Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Triathlon Lessons and Exercise Limits with MS

My sister and me feeling relief and pride
after finishing our first sprint triathlon
I’m trying to find tips on training with MS.  My first instinct is to Google triathlon training with MS. So far I’ve found people that do triathlons, but they don’t really share the nitty-gritty mechanics of how much to train and when to back off. I’m inspired by their stories, but I’m having a hard time converting their experiences to guidelines for myself. I want to know if overexertion can hurt me by contributing to an exacerbation. 

Historically people with MS were advised not to exercise hard. Now the experts suggest it’s fine to exercise hard, but pay attention to your body and don’t overdo it.  I’m trying to find that sweet spot of training and performance where I improve but don’t have adverse consequences. “Don’t overdo it” is vague and hard to apply to my life.  

For me, my obvious MS symptoms include numbness and fatigue. When I push it harder, I can experience foot drop and increased numbness that encompasses my entire body from the neck down with aching in my arms and hands. 

In hindsight I can see pushing myself in the past led to injury, never-ending fatigue and exacerbations. I injured myself at gymnastics when undiagnosed foot drop lead me to land with my big toe under my foot more than once after doing front handspring step-outs. It took eight weeks for the tendon in my foot to heal and prevented me from being able to do a lot of activities.

I found the NMSS has a very helpful brochure “Exercise as Part of Everyday Life.” It provides a lot of good suggestions, and one that I find especially useful is to rest following exercise. They say, “Fatigue that lingers after one hour of rest is a sign of having overextended.”

I’ve taken to setting my timer on my phone to see how long symptoms last after a workout. I set the timer for 30 minutes so that I can remember to check in with my body and see if the symptoms are still there. If they haven’t dissipated, I set the timer for another 30 minutes. Usually my symptoms are gone within an hour. 

I recently competed in a sprint triathlon in Golden, Colorado where it was hot and the elevation was 7,800 feet. Given it was my first triathlon and I live and train at sea level, it was tough! By the time I started the 5k my body went numb (as usual) and my arms and hands also went numb (unusual during exercise). My symptoms lasted 2.5 hours after I finished the event. 

Tonight after jogging 4.5 miles my numbness lasted 2.5 hours, but I think it’s because I’ve been fatigued and having more stress this month than usual. I probably pushed it more than I should, but it’ll be good to see what my fatigue level is tomorrow. 

My research is motivating me to train for an Olympic Triathlon which is about twice the distance of the Sprint Triathlon I did last month. I’ll track my fatigue level and the time it takes for MS symptoms to subside after exercise. I’ll see if I’m able to increase my performance while keeping symptoms from exercise limited to an hour. I think reassuring myself that I’m not doing damage to my health by exercising hard will be a huge part of succeeding with this. I also know that monitoring how I’m feeling and being honest with myself about how I’m doing will be key to staying healthy and pushing my boundaries. 

The challenge will be finding the balance between recognizing and respecting my body when it’s saying “enough” and not fearing symptoms as indicating disease progression. I think I can do it!

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