Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Running and RA

Four years ago I got it in my head that a good way to celebrate turning 30 would be to run a half marathon.  At that point I had had one foot surgery and was barely running, had never run more than 2 miles.  But I thought running 13.1 sounded like a good idea.  I got my husband and brother-in-law, both also turning 30 that year, to agree.  My sister.  My Dad.  A cousin.

Then I had lingering foot problems and had to drop down to walking 4 miles instead.  A year later I had foot surgery #2.  Matt pushed me in a wheelchair for the 4 mile walk that year (we had registered before we knew about my surgery).

The next year, two years ago, I started running again, kinda.  Limp running.  Still dealing with some lingering foot and knee problems from all the surgeries and time in a boot.  I was going to PT most of the summer but still signed up to run the 4 mile race.  Which I did.  I walked a few times.  But I was barely a year past surgery and I was pretty proud I could run at all; the doctor had said it would take a year to get back to where I was before surgery and where I was before surgery wasn't a very good place, foot wise.

Then last year I knew I could do better.  I signed up for the 10k (6.2 miles).  I started running.  A LOT.  300+ miles last year.  Had more foot problems (because I always do) but ran the whole race and was quite proud of that.  The training got annoying and the pain a lot but I did it.

Then a month after the race I was at the doctor for problems I had been having with my hand.  A couple of my knuckles had been swollen for months and usually painful.  I was tired of taking Aleve twice a day to keep all my pains at bay.  I wanted a solution that got me off the daily drugs I had been on for the last 5 years.

Well.  Turns out that's never going to happen.  I was diagnosed with RA - rheumatoid arthritis.  Chronic auto-immune disease.  I'll never get rid of it, only manage it.  My body's immune system is all messed up and it attacks healthy cells.  Like the joints in my hands, my biggest problem.  I also have a weakened immune system which means I can get sick easier and take longer to get rid of it (which explains the HORRIBLE cold I had for months last fall).

I wanted off Aleve but I'm still on that twice a day as well as 3 prescriptions and a variety of supplements to help my body absorb and cope with everything.  I go to the doctor quarterly, mostly for prescription refills and blood work, to make sure my liver is coping with all the meds.  I sometimes have days where I think I'm doing fine and start skipping Aleve doses.  I quickly realize it's the drugs that are making everything fine.

I'm a pretty big hypochondriac, mostly because I feel like if I suspect it, it won't be true.  If I constantly think I might have skin cancer then I probably don't (I realize this makes little sense).  But when it comes to diseases I actually have, turns out I go into a lot of denial.  I told Matt immediately (pretty sure he got a crying voicemail from me at work) but I didn't even tell my parents for a month and my sisters a few weeks after that. Telling people made it more real.

This year, in sticking with my recent "increase my race distance every year" plan and my new "I want to do this now in case my joints get worse and I can't do this again" plan, I decided to run that half marathon I first signed up for 4 years ago. And I ran it Saturday.

My first goal: finishing.
My second goal: running the whole thing
My third goal: beating the times my sisters (2) and brother-in-laws (2) had.

And I met all my goals.
Finish time: 2:06, about 9:30 pace.

Crossing that finish line was a pretty good feeling.  It may have taken 4 years, but I finally did it.  

The run wasn’t easy but it wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be. It felt so good that I could do this, I could run 13 miles, that all my training paid off.  (Three years ago I couldn’t walk, something I thought of a lot during training.)

I prayed a rosary about half way through (at least, I think I did. I kept losing my spot, even with ticking off Hail Marys on my fingers). I wore some of Matt’s (nice, new) socks. A hat from my college roommate’s wedding, one of the strongest women I know (she ran Boston this spring and that’s just for starters).  A sports bra from one of my sisters.  A shirt with my Grandpa’s name, matching my two cousins also running the half, as well as my Dad and sister running another race. It felt like I had a whole bunch of people helping me do this run. And that’s on top of the hundreds along the route with signs, cheers, and lots of high fives.

I would have gotten emotional about it all if I wasn’t distracted by hip pain in the final miles.

I've run a lot of miles, planned my life around running especially the last 2 months.  I've had more foot blisters than I care to count, too many of them bloody (I know, probably a shoe problem.).  I've had bad 3 mile runs and great 10 mile ones.  I've pushed Luke in the stroller for a couple hundred miles and had a lot of conversations about Moana.  And jet skis.  And why other animals eat the eyes of the dead squirrel we saw every run for 2 months.  It was a good distraction.

And, besides the toe blisters, my pain is a lot less than it was a year ago.  A decent amount of drugs probably have something to do with that.  The (plum sized) cysts I've had in both knees for years have mostly gone away.  The pain isn't that bad.  Somehow all this running has made my RA even less of a problem.

Probably not enough to get me to sign up for a half marathon again next year (or, heaven forbid, the full marathon, I have NO aspirations for that).  The last couple weeks I was OVER running.  (The 80°-90° temps didn't help matters.)  I do not want to have to schedule my life around long runs, like I've done too much of recently. 

Running 10.25 miles around the lake a month(ish) ago.
But after all the foot problems I've had the last 6 years, being diagnosed with a disease that affects my joints, I'm pretty darn proud of finishing that half, and in a decent time.  I may not be 30, or even early 30s at this point.  I know quite a few people who have run it faster than me.  But I did it.  My weeks of being couch bound doesn't feel that long ago.  Until 14 months before my race I had never run more than 3 miles.  And then I turned into one of those annoying people who called 5 miles a short run.  My "short long" runs were 9 miles.
running on vacation in Florida!

It was a great lesson in accomplishing what had at once seemed impossible.  At persevering through the pain.  At keeping going even when the going was tough.   I was impressed with what my body could take, my own mental strength.  I can do more than I thought I could.  And sometimes that reminder comes in very handy.

And now I don't have to do it ever again.

(But I probably will.  That finishing high was too great to pass up again.)

(But not until I've forgotten about all the pains and blisters and giving my life over to training and tired legs and just wanting to sleep the rest of the day after running 10+ miles.  Someday it'll all be a distant memory.)

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