FloTrack Beer Mile World Championships 2014

Jim Finlayson Tackles MS and Beer Mile

Jim Finlayson Tackles MS and Beer Mile

Dec 2, 2014 by Taylor Dutch
Jim Finlayson Tackles MS and Beer Mile
Jim Finlayson Tackles Multiple Sclerosis and the Beer Mile

In 2003 Jim Finlayson won the Canadian Marathon Championships. One year later, he could barely walk and was experiencing unexplainable pain on a daily basis. The long distance runner was eventually diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and has been battling the disease on and off for the past 10 years. But in October 2014, Finlayson received miraculous test results that showed almost no signs of the disease in his body.

What had been his greatest challenge for the past 10 years had finally disappeared.

A few days ago, Finlayson was second in his age group at the Canadian Cross Country Championships, and on Dec. 3, he will compete in the Beer Mile World Championships. The former world record-holder in the event (5:09) currently coaches numerous athletes in the Victoria, British Columbia area and has been running competitively for over 20 years, despite the difficulties of MS.

“I started to lose coordination, and so if I went for a walk and I stepped on a twig I would actually trip, and I just couldn’t keep my balance,” recalled Finlayson, remembering the early symptoms.

“If I was walking on a trail, I’d lose depth perception, I was losing a little bit of vision and I’d fall pretty easily [laughs].”

Multiple Sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system, disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body. For Finlayson, the overwhelming fatigue often put him on the sidelines of training and forced him to wait it out until he could start running again, a terrifying experience for the elite runner.

“In 2003, I won the Canadian Marathon Championships and in 2004 I was going through this stuff, and it just seemed like such a crazy jump, you know like now I can’t even walk,” said Finlayson.

Luckily the symptoms started to clear up and in 2005, Finlayson was back to running full strength. He posted personal bests in the marathon (2:18:21) and half marathon (1:05:41). His PR in the marathon was good enough to earn another victory at the Canadian Marathon Championships. Things started to look up.

Unfortunately in 2009, the symptoms returned and Finlayson saw a team of neurologists to run tests, which officially determined that he had MS. The doctors recommended that he take medication for the condition, but Finlayson refused, believing that a lifestyle change would put his body on a positive trajectory.

Since the diagnosis, Finlayson has taken a more relaxed approach to training by racing shorter distances like the 10k and being more aware of how his body feels on a daily basis, modifying workouts when necessary and monitoring stressful situations. He also made dramatic shifts in his diet, focusing on foods that follow the Paleo diet, such as vegetables, meats and fatty acids that help increase fat stores, “eating to perform,” as he says. Green tea, wine and dark chocolate are also included regularly.

“It made sense to me that if I used food as my medicine, I’d be creating a healthier body, mind, more broadly and possibly give myself a better chance,” said Finlayson.

“I’m a running coach now, and I really try to incorporate that into my athletes, just that we want this, we love this sport, we want it to be part of our lifestyle, but I don’t want to and I wouldn’t want to see any one of my athletes do anything that isn’t good for their long term health.”

Since the test results came back in October, Finlayson’s neurologists are dumbfounded at the progress his body has made.

“All they’ve said is, ‘whatever you’re doing, keep doing it’ [laughs].”

After an impressive showing at the Canadian Cross Country Championships just days ago, Finlayson will attempt to race for the title in the Beer Mile World Championships tomorrow. He is 42 now and his previous world record was set seven years ago, but Finlayson is confident and excited to toe the line.

As he said in his blog entry from Nov. 3, “The apogee of what I thought was possible is still up ahead. And isn’t this the key; to continue pushing as we move through life, so that our possibilities remain an arm’s length in the future?”