Aussie racing in American River 50 running for his life

James finds healing power to cope with stiff person syndrome
By: Matthew Kimel, Journal sports editor
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People often overuse the expression that somebody is running for their life.

Shane James literally runs for his life. Several times a week, in fact.

James, a 42-year-old Australian set to run in Saturday’s American River 50, suffers from stiff person syndrome.

While he wasn’t diagnosed with the rare neurological condition until 2007, he was born with the degenerative disorder that gives him spasms that can make him cry out in pain and sometimes can be so severe that they cause bones to break.

But James has found a unique way to cope with his aches.
“Running helps control my pain and releases endorphins in my spine,” he said.

“Running gives me a better quality of life. I don’t think I’d be here if I wasn’t running and doing what I have done.”

In a way, James has created his own rehab program.

James, who hails from Tasmania, logs about 100 miles running a week. He once did a 300-miler for a charity run down under.

He’s even compared himself to Forest Gump for his ability to keep going and going. 

On Saturday he’ll be running from Sacramento to Auburn in the American River 50 in hopes of qualifying for the 2014 Western States. He’s a two-time finisher of the Boston Marathon.

He’s not expecting to win the American River 50, but feels it will serve as a good tune-up.

The race begins at Guy West Bridge, located at 865 University Ave. in Sacramento at 6 a.m., and finishes at the Auburn Overlook located at 855 Pacific Ave. in the Endurance Capital of the World.

Spectators are invited to cheer on the runners, who train for an average of six months prior to competing. The race's winners are expected to cross the finish line around noon. The middle of the pack figures to reach Auburn around 3 to 5 p.m., and the last runner may take until 7 p.m. to complete the task.

James was a mile runner in his school days. He was also a 1,500-meter runner, a sprinter and played field hockey. But he always wanted to do a marathon. Then he realized the healing power of ultrarunning.

“Having this illness has basically taught me how to push through pain,” he said. “I love running. It’s given me a life back again. I love all forms of running.”

Running has taken James all across the world. A few years ago he raced in a 100-miler in India by the Himalayans. It was there that he met a girlfriend from Northern California, whom he’s currently visiting for a “90-day trial period.”

Kati Bell of Lake Tahoe recently described the power running has for James.

“He’ll have severe spasms and pain going through his body while running,” Bell said. “He’s so tough he just runs through it. He’s discovered that sodium caps counteract the pain. The electrolytes, all the ultra runners know about it. It might be a miracle solution for some of his pain. Regular pain medicine can wreak havoc and wipe him out.”

Australian media have written about James in the past. According to the Tasmanian newspaper the Mercury, the clinical definition of stiff person syndrome is “is characterized by muscle rigidity that waxes and wanes with concurrent painful spasms. Usually, it begins in the axial muscles — those in the trunk and head —and extends to the legs and arms.”

James has found ways to help others who suffer from stiff person syndrome with his healing methods online through Facebook groups and chats. He also enjoys running in charity races.

“Running for rare diseases gave me hope when all felt lost,” he said. “Running with a rare disease has given me a life full of hope. Fight on — never give up!”

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