Friday, October 03, 2014

Spyros Barres Takes on More than the Marathon Distance on Sunday

Spyros Barres conquers more than the
distance he runs
Runners love challenges.  Some challenges, however, can be more difficult than others.  In January of 1999, Spyros Barres was faced with a big one.  One of the top Masters runners in his home state of Connecticut, Barres began experiencing the symptoms of what was later diagnosed as Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that attacks the stomach.

There is no cure for Crohn's disease.  It is not known what causes it..  For Barres it left in its wake a ten year struggle to manage the disease, to attempt to get back to a "normal " life.  He tried acupuncture, diet changes, even eating pig worms in an attempt to control the most severe symptoms: loss of appetite, rectal bleeding, 20 pounds or more weight loss, fatigue.

When none of these worked, Barres had surgery, an ileostomy.  His colon was removed.  He wears a colostomy bag to manage his fecal waste.  None of which sounds either pleasant or common for an athlete who still wants to test his limits.  But the operation worked.  His weight is back to normal.  He's running, training, and competing at a level near where he was before the disease forced him into a ten year hiatus from competitive running.

He returned to his childhood sport of soccer to stay in shape during his struggle to manage the disease, never giving up hope that one day he would return to running, to competing at a high level. In hindsight, he says, he should have had the operation sooner, but he feared that it would permanently leave him disabled, unable to engage in activities he had considered normal.

It was in researching the outcomes of the operation and recovery and the lack of results from any other mode of treatment that made him finally submit to the surgery.  Olympic swimmers, other high functioning athletes, have Crohn's, and after the operation were able to return to their sports.  So has Barres.  "I don't even think about it unless someone reminds me, talks about it," says Barres of his disease.  He's back to winning races, running near or at the speeds he did before he was stricken.  This Sunday he is attempting to run under 2:40 for the marathon.

His best marathon time is  2:32, which he ran when he was in his early 30s.  After his operation he has run shorter races at or near 5:22 per mile pace.  He ran Boston this year, again with the goal of breaking 2:40, but it didn't happen.  Bad race.  "I should have been able to do that at Boston," he says.  So he regrouped and has set his sites on achieving that goal at Twin Cities.

"I've always been an optimist, always had a hopeful attitude," Barres says.  While he can't "cure" the disease he can at least manage it, he says.  People who didn't know about his disease, wouldn't know his has Crohn's, he says.  Even if he was "wearing a Speedo, you wouldn't notice," he says.  He's had three and a half years of recovery, of successfully managing his condition.  He works at his job in real estate, managing properties, trains, does short races, even ultras.

Barres is determined not to let the disease control his life, limit what he can achieve.  And, he says with a smile, that his operation has left him with one "advantage" over other runners: "I don't have to make a pit stop" on long runs.  As a 50+ year old, Barres will take any advantage he can get, but he won't give up.  There are miles to go and goals to achieve.  On Sunday, he hopes to achieve at least one of them.


Timothy said...

Thank you very much for this article. I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (the other inflammatory bowel disease) about a year and a half ago, and I still have not found a treatment that works for me, meaning that I have not been able to string together any significant time of good workouts. This was a reassuring article. I hope that Barres has great success now and in the future.

Unknown said...

Thanks from me also. I'm a long time runner who was diagnosed with Crohn's when I was 14 (I'm 51 now). I'd agree with Barres that delaying surgery has generally not been good for me. I've had three partial removals of small bowel over the years. The disease is much easier to live with and manage now than 30 years ago because of the new generation of biologics.