Getting fit with Mr Uhthoff

This isn’t a new year’s resolution, but I have decided to get fit.

This incorporates a couple of in-built problems, the most obvious being the MS, of course, but the second being the fact that I don’t do personal trainers (I have to admit to being quite rude to the only one I have ever had) and I don’t do gyms.

Therefore I have been taking to the roads for the occasional run in the hours of darkness.

Regular readers will know that I had a spate of evening runs last year up on the nearby moors, but this time it’s serious.

Why? Because it’s winter and I can push myself a bit further each time without overheating and I’m slightly less ill than I was last year, so the repercussions of Uhthoff’s phenomenon aren’t as great. Also, because it’s dark I can run incognito (it takes a while before I get over my self-consciousness).

I have been out three times in just over a week and I have lost two pounds in weight. I want to lose about a stone overall. Plus, as you can see in my post “Giving in” I need to build up my stamina.

I am trying to build up to five mile runs with a few hills thrown in, so far I have progressed as far as a two and a half miler on the flat with a sprint for the last 100 metres or so.

I am comparing this year’s training to the last time I did some serious regular running three years ago. The 2007 fitness regime took place a year and a bit before I was officially diagnosed, so I have only realised in retrospect that the experiences I had then were due to MS.

Back in 2007 I experienced a numb leg and a rubbery burning smell afterwards which I whimsically attributed to having burnt-out some electrics in my head as I was running (not realising how close to the mark I was). I would also get oscillopsia on my longer runs.

The last fitness regime tailed off when my youngest was born. So far, as far as Uhthoff is concerned, I have been a little wobbly legged after each run, but this has diminished each time I have been out. I have also had ‘slow eyes’ for a while after I finish (so I am expecting some oscillopsia when the longer runs kick in). I still have the peculiar burning smell too.

I have been doing some reading up and now know the burning smell is phantosmia – an olfactory hallucination – and is quite common for people with epilepsy as part of the pre-fit aura or with people who have brain injuries in the part of the brain that interprets smell. I guess I must have demyelination here.

My ideal, is that one day (this year or next) I may (NB: may) do a 10k run in aid of one of the UK MS charities.

My current thinking is that I will be supporting the MS Trust for the support they showed me in terms of the excellent free information they sent to me when I was diagnosed.

With this in mind, I have been consulting the MS Trust’s superb online training information. It is well worth checking out even if you don’t have MS as they include clearly written information and training schedules for beginners as well as more experienced runners.

I’ll keep you posted on how I get on.

Giving in

View of East Moor, Derbyshire - 8 January 2003
View of East Moor, Derbyshire - 8 January 2003

Yesterday I gave in.

I rang work to say that I couldn’t make it to the bus stop (one mile away up an icy hill) because of the weather.

In January 2003, I put my books to one side (I was doing a masters degree at the time), donned my walking boots and headed out of the front door to go for a twenty mile circular walk across the snowy moors.

I was pondering my future at the time, so I was in limbo as far as starting a family, or gaining proper post-graduate employment was concerned. My most immediate worries were house-hunting, coursework and finalising a dissertation topic.

My feet had instintively led me along a route I had planned on the map and imagined in my head numerous times as I had lain in bed at night.

I spent a happy day winding through local farms, along lanes that linked nowhere with nowhere, through copses, across the moors, past prehistoric barrows and back via a middle-of-nowhere pub.

I remember one particularly cool moment dangling my feet over a gritstone edge, watching the sun breaking on distant snow (see picture) while exchanging texts with a friend in her central London office.

I made it back as dusk was setting in, the fiery sun anchored to the horizon, mirroring my rosy-cheeks, satisfied and happy with the exercise-induced endorphins doing their thing.

I felt rather wistful watching the thaw setting in, dripping the branches and slushing the roads.

“That’ll be the last time I ever do that,” I muttered, quietly resolving to prove myself wrong.

Since then, a few milestones have been passed: I (post-)graduated, got married, found a job, bought a house, had two kids, lost my mother, extended my house, found a better job…

…got diagnosed with MS.

All this time, I have held onto the thought that one day, one distant crisp white snow day, I would do it all again. I would brush off my walking boots, wonder at the previous walk that had caked the mud into the soles, layer up, pull on the pack full of the day’s essentials (map, sandwiches, hip flask), and set off again across my beloved Derbyshire countryside.

Yesterday I couldn’t even get out of town.

Halfway up the local hill, the snow and ice got the better of me. Oscillopsia set in and my legs felt like lead.

Phoning into work felt like I had given up, like I had lost a key battle. For the rest of the day my legs and feet nagged at me in the cruellest way possible by feeling like they actually had walked twenty miles, but without the endorphins to show for it.

Still, I’m the optimistic type.

Part of me knows there are other factors involved – I had worn myself out after abandoning my car to the snow the day before. I had also walked, with a sledge in tow, the four and a bit miles – there and back – to pick up my kids (actually, I cheated and we caught a bus some of the way back).

I may have lost this battle, and I know that ultimately I will lose the war (how heavily or lightly remains to be seen), but there are other battles.

I am resolving again that when the kids are a bit older and I have the spare time, I’ll be taken with the urge and I will head out again across those hills.

I’m planning it now.