Going the distance for MS awareness

Posted March 6th, 2017 by

Meet Cheryl (CherylRunner), a marathoner living with MS. Since it’s MS Awareness Month, we sat down to chat with her about what she’s doing to raise awareness: running 7 marathons on 7 continents in a 12-month span. So far under her belt are South Africa, Argentina, Hawaii, Antarctica and Japan, and now she prepares to cross Austria off her list. See what she has to say about overcoming the physical limitations of her condition.

You’ve run 54 marathons and 41 of those have been after your MS diagnosis. How has running changed for you since your diagnosis?

Cheryl Hile MS marathon runner

Photo by Rachel Hatch

Running has given me so much. When I was first diagnosed and depressed, running was my therapy to cope with the overwhelming sadness. However, I started tripping and falling while running. I thought I was tired from overtraining. I soon learned that I was falling because I have a common symptom of MS called drop foot. My running became laborious and depressing. My neurologist told me to lower my expectations and that ignited a fire in me to not give up. I found an orthotist and he fitted me with an ankle-foot orthotic (AFO). It’s made of carbon fiber, so it’s light and flexible enough for running. It is not necessarily made for marathons, per se, but I make it work despite the cuts and bruises. I guess that is a long way of saying that running has made me stronger.

Aside from your custom carbon fiber ankle foot orthotic, what other things do you do to help with your running?

I cross train to help with cardio-vascular fitness. My husband and I ride 20-30 miles along Pacific Coast Hwy very early in the morning (traffic scares me, especially being clipped into the pedals).

I also lift weights. My right thigh is very weak from MS and I can only lift it 3-4 inches off the ground. I do a lot of compensating with my left side when I run. I try to strengthen all of my muscles to try to keep them in balance, but I do have atrophy in my right leg.

In general, what advice would you give for someone living with MS who wants to work towards becoming more physically active?

First, I have to throw in the caveat to talk to your doctor first! Next I suggest setting small, attainable goals. For example, if you don’t exercise at all, make a goal to walk 10-15 minutes, then start increasing by 5-10 minute increments when you feel confident.

My very first running race was a marathon (because I’m crazy). That was a big goal and I attained it, but I suffered a lot at the beginning. My first training run was down my block and I walked back home crying. My husband likes to tell everyone that story! But I kept at it and in 6 months I went from one block to 26.2 miles. It was a slow marathon, but I did it! However, I should have signed up for shorter races first to keep my morale high.

Small attainable goals and small concerted efforts to make change!

Right now you’re in the middle of a big idea you had to raise money for the MS Society. You committed to running 7 marathons on 7 continents in the span of a year. You’ve already run in Cape Town, South Africa; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Honolulu, Hawaii; King George Island, Antarctica; and Tokyo, Japan. Next up are Vienna, Austria, and Christchurch, New Zealand. What’s been your favorite experience so far? What’s been a challenge?

Cheryl Hile MS marathon runner

Photo by Rachel Hatch

I’ve had a lot of great experiences. My favorite marathon so far is Cape Town. The scenery was beautiful, the people were very friendly and even though it is a large international marathon, it felt like a tight knit community. The highlight of the trip for me was connecting with the Multiple Sclerosis South Africa group. They were absolutely lovely and even though our trip was short, we bonded. Meeting people and making friends are my favorite things about my trips. People really make it more special.

The White Continent Marathon was by far the biggest challenge. I was prepared for the cold, but I underestimated the terrain. It was very rocky (from pebbles to boulders) and it was so painful on my feet. I had to walk a lot of it because my right foot kept sliding. I can feel my left foot and use my toes to balance myself. However, my right foot is numb and I cannot move my toes well. That, coupled with a rigid footplate on my AFO, made it hard to keep steady on the undulating terrain. I was sore in places that I didn’t know had muscle!

We’ll be following up with Cheryl once she finishes her final two races in Vienna, Austria, and Christchurch, New Zealand. You can keep track of her progress on her blog!

On PatientsLikeMe

Cheryl talks about having drop foot, something reported by 990 members on PatientsLikeMe. She’s had success using an ankle foot orthotic (AFO) to treat it. Here’s what members have to say:

In fact, members have a lot more to say about this – 101, 941 forum posts worth, to be exact. See what they’re saying and learn more about who’s experiencing drop foot!

What are you doing to raise awareness about MS this month?

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