We have a real gem of a guest blog today from marathon runner Stuart Rose. He has been involved in some incredible work for the MS Community. His running has challenged negative perceptions of exercises and MS and he has raised valuable funds for the MS Society. If you'd like to find out more about MS visit the MS Society Website. You can follow Stuart on Twitter via @MS_Marathon and support his inspiring work by donating here.
I remember the time when I first felt that something was wrong. I was playing Octopush (underwater hockey) at my local swimming pool when I started to feel numbness down the whole of the left side of my body. I had absolutely no idea what it was. I went to the doctor as after a couple of days there was no signs of it clearing up. It was about 7-10 days before the symptoms stopped. A few months later I woke up with double vision and this affected my balance and walking as well as other everyday things like reading and watching television. I was sent for an MRI scan at the hospital and about 2 weeks later I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). I was 15 years old so I didn't really know too much about the condition. It came as a shock to me as I had heard about it but didn't really know much more than that. I wasn't sure if it was serious or not.
I decided during December 2010 that I wanted to set myself a difficult and meaningful personal challenge. I was very keen to test myself and to raise money for the MS Society in the process so I decided to take up distance running. This was immediately a challenge to me as when I was younger I loved sprinting but despised anything more than 100 metres! Also, I was aware of many negative stories about MS and wanted to create my own positive story.
In January 2011, I registered for the Loch Ness Marathon and also registered for the Inverness Half Marathon which I ran in March 2011.
At the start of my running, training was very tough as I was never naturally fit for running long distances. My training was regularly interrupted during the first few months due to wintery weather and also I developed a problem with my knee which affected me every time I ran. I found that I was only able to train once a week instead of the four that I had intended. In March 2011, despite various difficulties leading up to the day, I managed to get through the Inverness Half Marathon (in freezing, windy conditions and with painful knees) in a time of 2 hours and 22 minutes. After completing this challenge, I gave myself a few weeks break from running to try and work on strengthening my legs as advised by my doctor to help the pain I was experiencing.
I began training again in May 2011 and training went well so I was feeling ready for the marathon when it finally arrived in October. I set out on the race very slowly and managed to pace myself well. However, after mile 17 I really struggled physically and mentally as I left the banks of Loch Ness and began the steady ascent towards Inverness. I found this section of the marathon incredibly tough. I found myself walking slowly, wondering how much further I could go and struggled to maintain a positive mind-set. I tried to use all the mental techniques I had read about in books to help get me moving again. I felt absolutely exhausted.
I finally started running again at about mile 20 by which time I felt great. I had never been anything like as good as this before and felt like a completely different person. It all seemed so easy and I ran the last six miles faster than any other stage of the run. I have never experienced a feeling like it. Walking around with a medal round my neck for completing a marathon really helped me finally accept my MS diagnosis – something which I felt I had struggled with for the past seven years. I completed the Loch Ness Marathon in 4 hours and 58 minutes.
After the marathon I gave my tired legs a few weeks rest before signing up for the 2012 Inverness Half-Marathon. I trained during the winter and I felt quite well prepared by the time March came and I was on the start-line. The weather was significantly better than the year before (a lot less snow and conditions were tropical in comparison!) so I felt quite good in the opening few miles. I pushed myself in the last few miles of the half-marathon as I wanted to try and beat my time from the previous year’s race (2 hours 22 minutes). I crossed the line in 2 hours and 6 minutes, beating my 2011 time by 16 minutes! I was delighted at how well I had done and a few days later hit the £6000 mark in my fundraising.
I faced several challenges throughout training for the events that I ran. Firstly, as mentioned above, I had a problem with my knees which interrupted my training significantly during my first few months of training.
Also, training in the summer was a challenge for me. Hot weather can often make my MS symptoms ‘flare up’ so training during the hot days in the summer was difficult and hard to keep myself cool. Furthermore, fatigue as a result of MS sometimes prevented me from training meaning I sometimes had to reschedule my training plans at short notice which could sometimes be frustrating.
In addition to this, I trained alone which I occasionally found tough, particularly during my longer training runs. It was hard sometimes to keep going and keep motivated during these times but I focused on the final goal of raising as much money as I can for MS Society Scotland and that really helped keep me going.
I cannot emphasize how important the day I ran the marathon has been to my life with MS. That day was probably the most important in my life and was a point where I really accepted my diagnosis, something I had struggled with from the outset. Being so young when I was diagnosed made me feel that I had to grow up fast and had a lot of worries about the future. I feel very proud of myself and I know that my friends and family feel the same. I feel more positive about the future. I am receiving a drug called Tysabri once a month by infusion at my local hospital which has really helped keep my MS under control. I have been on the drug for three and a half years now and, unlike other treatments I have had in the past, seems to be working well for me.
Unfortunately due to other medical issues I have been unable to exercise as much as I would like to at the moment. Instead, I have still been actively fundraising and raising awareness of MS through social networking. I regularly raise awareness of MS every Monday through my Twitter account and this, I feel, has really helped raise the profile of MS and also put me in contact with many fantastic people who have been a fantastic support to me. I also hope that sharing my story can give hope to people who are feeling like I did when I was diagnosed.
I have currently raised over £16,000 (including Gift Aid) and hope to continue to raise funds and awareness.
Finally, with regards to MS, I have several bits of advice that I would offer. Firstly, after an MS diagnosis it can be very easy to shut yourself away and not want to talk about it. When I was diagnosed I felt like this initially but then I gradually became more open with my family and my friends and I feel this support was extremely important. Also, as I said above, acceptance of MS is vital in helping you look forward. This took me many years but was a huge step in helping me to progress with my life. I would also advise anyone with MS to discuss possible treatments with an MS specialist nurse, have a good, healthy diet and also to try and exercise. This, in particular has been extremely beneficial to me and I would urge people with MS to try and exercise when possible.