This is in no way an “Official” post on what it’s like to run with MS, but the build up in my mind over the past couple weeks makes it feel like it is. I searched the internet in hopes of hearing from other runners with MS, but didn’t have much luck. Sadly, it’s probably not all that common. So I guess I wanted to share what it’s like for me, and if others find me and chime in, the more the merrier, right?
This whole running thing started more than a year ago, when we lived at a different house, in a different neighborhood, and the kids went to a different school. The bus stop was a 3/4 mile walk, so after the kids got on the bus, I would walk back home the long way, completing an almost two mile walk. It got me thinking that I could maybe walk 3 miles, or 3.1, which is equal to the popular 5k run. As soon as I verbalized this idea around my son, he was anxious to participate in a race with me. Now, his intention has always been to run a race, but I told him from the get-go that I wasn’t sure I could run it. The sweetheart he is, he said he would go at whatever pace I could. He just wanted to be with me.
See, my MS started with balance issues. I was falling a lot back then, and I still fall sometimes, or wobble when I’m turning my head. So I don’t trust my balance. To attempt running with poor balance seemed foolish to me. At the time, of course. Fast forward a little more than a year, and somehow I got it in my head that I could actually run. We have a treadmill at home, with handles for safety. I thought, “Why not try?” So I did. I downloaded a couch-to-5k program to give me some guidance, and I started training. You know what I found? I found that the intervals where I had to stop running and just walk briskly didn’t go so well. I actually did better if I just kept running.
But here’s the inside story, the way my body reacts to the running. In case you’re interested. The first thing that happens is that the ringing in my ears gets really, really loud. This tinnitus is something I experience 24/7, but it’s usually quiet enough that I forget it’s there. It’s just something you get used to. But after about 10 or 15 minutes of running, that ringing just cranks up to full volume. It’s how I know my body is working hard, I guess. And this actually has nothing to do with my MS, it’s just a side effect of my hearing loss. But I digress.
The second notable thing that happens to me is the foot drop. This is very common for people with MS. The Mayo Clinic describes foot drop as a general term for difficulty lifting the front part of the foot. Some whose disease is more progressed experience this all the time, or when they are experiencing a full-blown relapse. Mine shows up when I’ve been sitting for too long or am super-fatigued. And when I’m running, of course. Now, when you can’t lift the front part of your foot, you often end up tripping on it. So when I’m running and I sense those toes starting to drag with each step, I have to really be careful to use all the muscle I have in that leg to lift my foot high enough to avoid tripping over my own foot and crashing head first to the ground. The good news is that it’s only ever one foot at a time, but I never know which one it will decide to be on a particular run. I do know that it usually starts around the 2.5 mile mark so at least I can be looking out for it.
I’ve been training since early March, and by now I can run at least 3.1 miles. I run the whole way! No walking! Now I’m just working on increasing my speed. I’m pacing myself, but each run I push a little harder, run a little faster, and pray that it doesn’t kill me or send me into an MS relapse (I’m not sure that actually happens, but I plan to ask my neurologist). Overall my fatigue levels have stabilized, my blood pressure is strong, and I think I’ve even started building muscle. I feel stronger, inside and out.
My motivation started with just running (or walking) a race with my son, but it built into a more personal goal. Now I’m doing this for my health, and to give an emphatic “up yours” to this disease. I want to prove that MS doesn’t have to limit me. It’s a permanent condition, yes. I understand it’s here for the rest of my life, and someday it very well may take my legs. But not today, damn it. Today, these legs are still within my control, and with them I am choosing to run.
Our race is coming up on May 6, so wish us luck! And if you’re in town, come on down to the Mason State Bank and cheer us on 🙂