Seth Matheson spent four years starting for the soccer team at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I. Then he began having problems with his right leg. “It would just stop working,” says Mr. Matheson, an account executive at Bowdoin Group, an executive search firm in Wellesley, Mass. “It got to the point where I couldn’t run, and if I did, I’d fall down.”
In 2003, at age 23, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. MS causes the immune system to attack the central nervous system, and affects the ability of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to communicate with each other. After his diagnosis, Mr. Matheson, who is now 28, was first upset. Then he became determined to run again.
Though fatigue, overheating and blurred vision are common complications of MS, Mr. Matheson’s doctor told him he could and should continue exercising—but to be aware of how hard he was pushing himself. “I would run every day and would always fall and come home bloody,” he says. “But I kept going, to the point where I could run three miles.”
Mr. Matheson decided to run in the October 2005 Cape Cod marathon. Training was tough. “I was very lethargic, going to bed at 8:30 p.m. and waking up at 6 a.m.,” he says. He made it to mile 24 in less than three hours. “But then I started cramping up and I knew it had nothing to do with my MS. I had gone out way too fast,” he says. He didn’t make it to the finish line.
He then signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon, which was just 21 days later. He finished it in three hours and 33 minutes. To date, he has raced five marathons. Though he gets tired more easily due to his MS, the more he works out, the better he feels. “I try as hard as I can not to blame MS for anything,” he says.
Mr. Matheson has a somewhat unorthodox approach to marathon training. He doesn’t track his mileage, though he estimates that he logs between 60 to 80 miles a week when he’s getting ready for a race. Even when he’s not training for a marathon, he tries to run six days a week, and usually follows up his runs with 45 to 60 minutes of strength training.
Mr. Matheson’s girlfriend is a group fitness instructor, and he often works out with her. He incorporates a lot of isometric and plyometric exercises into his routine. (Isometric exercises are those performed in a static position, while plyometric exercises are fast, explosive movements, such as jumping up on a box.) He usually spends about 45 minutes in the gym going through two circuits of both types of exercises, including bench presses, pull-ups, jumping rope and bench jumps. For the first set, he selects a maximum weight where he can just complete 10 reps of each exercise. For the second round, he picks a slightly lower weight in order to complete 12 to 15 reps.
On weekends he’ll bike ride between 30 and 70 miles with friends. Mr. Matheson also plays midfielder in an adult soccer league during the spring, summer and fall. He plays in 90-minute games every Saturday. Occasionally, he will take a yoga class.
T he Diet :
Mr. Matheson tries to moderate carbohydrate intake and eat a diet high in fiber and protein. For breakfast he has a bowl of Fiber One cereal with skim milk and berries, along with a cup of coffee. He packs lunch, which is usually a salad topped with grilled chicken. He and his girlfriend cook dinner most nights, usually fish with a vegetable as a side. He snacks throughout the day on yogurt with granola or rice cakes topped with almond butter.
Cost and Gear:
Mr. Matheson estimates that he spends about $1,000 a year on workout clothing. Overheating is one of the symptoms associated with MS, so he buys wicking clothing, which repels sweat. He also wears organic cotton T-shirts and compression shorts, which are similar to bike shorts. He wears Saucony Progrid Ride sneakers ($85) and usually goes through three to four pairs a year. He has a single-speed, fixed-gear commuter bike that cost about $1,000. His Cervelo Soloist racing bike cost about $3,000.
Mr. Matheson likes to mix it up. “Don’t get into a rut of doing three exercises of three sets or 10 reps,” he says. “Add lunges to your bicep curls, and crunches to your bench press and shoulder presses with your deadlifts. Keep confusing your muscles.”
When he’s short on time, Mr. Matheson does one fast set of 12 reps of exercises for every major body part, with no rest in between. He then runs through each exercise again.