Starting from the Bottom - Part I
My Pandemic Story
When we look back on the Pandemic of 2020, there will be many stories to read and hear, each with their own perspective. Goodness knows I’ve read tons of them already; I’ve listened to countless podcasts on the subject. I know there are many people suffering far worse than I; people who’ve lost loved ones to COVID, people who don’t know how they’ll make rent this month. Many days during this crisis I have reminded Alex and myself that we have so much to be thankful for and that life is too short for us to dwell on the way the Coronavirus has changed many of our plans.
It would be inauthentic to ignore that these past three months have been a challenge. What has happened to me will shape my life for years to come. My pandemic experience and frustration is tied so completely to my fitness goals that if I did not tell you what has happened, you would never understand what I aim to achieve and what the journey will mean as I go forward.
The course of my deconstruction began February 2nd, at the Surf City Half Marathon. We were hearing news stories of the lockdowns in China, and honestly, I was a little afraid to hug my friend’s brother who had just come back from Asia with a layover in China.
As far as racing goes, I was in fairly good condition; I had been training steadily and was ready for what I thought would be a solid race performance. The night before the race I could tell my left calf was a little tight. I tried to do a bit of MFR - resting my calf on a massage ball I had brought with me. It was a beautiful, cloudy morning for a run. Several of my friends from high school were also running and another friend was running her first half marathon. I so desperately wanted a good showing in front of my friends, some of whom think you can just wake up one day and run a half with no training.
Coming out of the corrals I kept near my friend who was running her first race - looking back to make sure she was ok and pacing her onward. My first 6 miles my pace was beautiful; hovering right above a half-marathon PR pace for me (about 11:10 min/mile). Then something changed. My left achilles started seizing up, cramping. I stopped a bit to try and stretch. The pain continued; the top of my foot began to tighten up. I jogged on. Every 20 feet or so something in my left foot would tighten with a sudden sharpness and I would limp to a pause, walk it off for a bit, and then try again. This was my 15th half marathon… I knew that mile 6 and 7 meant a lot still to go. I was still on the outbound part of the course!
If I knew then what can happen to you if you continue going when your body is willing you not to, I would have called it right there. Should this happen again, I hope I can remember what this past several months has felt like. I hope I can tell myself, “There will be a next time; it’s not worth it.” The damage I did to myself in the next hour and a half would be the start of an incredibly tough season for my mental wellness.
Can you ever really know, until it happens to you, what too much feels like? The whole point of sport is that we push our bodies to the limit; we break them down to build them up stronger. How was I to know this was too much if I’d never felt too much before?
The stubbornness wouldn’t let me stop. The drive for victory made me push. The last 0.1 miles I was limping sadly and painfully. I crossed the finish line, but at what cost? The damage was done.
But, hey, I had been injured before. I was seizing up on the course, so I assumed the pain in my foot the following week was soft tissue. “Myofascial release will help! I know just the people; they can work miracles! I have to start marathon training - I just planned out every run and I’m really going to do it right this time.” My inner monologue was delusional. But then again, every time I thought it was a stress fracture before, it never was.
There is a first time for everything.
I ran 7 more times on that foot before I let myself comprehend that this was not like the injuries I’d had before. I tried to run two more times during the last week of February as I was coming to terms with the situation. I shifted to the stationary bike. I began to admit defeat. I had resigned myself to 6-8 weeks off from running and reached out to my primary care physician to get the awful process started.
The day I got my referral letter to the podiatry clinic was the day they began telling us to stay home; it was too dangerous to be at the office and we all needed to stay inside to flatten the curve. We couldn’t let our hospitals be overwhelmed. Needless to say, the podiatry clinic was no longer seeing patients.
It’s been 16 weeks since the day I probably broke my toe. I haven’t seen a podiatrist or sports medicine doctor; I haven’t had an x-ray. And that’s just the start. That would be enough of a challenge to have to come back from, but there is so much more I didn’t see coming.