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5 Tips on Running a Marathon to Help Manage MS

By Matt Cavallo

My dad has always been a big baseball fan. If his beloved hometown team loses a game or two, he is quick to remind me that the baseball season is a marathon and not a sprint. From an illness perspective, a sprint would be something such as the flu, where suddenly you feel ill and feverish for a day or two and then it passes, and you feel better. Multiple sclerosis on the other hand is a marathon. MS is a chronic, incurable condition that once diagnosed, will be with you for the rest of your life. 

Now that we have established that MS is a marathon and not a sprint, how do we prepare to live our lives with MS knowing it will go the distance? To answer that question, I wanted to see the advice marathon experts give to people running a marathon for the first time. Here are five tips on running a marathon to help manage MS.

1. Goals: Most people who decide to run a marathon set a goal of finishing that marathon. Once that goal is set, then they can plan and prepare for how they will achieve that goal. What would your goal be for completing the MS marathon? My goal is for MS to not define my finish line. I strive to lead a long, healthy life despite the challenges of MS. 

2. Planning: Most people can’t roll out of bed and decide they are going to run a marathon that day. It takes months-to-years of planning and preparation. This means that results don’t happen overnight, so it is important to set a plan and track milestones to help reach the goal of finishing the race. For MS, my plan is set with the help of my neurologist. I talk to him regularly about my goals, and we map out a treatment plan for how to achieve them. Just note that if your initial plan isn’t working, it is okay to try a new plan.

3. Training: A marathon runner needs to train in order to achieve their goal. There are many different kinds of training options for people who run marathons. Whatever training program a runner may choose usually starts with a self-assessment. What is their current fitness level? What is their running history? How can they avoid injury? They may keep a running journal to track their progress. Many times, runners will start a training routine and switch if they are not achieving optional results. For MS, this topic is most closely related to the disease-modifying therapy options. A DMT can help slow the progression of MS, which helps you focus on achieving your goals. With the amount of DMT options, it is important to take a self-assessment. How active is my MS? Am I relapsing more than remitting? Does my neurologist think I should take a more aggressive approach with my DMT? Keeping a health journal to track how you are responding to your DMT can help you know if your current treatment is effective or if you should talk to your neurologist about other DMT options.

4. Building endurance: A marathon is not about speed; it is about distance. Running a marathon takes both physical and mental endurance. Physically, the marathon distance can take a toll on your body. Mentally, you have to overcome the voice in your head that tells you to quit. These are the same challenges we face with MS. MS can take a toll on our bodies and how we function. There is also sometimes the voice in your head that tells you to give up. You have to develop coping strategies to build up your MS endurance so that when these challenges arise you have the tools necessary to overcome them. Coping strategies are unique to each individual and can be anything from exercise and meditation to spending time with family and friends or enjoying a hobby. The most important thing is to take time to do things in life that nurture not only your physical health, but also, that nurture your mental, emotional, and spiritual health too. 

5. Crossing the finish line: Once you set the goal of crossing the finish line of the marathon, plan, train, and endure, then there would be nothing sweeter than crossing that finish line. It’s okay if during the race you have to walk or take a break, the most important thing is to finish. Crossing the finish line means all your hard work and preparation paid off. With MS, crossing the finish line means you are living your best life despite the challenges of MS. Sure, you may need to take a break, and there may be many times where you want to give up, but endure and stay the course.

Baz Luhrmann said in a commencement speech, “the race is long, and in the end, it is only with yourself.” You’ve got this. See you at the finish line.