Running with a varicocele

A year and a half ago, I started to realize that my left-sided friend down under was significantly larger in size than the right-sided friend down under. I also noticed that exercises like jumping jacks or certain stretches caused me peculiar pain. It was the type of momentary pain I had experienced for years in a variety of settings, that I had always brushed off as something else. But this time it felt more intense, prolonged, and significant.

I decided to get it checked out, and to my surprise, I learned all about the stark difference between scrotums and friends down under. I had many questions, but unfortunately my doctor was more preoccupied with my Sport Management degree. All of that mattered very little, given that the ultrasound by the woman who looked like Juliet from Lost found that it actually was my left-sided friend down under that was causing the pain. They had found a vein – something that I had no idea how to pronounce at the time (a varico-chelly or something), that was only prevalent on that side.

The vein was associated with infertility, and the rate of that infertility was said to be even higher for those with pain. You could surgically remove the vein, but doing so wouldn’t be particularly smart for blood flow. You could also do some yoga exercises and eat grapefruits, but otherwise, there wasn’t much you could do. Naturally, I walloped around hopelessly for the next year or so, continuing to go about my life thinking that there was nothing I could do to heal the dull, aching pain robbing me of my future three daughters that all play tennis together.

It took a year and a half, a night of severe physical pain, and a friend who knew me well enough to snap me out of that mindset, to start putting my treatment to the forefront of my life. She didn’t quite get the nature of the condition, repeatedly asking me “where is your wiener in all of this?!” But the sentiment was nice at least.

Shortly thereafter, I restarted my running journey. To my amazement, I am yet to experience a run, day, or night of pain since I started my treatment plan of yoga and grapefruits. Don’t get me wrong, I take about fifteen to thirty minutes per day on inversions and self-care, and I also eat oranges. Any time I feel the pain coming on, I put my legs up or thrust my hips in the air like they just don’t care, and suddenly I’m back to normal. But the caution is still there with the running, and it’s meant I’ve needed to adapt my approach.


Since starting my training process and varico-chelly healing process all at the same time, I’ve tested out many different clothing options. Most of the running shorts I own come with mesh of their own, and testing these out has been good for breathability, but not quite as good for support. The friends down under do a bit too much hugging and high-fiving. Other shorts are simply too tight around my tree trunks. The friends can’t breathe in the oxygen from the trees, even if they’re better supported.

Through trial and error, it’s been about finding that happy medium between slightly looser-fitting clothing, that still manages to offer the right support. It’s meant that I’ve not only needed to get rid of quite a few items, but invest in new materials that have the necessary support. I’m still experimenting with running tights, which as their name suggests, can be quite tight. As the months get colder I’ll certainly be testing out how it feels to wear looser fitting pants on the run. I think I already know the answer.

But even in cold weather, the act of exercise naturally creates heat within the body. This means that the vein widens, and the pain intensifies. Cooling treatments like cold showers and inversions have been vital, as has letting the friends down under simply have room to breathe…clothing free. As it turns out, sometimes the best clothing for varicose veins just so happens to be no clothing at all.


In the monotony of my regular 9-5, I’ve also had to be cautiously careful about where and how I sit. If you can picture a puddle without any way of escaping, you’ll get not only a sad and confusing image, but the concept of a varicose vein. Varicose veins like mine enlarge when the blood pools together, and loosen up when the blood flows naturally. The act of exercise naturally encourages positive blood flow, just like grapefruits. So despite what my infertility books tell me, I do believe that running long has been great for my condition. It’s just meant that I’ve paid more attention to giving the friends down under a post-run freezie or snow cone, in any form available.

But at work, I’ve needed to find the right chairs to quietly sit in pain free, and which ones to avoid (I think the tester of 99% of our chairs didn’t have a head or a neck). I’ve found one that also happens to be the same chair I sat in at my old workplace, and I’ve been completely cool, while the air down under stays equally cool.

I’ve upped my yoga and pilates game, increased my in-take of oranges and cayenne pepper (never together, don’t worry), stopped wearing tight belts to work, been more cautious about clothing choices when cycling or HIITing it up, and given myself regular walking breaks to calm the microwaved puddling and get back to cool, easy-breezy times. I think all of this has only led to better physical and mental health, across the board. So not only do I have to thank the friend asking me where my wiener was, but the varicocele itself for allowing me to seek better health.


One of my favourite parts of my treatment process has been the daily introduction of inversions. From Happy Baby to Upward Dog, I’m slowly feeling like I’m setting myself up to have happy babies and…that doesn’t make sense Rhys. But the inversions have genuinely been great. When the night winds down, I simply do a yoga series or put my feet against the wall, and even read a book! It’s been years since I read regularly, and having a varicocele, on top of the tired legs from running, has actually allowed me to read more.

The other fun one is the hips in the air like they don’t care, and this has been a great way to stretch out the muscles after exercise. Knowing how helpful these inversions have been in both my running recovery and the rescue mission of the friends down under, I think I’ll be the leading ultra runner in the art of inversions moving forward. Forget those camping soccer mom chairs at the aid stations. I’m laying down with my feet up.

This might even need to be something I test out across longer distances, getting blood flow back into all the necessary parts of the body, from the feet to the friends. I do slightly worry about the dizziness of getting up too quickly in an already deprived state, so this would need to be something I test out. But given the improvements in blood flow, muscle soreness, strength, recovery and flexibility, I’m not sure why this isn’t a more common cooling method for ultra runners at aid stations. Perhaps I’ll pave the way, so long as my plantar fasciitis starts to enjoy life as much as my friends down under. Then we’ll all be happy.

In the grand scheme of life, I’m not sure if I’ll ever have a happy baby. But for now, I’m living pain-free with my varicocele, and running 100k+ weeks without worry.

Thanks for reading & see you soon!

Strava Profile | Rhys Desmond


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