By Marianne Beirne **
I am a chocoholic. I have a little bit of chocolate every day. That’s why I run. Or rather that’s why I started to run.
It began in my 20s primarily as a weight management practice. I considered running a necessary task to counterbalance my love of sweets. But as with most chores, I did it begrudgingly and with little joy. I struggled with getting through a mile. Over time something happened though. Without noticing or deliberate intent I was able to run 2, then 3 miles at a time.
Somewhere in my 30s, I discovered how much running soothed my mind. Stressful day at work? Relationship heartaches? Hit the road! After a mile, whatever was plaguing me would simply melt away. I had more energy. I slept better. I felt good – despite the occasional aches and pains. What once was a necessary “evil” became so integral to my life I would actually become cranky when an injury or scheduling prevented me from runs.
Running a half marathon, however, is something else altogether. Nowhere in my daily feel-good runs did I pick up a desire to run marathon distances. Five to 6 miles a day kept me happy and fit. I wasn’t driven to push myself beyond my normal capabilities. Then my friend Brenda reshaped my thinking. Brenda has MS.
Multiple sclerosis – commonly known as MS – is a degenerative autoimmune disease that attacks a patient’s central nervous system. Symptoms often include gait and balance problems, fatigue, and numbness (among others and different by patient). When she was diagnosed with MS in 2005, Brenda was overweight and inactive. She couldn’t walk a mile. But being handed a diagnosis for an incurable disease shocked her into trying to improve the aspects of her health she had control over. She began walking and watching her diet. She lost weight – a lot of weight. And she started walking more and more. She felt how the changes in her diet and exercise helped her manage her MS symptoms.
“Physical activity and exercise are crucial elements to healthy living with MS,” says Mariko Kita, MD, director, Virginia Mason Multiple Sclerosis Clinic. “For some patients with MS, pain, fatigue and mobility issues, among others, can make the idea of exercise daunting. But exercise can take on many forms and I encourage my patients to find a regimen that works for them.”
Brenda recognized how her walking benefited her living with MS, so she kept challenging herself to do better. That’s when she started participating in races.
I don’t know how many races Brenda has completed since her diagnosis – there have been that many! She carefully monitors how exercising impacts her MS symptoms. Prone to tight hips, she must stretch before, during and after a walk or race. Still, she considers herself lucky – she knows others with MS who struggle with severe joint pain that make regular movement difficult. So when Brenda told me that she was going to participate in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon this past June, I was inspired to do the same. I am glad I did. As exhausting as the race was, I knew I achieved something significant.
Many others did something significant that race day, though their part is largely unsung. Many Virginia Mason volunteers mixed and doled out gallons upon gallons of Gatorade for we thirsty runners. It must have been a long day for the volunteers – set up for the racecourse started before the first 7 a.m. wave and didn’t close until early afternoon. But I, for one, was extremely grateful for the Virginia Mason staff and hundreds of others who gave their time that day to make sure I was hydrated, safe and had a good run.
And Brenda? She did great – completing the 13.1 miles faster than the goal she set for herself.
Dr. Kita sums it up best: “Bravo Brenda! You are an inspiration to us all!”
Besides chocolate and running, Marianne loves the outdoors — particularly the water. A former Connecticut Yankee, she now produces web content for Virginia Mason’s external and internal websites.