Racing Against RA

It’s day 5 of RA Blog Week, and we’re talking about exercise! If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ve probably figured out by now that not only do I love exercise, but I’m also very passionate about the amazing impact it’s had on my life this past year.

As much as I love exercising, what I love even more is having a race to train for. Which is how I’ve found myself covered in mud, sweat, chalk paint, even more, sweat and a whole lot more mud throughout much of the summer.

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions, but back in January I set three goals for myself:

  1. Get a new job (Check!)
  2. Start this blog (Check!)
  3. Run 3 races, mud runs, fun runs – whatever! (Check! Check! Check! and Check!)

Why run a race? Why now?

It all started when I began using the #rawarrior hashtag and clicking through it to find other users like me. I discovered my friend, Dina who like me has both her hips replaced and does triathlons! And then there’s my friend, Carmen, who despite her RA, continues to do both half and full marathons! And so I started thinking… If they can do those things, why can’t I?

Following their respective journeys made me realize something: this was a now or never type of thing. I’d proved to myself what I was capable of physically by getting back into shape, because let me tell you – I absolutely gutted through some of those workouts grunting and grumbling, yelling and swearing and, on more than one occasion, crying. But that newfound physical strength always felt like it was built on a shaky foundation. There was an underlying fragility of knowing that it could all change in an instant with one injury, one flare, one cardiac episode… Or one hip surgery.

And so, when I’m feeling up to it, I try to attack every race and even every workout like it might be the last one I ever do. Seriously – you should hear my internal monologue on the days when I’m trying to drag myself off the couch and away from yet another episode of Parenthood on Netflix.

Lazy Anna: Ughhhhh do I have to? I’m soooo tired. Besides, I can’t possibly work out before I know what happens with Kristina’s Breast Cancer!

Obnoxiously motivated Anna: Are you kidding me? Four years ago after surgery you would have killed just to walk, let alone go for a run with Penny. Get. Your. Fat. Greek. Ass. Off. The. Couch.

Lazy Anna: Can’t I just have a rest day?

Obnoxiously motivated Anna: I mean you could, but do you really need one today? What if you’re in too much pain tomorrow? You’ll regret not working out today…

Lazy Anna: Sigh. Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine.

It’s a constant push/pull, a constant balance of taking advantage of my better days, but also knowing when to rest and not push myself too hard. That’s why having a race on the calendar is such an important motivator for me – when I need that extra nudge to work out, I always think of that last stretch of a race before the finish line: when you need to dig deep for everything you have to get yourself across it. Because with RA sometimes you need to dig deep just to get out of bed.

Next Saturday me, my sister, my sister-in-law and two friends are signed up for Mudderella: a world class 5-7 mile muddy obstacle race. Back when I signed up for this race it was an enormous personal challenge to myself. I’d never done anything like it, and I set my sights on this race as the motivation I needed to keep me on track all summer. When everything in my life effectively blew up back in April and I lost nearly two months of training, I thought to myself “how am I ever going to get back on track for Mudderella?” Before I knew it I resigned myself to walking or crawling my way across that finish line.

And then a funny crazy thing happened back in August: in barely race-shape, I said yes to doing a Spartan Race with some of my best friends on earth. The race was on a Saturday – I registered the day before on Friday. That race deserves its own post, but I still can’t find the words to capture what the experience means to me, and I’m not sure I ever will.

After jumping over fire and finding it in myself to run across the finish line, I immediately sat down/collapsed with my friend Tony. With a shaky voice, I told him, “I wish I could tell you what this means to me. I wish you could understand what you just helped me do. I was supposed to be in a wheelchair. I was never supposed to do any of this.”

At the end of the day continuing to exercise and to run races almost feels like an act of defiance. A refusal to lay down and concede this war. Staying active serves as my metaphorical middle finger to the universe, to rheumatoid arthritis and to the doctor who told my mom to put me in that wheelchair.

Since my post wasn’t 100% on topic with today’s prompt for #RABlogWeek, I wanted to also share this post that I previously wrote about my favorite exercises!