By BAMRbassador Alison Burke

As I was growing up, I watched my mom dismissed by her doctors with the same symptoms I now have developed over the last 15 years. They are very typical thyroid disease symptoms: hair loss, weight gain, exhaustion (and I mean, like first trimester exhaustion), GI issues, development of food sensitivities, really dry skin, brain fog, joint issues, and tightness in my throat.

running with thyroid disease

Alison (left) and her mom, before she passed away in 2017.

My doctors said the same thing hers always did. “You’re a working mom, of course you’re tired,” or “Have you tried limiting carbs?” One doctor told me to remove eggs, gluten, dairy, so I ended up vegan for an easy whole food approach to my diet. And then, said doctor, gets frustrated and says, “Maybe you just need to shift your focus and not worry about your weight.”

But my favorite? “Maybe you need to work out more…maybe you’re not working as hard as you think you are.” A literal laugh out loud. I had just finished a half marathon and was in a maintenance phase before starting marathon training a month later.

Regardless of my symptoms, I want to keep my identity. I am the woman who can do it all: mom of 3 (19, 16 and 8) and my bonus step son (also 16), PTA president, ophthalmic technician at one of the best ophthalmology centers in the country, marathoner, wife.

I am also the woman who has Hashimoto’s.

So even though my mind wants to be all of these things, my body is saying something had to give. I take medication to control my symptoms, but I would be kidding myself if I just let things stop there.

So I turned to the place that many of us do: the Instagram feed.

I didn’t have to go far. One of my high school friends happens to be a functional chiropractor that pivoted her successful practice treating Olympians and celebrities to a virtual lifestyle program using movement to assist women with Hashimoto’s: her Hashi Ladies with Thyroid Strong.

One of the first things I see for the Hashi Ladies on the ‘Gram: “What NOT to do if you have Hashimoto’s: Too much cardio.” My stomach drops. No running?! Turns out, all of that adrenal fatigue and stress on the body causes inflammation. Ok, I’ll unroll my yoga mat and light a candle. (And not a scented one, of course; another Instagram post told me they can overburden my liver with toxins.)

I scroll a little further. Another lesson from Emily: “What NOT to do: Low impact exercise like yoga, Pilates and barre.” These practices could break down my already hypermobile joints and cause more structural damage, weakness and injury. Ok, scratch the downward dog in candlelight, but what about keeping mobility into old age?

So no cardio, no yoga.  What do I do, then? Her answer? Weights. Man, can she swing a kettlebell. I start to work strength into my workout routine more than ever before. It does feel good, I can’t lie.

But being a Hashi Lady is just the beginning.  I start to get an itch I can’t scratch. Like when you go on a diet and you start craving the emergency bag of potato chips in the cupboard. Or when scrolling through the new Runner’s World Shoe Guide, even though you’re not running. Wouldn’t that new style be absolutely perfect? “Good Lord, just get them,” my husband says from the table. I buy the shoes.

running with thyroid disease

Alison with said supportive husband, who condones both her health-related purchases and mileage.

What if I could find a way to run again? What if I work a little harder at staying strong, watch my heart rate and keep the stress on my body low? What if I have one more marathon in me? Hearing my resolve, my husband, always supportive, says, “I guess we’re running another marathon.”

The IG algorithm hard at work, I dig a little deeper. Perhaps I could supplement the thyroid deficiencies. I find a pharmacologist, Dr. Izabella Wentz, who not only lives with thyroid disease, but has cookbooks and scientific evidence to back up her solutions. I buy the books. “Of course you did,” my husband says.

Her reels are the perfect combination of informative and relevant. As she points with one hand to the same symptoms I am battling, the other hand points to solutions. Tangible—and super helpful. On her advice, I integrate ashwagandha, thiamine, selenium, magnesium, and digestive enzymes to fight the low stomach acid typical in Hashimoto’s. (Oh, and I also add Athletic Greens. I probably have the most expensive pee in the tri-state area. I might as well buy stock in Athletic Greens).

I don’t think I need to start trying lymphatic drainage. In fact, I may have it coming together. My hair has stopped falling out. My joints don’t hurt as much. I am not losing weight, but I am maintaining it. “Maybe I will take a chance and try a half marathon first,” I think to myself. When I tell my doctor about my 13.1 ambitions, she is so proud because I’m not planning on fixating on the size of my pants or my time. Instead, I want to fixate on a goal that will keep me feeling clear headed and still able to move well.

running with thyroid disease

One of these children—not to be called out—calls Alison’s vegan burgers “peanut burgers.”

Before I sign up for the race though, I have one more thing I wantd to try: adding grass-fed, free-range beef and chicken and wild caught salmon back into my diet. There is strong evidence that animal protein is beneficial for thyroid health. (Plus, if I am this far in, I might as well go all the way.) My super vegan sister gasped from across town. I could hear it. My first smokey, juicy burger is  persuasive and makes my son, who insisted on calling the vegan option my peanut burgers, happy.

Long story short? My husband and I sign up for a half marathon in April. Not everything is going as smoothly as I would like. I clearly don’t have all of the answers. I wish I could run the miles like Courtney Dauwalter and eat nachos and pizza on the course. I have tried, but gluten still isn’t my friend.

But I am taking power back into my own hands by  taking the time to decide what I want to do, and how I want to do it, instead of letting the symptoms run my life. If that means spending a little too much time on Instagram, buying some cookbooks and new shoes, so be it. It’s better than watching cat videos all day.

Want more? Here’s an episode of our podcast, talking with two women who have thyroid issues. 

Are you running with thyroid disease? Any perspective to share?