Rheumatoid Arthritis and a 5k?

Several months back I was listening to a podcast.  The guest on the podcast shared her experiences of treating folks with disease.  She said something along the lines of when a disease is in remission, we should not think of ourselves as having that disease but instead of having “tendencies” towards that disease.  I really liked that.  My rheumatologist hasn’t said that I am in remission but for the last year and a half my inflammation rates have been excellent, I haven’t had any major flare-ups, and I have been able to do anything I set my mind to physically.  The only thing that seemed to be holding me back  was the idea that I HAVE rheumatoid arthritis.  What if I instead thought, “I have tendencies towards rheumatoid arthritis.”  This new thought really opened up my mind to setting new goals for myself.
My daughter started running cross country over the summer for high school.  I loved how she came home exhausted, yet had a feeling of energy about her.  I knew she was working hard physically and mentally to keep going.  I wanted that for myself.  I decided that with my new thought pattern, I was going to set a goal for myself of running a 5K.  My husband and son were on board to run with me.
I started my training off slow.  My border collie Izzy and I walked for a ways and then jogged until I felt the need to stop.  We walked and then if up to it, we jogged again.  There is a lot of controversy about the benefits of jogging/running, but the look Izzy gave me each time I said, “run”, was worth any issues I may have experienced.  When she started running I wanted to run.  I wanted to feel that same freedom I saw in her.  Whenever I thought I was going to stop due to lack of energy or muscles that wanted to stop, I refocused my mind on something else – much like we do with RA when experiencing a flare.
I have to admit that at first my hips and knees were sore.  I ran one day, walked the next.  At first I thought, “Oh, it is my rheumatoid arthritis causing this pain.”  But then I stopped and remembered my new thought pattern.  When my daughter started running, she complained about the same issues.  Okay, not every ache and pain has to be contributed to rheumatoid arthritis.  One thing I did do was buy a foam roller.  This thing is magic.  It was first bought for Sophia who was having some IT band issues.  Soon, the whole family was using it.  When used on areas that are tight, it can hurt, but afterwards you feel so much better.  It is like giving yourself a little massage.
When I started this new journey of running a 5K, I made a deal with myself.  I would honor my body above all else.  If I felt RA slipping back, I would take a break and let my body heal.    At first it didn’t seem like this would be an issue. After running for over a month, I was surprised at how quickly my endurance grew.  I kept track of my time and mileage on a phone app and felt elated when it sent me an email telling me that I had run my furthest on record that day.  When I finally met my goal of running 5K on my own, I felt on top of the world.
Then rheumatoid arthritis decided to make a comeback.  The pain of first starting a new physical activity is different from that of rheumatoid arthritis and I knew the difference.  My symptoms weren’t awful, but enough to make me stop and honor my body as I told myself I would do.  Was I disappointed?  You bet I was.  My plan was to keep running so my time would be great when the actual 5K happened.  The look of pride I had envisioned on my daughter’s face had kept me motivated through weeks of runs.  I looked forward to taking photos of my husband, son, and me in our new Scarecrow Run shirts. I even dreamed of the blog post I would write after the run.   After  feeling the grief of new symptoms, I decided I wasn’t finished yet.  I would take a short break from training and let rheumatoid arthritis do its thing and then get back on top of training before the 5K.  I even convinced myself that I would be okay if it came down to a walk/run on the big night. 
The 5K didn’t happen.  It was last night.  My RA “tendencies” have obviously become RA active.  My feet, knee, and hips are aware that rheumatoid arthritis is a part of who I am, even when I try to dismiss it as reality.   I have spent the last few days reflecting on my need to run this race.  Why was it so important to me?  Some ideas have come to mind. 
·         I am 45.  I am no longer a young chick.  I was reminded of this at my rheumy appointment on Friday when the young nurse asked, “Are you still having menstrual cycles?”
·         Do I feel I need to prove to myself that I am still physically fit?
·         Did I want to prove to rheumatoid arthritis that it didn’t have control over my life?  That I can outsmart it?  That I am stronger than it?

