Several months back, a friend posted on Facebook that she & some others were registering for the “Iron Girl” 5K / half-marathon that was coming to town this spring. I knew that running even the shorter distance was out of the question for me with RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis, more accirately called Rheumatoid Autoimmune Disease) affecting the joints and tendons in my knees, ankles, and feet as it has. I thought perhaps I could walk at a fast enough pace to take on the 5K. The kids and I took some nice walks around the neighborhood, and I knew from my FitBit (which was great until it wound up in the pool) that I walk farther than I would have guessed on even a normal day, much less a Disney trip or similar outing.
Even so, as the race date approached, when I learned that the route would be up and over a 75-foot high bridge… twice, my feeling of dread only increased. How embarassing would it be if I had to get a ride back from the first mile marker ort the halfway point?
The day before, I was on the edge of just skipping it. Unfortunately — or fortunately — the story I sent in got me onto “Team Courage”, a designation bestowed upon women who were overcoming obstacles. With that yellow bib in my registration packet, I felt some obligation to show up. What if someone there was looking for that tidbit of inspiration? Worse still, how would I feel about myself having given up without even giving it a shot? In my kids’ gymnastics class, they’re not allowed to say, “I can’t.” Instead, they have to say “I’ll try.”
“I’ll try,” I said to myself. I showed up, well-rested, well-medicated, well-hydrated, the works. I was going to take the first steps across the starting line, and I’d take whatever came beyond that.
I was feeling pretty good by the time we lined up to start the 5K. There was something inspiring, and contageous, about seeing so many women and even young girls (all the way down to a 4 year-old!) of all shapes, sizes, and levels of fitness, each preparing to tackle her own personal challenges. For some, it was about running flat-out for a top finisher spot. For others, like me, it wasn’t quite as ambitious. “One mile,” I told myself, “You know you can walk a mile.”
And then we were off. My ankles and my knees protested a bit, but adrenaline shut them up after the first 10 minutes or so. Not much later, the Mile 1 sign was in sight, and then the fastest runners passing by in the other direction. The cheers and applause from our side of the road were great. No jealousy or cattiness here, nor when I had turned around at the halfway mark and found myself in a clump of women on the other side shouting encouragement to those at the end of the pack still heading toward the midpoint. Wait, what? I’d made the turnaround, downed a cup of sports drink, and was still going strong when I left Mile 2 behind me.
Now I was going to finish. No question about it. It was getting hard, maybe even a bit painful, but those endorphins are powerful stuff. The last mile (plus a little bit — 5K is 3.1 miles) seemed to go by even faster than the first. I was going on sheer determination now, and crossed the finish line in just a hair over 45 minutes. Not last! Not even last in my age group! My pace was better than 15 minutes per mile!
All of these things were far beyond what I had dared to expect, and achieving them was tremendously empowering. I am so often limited by being stuck in a body that is actively trying to destroy itself that this seemed like a real, personal triumph over the disease, even if only for that day.
“Take that, RA!” is what I posted to my Facebook page that morning, along with this post-race selfie. That finisher medal is now a prized posession. It has rekindled my interest in taking walks with my family — exercise that my body can tolerate plus some nice, distraction-free time spent together. I may even have my sights set on even bigger goals, like keeping that pace up for a 10K or maybe even a half-marathon (13.1 miles) one day.