Most facemasks are three-ply and our time is in short supply–yet still in each available vacant moment, the worry of Covid-19 striking anywhere near close to home shakes us. How the fear flows at the thought that the virus might even find its way behind our masks. Even with vaccines in ready supply, booster shots being distributed rapidly and the number of active cases dropping daily, the thought of contracting this un-fully-known, ever-changing, airborne virus is a haunting reminder to wear snug masks, exercise caution in public, and avoid unnecessary crowding.
Yet despite our best efforts, it is human to err.
I consider myself a careful person. I mean, I floss! Half the time at least! And when Covid-19 wafted into The Philippines wrangling us all in fear and a crucible of fiery emotions, navigating new public health mandates all throughout, I did everything short of buying a bunker. Alcohol, masks, antiseptic gargle, vitamin C, sprays, shields, online HIIT workouts–the works. The runnr in me hunkered down too, perhaps welcoming what I hoped would be a transient blip in time as a sort of hibernation period. This bear was determined to leave the pandemic fit.
Having done all the pandemic fads, booster day finally came
I’d tended plants, bought dumbbells, eaten mountains of ube and cheese pandesals, got back into running, and had achieved a brittle sense of normalcy. I’d been on planes to visit family and was attending physical meetings for my day job. This booster day was to be the sticky, sweet, maraschino cherry to top the oddly flavoured sundae that had been the last two years.
I was ready for side-effects. But who knew just point-twenty-five millilitres of clear stuff–which looks like a close cousin to water–could plunge one into such a trip. Fevers, pretty spectacular radiating muscle pain, and a real lack of willingness to get out of bed dominated my entirety for two days post-shot. All seemed well, and even celebratory (I’d made it this far in a pandemic!) until I started coughing.
Scouring numerous vaccine-related sites, I’d pour through pages hoping to see “cough” as a booster shot side effect. As much as I’d hoped, not a single website managed to assuage my fears and by the end of my internet scamper, I’d managed to generate a sore throat to complement the cough I’d now figured wasn’t a natural resultant of an administered booster shot.
It was Covid-19
Confirmed with an antigen test and eventually an RT-PCR test on top of that. I’d passed both the “quick-check” and the “golden standard” with flying colours–not that I was thrilled about it. Work was put on hold and normal life disintegrated–the brittle leaf that it was crumbling as though Thanos had clicked his fingers with it in mind. I didn’t realise it on my “day 0” but I wasn’t going to be running for the next month or so.
The frustration of a runnr that can’t run nestles itself neatly with its arms tightly folded in a small corner in hell. Not only is it a matter of pausing training or losing hard earned measures of fitness, but it’s the loss of a cherished meditative exercise–a daily sweaty cleans that empties you of toxins and pours in gentler, brighter, thoughts. The dumbbells I bought weren’t an option either as the weakness of my sickness–with two vaccines under my belt and a newly administered booster shot–left me unable to wake up in time for work nor able to move around as I’d been moving just weeks before.
I may have set my personal record for the number of times the word “fatigued” had been used in a given week during my tussle with Covid-19. As a default to the standard question of “how are you doing?”, “fatigued” provided me a unique, one-word escape from doing that which is normally demanded of me. Unfortunately, it made me unable to demand anything of myself too.
Be that as it may, whatever ventricle in my heart storing gratitude still swells knowing well that I had ample time, space, care, and resources to heal.
But what is bouncing back like?
After all, rocks bounce. Sort of.
I wasn’t expecting to bounce back like a rubber ball, the sort engineered to defy physics and violate Newton’s third law. But I also hoped that returning to the sport I love wouldn’t be a trek into hell to shake hands with the frustration of a runnr that can’t run.
In truth, it wasn’t either. In the same way that life leads us between clearly delineated lines and into grey areas, the experience of running again after Covid-19 isn’t bad and isn’t great–and it isn’t the same for everyone.
On it not being bad: who, afterall, wouldn’t be thrilled just to be outdoors again? Sweating (finally), jogging gently, watching cars pass by (often too narrowly missing you). It sounds like a watered down version of a heaven.
But it wasn’t great. My previous paces? Dreams again. My legs? Heavy. My breathing? Heavy too. Granted, I’ve still been one of the lucky ones–fully vaccinated, boosted, and relatively healthy with a case of asthma that hasn’t been a serious problem in ages. I note too that I consulted a doctor that knows me well before hitting the pavement again, and I’d recommend the same to anyone about to do the same thing.
What else would I recommend?
Two weeks removed from all of this and trying to craft a new and better sundae to top off with a new and better cherry, I’m scratching at the surface of my old pace and increasing my mileage gradually but surely. My eyes are fixed on the next race, the next hit of adrenaline and endorphins; I’m excited every day to be running.
These are the things that soothed the frustrations of returning to the sport and helped me stay in love with it:
- I imagined a fresh start - There is a beauty to being back at square one. Vision is perfect in hindsight, and building strength with a clearer awareness of what your body can do is a blessing.
- Sought coaching - On the page before one of my favourite reads for 2021, “Loneliness” by John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick, I found an African Proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. The task of building myself back into form was cut down and chunked by a coach and friend, reducing the load and reinvigorating my will to improve.
- Gave myself the carrot - In other words, I motivated myself with rewards. There’s no harm in loading up on a bit of extra gear to give yourself just a little extra pep. I decided owning a running watch with a heart-rate monitor had merit. Good decisions of 2022.
- Started super slow - Tread gingerly on your first week back. Really listen to your body and notice any changes; relax the idea that you have to be where you were.
- Plant seeds of gratitude - It’ll be difficult upon noticing the changes to avoid a dark cloud, but what would our lives be if changes didn’t nudge us around every now and again? Imbue your changes with your whole consciousness, accept them, love them, and find the love you have for running.
But I’m not a coach nor a doctor
So while I can proffer what has helped me, the most qualified aid you will find is a doctor, especially if your symptoms are heavier or if you have pre-existing medical conditions.
I am however definitely a runnr that navigates bad days, the occasional haymakers life throws in its many dark alleys. So with a hand on your shoulder (relax social-distancing here for a second), let me assure you I’ve found a running rhythm again on yet another one of life’s sunny paths, and I’m sure you will too.