Wednesday, December 6, 2017

One Year Later: 8 Lessons I've Learned About Running with RA

On Saturday, I am lining up with my rheumatologist and a host of other runners for the Jingle Bell Run for Arthritis. A 5k run and walk, this is a national race to raise awareness and money for arthritis research. In a strange twist of fate, Saturday is also my one year anniversary of my diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. I find it oddly appropriate to be participating in this race on this most inauspicious of anniversaries.

I've shared a great deal of my journey this year here on the blog. My diagnosis was devastating to me, an avid athlete and can't stop, won't stop kind of gal. Talk about hitting a runner where it hurts, right? I refused to let this diagnosis limit me, as I continued running and working out throughout the year.At times, it would have been easier to just give in and stay on the couch, but that isn't me. I'm pleased to tell you that as of this writing, I have run over 1000 miles in 2017! And I've still got the rest of December!

Many of those miles were hard, tears were shed, and I struggled to find my mojo again. One year later, here I am, still running and adding up the miles. While I'm not symptom-free, I've found a way to live with my symptoms and keep on moving. For today's post, I wanted to share some of the lessons I've learned this year while running with RA.



Medications Aren't the Devil
You would not believe how many people reached out to me this past year to offer me advice about alternative treatments for RA. I had people tell me not to take methotrexate (MTX), which is one of the main drugs used to treat RA. When my rheumatologist talked to me about starting methotrexate, she addressed my fears. Being a nurse practitioner, I did my research and what I learned about MTX as a treatment for RA was reassuring. Bottom line, I have aggressive RA and I need aggressive treatment.

Conquering Bump n Grind Trail in Palm Springs
You Are What You Eat
I've adopted a more anti-inflammatory diet. While I don't think this diet will cure me, I have noticed that certain foods (beef, Chinese food) cause an increase in symptoms. I'm actually eating better since my diagnosis with RA and that's not a bad thing. But I do eat foods that I know aren't particularly healthy and I'm still drinking wine. I have to live my life, too. Everything in moderation, right?


There are days when my hands resemble lobster claws.
Running Doesn't Ruin Your Joints, Arthritis Ruins Your Joints
For the first time in my life, I have knee pain. Sometimes they swell up. But it's not from running. Believe it or not, there are rheumatologists who tell their patients not to run. That's old school. When I was diagnosed--by a sports medicine doctor, no less--I made sure that she referred me to a doctor who would let me keep running. And here I am lining up with her for a road race. Sweet.

Rock 'N' Roll Chicago in July
Lift All the Weight
In an effort to protect my joints, I've continued my work at the CrossFit box. In fact, I've increased my frequency to twice weekly. I've gotten stronger and the increased strength means less stress on the joints as I move through my miles and my daily activities. We have had to modify some of my workouts because of wrist pain, but my coaches are plenty creative and have no lack of activities to torture me.

Still my deadlift PR! The colored plates, y'all...
Use it or Lose it
I cannot tell you how many mornings I have woken up with painful stiffness this year and have been so tempted to stay in bed or call off work. There have been plenty of days when it has taken every ounce of gumption to lace up my shoes and get out the door. Or on the yoga mat. I've fought tears during yoga class because I'm so stiff that I can't get in certain poses. Why do it then? Because I know that in the end, all this activity is going to help me keep moving. In fact, the more I move, the more I increase my mobility and maintain function.

SUP yoga in Florida
No Matter How Fast or Slow You Go, You're Still A Runner
The loss of speed and endurance has been devastating to me. I'm pretty sure I uttered the f-word more this year than I have in my entire life. My mom would be washing my mouth out with soap on a daily basis if she knew. Silly, naive me thought that the run/walk intervals were a temporary stop-gap measure until I went into remission. Until they weren't. So I threw some speedwork into those intervals, once a week, and finished last month's half marathon at a pace and time I could be proud of. As my friend Marcia said to me at lunch last week, "it's still in you".

My RA PR, the Schaumburg Half Marathon last month. It's still there!
RA is an "Invisible" Disease
Since I've stayed so active through this year, I've had people actually comment that my disease must not be "that bad". Grrrrr. Don't judge a book by its cover. I'd love to tell them that I wake up every morning with my hands so swollen and stiff that I can't straighten them. That at times getting up off the couch makes me feel like an 80 year old. That I feel so nauseous at random times I'm worried I may vomit. But I try not to focus on all that. My goal is to keep on moving. The lesson here is that you never know what a person is going through by the way they look.



Acceptance is a Journey, Not a Destination
Right now, I'm in a good place with my disease. I'm running, I'm lifting, I'm LIVING. I know that the rug could be pulled out from under me at any given time. RA is, in the words of my rheumatologist, "a shitty disease". There are flares and there is resistance to treatments. I know my disease is progressing because of the symptoms I continue to feel on a daily basis. I am grateful for all that I can do today.

First time tandem slalom skiing with my pal Holly!
Oprah said that "running is a metaphor for life." I always thought this saying was kind of corny, but it really is true. Run the mile you're in. Run your own race. Running has taught me so many lessons that I've been able to apply to my life off the road. Running with RA has brought all those lessons together.

