Life with MS is Not a Race
Last updated: September 2023
Last week, my husband and I went cycling on local trails. Since the weather had been cold this spring and because we stayed home most of the time to avoid coming in contact with other people, we haven’t been riding as much as we normally would have been by this time of year.
During the ride, I started out strong. Felt good and was able to keep a pace that was comfortable. The biggest challenge on our way out on the trail was the amount of people traffic we encountered.
Cycling on a crowded trail
So many people cycling. So many people jogging. So many people walking their dogs and/or children. Just so many people. The trails were crowded.
On this ride, I saw the typical road bikes, mountain bikes, trikes, and tandem bikes. I saw an elliptical bike. I saw scooters and a powered skateboard. I saw a number of people on inline skates, too. I didn’t see a unicycle on this ride but had previously.
The only transport device I saw for the first time on the trail was a set of 2x2 four-wheeled roller skates. Not inline rollerblades, but skates that resemble those we may have used as children at the local skating rink. (Are those still a thing?)
Passing other cyclists and skaters
My husband Rob and I pulled up behind this roller skater at a crossing light to pass over a large street. I didn’t take much notice of her because I was already thinking about our return trip home. It was getting hot in the day and I was getting tired.
Once our crosswalk light turned green, a line of cyclists/skaters/joggers/etc began to cross the street. I passed around the skater as did Rob and several other cyclists who ultimately passed around me, too.
Approaching the first hill
The line of trail traffic had one more street to cross before getting out of the busy part of town. After the 2nd crossing, the terrain begins a slow, steady incline with several distinct hills. As we approached the first hill, I was taking it a bit easy because we weren’t in a race to get home.
Whoa! The skater sped past me as we were climbing the first hill. That was a surprise. She gave no warning. I looked down at my bike computer and saw that I was going a bit slow at 8.4 mph up the hill. After cresting the hill, gravity kicks in and we sped past the skater on the downhill.
Playing leapfrog with the skater
At the next uphill, the skater passed again, this time I was going about 9.6 mph. Not too slow, but not too fast. It was just what I could do while thinking push-push-push through my legs to my feet to the pedals. Who knows how fast the skater was going UPHILL!
Rob called out that he wanted us to get farther ahead of her after the downhill, to basically put some distance between us. I sped up some, but couldn’t give much more. I told him that I was going as fast as I could; I didn’t have any more to give. He suggested a place for us to stop and rest after the next light. I agreed that was a good idea.
My legs had nothing left to give
My body had burned out. There was hardly anything left in my legs. Multiple sclerosis had taken control.
All three of us — Rob, me, and the roller skater — caught up at one more street crossing; the last one before a very steep, long uphill climb. A very tough and narrow hill that is dangerous to pass on or be passed.
The skater turned her head expecting me to pass her again after we had crossed the street. I called out that we were stopping with a smile in my voice. She didn’t need to worry about us any longer.
I was tired
Rob and I rested a good while so that my legs could carry me up this steep climb ahead. We were still three miles from home. I was tired and done for.
I even told Rob, “Let’s let the skater get a good mile ahead of us, then we won’t be in each other’s way.” By the time we reached the top of the hill, the skater was headed back down going the opposite direction.
As much as I would have liked to have cycled past this skater and to put some distance between us, it was obvious that she had greater skills and strength than I do to climb those hills so quickly.
When to push yourself and when to rest
Normally, I love to go as fast as I can. But sometimes, it’s really important to know when not to push yourself beyond your limits.
My MS legs had turned to jello. The sun was bright and beating down. I was hot and overheated. It just wasn’t a good time to push too hard and pay for it later.
The desire to be like everyone else
Sometimes the desire to “be normal” and do what everybody else seems to be able to do with ease is so very strong. It’s hard to pretend that you don’t have MS, particularly when MS responds to what you do by being a nuisance, highlighting your weaknesses or deficiencies, and making it so that you can’t keep up with those speeding by.
Knowing our limits
We each must go our own speeds. Go at our own pace. Know our limits and work just within those limits, or risk paying the price later. Those limits might change so it’s ok to push at them on occasion, but not all the time.
In thinking of this bike journey, MS, and playing leapfrog with the skater, I thought of a scenario that I hope may help us each to view MS in a different way.
MS is competitive. It wants to “win” and get the better of you. Don’t chase it up that hill. Let MS move away in the distance and lose sight of you over its shoulder. Out of its sight, you can change directions. You can adapt. You can alter your plans. You can outsmart MS by being flexible and clever.
Life is not a race
Life is not a race, and life with MS is not a competition. Focus on you and what you want to do. Don’t be afraid to change directions, take care of yourself, and approach your passions in a new way.
If you can do that, you will leave MS in the dust.
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