It’s been quite the year for running-related setbacks. I lost most of the summer mountain running season due to a pulled calf, and now, just before my first Boston Marathon, I’m three weeks into what’s turned into bronchitis & pneumonia. Also, despite being about as fit as I’ve ever been and set-up to run around a 5 hour time, I pulled out of the Chuckanut 50k last month when this “little chest cold” thing got going.
When is it ok to run with a cold? After a week on the lam, Andy and some friends were going out for a little trail run on Tiger Mountain. I didn’t want to miss out on the fun, and so, despite knowing that it might be too soon, I joined them for 2 hours in the pouring rain. The pace was much slower than Andy and I normally run, so I hoped for the best and even went out for beers afterward. But by the next day I was clearly paying the price with a barking cough and a lingering low-grade fever.
By the following Saturday, I was starting to get antsy about Boston. Two weeks of almost no running had put my training way behind schedule – to the point where I’d decided it would be perfectly fine to treat the marathon as a “fun run” and jog it in around 4 hours instead of my original plan – shooting for 3:10 and a new personal best. So, since I was feeling a little bit better, I went out for an easy 10k road run. This time the consequences were much much worse. Within an hour of running, I was coughing nonstop, and the cough had deepened to the point where I sounded tuberculoid. A couple of days later I finally saw a doctor, and am now well into a round of antibiotics. Having spent most of the past week sleeping all day and coughing all night, it could, realistically, be another two weeks before I’m strong enough to contemplate running around the block, let alone 42 km’s.
There’s an annoying voice in my head that wants to point out the pattern here; I’ve made these mistakes before. More than a decade of such good health that I almost never even caught colds ended last winter when a chest cold turned into a nasty two weeks in bed with bronchitis. That time, too, I chose to run through the cold. Until it turned into something much worse. And this summer as well, when I pulled a muscle in my calf, I couldn’t accept the prospect of no running for as long as it would take to heal. So I ran anyway and re-injured it – three times – before facing up to the reality that I’d have to hang up my trail shoes for a couple of months.
There’s a lesson in here, somewhere.
Truth told, I couldn’t care less about missing the Boston Marathon. I only registered because I happen to have qualified. For runners, Boston’s regarded as something of an accomplishment, but it’s not the end-all be-all. For me, it’s evidence that you’re a somewhat decent runner, and that’s about it. Plus, I’m almost 41 and the older I get, the more aware I feel of my own mortality. I figured that I might never get around to doing it again if I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity at hand.
But if I don’t care about Boston itself, I certainly do about the reasons why. I do believe that getting sick, like getting injured, can be symptomatic of something out of balance. And both can force you to stop, reflect, and adjust. As a practice, running puts me very much in touch with both my physical and emotional selves. I’m one of those runners who knows right away when they’re fighting off a virus of some kind as the fatigue is impossible to ignore. And just as I feel stress, anxiety and sadness as, quite literally, a heaviness in my chest, with happiness comes a kind of lightness when running.
I’ve been struggling with this move to Washington from the get-go, and I’m pretty sure that constant stress and worry is taking a toll on my health. There are so many maxims about accepting change, and the truth is that this kind of “wisdom” tends to be about the sort of emotional manipulation used to try to motivate workers to be more accepting of lower pay or other demotions. “We’re reorganizing. Here’s your new job with half the salary you earned before. It’s necessary to embrace change!”
But change is inevitable. And changing course is one of the toughest things to do; letting go of a goal or a vision, small or large, and exposing yourself to all of the uncertainty of not knowing where you’re headed. You have to let go of some parts of yourself in the process, and trust that the pieces will fall into place, even when you know they might not, or not the way you’d hoped.
I can honestly say that I have no idea where we’ll be, this time next year. But for the near future, alpine trails in parts of the Cascades are starting to open up, and I’m genuinely excited about the prospect of exploring the I-90 corridor and beyond. We’re also making plans for a bunch of fun backpacks, skitours and longer runs, mostly in the Cascades, including the Enchantments, Glacier Peak, Stevens to Snoqualmie on the PCT, and the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier.
Now if I could just kick this lung infection & get on with it …