Run on.

I'm linking up with Debbie, Lora, and Rachel for Coaches' Corner and  Running on Happy and Fairytales and Fitness for the Friday 5.0.








59 comments :

  1. Totally agree about "use it or lose it." Sometimes I wake up so stiff and a workout loosens everything up. This is a concept we tried to explain to my father-in-law who sat in a chair all day.

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    1. After my diagnosis, my sisters would comment that "Grandma (who had RA) didn't run". No, she didn't. She sat in a chair all day too. She wasn't a complainer though.

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  2. Of course I don't love that you have RA but I love that you're finding your way around it and not letting it stop you. If I had a dollar for every person who told me they stopped doing whatever activity they loved for one medical reason or another, I'd be spending the winter lounging at my tiki hut in Fiji. I honestly think the key to aging well is to keep moving. In all respects. Mentally, physically, spiritually. Run on my friend!

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    1. I'm just not good at sitting still! Plus, I have all these really active friends that I need to keep up with...

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  3. You are a role model for living your life and not letting your RA slow you down. So glad to see that you have found a treatment that works for you and an exercise regimen that has made you stronger.

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    1. I'm really grateful for the fitness I had prior to my diagnosis! I think that has helped me stay motivated.

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  4. I know that the diagnosis was hard, but I have been so impressed by your hard work and drive throughout this entire year. You are dealing with everything so well.

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    1. It hasn't always been pretty behind the scenes, but the fact that I have accumulated all those miles this year tells the story!

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  5. I love that you will be running with your doctor!

    That you are willing to share this painful journey with us is your gift to your readers. Role models are not only those who win top place, they are those who keep at it when things are rough. You are, every day, an inspiration, as a runner and as a woman and in facing life head-on no matter what it throws at you. You have given me the encouragement to start over in a few months after I retire. At least to try.
    Thank you for all you do and for all you are. (Insert love emoticon here).

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    1. You've just been such a source of love and support through all of this and that means the world to me! I'm pretty jealous that you get to retire soon!

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  6. I hope you have a wonderful 5k this weekend and I’m sure it will be full of emotion. You are a fighter and an inspiration to women battling RA and to all of us! Thank you for sharing your struggles and being so honest. You’ve had an amazing year and persevered through so much! Blessings to you and a great 2018 coming up!

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    1. Thank you Katie! It's been a challenging year, but I'm coming out of it stronger, I think!

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  7. RA 26 years, I take only methotrexate and plaquinel. Twisted toes in -20 weather, I went for a slow jog and brisk walk yesterday all bundled up for 1 hour. It’s always hard to motivate yourself but once it’s over, your body feels like a million bucks.

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    1. Exactly! I love that after 26 years, you're still going strong! You know how good it makes you feel to move--it might take a little longer to get started but yep, it's worth a million bucks.

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  8. "You aren't faking being sick you are faking being healthy." As a new comer to the invisible illness / autoimmune world, I appreciate your blog even more and this post the most. Thank you!! Keep on keeping on!!

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    1. I love that! The invisibility of this disease has been one of the toughest things for me to deal with. Do I have to dramatize my symptoms to get people to believe how bad this disease is?

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  9. Thank goodness that wine doesn't cause flares!

    Seriously, though, like it or not, you are an inspiration for other people (runners or not) who have RA or other diseases that limit their movement. Heck, I just have regular old lady arthritis and you inspire me!

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    1. Oh, wine is anti-inflammatory! At least that's what I tell myself...

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  10. This is so inspirational Wendy! My mom has RA too and struggles a lot when it gets cold mostly, but it's a serious disease for sure! But, it's amazing to see you haven't given up hope and haven't lost your passions for what you love!! That diagnosis doesn't stand a chance in stopping you girl!! Keep on keepin' on!! Good luck at your 5k!! You're going to rock that thing!

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    1. I'm so happy to be able to do my thing still and feel proud!

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  11. You do what you can when you can and you do it well! Keep fighting :)

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    1. I'm not good at not doing, so looking back on the year was really empowering for me! I think I did more this year than I have for a while!

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  12. You have been such an inspiration and despite the challenges you continue to fight! I hope you have a wonderful race.

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    1. This one is all about fun and celebrating!

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  13. Your ability to stay active is a testament to all your previous years of activity. You're an amazing athlete and inspiration, Wendy!

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    1. Thank you! I'm so glad I have been so active over the years. It makes it more difficult for me to give up!

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  14. I'm sorry you were dealt such a shitty hand. But you're such a strong person -- you can fight through anything. You've been such an inspiration to me. Keep moving, mama. <3

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  15. It's been a crazy (and challenging) year for many of us...in ways none of could have predicted. I'm glad we all have each other to support, to laugh with, to wipe each others' tears, and to learn from. You've been such an amazing warrior! Keep it up!

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    1. Back at you! I'm glad we're both on the road.

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  16. This is a great post, and it shows just how far you have come this year. You have overcome so much and I know you will continue to do so. It sucks that you have to deal with this but I'm glad you have been able to continue running, moving, and living your life.

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    1. That's all any of us could ask for, right? I'm so happy to end this year on a positive note.

