for a runner and

b) for something with colitis.

People have called UC the “skinny disease,” which I hate. Yes, I have genes that allow me to maintain a certain body type, yes, perhaps UC does make it so I can maybe keep some extra pounds off. But what people don’t realize is when you’re so sick that you’re 5’8” and 115 pounds soaking wet, that gets into your head. And when you run and realize that you know how to manipulate your disease into making sure you don’t put on extra weight, that’s dangerous. That’s where I was at training for Carlsbad, and it was a dangerous place. I knew I couldn’t go there again training for Boston. So now, I say running helps me remember that my body is a machine that needs fuel, that needs breaks for my stomach, that needs to be treated properly. Every time I step out for a run, I don’t look at how I can squeeze out one more mile, one more pound, one more whatever; I look at UC and running as working together, helping me learn more about which foods work, which times of day work best for running, which fuel works on the run, etc. Running helps me want to take care of and learn about my body and UC, not ruin it.

How can people follow you during the race and learn more about you?

@caitpilk on Instagram and Twitter is where I’m at, and people can track my bib #16385 with the Boston Marathon App

I’m always, ALWAYS, open to chatting about IBD, whether it’s to make jokes about poop or to have a serious conversation about how to cope with it.

FirstRunEarSurgery_Oct2015 (1)

Thank you so much Caitlyn! We’re all excited to follow you on Monday.

~with Strength and Nutrition

You might be interested in …