Credit: National Multiple Sclerosis Society
Credit: National Multiple Sclerosis Society
I’m counting down the weeks until June 17-18 which is the weekend of the Bike MS: Chesapeake Challenge 2017. Rob and I have signed up to participate in the two-day bicycle ride to raise money for multiple sclerosis (MS) research and our good friend Mary has joined our team, the Low Gear Loungers. As a person living with MS, I get to be part of their “I Ride With MS” program. Each year, the National MS Society sponsors hundreds of bike rides across the country through which cyclists, volunteers, and donors have raised more than $1 billion to date.
The spring after I was diagnosed with MS, I signed up for the local Walk MS event. Participating in this event was a great way to connect with other people affected by MS and to raise funds for research. It was also a wonderful way for friends and relatives to show their support and I was honored to have families from my music studio join me on the walk.
This Bike MS event — the Chesapeake Challenge — is aptly named as it will be a significant personal challenge for me. One year ago, I didn’t even own a bicycle less have ridden on one for decades. So far, the farthest I’ve ridden in a single ride during the past 11 months is 23 miles. For the ride in June, I have decided to participate in the shorter routes available which are 34 and 30 miles on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. If need be, I can probably catch a ride in a support van to take me to the next rest stop to await and rejoin my team.
Prepare to succeed
To get ready for the ride, I still have quite a bit of training and conditioning to do. Not being a seasoned athlete, I realize that I need to be careful in how I approach getting ready. Here are some of the tips and strategies I’ve learned along the way.
Get the right fit. For comfort, safety, and efficiency, your bike needs to fit your body and be adjusted to reduce physical stress and maximize the strength of your efforts. Go to a local bike shop for expert advice.
Set realistic goals. Since I can’t already ride 30+ miles, I need to build up to that distance. I’m keeping track of my rides with a free phone app (e.g., Strava, MapMyRide) and attempt to increase my average ride by one to three miles each week.
Schedule rest. Although it is tempting to think that riding every day will be the best way to prepare, it’s the wrong way to build strength and endurance. Rest days are necessary to allow your body to repair muscle and begin to compensate for the increased physical demand. TrainingPeaks, a free resource for Bike MS participants, emphasizes recovery days and the need for varied levels of workout intensities.
Enjoy variety. It’s important not to do the same things every time you go out on the bike. Some training days should feature greater physical demands — increased elevation gain or sprints, for example — or easier, low-intensity spins that keep you moving but don’t wear you out. I like to alternate trails that present different challenges or easier sections.
Focus on hydration and nutrition. It’s vital to stay hydrated before, during, and after workouts. The amount of water and enhanced sports drinks you may need depend upon your body, the environment, and your workout demands. The National MS Society offers basic information on hydration and nutrition to get you started.
To make fundraising easier, each Bike MS team and cyclist can create a personalized fundraising page that tells their story. Sharing your story on social media, or through email, and posting links to your fundraising page can be an effective way to inform friends, family, and colleagues of your efforts and to allow them to show their support as they fund MS research with a tax-deductible donation.
Why is my team the Low Gear Loungers?
The symptoms of MS are often invisible and it’s difficult to see from the outside what a person’s challenges may be. On the bike, I’ve learned that you must make adjustments when climbing a hill — such as riding in a low gear — to be successful. From the outside, it may look like I am sitting back and taking the easy way out — lounging — but inside, I’m working hard with steel determination to make it to the top. This is true for many with MS when faced with challenges: You can’t see the struggle but it’s there.
Asking for donations gets easier each time you do it, and talking about why you are participating in Bike MS provides opportunities for you to share information about MS and to explain why research is important. I am personally participating in the Chesapeake Challenge because I want to push myself physically and to prove to myself that I can do more than I ever thought possible.
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Lisa Emrich is a patient advocate, accomplished speaker, author of the award-winning blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA, and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers. Lisa uses her experience to educate patients, raise disease awareness, encourage self-advocacy, and support patient-centered research. Lisa frequently works with non-profit organizations and has brought the patient voice to health care conferences and meetings worldwide. Follow Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.