Badass Mama Sam on Running with Inflammatory Arthritis
My relationship with running started about 15 years ago. It’s a relationship that’s had its ups and downs but it’s never been more unsteady and unpredictable than it is now, all thanks to a diagnosis of inflammatory arthritis.
Running was my thing during lockdown, running and, if I’m going to be totally honest, joining a wine club. I did the run streak thing and an ultra called “the yeti” where you run 5 miles every 4 hours for 24 hours. I ran our local 24km Round Sheffield Run route many times and I signed up for The Wall, a 70 mile ultra. You get the picture…I ran…a lot.
In the lovely warm spring and early summer of 2020 I started to notice some pain in my right knee. On really hot days it was stiff, swollen and painful. I put it down to being more active and ignored it and hoped it would go away. The pain did actually go away until early August when the stiffness returned after a very easy, short run along a flat cycle path. It was quite mild so I took some painkillers and laid off running for a week
The beautiful Monsal Trail. My last run before the arthritis flared
Getting diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis is a slow and painful process. It took eight months from my knee first flaring to getting a diagnosis and my first dose of medication. Most running injuries heal with rest, ice and elevation. I thought my knee was a running injury and so did most of the medical professionals I saw! The only difference was it was getting worse, not better. At its peak I was taking two Naproxen a day, with paracetamol every 4-6 hours AND codeine. At night I would take 4 codeine tablets and still be in pain. I couldn’t put my foot down to walk.
Me and running were on a break. It’s hard to explain the amount of pain I was in and the frustration I felt when every medical professional put it down to any sport that I did. I was even told at the minor injuries unit that swimming is bad for your knees! After constantly badgering my GP and several blood tests I was referred to Rheumatology in October- Hurrah! Progress! I was going to get some answers!...or so I thought. My knee was drained and I had a steroid injection in it. I was given the all clear to run provided I was pain free. Me and running were back on…we had a date two weeks after my steroid injection and we started slowly and sensibly with coach to 5km. After 2 months my feet and ankles started to become stiff and painful. I was struggling to put shoes on and by February I was struggling to walk. My feet were so swollen I lived in my sandals, and yes, sometimes sandals and socks! Not being able to walk or wear shoes, I gave up on the idea of running again. When the joints in my hands became stiff and painful in April 2021 I contacted a private Rheumatologist. My feet and hands were so painful that I couldn’t sleep. I had stopped thinking that me and running would get back together again. I just wanted to be able to sleep, wear shoes and walk without being in pain. At the end of May 2021 I was diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis. Inflammatory arthritis is an autoimmune condition and there are various types. It’s slightly different to osteoarthritis which is caused by wear and tear on the joints. My immune system thinks my joints are the enemy and likes to attack them like they’re a disease! I started taking Methotrexate tablets in June 2021 and was given the all clear to run in July. I was told to run no more than twice a week and to use the treadmill as much as possible. Me and running were back on!
My first run after starting to take medication for inflammatory arthritis.
Methotrexate is a chemotherapy medication used to treat inflammatory types of arthritis. It’s made a lot of my hair fall out but more importantly for running the tablets made me feel awful. In tablet form it would wipe me out for a whole day with a sick and dizzy hangover type feeling. I’d lose a whole day just lying on the sofa in the dark. I took my methotrexate on a Saturday, this meant that I couldn’t plan to do anything on a Sunday. As I started to become more active I knew that if I ever wanted to return to racing I needed to tackle the awful side effects of my medication. I spoke to my Rheumatology nurse at my next appointment and she switched me to an injectable form of methotrexate. I’ve stopped losing whole days to side effects. I’m not completely free of them but free enough to be able to sign up for races and train consistently.
Getting diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis and finding a medication that works is only the start of the journey with this disease. I’ll have it for the rest of my life and I will be on some form of medication for it forever. Most importantly for me and running I have to be very careful how I train.
Methotrexate suppresses my immune system, but this doesn’t mean that I’m flare free and fit and well. Exhaustion is a big factor in autoimmune conditions. I can be having a great day and then will suddenly feel like someone has taken my batteries out. If you’ve had children it’s like the tiredness you feel with a new born multiplied numerous times!
A flare is when joints suddenly become extremely painful and swollen. This usually happens for me on the super rare occasions that I have a glass of wine or during periods of stress. I also have to be really mindful of what I eat and hugely processed foods make my joints very stiff and painful.
It’s been a year since I was given the all clear to run again and it’s been a great year. Progress has been slow but with each run and each event I’m finding out what I’m capable of and what might be possible in the future.
I never thought I would be able to run more than a 5km but in April I ran The Longhorn 10km. I thought it would take me about 90 minutes but as the kilometres ticked by it looked like I’d make it over the finish line in an hour and ten. I was convinced the km markers were wrong or my Garmin was malfunctioning! When I ran over the line after 70 minutes, 20 minutes faster than planned I cried. I’d love to run another half marathon, but that’s a little way off yet because running progress is slow.
A bit emotional after running the Longhorn 10km
In three weeks time I will be competing in my first triathlon since my diagnosis. The swim and bike training are great for supporting running and sometimes a better option when I feel sick or my joints hurt. Although Sheffield hills are scary when you’re speeding downhill and your hands hurt when you put the brakes on! Being diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis has taken lots away from me. My confidence in what my body can do, my energy levels and a lot of hair! it’s also given me a lot too. I look after myself better and I’m more interesting in the quality and types of food that I’m eating. I appreciate the good days of training and try to make the most of them.
Hi I'm Sam I live in Sheffield with my girlfriend and 8 year old son. I like pyjamas, Yorkshire Tea, wild swimming, and chocolate digestives!