Training with Rheumatoid Arthritis

I used to love running. Running has been my link to sanity in every difficult moment of my life. I ran as a child, as a teen and as an adult. I ran short and long distances and I’ve always loved running in the hills. I love running downhill and taking flight almost as much as I love running up hill and feeling fire in my lungs.

When I can’t shut my brain off I go for a run and it fixes everything. It’s been my meditation, my therapy and my joy.

With he onset of Rheumatoid Arthritis I went from running a few miles a day to not being able to walk upstairs in my house almost overnight. In addition to the toll it took on my body there was a huge price to pay emotionally. Without being able to move well I was antsy, grumpy and sad all at once. I’d watch people run past me and stare wistfully.

In the last few months a combination of medicines has allowed me to exercise again. I can take long walks and hikes and still feel okay and I can even run a few miles without aches.

I’ve worked up to a four mile run. Rheumatologists will tell RA patients that you should exercise only to the point where you don’t feel joint soreness an hour or a day afterward. What’s been difficult for me as a former athlete is that my old mindset was to exercise to the point of pain. Not extreme pain, but in order to grow muscle strength you need to push it and feel something, a strain, fatigue… light pain.

Exercising when you’re an RA patient means stopping before there is pain and it’s a wholly unsatisfying experience.

Today I did a flat four miles of interval training. I would run at a slow but steady pace for 3 minutes and then walk for one. My hips didn’t hurt, my ankles and toes felt fine an hour later and even this evening. I never lost my wind. I never felt a burning in my chest and I never lost track of time.

My new normal isn’t leaving me happy.

I’ve signed up to run a half marathon in April and it looks like I’ll need to readjust my goals. I won’t be running. I’ll be walking because it’s the only way that I’ll be able to make the distance without injuring my joints.

I should be incredibly grateful that I have the ability to do this long walk. I’m not there yet. Maybe this race (though I’ll hardly be competing with anyone) will be a milestone that can help the disappointment dissipate.

I wish I was running. I’m trying to not look at walking as a defeat.

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