I was diagnosed with RRMS in January of 1999 at the age of 48. I had noticed various symptoms for the previous 9 years ranging from foot drop, numbness, and vision changes, to balance issues, but the thing that drove me to find out what was going on was the paralyzing fatigue. I spent the next three years trying to get my mind wrapped around the diagnosis of MS, a disease which the wife of a very good friend of mine had passed away from just a few years earlier. Eventually, the worry wore me out and I decided to just get on with living.
Through out my life I had generally managed to stay active. Although I have never been a swimmer and now running was becoming more and more difficult, I eventually discovered that riding the spin cycles at the club was doable. That prompted me to dust off an old mountain bike I had and start riding outside. The bike took my mind off of the MS because there were so many other things to think about like where I was, where I was going, how far, how fast, the rain, the wind and the traffic and of course the scenery and whatever chaos might be going on around me. It was an exhilarating opportunity to experience life again and I fell in love with it almost immediately.
I attempted my first MS 150 in 2005. I was only marginally successful. I sagged and short cut my way to the end and still barely made it. I felt my effort was so miserable that I didn’t even attempt the ride in 2006 but I did step up my training on the bike. I successfully completed the MS 150 in 2007 and it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life, but I decided then that I would do this ride every year until I couldn’t do it anymore.
In 2008 I noticed that my time on the first day of the MS 150 seemed to improve and by quite a bit and I began to see that the bike riding was actually helping me overcome some of the MS damage, so I started to pay more attention to that aspect of riding. I began to notice positive changes in fatigue levels and strength. I found things I had not been able to do at all in previous years that I could at least do to a moderate extent. I stepped up my training again in 2009 and again improved my first day saddle time in the MS 150. I decided to step out and try some longer, harder rides.
In 2010 in honor of our 60th birthdays, a friend and I did the “Ride the Rockies”, 7 straight days, 532 miles, 27,000 feet of ascent. Although I took one of the recovery days off to visit some old friends, I DID climb ALL 6 of the mountain passes the ride covered. The MS 150 that year was relatively easy for me and again I improved my first day saddle time.
At the end of 2010 I had a brief relapse that I felt was brought on by an MS drug that I tried. I spent the first part of 2011 getting through the damage from that relapse. In spite of it though, I signed up for the MS 150 including the 2nd day century. I also signed up for the “Triple Bypass”, a single day, 123-mile ride with 10,000 ft. of ascent. Again I improved my time on the first day of the 150 even if only by 7 minutes and I didn’t have any problems on the 2nd day century either, except maybe a little with the heat toward the very end. Unfortunately, I failed miserably on the “Triple Bypass” though. I did several other rides with varying degrees of success that year too and I took the liberty of blaming my failures on the relapse I’d had late in 2010 and my successes on my training. I decided to repeat most of the rides that I did that year again in 2012 to see if I could improve my success rate.
Although the “Triple” would only constitute a relatively hard training ride for a pro, there is a good chance that it might be more than I am capable of, but whether or not I complete it is not really the point any more. The real point of these rides is the training they encourage me to do. I know how lucky I am to be able to ride at all because I know so many who can’t.
Over the years I’ve seen how beneficial the training has been for my MS, I believe there is more at work here than simple strengthening of atrophied muscles. And, of course, the various rides with fabulous scenery and multiple opportunities to make new friends, provides more incentive for me to concentrate on that training. Sometimes it is a difficult concept to explain to a more competitive rider, but although I appreciate being able to complete the rides I sign up for and I thoroughly enjoy seeing the improvement in my riding abilities, it’s really all about the training and the tremendously beneficial effect it has on the MS.