I May Not Run Anymore, but Every Day Is a Marathon With MS
I grew up playing sports but never enjoyed running.
What I loved was the competition that came with athletics. During the summer, my friends and I would play football until dark when our parents yelled down the street, “come home!” As I got older, I would play racquetball for hours, engrossed in the sheer intensity of the game. Four walls and a little blue ball comprised the battlefield and left my opponent and I drenched in sweat and exhausted.
But, lacing up some shoes and going for a jog around the neighborhood or on a treadmill? No thanks. That just wasn’t my thing.
In the fall of 1998, that all changed.
I had just graduated from college and wasn’t in the best shape. For the past four years, I had adopted bad habits: consuming the college diet of pizza and beer, staying up too late hanging out with friends or studying, all with little physical activity other than walking to and from class.
Post-college, I had started my first corporate job and was met with late nights at the office, happy hours and once again – very little in the way of aerobic movement.
I didn’t like the way I felt with the extra weight I had put on. So, one Saturday afternoon, I put on my shoes, walked outside… and went running.
The first time must have been a sight to see. Within moments I was huffing and puffing my way through the surrounding neighborhood.
My apartment was right next to a trendy hub of shops, bars and restaurants. My first thought as I was running was – next time, I’m going to do this early in the morning to avoid the crowds of onlookers giggling at my running form, or lack thereof.
The other, more serious, thought was – no matter what, just don’t stop. No walking. Run. I don’t care how slow of a pace it is, just keep going.
I started small. Probably didn’t run for more than 10 minutes, just a quick loop back to my apartment.
But each time, I built up more distance. Within a few weeks, I had a pretty good
routine going. And by month two or three, I was actually starting to feel and look like a runner! I lost a lot of my college weight, felt healthier and even did a 10k.
For many years after, whether I was on a business trip or a vacation in Las Vegas, Hawaii, Denver — through heat, rain or even snow, I was running.
I was considering training for a half-marathon and then eventually – maybe a full one. Why not?
Then in 2007, when I was out for a run, my left leg gave out underneath me, once, then twice as I stumbled back home. A year later, after lots of other random symptoms, an array of medical tests and a trip to The Mayo Clinic, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Although I didn’t realize it then, my running days were coming to an end.
It wasn’t a sudden change. I wasn’t told I had MS and woke up the next morning unable to run. It was a subtler progression.
MS impacts the central nervous system (CNS) causing a traffic jam by slowing down or stopping the nerve signals traveling from the brain and spinal cord.
As a result, I would fall down steps at work, easily lose balance while playing basketball and often be overcome by extreme fatigue, making being active difficult.
My body would routinely have other flare-ups, causing damage to my vision and speech; even the simple act of standing became painful.
In 2011, I medically retired from the corporate rat race to focus on stabilizing my health.
Now it’s 2019 and running is but a distant memory.
I miss running and all that it gave me – pushing past the mental and physical struggle to find peace in those intense moments of exercise, feeling the stress of life fading with each new step I took. Not to mention the excitement of keeping
track of my improvements over time, in speed or distance.
It’s been a hard transition. I’m still active, just not in the same way.
Now I go for walks, hike with the family or just take our dog around the block.
Whenever I’m moving, after a certain amount of exertion, my right foot starts to drag behind my left, courtesy of the traffic jam on the CNS freeway. The struggle, as they say, is real.
The other day, as I was limping home, it dawned on me, I might never compete in an actual marathon but, each day with MS, I’m running my own kind of marathon.
Just waking up and getting ready for the day can be laborious. Most things I used to take for granted, like meeting a friend for lunch, writing, playing with my kids or even taking a short stroll are all dependent on my energy level, pain threshold, vision limitations or whatever else MS is throwing at me in that particular moment.
Instead of improving my time, speed and distance, MS has decreased my ability to move and increased the time it takes me to do almost anything.
So how do I train for this marathon?
Like I did back in 1998 – by doing something – even if it’s small – and not caring if anyone is staring or laughing.
I’m not at the local gym benching my own weight; rather I’m at home working my grip strength and maintaining muscle mass with dumbbells. Instead of running, I walk; sometimes I even do it backwards to work on my balance and foot drop. Often, it’s a family outing — I want my children to see that I’m still mobile, no matter the physical struggle, my will remains.
I’m not 10 years old playing under the neighborhood street lights ‘til dark, or 22 sprinting around trendy shops teeming with people. But MS hasn’t changed who I am inside; somebody that craves competition, progress and fitness.
I see the mile markers and although the pace is slower on this Life Less Traveled marathon, I’ve got the same motto… just keep going.