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MS vs Tough Mudder: overcoming obstacles

Over the years as a Personal Trainer I have come across a range of clients wanting to achieve a variety of goals. Once in particular has made such an impression on me, in truth she is awesome. 

Nic came to train with me 18 months ago determined to get herself fit and take part in as many adventurous challenges as possible before her body stops her. 

Now you might think she’ll have ages to do this, we all push ourselves to the max all the time. However for Nic she was diagnosed with a Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

She has been ill since January 2012 and eventually diagnosed 3 months later, after lots of stress, pain and frustration. Her family have been really supportive especially her brother during this time. Initially she had pins and needles in her legs after what she thought was from a pair of tight shoes. By the time the Doctors sent her for a Head Scan she couldn’t walk and brought up a lot of emotion and mental health issues. After 5 years and lots of medication she has learnt to spot the signs of a relapse and lessen how many she has.

She has been told if she keeps having relapses in the same place, it will wear away the nerve and will mean she is in a wheelchair.  From a mental health perspective she has realised people have opinions even if they don’t know it and has found exercise and diet has been her way to deal with it.  

Our first challenge was to get her fit and ready to do the Robin Hood Half Marathon in 2016, she is a keen runner and kept pushing herself and increasing the distance she did and completed it in an awesome time too. 

As with all Personal Training sessions are designed in depth to every clients own needs, and this was no different. For Nic we have a general overall plan we stick to, but due to her illness we take each session based on how she is doing that day. This is because for Nic having MS is means her central nervous system is affected, and the coating around the nerve fibres gets damaged, which results in scars forming on the nerves. The more the nerves get damaged the more it impacts on body. Most people are diagnosed in their 20s-30s, which is very early for a degenerative condition. Her balance, memory, fatigue and tremors are a constant battle and constant observation in case a relapse occurs. 

So when I design her sessions we have a big focus on balance, core and strength work. We have been regularly incorporating going to the local climbing centre to push her to her limits and test what she is capable of. Plus it’s a nice change of environment out of the gym studio to work hard. 

When we were reassessing her goals and looking ahead Nic wanted to complete a Tough Mudder, she had done one years ago and loved it, but thought it wasn’t going to be possible to do another because of the physical needs during the event. So we went back to the drawing board and had 6 months to get her fitness up to scratch to complete it. 

This all started great, training twice a week in the gym with me, getting climbing and she was still doing her regular runs and planned sessions to practise at The Obstacle Gym, then a relapse happened in November and everything was put on hold. Knowing Nic her relapses can last for a few days to a few months, so it was a bit of a guessing game when we would be ready to get back to full training. 

Unfortunately this one lasted or a couple of months, during this time Nic’s hands and legs go tingly, she’s super fatigued and her insomnia comes back with a bang. During this time, getting out for a short walk was even a challenge. 

Like with anything Nic does her best to not let it get her too down and when we came to the New Year it was all systems go again. There were lots of bumps along the road with illnesses creeping back in and sessions needing to be steadier, not actually being able to practise any obstacle technique and sometimes she felt like was going back to the drawing board, but we still had our big end goal in sight of Tough Mudder in May. 

Fortunately as the nicer weather set in and in the final couple of months leading up to the big race we were pretty much back on track with training, we had reduced the number of sessions and taken down the intensity of the work we were doing but it meant because she wasn’t pushing herself quite as much her recovery was really quick and was ready to work hard in each session. 

We had made it, it was race day. We were both very excited as this was a big goal for Nic and a chance for us to both do an event together. Nic had reservations about some of the obstacles, but like with her attitude to life will give anything a go. We are proud to say we completed the course, attempted and completed every obstacle on the course and loved the atmosphere of helping others as we made our way around, even if it involved a lot of walking and taking our time. 

So my message to people out there who might feel like they can’t do it and everything is getting on top of them, or have been told they have a long term illness, take those small steps and focus on a goal to work towards. Find a trainer or coach who you trust and will work with you so you know each other inside out. They can spot any signs that you’re not firing on all cylinders and can work all your sessions so you do achieve what you set out to do. 

As for Nic we are taking our time at the moment to look at her next challenge. 

Contact: Gemma Spackman - Head Coach at Fundamental Sports and Fitness. 

Number: 07713343363

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