EUGENE, Ore. -- Over the past 34 years, Michael Lytton has trained for and participated in six marathons and more than twenty half marathons.
“It kind of feels like flying, I guess, when you get into a rhythm,” said Lytton. “I like the freedom of it.”
Lytton said he expects to feel that same exhilaration on Sunday when he, his wife Tricia, and son Nathan run 13.1 miles in the Eugene Half Marathon.
It’s a long and exhausting run for most participants. Despite his extensive long distance experience, for Lytton it's no different.
“When the form starts to go away I can actually hear it with my feet dragging,” said Lytton. “That's my body telling me what I can and can't do.”
Lytton needs to heed his body’s warnings more than most runners.
He’s living with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
According to U.S. National Library of Medicine, ALS is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control muscle movement and is marked by progressive atrophy and weakness.
Experts say ALS affects five out of every 100,000 people worldwide and that death often occurs within three to five years of diagnosis.
About 25% of patients survive for more than five years after diagnosis.
“I feel hurt sometimes because it feels like I'm losing my father,” said Lytton’s son Nathan. “I'm watching him get older every day quicker than anybody should have to.”
Lytton said doctors diagnosed him with ALS last year.
“September 21, 2010,” said Lytton. “I remember that day pretty well. In fact [my wife] and I took a run right after the diagnosis. I needed to just clear my mind.”
Since September, Lytton said he has lost lost ten pounds of muscle and that his eight minute mile pace has slowed to about twelve minutes per mile.
“It feels a little bit like a lightning bolt came out of the air and hit you,” said Lytton. “In some ways that would be easier because it would be a quick death. This one is slow.”
But for this lifelong runner, ALS won't stop Lytton from competing in the half-marathon. In fact, he and his family plan to use the event as a platform to raise ALS awareness.
“It says ‘ALS bites,’” said Lytton reciting the statement on the back of his race-day shirt. “I wanted to use some stronger language, but this works.”
When he’s feeling well, Lytton said he can still run at a steady clip. He hopes to raise awareness of ALS with the people he passes on Sunday.
“There will be people behind me,” said Lytton. “And I think if people are aware of it then they'll want to help. Eventually we'll find a cure.”