‘I’ve Turned A Neg­a­tive Into A Pos­i­tive’

When Ivan Prue re­ceived a life-chang­ing di­ag­no­sis, run­ning took on new mean­ing in his life

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents -

Af­ter an MS di­ag­no­sis, run­ning took on new mean­ing for Ivan Prue

AF­TER LAC­ING UP HIS TRAIN­ERS for a run, Ivan Prue re­minds him­self of his phi­los­o­phy. ‘I treat ev­ery run as if it could be my last, so make the most of it,’ says the 47-year-old from Ban­gor, North­ern Ire­land. ‘I’m just thank­ful I can still do what I love.’

Ivan’s pas­sion for run­ning be­gan in 2005 af­ter a health scare. He’d had hos­pi­tal tests to in­ves­ti­gate a fre­quent tin­gling sen­sa­tion in his fin­gers and toes. Doc­tors thought it could be caused by a mild bout of an im­mune-sys­tem dis­or­der and the symp­toms soon eased.

But it was the wake-up call he needed. At the time, Big Ivan, as his friends called him – he’s 6ft 6in – weighed more than 21st (133kg). ‘Stand­ing on the scales was an eye­opener. I was se­ri­ously over­weight,’ he says. ‘I be­gan run­ning, which at first was wad­dling from one lamp post to the next.’

As the weight fell off – he lost more than 6st (38kg) – Ivan’s con­fi­dence soared. He be­gan post­ing de­cent times for 5K races and be­yond. At the 2008 Ber­lin Marathon, he ran a per­sonal best of 3:12

Then, with hopes of go­ing even faster at the 2009 Dublin Marathon, Ivan’s world came crash­ing down. ‘I was head­ing out for a reg­u­lar long bike ride but kept los­ing my bal­ance and even­tu­ally fell off,’ he re­calls. ‘I ended up in A&E know­ing that some­thing was se­ri­ously wrong with my health – it was re­ally scary.’

Dur­ing a week in hos­pi­tal, he had a se­ries of neu­ro­log­i­cal tests, in­clud­ing an MRI scan. Then he was given the shat­ter­ing news: ‘I was told I had mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis [MS]. I was dev­as­tated. I re­mem­ber ask­ing, “Am I go­ing to be in a wheel­chair?”’

Ivan has re­laps­ing re­mit­ting MS (85 per cent of those with MS have this form of the con­di­tion). MS af­fects the body’s nerves and with the re­laps­ing re­mit­ting form, symp­toms can flare up of­ten, with lit­tle warn­ing. They can be mild to se­vere and last for days, weeks or months be­fore fad­ing away. These episodes leave last­ing nerve dam­age.

‘I was in de­nial,’ says Ivan. ‘I didn’t tell any­one, in­clud­ing my mum.’ Soon af­ter leav­ing hos­pi­tal, he ran a 10-mile race, in which he came 14th, and two months later, in Oc­to­ber 2009, ran 3:16 in the Dublin Marathon. ‘I was de­lighted to have run Dublin that quickly be­cause I fell, pos­si­bly be­cause of my MS, at 25 miles, break­ing a rib,’ he says. ‘I de­cided MS wasn’t go­ing to stop me. I sup­pose I thought I could run away from my di­ag­no­sis.’

But in De­cem­ber that year the dis­ease caught up with him. One day at work he suf­fered such a se­ri­ous re­lapse he thought he was hav­ing a stroke. Ivan spent a month in hos­pi­tal, at first un­able to speak, and barely able to move af­ter be­ing tem­po­rar­ily paral­ysed down his left side by the flare-up. He re­cov­ered, but was left with a per­ma­nent weak­ness on that side. ‘I had to tell my mum, who was heart­bro­ken.’

Ivan’s con­sul­tant pre­scribed him Tysabri, a pow­er­ful drug that slows down the pro­gres­sive symp­toms of MS. But there are side ef­fects, the most ter­ri­fy­ing of which be­ing that it can lead to a po­ten­tially fa­tal vi­ral in­fec­tion in the brain or spinal cord. Each month Ivan re­ceives an in­fu­sion of the drug in hos­pi­tal. So far, it has re­sulted in him hav­ing more good than bad days, mean­ing he can go for reg­u­lar runs. Once the drug be­gan work­ing, it sig­nalled a turn­ing point in his at­ti­tude to the MS. ‘I stopped be­ing em­bar­rassed and ac­cepted that it was now part of who I was,’ says Ivan.

Al­though laid up in hos­pi­tal in Jan­uary 2010, Ivan was de­ter­mined to com­plete the Lon­don Marathon that April. ‘I’m a fighter but I still couldn’t be­lieve I was ac­tu­ally do­ing the marathon af­ter feel­ing so aw­ful only weeks ear­lier,’ re­calls Ivan. ‘I walked, jogged and stum­bled my way, fin­ish­ing in 6:02, al­most three hours slower than my best time.

‘I cried like a baby when I crossed the line. It might have been my worst time but it was the best feel­ing in the world to have done it.’

Ivan’s ef­forts at Lon­don proved to him that he wanted to keep run­ning, even if chas­ing PBS was no longer his pri­or­ity. ‘My body started to re­pair it­self – my left­sided weak­ness didn’t hin­der me too much – and I be­gan to get stronger,’ says Ivan, who took early re­tire­ment from his es­tate man­ager’s job four years ago. ‘I dropped the com­pet­i­tive side and ran more for fun. I was so ex­cited I could run af­ter think­ing it had been ripped away from me.’

Ivan also be­gan en­cour­ag­ing oth­ers to run. He helped es­tab­lish Ban­gor’s parkrun and he coaches Ward Park Run­ners, a lo­cal group for run­ners of all abil­i­ties, some with dif­fi­cul­ties sim­i­lar to Ivan’s. He also pro­motes the work of the MS So­ci­ety in North­ern Ire­land. ‘I’ve man­aged to twist the neg­a­tive from MS into a pos­i­tive.’ He is train­ing for this year’s Dublin Marathon and also has Lon­don 2019 in his sights. There’s no clin­i­cal ev­i­dence that run­ning keeps MS at bay, but Ivan be­lieves it helps main­tain his pos­i­tive at­ti­tude to deal­ing with it.

‘I have a mantra: im­pro­vise, adapt and over­come,’ he says. ‘I truly be­lieve that is my way to keep run­ning as a big part of my life.’

‘ I STILL COULDN’T BE­LIEVE I WAS DO­ING THE MARATHON AF­TER FEEL­ING SO AW­FUL’

Though he's less com­pet­i­tive these days, Ivan still loves to run

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