Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sometimes winning the battle is enough for today

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” **Pierre de Coubertin**

In the wake of my first half marathon, I have basked in my accomplishment, enjoyed the pats on the back, and smiled every morning when I wake up and see my medal on the wall that reminds me I can succeed against the odds. Knowing how far I have come, despite starting over last year and constant infections that stall my training every few weeks, really gives me strength to get through the times when I can’t work out as heavily or at all.

The infections have become a serious concern so I’m changing medication again. As always, this means a month off my main drug with only steroids and pain medication to deal with symptoms. I’m avoiding the steroids as much as possible and have been trying to manage my RA with running. Last week, while reading Jeff Galloway’s book Running Until You’re 100, I came across this:

Endorphins kill pain, make you feel better
Running at any pace, especially speed training, signals to your body that there will be some pain to kill. The natural response is to produce natural pain killers called endorphins. These hormones act as drugs that relax muscles, helping to deal with the damage and pain, while bestowing a good attitude, especially when you are tired after the run. Walking during the rest intervals allows the endorphins to collect."

I was really excited to put this to the test. In the past, when not feeling well, I tended to run at my slowest speed and just plod along as far as possible. RA saps your energy and exponentially increases inflammation, so even these runs were causing severe fatigue and muscle soreness that shouldn’t have been happening after a light, easy run. I decided this week to try some intervals instead. After running slowly for a mile, I ran comfortably fast for 400m and then walked 400m, for the next two miles. My total time for 3 miles was no slower than had I run at a slow steady pace, but I felt extremely good after the run, energized and pain free! I’ve done this about 3 times now and am amazed at how it makes me feel. It is an effective pain killer without all the side effects. I just wish it lasted a bit longer, or that I could run 3 times a day.

Another fun feature of all arthritis, (rheumatoid, osteo or other), is that the inflammation causes the synovial fluid to literally turn to gel inside the joint. This is why the joints are so stiff, particularly first thing in the morning or after a period of inactivity (like sitting in front of the computer). It is very important to keep this fluid moving so it will lubricate and protect the cartilage in the joint. I have to really focus on how I know I will feel after the run because before I run, the last thing in the world I feel like doing is working out! When I first begin to jog, I can feel the gel in all my joints and my range of motion is limited in some of the joints. I’m stiff and sore, and my body feels like it is made of lead. However, by the end of my first mile, everything is fluid and moving smoothly, even in my wrists, elbows, and jaw. By the time I’m walking my cool down, I’m pain free and can raise my arms and move freely. It may not win the war against arthritis, but it definitely wins the battle for today.