Loneliness of the long-distance (J-pouch) runner

Illness and J-pouch surgery were no obstacle to a former triathlete’s ultramarathon success. Everyone with a J-Pouch is a winner!
Just ask Tom Plater.

Good marathon runners are a rare breed – and outstanding ones a very rare species indeed.  RLG member Tom Plater, who’s specialist skills are marathons and ultra-marathons, is certainly one of the latter. A red-blooded Lion to his core, you might well say. But what makes Tom’s latest achievements even more remarkable is that he has a J-pouch.

Four years ago this 37-year-old former triathlete and ironman faced a markedly different test of his resolve and stamina when he discovered he had FAP (familial adenomatous polyposis), a condition that, if left untreated, can lead to bowel cancer. Soon after the diagnosis, Tom was told by two St Mark’s Hospital consultants that he would need surgery to create a J-pouch. Recovery would be tough, but he would be able run again, they said. 

Brave to a fault, the optimistic consultant project manager says: “Even as I was being bombarded by new information, well-informed advice on recovery and cautions about my mental wellbeing, I’d already fixed my sights on getting back to normal,” During his six months with a stoma, Tom started running again “wearing baggy clothes”, as well as local cycling trips and “finding evermore reasons to not go to the office”.

However, as Tom says, his first run post-op was “terrifying and the decisions to be made endless “. So, he resigned himself to being a gym bunny, never venturing outdoors. Then one day he spoke to a friend whom he’d met during his earlier Army career who said he was organising a marathon in the famous Brecon Beacons. Tom duly signed up. 

l leapfrogged from marathons into the unnatural world of Ultras (ultra-marathons)

The event turned out to be a huge confidence boost and a return to my love of being in the hills with friends,” says Tom.

Then the following year, 2020, the intrepid runner leapfrogged from marathons into the unnatural world of Ultras [ultra-marathons] when he entered a 100km race. To get into shape for the event, Tom adopted a keto/high-fat/low carb [carbohydrate] diet (HLFC), the theory being that fat-burning ketones reduce the volume of food needed during a race and so lessen the risk of any malfunctions. Aided by the relentless encouragement of his family and friends, Tom “stumbled to the finish of the race in 12hrs 29mins”

Tom mid-descent

Then he heard about an even more challenging event – the North Downs Way 100 – a 100-mile-long ultra-marathon that was being run over the national trails of Hampshire, Surrey, and Kent. 

100 miles of non-stop running, utilising a digestive system that is no longer capable of letting me sleep for more than two hours in one stretch was a totally ridiculous idea. But the madness of it relieved most of the worry throughout my training and into the build-up for the race” says Tom. And Tom also had a secret weapon – a handy little bag of M&S Percy Pigs.

I got to the start-line totally convinced that with these gummy children’s sweets and another product called Tailwind nutrition for athletes, I could complete at least 37 miles of the race in one stretch with no J-pouch malfunctions” says Tom.

“After finishing that first third of the race, I found the rest of the course was made up of glorious off-road trails and the becalming effects of a hot English summer’s day.

As ever, Tom kept a nary eye out for any source of relief. “I did my best to let go of my anxiety when facilities weren’t at the marked aid stations and made the most of the euphoria of seeing an unexpected loo stop when it appeared,” he says.

Eventually Tom achieved his pre-race goal of completing the race in under 24 hours – not one of his fellow competitors realising that this former triathlete had recently had two major operations and was the proud owner of a unique piece of man-made anatomy. 

Tom at the finish line

Tom’s ultra-marathon efforts also raised £2,350 for the St Mark’s Hospital Foundation and £1,350 for the Help for Heroes military charity.

As this brave Red Lion says now: “I am convinced that a J-pouch can reach whatever goal is on its owner’s finish- line.”

Congratulations Tom!

Jason Bacon, CEO of the St Mark’s Hospital Foundation, commented:As someone who enjoys running and occasionally gets out for a 10k or half marathon race I stand in awe of Tom Plater. Tom’s run was a truly remarkable feat and raised £2,350 for the Foundation for which we are truly thankful.  Importantly Tom also raised awareness that having a pouch is not an impediment to achieving extraordinary physical feats.

Tom Plater

A version of this article first appeared in ROAR! If you would like to read other articles like this, why not become a member of the Red Lion Pouch Support group? You will receive printed copy of ROAR! twice a year and have online access to archive ROAR! editions going all the way back to issue number 1, published in 1994.

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Gary Bronziet