Running, Rheumatoid Arthritis and me

Running, Rheumatoid Arthritis and me

A customer’s guest blog by Clare Jenkins

Clare tells us how it all started and how and why she runs with rheumatoid arthritis…

This has taken me a while to write because although I happily splash pictures of my running feats and activities with my family all over social media, when it comes to the personal stuff I’m quite a private person.

However, one of my very good friends reminded me recently that I wanted to write this blog to inspire others and encourage them into running. And if by being open I can encourage one other person in my situation to find the hope and joy in running that I have, then I will have achieved my aim. So here goes.

I have Rheumatoid Arthritis. I don’t run despite that. I run because of it.

When I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis at the age of 36, to say I reacted badly to the news is an understatement. Initially I felt like I had a death sentence hanging over me. Arthritis is what old people have, surely? More than that though I felt powerless.

RA is as an autoimmune condition. When you have RA, your immune system attacks the lining of your joints (the synovial lining).  This causes inflammation, which leads to symptoms such as pain and stiffness. I discovered I had it because when I tried to pick things up, like kettles and saucepans, I would experience excruciating pain in my wrists. I was also exhausted, another of the symptoms.

Being a very action-focused, solutions-driven person. I wanted something that I could DO about it. I started taking medication to manage the symptoms but ultimately it wasn’t something that was going to get cured. Then I was offered a lifeline.

One doctor advised me about the benefits to not being overweight with RA. That was something within my control, and I had a few extra pounds to lose after having two children, so I would start there.

Changing my diet on its own would not be enough, I knew I would need to get active. I had dabbled in running before I had children, but it hadn’t really taken hold. Still it was a good place to start; it was easy, flexible and cheap.

Clare Jenkins Wings for Life race
Clare at the Wings for Life Race, Cambridge in 2017

I started by running around my village. Not very far at first, just up and down the main street. For some reason it just clicked this time.

As a busy working mum to two young kids, running became my ‘me time’ and my stress relief as well as my exercise. But I needed targets to aim for to keep me motivated. I set my sights on completing our village 10k, and tried out a couple of running clubs, joining a very friendly one in a nearby town.

Then a friend entered a local half marathon and encouraged me to do the same. I finished it in 1:50:15. Over 20 minutes faster than the one I had done pre-children.

The penny really dropped about how much progress I’d made though when someone innocently commented that my time would roughly equate to a marathon in under 4 hours.

Five months later I was at the starting line of the Rome marathon having fundraised my little heart out to get there. It rained, and I cried at the end when I finished in 4:00:43. But I knew I would try again, I was hooked.

At some imperceptible point, running shifted from being something I did, to being part of who I am.

We’ve still had little fallings-out along the way, running and I. When I was struggling to achieve my goal of a good-for-age marathon time and felt I needed a break, I flirted with duathlons, but I came back to running when I realised I just didn’t enjoy the cycling part as much.

The breaks that have been forced upon me were the worst though. One notable doctor’s appointment saw me accepting that I couldn’t fly with labyrinthitis, but asking if I could still run?!

I have Rheumatoid Arthritis. I don’t run despite that. I run because of it

Then I had a scare last year. I was out running with my family one evening (this is a common thing among runners, we try to make everyone else love it as much as we do!), and my hip started hurting. I was paranoid that my arthritis had spread to my hip. What would I do if I couldn’t run anymore?

It turned out to be an overuse injury – lazy glutes (separate blog all about that!). A bit of massage, acupuncture and strength work later, and I was back even better than before.

I started running because, not even though I have Rheumatoid Arthritis. I still run because I now can’t imagine my life without it.

We look forward to hearing from Clare in future guest blogs