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  17. Love this post... medication is not the devil ... sometimes media gives the impression that if we all just eat right and exercise we would not need medications, and that just isn’t the case... yes to wine in moderation and yes to more strength training... that’s what I’m trying to work on (the strength part; I’ve got the wine part covered of course)

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    1. I think you and I both fight that medication battle more often than we care to admit! I'm glad for science and all they do for RA--my grandmother didn't get the opportunity to take MTX until she was quite old, but it made a huge difference for her.

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  18. <3 <3 <3
    I love that you are running THAT race on THAT day. It's sort of poetic justice -- if only it were the happy ending to your RA story, but I know you will keep running this marathon called life. ;-)

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  19. You are an inspiration, Wendy! I only started following your blog after your diagnosis and it was mostly because I knew that your attitude wasn't going to let RA get the best of you! I've enjoyed sharing this journey with you and know you've got many more miles in you. :D

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    1. RA tried to get the best of me, so many times. It's never fun to read a whiny blog post, so writing forced me to find the good in all this, even when I was crying. This blog was the best therapy and you all were the best therapists!

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  20. I resonate with so much of this not through RA, but with my hypothyroidism and hormonal issues. Everything from the concerns about medications, but really needing it in the end to having an invisible disease that sometimes you feel you are pushing through alone. Know that you are an amazing inspiration to us all with your openness, honesty, and dedication.

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    1. I'm always happy to find a kindred spirit. You never know what battles another person is fighting. We're in this life together.

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  21. Nothing is going to bring you down, my friend. Yes, it's a big curve in the road. You've navigated it with such spirit and grace -- and maybe sometimes on two wheels -- but your handling is superb.

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    1. I'm pretty happy to have such awesome friends who are willing to drag me along on fun adventures!

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  22. Love the fighting spirt within you! You are such an inspiration to all us staying active as we age. I love your no excuse attitude - just get out there and push yourself to do your best! Im sad you were given this DX but I’m damn proud of you, it doesn’t define you! You are one tough cookie! May the jingle bell run be pain free, A+ For how you handle a shitty hand dealt to you!!

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    1. It's been fun having you come back into my life with our shared love for running! I'd be sad if I couldn't be out there doing it. As for you my friend, I love how you're blowing expectations out of the water! Stay fast!

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  23. You are such an inspiration! Thank you so much for sharing your story!! I love that you included running does not ruin your joints and medications are not the Devil!!

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    1. It's so sad that so many people have told me how I'm going to ruin my joints by continuing to run. Why would you tell someone that? And why would anyone tell someone not to take a medication?

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  24. I love every word here. You are such a fighter and an inspiration and those aren't just words to me - I REALLY mean it. I cannot imagine how hard it is to live with RA as a runner and super active, healthy woman, but you have shown how it is done!! Keep it up because I know when my workouts get tough, I can think of you and push on!! Good luck at the race this weekend - perfect timing!!

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    1. On those days I want to quit or stay in bed, I always think about how badly I'll feel if I don't at least try. That's all it takes. That's all it ever has taken me, even pre-RA!

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  25. Aw Wendy, this was such a beautiful post. I'm so sorry you have to deal with this condition. You are so tough and strong. Keep fighting and never ever give up. <3

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    1. Thank you so much for your support. I used to run to get me through those tough days when my boys were little. Now my running gets me through this. The road is a great therapist!

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  26. I have been incredibly impressed by your persistence and dedication over the past year. So many people in your situation would have given up on fitness altogether, and you've used it as part of your coping mechanism. Keep at it, and ignore those who don't think that you're actually facing the challenge of RA.

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    1. Isn't it crazy? Just because I'm out there running or lifting or whatever--I'm fighting this thing with all I've got. I'm not going down easy...

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  27. YOU are a force to be reckoned with and you give others hope!! I love that you don't let your arthritis diagnosis control you!

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  28. This has been quite a journey for you and although it was a struggle at times, you handle it well and show R.A who's boss Wendy! Have fun on Saturday, that race is So fitting!

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  29. yes to all. I;ve learned many of the same lessons over my years with Crohns, and I can second you on them!

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  30. I'm a big believer in use it or lose it, in general. My grandparents sat in chairs after retirement, and they weren't active. Then they couldn't be active. I'm convinced The Queen and Prince Philip have been able to stay active for so long because they stay active.

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  31. I am totally with Oprah, but then I'm a corny sort of gal.

    It's not easy when life hands you a bad hand of cards, but you are absolutely right about use it or lose it. I've seen that happen to the elderly. Sometimes it's not their fault -- and sometimes it is. I'm not going down without a fight, and I'm so happy to see you haven't, either!

    And as you know, I'm a huge believer in healthy eating. But none of us eat "perfectly", however that might be, and life without a few indulgences isn't living. Giving up alcohol was easy for me, but you'll have to pry my chocolate treats out of my cold, dead hands, LOL!

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  32. Oh my gosh, you and Holly on the water skis!! I feel like this should be your Christmas card!

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  33. This is quite simply ...beautiful! You are such an inspiration and such a BADASS woman!!

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