Some people gasp and cover their mouths when I mention that I run and I have rheumatoid arthritis. Exclamations of ‘surely this us bad for you‘, ‘won’t it make it worse‘ and ‘you’re crazy‘ are often uttered to me.
They have a point.
When I was diagnosed I went from gym bunny to frail in what felt like 1 week (was months really). At my worst I was unable to tie my own shoe laces but even then still demanded I walk to work (I had to ring home when I got there and get the bus back due to fatigue!)
Whilst it was scary to see the loss of strength in my upper body during my first few years with RA (still don’t ask me to loosen that jam jar lid). I still kept up walking everywhere and am still of the belief that if I hadn’t had that attitude today’s story would be a different one.
After a few years and eventual weight gain due to the cocktail of drugs, I decided to bring up the topic of increasing my exercise in an appointment with my consultant in 2010. He ummmmed and ahhhed but was never dismissive about anything, mainly as exercise is so important with RA, too little and your joints will be worse as they stiffen up. But the joys of steroids mean you often balloon and the excess weight can make your joints worse! So it is always stressed that remaining active is important. I was advised to take it easy as my body adjusted, but mainly to see how I go.
So I made a decision and to start I knew I needed awesome running shoes, luckily back then I worked in a running shop… 4 years later and I’m still running (with a few breaks here and there during treatment).
If you’re scared or put off by running with a chronic illness, don’t be, here are some of my tips into getting into or back into it:
- Buy proper shoes and get a gait analysis– your feet and knees will love you forever for it, plus it’s great to support your local running shop
- Follow a plan– couch to 5k from the NHS is just brilliant and let’s you go at your own pace
- Pace yourself– fatigue is often the demon in my training regime, I’ve learnt that rest is just as important as running for joint recovery (I never run more than 3 times a week and mostly can only afford to run twice a week)
- Eat right– not just because it’s good for you, but with a chronic illness you use so much more energy and nutrients, make sure you replenish them
- Stretch- before AND after, making sure your muscles are stretched properly will lessen strain on your joints, I do a number of yoga poses designed for running after my workouts
- Have fun– try an untimed race such as the Color Run or Race for Life, these are friendly events and you can run/walk/whatever you fancy to get round 5km and will massively boost your confidence
- Most importantly talk to your doctor– they may recommend a different form of exercise if your condition is unstable or affects your body differently to mine
I should add, my mood is often improved by a run, even if only a short distance. With illnesses such as RA it’s easy to get bogged down in the downside of everything, but running has really changed my attitude. Getting out and enjoying the scenery and sunshine, even if my run is slow, still keeps me happy! My medal and running number haul is also one of my many motivations for keeping active and keeping my crappy joints on the less painful side.
Can you offer any other tips for training with chronic illness? Do let me know in the comments!