Mountain Mama: Sidelined by Sickness

I planned to run 18 miles this weekend. The universe had other plans.

I spent most of the past few days in bed, blowing snot into tissues that I discarded into a pile, forming a lumpy mountain by Sunday night. I felt sorry for myself and lame for getting so far behind in my training schedule and frustrated because I still don’t feel like I’ve kicked this flu/cold/bug/virus thing enough to risk setting myself even further back by going for a run. That last time I ran was in November!

A question looped in my head. What about Charleston? The marathon is a little over than a month away and this is crunch time. I should be resting up for my first 20-miler next weekend. I should be feeling strong, increasing my mileage to the crescendo right before tapering. I worried about the epiphanies I didn’t have because of not going on that long run; the quirky roadside scenes that didn’t unfold, the triumphant I didn’t experience of conquering the miles relentless in their sameness.

I’ve dutifully drank elderberry syrup every four hours, pressed garlic and onions into my soup, and heaped teaspoons of honey into my new nightly tea ritual. Heck, I’ve even taken two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar each morning. All the while thinking if I try hard enough I can beat this lingering sickness, that if mentally will myself to health, I’ll be lacing up my running shoes in no time.

What about Charleston? The race ticket has been purchased, the bungalow in nearby Folly Beach with tropical décor reserved, and race support recruited. My fever climbed. I tossed and turned in my own sweat, my head buzzing with ideas. Why was it that I was motivated to run a marathon anyway? Somewhere in the back of my mind I was chasing the four hour marathon I’d run in my mid-twenties, that if I could clock an impressive-to-me marathon time I’d somehow reverse aging, I’d prove, if only to myself, that I was still fit, attractive, interesting. Along the way, I’d bought into the idea prevalent in the outdoor scene – you’ve got to be fling yourself into difficulty or danger, reinventing yourself with by tackling harder challenges.

I watched Christmas movies about believing and the magic of the season before drifting off to sleep. When I woke up, my eyes rested on mountain of used tissues and my thoughts turned to skiing. Not the world’s steepest trail accessible only by helicopter, but a long one winding in mild loops around the parameter of the mountain named something like “Homeward Bound.” I imagined skiing down my mound of used-up tissues in a snowplow, my three-year old behind me. Squirrels scampered up pine trees; bears nestled in their den.

Then I did something I haven’t done a whole lot in the past week – I laughed. Impressed with how my mind turned a disgusting pile of tissue into an appealing scene. I laughed at how frumpy even my daydreams had become, not the slopes that graced the cover of extreme outdoor magazines, but rounder and gentler, a lot like me.

In no time my mind turned back to Charleston. Would I be able to run a marathon so soon after being sick? I started worrying how slow I would be, how labored all those miles would feel. I fretted about how I’d possibly make up my training runs. I liked the rigidity of a training plan, an implicit promise that if I put in the miles, my body could carry me the distance on race day.

I went to the doctor for the second time. I’d recovered from the flu, but my weakened immune system got hit by a virus. “Take antibiotics. Drink lots of water. Rest and take it easy,” the doc instructed.

Resting doesn’t come easy for me. After I exhausted the new releases and the stacks of magazine I’d been waiting for the right time to get around reading, I went to the bookstore. My mom used to let my brothers buy whatever books we wanted for Christmas, and I savored my stack of books all winter long. I don’t read as much as an adult, partially because Facebook culture promotes busy, happy, outdoor lives, not curled up in a sunny nook devouring a book.

I bought books about Charleston and read about plantation porches suited for Scarlett O’Hare. I read about carriage rides and pirates staking claim to the harbor. I thought about running the marathon, and came to accept that the marathon will happen with me or without me. Nobody really cares if I run it in four or five hours. If I learned one thing from spending so much time, it was the crevices of my mind I could tuck into to imagine a mound of used tissues as a ski hill. With the help of a few books, I could turn the miles into epic tales of Charleston’s past and present, the slower I ran the marathon, the more time I would have to marvel.

Still I think. What about Charleston? Perhaps it’s all the Christmas movies rubbing off on me. Oh I know there will be no Christmas miracle that allows me to run a faster marathon or make up for all the training runs I’ve missed. I will believe despite my not knowing that the marathon will end up being good, trusting that 26 miles through Charleston has to be amazing, that between the sites and the stories and the other runners, the marathon will be an incredible journey. Nothing can stop me, but still I need to rest. In order to rest, I need to let go of adhering to a must-do plan and let something else guide me, the wonder of setting off without a strict plan.