When most people opt for a new fitness regime to improve their lifestyle, the last thing you think will happen is discovering an incurable life-long condition.
Unfortunately, this is the everyday reality for fitness fanatic Jeff Finnie, 52. The security guard, originally from Sheffield and now based in Swindon, was diagnosed with Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) three years ago after going to the doctor with severe stomach cramps, extreme bloating and red-raw eczema.
It was one thing for Jeff to hit 14st and make some dietary changes, but another thing entirely to alter his whole lifestyle - playing a dangerous game of trial and error with his diet. Five years on, - despite suffering an excruciating IBS attack during the Swindon half marathon in 2016 - Jeff is undertaking 20 half marathons by 2020 to raise money for the UK's only IBS charity, the IBS Network based in Sheffield.
“It’s [IBS] overlooked," he says, "no one’s interested. I think a lot of people think that people with IBS just get cramps and diarrhoea, but it’s a lot more than that. We’re on a really strict diet because certain things trigger certain things off in your gut – it’s hard to explain."
Despite a new diet IBS continues to be an issue for Jeff - especially as there is no prescribed medication for the condition aside from pain relief supplements such as Buscopan. When he suffered an IBS attack during the Swindon half marathon he said, "it’s like someone’s got a knife and they’re grinding it in your stomach.
"I consider myself really lucky – there are many people who have IBS a lot worse than me. So, I am in a position where I can run to raise money for the charity because I can.”
Initially Jeff started looking into IBS five years ago when the symptoms really started to kick in, but as so little was, and still is, known about the condition doctors said he'd just have to 'get on with it'. After being told countless times there was nothing that could be done, Jeff started doing his own research to improve his lifestyle and help raise awareness of IBS.
His original goal was to run the Sydney full marathon for the IBS Network, but he decided he wanted to build himself up to make sure he could do it. "I want to know I can do that distance before I commit to it – there’s no point in going all the way to Sydney not knowing whether I can do it or not."
Ahead of IBS Awareness Month in April, Jeff kick started the first leg of his challenge with the Gloucester half marathon in January, which will be followed by races in Lisbon, Sheffield, Swindon, Portugal, Philadelphia, Valencia and eventually end in Sydney for the full marathon in 2020. For someone who says they're not competitive, Jeff has certainly waged a war against people's disregard for IBS syndrome.
"Doctors aren’t interested," he says. "They haven’t got the time. And if they’re going to start looking into it, then they’re going to have to do that for every single person, which is going to take up a lot of their time.
"Even dietician-wise IBS isn’t looked at – they have nothing to do with it. It’s very hard to find a nutritionist who deals with the IBS side of things because of all the restrictions.
"I found the FOBMAP Diet almost as soon as I got diagnosed. So, I went from being in constant pain and eating anything to following this new diet and it worked. But I’m going to have to live with this for the rest of my life."
Despite his condition, and a few minor injuries along the way, he says it's not all "doom and gloom". As a keen traveller and photographer this challenge will enable him to visit places, he couldn't justify the expenditure on before. "My friends keep inviting me to come to Australia, and I thought ‘it’s a lot of money – I want a purpose to go there, so I’ll run the full marathon', which I’ve never done in my life. But I can arrange anything, and I’m not stopping running just because of an injury - unless I can’t walk completely.
“I just enjoy life - I’m never bored.”
TotalGiving page: www.totalgiving.co.uk/mypage/ibs2020
Jeff's website: www.ibs.ibs-2020.co.uk