Many thoughts have gone through my mind.  The last few days have been a little blue.  In addition to not being able to run the 5K, my rheumy said that despite my great blood work and overall feeling most of the time, I still have a lot of swelling on certain joints and my last x-rays showed thinning of bones in both hands.   Plus, I have this new “trigger” thing in my fingers.  She is running a Vectra DA to see if we can find out anything new.
I still like the idea of thinking of myself as having “tendencies” towards rheumatoid arthritis rather than “having” rheumatoid arthritis.  I think sometimes the diagnosis can prevent us from setting new goals for ourselves and reaching those goals.  I didn’t run the 5K last night as planned.  Instead I helped my daughter prepare for her first homecoming dance. I didn’t miss out on the photos with her friends.   I was there living in the moment with her.  As I stood watching her in all of her beauty, I realized that this is where I find my peace of mind.  This is where I don’t have to fight or prove anything.  I can just be mom, my favorite thing to be.  My desire to run this 5K was really about my internal battle with rheumatoid arthritis. It was a fight and I wanted to be the winner.  In the end, I think I have won.  I didn’t win by running the 5K.  I won by challenging myself to do something big and making that challenge come true.  I can run a 5K.  My RunKeeper app can prove it!  I won by listening to my body above all else.   And I won by participating in my daughter’s special day – a day that brought both pleasure to her and me.  Life will never go as planned with or without rheumatoid arthritis.  When I let my negativity and need to prove myself as the winner with rheumatoid arthritis, I lose.  This is the part I am still working on.
I had my husband go ahead and pick up our shirts because we paid for them and also because it is a good reminder to me of what I have accomplished and what I still need to work towards in my battle with rheumatoid arthritis.  

6 thoughts on “Rheumatoid Arthritis and a 5k?

  1. I can completely understand your urge to control your RA. Shortly after my intial diagnosis while in a prednisone induced state of euphoria I decided I was going to run a half-marathon. I was not a runner, had never run a 5K, but I wanted to, scratch that needed to be in control of something. It was my way of saying, “This disease will not beat me!” I started training that April and ran my race at the end of August and ran the entire way. Whether or not you ran the actual race, you were successful for reaching your goal. Congratulations and keep up the exercise!



  2. Hey, you still ran the 5k!!! in your OWN spare time, instead of eating pizza like i do most of the time. 🙂 who cares when everyone else ran it, we all have different schedules (and RA has its own schedule too!). Well done and try not to be blue for too long (i know you won't!)


  3. Carla

    I agree with Squirrel. Hey you ran the 5K! Your phone app is proof. Did you run it on the exact day and time you expected? No, but you met your goal and that's to be celebrated. You know so well that RA evolves. Just because your “tendencies” have morphed (temporarily) into “activities” doesn't mean that there aren't more mountains to climb in your future and finish lines to cross. Congratulations on achieving a wonderful goal (and being there for your daughter). All the best – Carla


  4. Cathy what a beautiful post. I too need to be willing to tackle some physical goals that are within reach….AND live in the moment. You are absolutely amazing and your posts have a tendency to bring such encouragement to me in my ongoing battle (mental and physical) with RA.


  5. I took a lot away from this post. You touched my heart with it by sharing yours. Thank you. And as a mama, I understand the peace you wrote of. So grateful we have that to rest in. I rejoice with you over your 5K victory! And I'm sorry you were not able to run on race day. I'm so proud of you, Cathy!!


  6. Cathy,

    Sitting here with tears in my eyes – Congratulations on a race well run. The best part of your race was the grace with which you chose to honor your body when the flare hit.

    I, too, was enjoying a respite, and now the hurricane approaches and I am reminded that RA still lurks in my joints.

    I think the only way we win this race is by following your lead – doing what we can when we can and humbly accepting what RA doles out in between.

    You are such an inspiration to us all, my friend.


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