I was diagnosed with MS at the beginning of the first lockdown. I’d just had my first following clinical relapse where I had complete double vision and a loss of sensation down my right hand side. It slowly corrected over the next few weeks, but I was left with double vision in my lateral gaze. My main symptoms are optic neuritis, which means my right eye always feels like the contrast is turned up a little bit. I have pins and needles in my hands and legs and a crawling sensation down the right hand side of my face. I also get muscle twitches, fatigue and I struggle a bit with my cognitive function, especially during a really busy day.
Before I was diagnosed with MS
I was running fairly regularly. Between 2015 and 2017 I completed a couple of half marathons and some 10k races. Running was part of my daily routine. Then we had two children, who kept me pretty busy so it became a struggle to fit running in. During that time, I tripped over a drain cover and broke my arm. Looking back on it now that could have been MS showing itself, because I never really understood why I tripped over.
After my diagnosis
My MS diagnosis changed absolutely everything for me. I was in a pretty dark place. It was during the first lockdown, so we were all stuck inside. I was trying to understand what was going on with me as it took a while to get the final diagnosis from my neurologist. I did a lot of scrolling and researching on the internet, which didn’t really help at all. Eventually I realised that I needed to make this into a positive thing. That’s when I recalled that back when I used to run, the exercise made me feel so much better. It gave me more focus and energy. So, I started running again. Purely because I was inspired by this, chap called Ramon Arroyo. I watched a film about him called 100 meters which is about his MS diagnosis and his subsequent relapses, and how he went on to run an Ironman event. It completely inspired me and just changed my thinking. It was that that gave me the drive to think “right I can do this again”.
I didn’t know at that time, but when you’re in a period of relapse it takes quite a while to recover. So, it was really tough. I started running the first couple of weeks like I ran in 2015. My body was not ready for that. For a few days I was hobbling around but it did give me the drive to keep going. It’s a long drawn-out process and it took a while to regain the fitness, but slowly that came back over time. My running has become so important to me, as important to me as taking my DMD’s every day. It gives me the benefits of focus, energy etc. So I started to run fairly regularly again. I started to do five Km’s a few times a week, and then upped that to 10 Km’s.
I never thought I’d get to the point where I was doing a marathon. I was doing half marathons a few years ago and I never dreamt that I would be able to run, 20 plus miles! I just thought it was completely unachievable, but it is amazing what you can actually do.
If you focus on something, it astounds you, even when you hit the smaller targets like running for 20 minutes or running for 30 minutes. When you reach those achievements, you feel so proud of yourself and you should be, because it takes time and it is fantastic. The feeling of that achievement is brilliant. The first Parkrun I did that for me was huge. I’ll never forget it, my family came to watch me and it felt so special. It was a big achievement and then it became a regular thing. Running is a very personal challenge, you’re not competing against anyone else, it’s purely about you competing against yourself. Maybe you want to do a quicker time, maybe you just want to run a little bit further, or maybe you just want to run a route you’ve never run before, there might be a hill that you’ve never run before. That’s, the great thing about exercise, that sense of self achievement. And that’s a really important thing.
Sometimes I do overdo it and I suffer more when I get back from a run. To avoid it I know I should be going to bed earlier. I should rest more. I should take more rest days. Sometimes when I run and get fatigued, my foot drops a little bit. I wonder if this could be the reason behind my fall in 2015, the foot drop could be the reason behind that. I’ve noticed on some of those longer runs, I have to focus on picking my feet up a little bit more than I used to. Getting over the first hurdle This time last year, I was struggling getting over that first hump of starting to run again. My body was getting used to it again. My body was suffering a bit from the running. But now I feel so energized after a run and my body feels looser, it feels more supple.
Running after work
I always run after work. I struggle to do it in the mornings. Basically I unfurl myself from bed in the morning. But at the end of the day, especially if it’s been a really busy day, I’ve get really bad brain fog and I struggle with my word finding. Everything’s just feels very heavy. But then after I run, there’s just clarity. Everything clears, the messiness in my head clears up. I feel great after a run and that’s, why it becomes addictive.
How do you keep up a routine?
For me running is like taking my DMD everyday. I am taking the pill because it makes me feel better, running is the same. It’s probably the single driver to get me out the door. I think you just need to find that focus to get out there. Of course, it’s hard to do that when it’s pouring with rain outside or if it’s sleeting or snowing, I procrastinate a lot. I sit there with my kids and I realise I’m not going anywhere! It is hard, but I think once you’re out the door, and you’re doing it, then it’s okay. I think it’s getting out the doors, that is the toughest bit