ST. CHARLES, MO – A St. Charles man faced with a life-changing diagnosis will embark on a challenge that will push his body to the limit. As the sun rises over the Colorado mountains Saturday morning (Aug. 18), Matthew Porter will begin running and will not stop for nearly 30 hours.
For two years, Porter has been training for the Leadville Trail 100, an annual ultramarathon that will take him on trails and dirt roads near Leadville, CO through the heart of the Rocky Mountains.
Porter's journey to the 100-mile race began eight years ago. He was married with three kids and growing a new company. Porter, admittedly, was not living the healthiest lifestyle.
An innocent conversation with his then six-year-old daughter about her wedding day was the turning point for the rest of Porter`s life.
'She pokes me in my stomach," he said. "'You have a lot of squishy. I don`t know if you`re going to make it,'" Porter's daughter said to him.
The very next day, Porter took the first steps towards changing his life, but it was easier said than done.
'Wrong shoes, wrong gear," he remembered. "Got up, went to go run a mile, made it about 100 to 150 feet.'
Porter walked the rest of the mile that first day. Each day after, Porter ran a little further. Then a little further. As he ran, the pounds melted away.
"I look back at who that person looks like, and it almost looks like a different person.'
Feeling good about the changes he was seeing both physically and mentally, Porter continued running. However, the long-distance runs led to some wear and tear on his body.
Three and a half years ago, a doctor ordered an MRI to look into some tension Porter was feeling in his back. That is when the doctor first noticed signs of Multiple Sclerosis.
On a scale from one to ten, Porter says most days his pain is at a two or three. On the bad days, it is closer to a seven or eight. Sometimes he experiences uncontrollable tingling from his fingertips to the back of his skull. Other times, his chest muscles contract intensely into what he says people in the M.S. community call the "M.S. hug."
Porter says looking back, he had been experiencing signs of M.S. long before his diagnosis.
'I have probably had this disease for 25 years, and there`s actually some reassurance that comes with that because I wasn`t going to change anything that I had planned.'
One might assume a diagnosis like that would force Porter to cut back on his endurance sport, but his doctor advised just the opposite.
'He says, `Absolutely not. Absolutely not. You`re able to deal with the neurological stress level that most of my patients will never be able to deal with, and it`s probably partially due to (running). If not entirely due to it. So, as long, as hard, as fast as you can for as long as you can. `'
Porter kept running and set a goal to complete a 100-mile ultramarathon.
'I wanted to have some demonstration that (M.S.) did not, would not beat me.'
In 2016, after a year of training and preparing, Porter made his first attempt at the 100-mile ultramarathon in Leadville. After a slow start to the race, Porter attempted to make up some time by picking up the pace and passing other runners.
'The next thing I know, I have this feeling of somebody stabbing my right hamstring.'
Porter`s hamstring was torn near mile eight leaving him with no control over his right foot.
'So, I`m torquing it which then became a lean to the left side, which then became me trying to reset that lean so I became hunched over, and by mile 77ish in the race, I`m actually completely bent over on trekking poles at a 90-degree angle.'
Porter continued until near mile 87 when his body could not carry him any further.
Most people would not know Porter was living with M.S. Only in the past year has he spoken publicly about his diagnosis. He is running the Leadville Trail 100 to benefit Race to Erase M.S., an organization dedicated to the treatment and cure of Multiple Sclerosis. He has raised $28,000 as of this reporting. (https://go.rallyup.com/porterleadville100/Campaign)
Porter expects the race will take 28-30 hours to complete. The race will kick off at 4 a.m. Saturday and he hopes to cross the finish line by 8 a.m. Sunday.
"Very beginning of the race for me, I feel really, really good, and I`m enjoying almost every moment of it," Porter said. "By the time I hit the turnaround point, there`s always a moment of, 'You know, you could stop.'"
It is in those moments Porter depends on his crew at the aid stations to get him going again.
"This selfless crew will be the ones that will untie my shoes, take them off, change my socks, change my shoes, and make sure I get out of that aid station, and they`ll do it in about two and a half to three minutes.'
Jay Steinback, Porter's friend and a member of his crew, said he had no idea how grueling it would be to support his friend along the 100-mile journey.
'I went into it the first year expecting, like, a marathon," said Steinback. "You know, I`m going to go hang out, and he`s going to come running by, and I`m going to hand him a little cup of water and then just hang out for the rest of the day.'
Steinback said each member of Porter's crew takes on a responsibility whether it is providing Porter with water, changing his shoes or charging his phone.
Porter says it can be difficult relying on others during the ultramarathon. It is something he thinks about during his long runs when all he can hear are his own thoughts.
'I do wonder if there`s part of me that`s conditioning myself emotionally that that actually might be part of my future with the disease. To need that help.'
Until then, Porter will continue running and training, not for the next finish line, but for the day he will walk his daughter down the aisle. After all, that is what started this whole journey.