Goal: Celebrate my 20-year anniversary of being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis by running the 2019 Dublin Marathon.
Most changes are sparked by a catalyst. I have named my catalyst the Beacon Street Wipeout. I was about two miles into a 16-mile training run for the 2016 Boston Marathon. I was running for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. It was a Saturday morning in February and the MS marathon team was heading out for our long run along the marathon course. We were heading out on Beacon Street to pick up the famous course on Washington Street and run back through the iconic Newton Hills. It is one of my favorite running routes.
I decided to meet my MS teammates at mile one so I could run from my house. When I got to our meeting point I thought I missed them so I started running down Beacon Street at an accelerated pace in an attempt to catch up. I was heading down hill as I ran past a couple who were out for a morning stroll.
My pace was good, I felt strong, I knew I would catch my teammates. I was looking ahead, trying to spot the MS orange gear on my crew. The next thing I know I am flying through the air. It felt like 10 seconds of air time, although I’m sure it was much less as it was unlikely I defied gravity for that long. But I felt like I was laid out in the air like Superman just with much less grace and bracing for a hard landing. I landed alright, like a bag of rocks on the Beacon Street sidewalk, about a half mile from my alma mater. On the same sidewalk I walked countless times as a student, and ran on a few times a week as a runner. I was running on my hometown sidewalk, this was my running grounds, I loved this stretch of sidewalk, how could this happen? I should have had home field advantage. This was the Beacon Street Wipeout.
I think I started crying before I even reached the ground – before I knew my knee was cut, before I realized by gloves were ripped, and before I saw the nasty blood blisters on my palms. I wasn’t crying out of physical pain, I was crying because I thought Multiple Sclerosis was going to steal running from me. I had been in denial for a year, and at times believed whole heartedly that I found a way to manage MS-related drop foot so that I could continue distance running. But, in this moment, I felt totally defeated.
The uncontrollable sobbing caused the two walkers to activate their running legs and quickly come to my aid. I still feel badly about the way I reacted to them. I didn’t mean to carelessly send them away, I just didn’t feel like I could be helped. They had no way to reverse my drop foot and save my running. In that moment, that was all I wanted. I just wanted to run.
Ironically, yet thankfully, my teammates were behind me which was a good and a bad thing. Good because I needed their support. Bad because their compassion made me cry even harder. Yes I was running for charity but I did not want to be the charity myself. They offered to walk me home, I yelled at them. Yup, again I yelled at people who were trying to help me. This time my teammates. In my defense, I yelled at them to continue running. I told them if they wanted to make me happy they would run. So they did. And of course I followed. I was not seriously injured from the fall. I wouldn’t realize until later on that the long term injury would be the emotional damage.
I only ran about a mile and a half until I got to the MS water stop. My teammates were a bit surprised how quickly I got there but they did have enough time to debrief the volunteers on what happened. After bandaging up my knee, I decided to shut it down for the day.
Running had become a way of life for me. It evolved in an unnatural way with a catalyst that to this day is still uncomprehendable to me. I ran my first marathon for the Leukemia and Lymphoma’s Team in Training. I ran the 2005 Dublin Marathon in memory of my college roommate Tracey. She left us when she was a mere 29 years old after a courageous battle with cancer. The word courageous does not do her justice but the English language does not have a word to describe her. When I committed to run I was a non-runner who was just looking for a way to grieve but I found so much more. I found a love for running, friendships, a healthy lifestyle, and a way to fight MS. Running took me to so many places, introduced me to amazing people, and become the central focus of my social life. I could not lose it because if I did, I would not only lose my battle with MS, I would lose a big part of my life.
I couldn’t accept defeat. I wasn’t going to let MS take me down that easily. So the day after the Beacon Street Wipeout I ran 16 miles on my own. I ran a two mile loop eight times – the runner’s definition of insanity. But it was safe as I was never more than a mile from my car. I needed that safety net that day. I completed my eight loops, all in the same direction of course and went home with a thin layer of victory to cover up my utmost fear.
I completed the rest of my training without another fall and I ran the Boston Marathon. So I bounced back, right? Not so fast, the truth is the emotional impact of the Beacon Street Wipeout took much longer to heal and even to this day it still feels like a fresh wound. Three years later I still find myself looking ahead for uneven surfaces, cracks in the sidewalks, and other potential hazards.
I have to remind myself the AFO I am now running in will help me but building trust with an AFO or another assistive device takes time. While I am not the most patient person in the world, I do have time. So I will take the time I need to heal my wound and return to marathon running. This is a journey with many destinations in mind. One being to share my story and help others like me turn their obstacles in to hurdles.
I still have the scar on my knee from my Beacon Street Wipeout but when I look at it, I am not reminded so much of the fall as I am reminded of the grit that I found somewhere deep inside to get back out there and complete my 16 miler the next day. My journey to keep MS from stealing running has been challenging, rewarding, emotional, and complex. It took a lot of research, doctor visits, financial resources, and networking to even make the decision to run in an AFO. I am not going to lie, running in an AFO is essentially like re-learning to run.
In 2019, I will be celebrating my 20-year anniversary of being diagnosed with MS by running the Dublin Marathon. I am going back to where my marathoning started but this time I am running for myself and others with chronic diseases.
I don’t care about being the first person with MS to do this or do not. I care about helping others with chronic diseases live their best lives possible. That is why I founded In My Running Shoes. We all have our Beacon Street Wipeouts, our catalyst that forces us to make a change or two. Let’s do this together.