Several years after I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I discovered running. I don’t really know how it all started. When people ask me, I always use the Forrest Gump quote that I woke up one day and "I just felt like running."
Running has contributed to my overall health and well-being, and it is one of the key strategies that has helped me manage life with multiple sclerosis. (See related blog post, To exercise or not to exercise? That is the question…)
Although strenuous at first, it became less and less of a struggle with every run. I started out small and would just run down my street and back again. Then, I went a little farther and a little farther, and soon I was regularly running about three miles a few days a week.
I found that I thoroughly enjoyed and cherished the movement of my body during a run. It was confirmation to me that my body was still a working and powerful structure, and not this fragile thing being eaten away by multiple sclerosis. While I can’t fully control what is happening inside my body, I can do as much as possible to fight it every step of the way. I found running was empowering me in this fight and making me stronger mentally as well as physically.
I discovered that I could get “into my head” and work out stressors or problems that were happening in my life. After a run, everything seemed to be less of an issue, and solutions to problems seemed to magically materialize. I daydreamed and fantasized while I ran, and even do so today. I often think of the ghostly image of me in 2003 - hardly able to walk and dragging the left side of my uncooperative body behind me. This apparition is a constant companion on my runs serving as a reminder and a motivator that keeps me going.
Being an athlete my whole life, running was awakening something in me that I thought I had to give up after my MS diagnosis. I decided to run my first 5K in 2008 and I loved the spirit of the event, the community, and the competition. I want to mention that I’m not competing with others. (After all, our family motto has always been “We may not get there fast but we will get there eventually.”) I’m challenging myself, and I love the feeling of accomplishment after a run is completed.
After several more years and dozens of 5Ks, I decided to try an even greater challenge. In 2013, I signed up for a 10-miler to mark my 10th anniversary with MS. Looking back, I know that I did not train properly and I did not hydrate well before and during this race. I did finish the 10 miles without stopping but afterwards, I felt like I was going to die! It took me about 30 minutes to shuffle across the parking lot and to my car where I sat for another 15-20 minutes working up the strength to drive home. Once home, I jumped into the shower and experienced extreme pain when the water hit my body. I was out of commission for the whole day and pretty much the next day too. In fact, that following week is somewhat of a blur. I swore that I would never ever do any kind of distance run like that again. Famous last words.
I hate feeling defeated and like I can’t do something so I decided to try again. This time, I signed up for a half marathon to mark 13 years living with multiple sclerosis. (I’m big on anniversaries, if you couldn’t tell.) It was a challenge I wanted to undertake to prove to myself that I could do it, but this time I was going to make sure I trained properly.
I trained for months and followed the schedule as closely as possible. Much to the chagrin of my family, I ran in all weather conditions and at various times of the day. I listened to my body as best as I could but I did have runs when my legs and feet went numb, when I tripped and fell, and when I lost bladder control. I even had one run when I was convinced I was bringing on an exacerbation because it felt like tiny pinpricks all over my arms and chest. Turns out, the water bottle on my hip was slightly open and spitting tiny bits of water up at me as I ran. (Yeah, I felt a little silly about that one). But through it all, these things were only temporary and fleeting and I just kept going. I was convinced that the positives far outweighed the negatives. I love having a goal to work towards and I actually felt great!
I’m proud to say that in July 2016, I finished that first half marathon in 2 hours, 1 minute, and 12 seconds. I proved to myself that I could do something I never thought I would be able to do, let alone after 13 years living with multiple sclerosis.
So here I am again. I wasn’t sure if I was going to do it again but I suppose something got into my blood. I now have about 3 months of training before running my second half marathon. I will have my ‘MS Warrior’ t-shirt on and I will proudly run not only for myself but for the MS community. I’ve heard a lot of you say that MS took your running which breaks my heart, but please know that you are all now with me on my runs. I think of you and I think how MS actually made me a runner. You will be with me as more motivators and I will continue to do it for as long as my body will allow.
I know running is not for everyone but I can’t encourage you enough to find something, anything that brings out a passion and a sense of empowerment within you. I think it makes one feel more alive and gives back control of this disease that can make one feel so powerless. In a way, running is my way of trying to keep ahead of this disease and perhaps, trying to outrun it.
Hey MS! Catch me if you can!
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