Bill warned several days ago that a girl in his class had spent most of the period blowing her nose, sneezing, and coughing all over a paper he collected from his students. Oh boy. But since Bill rarely gets sick (I could count his illnesses since marriage on less than both hands), I thought we might make it through unscathed.

Except.

For the past two years, this first weekend in autumn has brought with it my one cold of the year. Correlation never implies causality, this I know; however, I began to brace myself. I am a baby when it comes to colds. I can go out and run for over an hour with acid build-up in my legs, give birth to babies without pain medication, scrape my abs until they bleed during events like the Spartan, and (now) take needles like a champ; but when I think I have been exposed to cold germs, I turn into just a bit of a nutjob. Colds are more than just a tingly annoyance or a case of pressurized sinuses, to me; no, colds are a psychological menace.

Colds comes trotting into the body with an evil laugh, “Ha ha ha, we are here to disrupt all of your plans!” They chortle, “We are here to throw you off schedule, make you less productive, wahahaha!” They proclaim triumphantly, “We are here to cease your forward movement. We are here to interfere with your training, too, if we can. We have come out of nowhere to divert your body’s resources so that you cannot get anything done.”

Ugh.

When Katie found one of Bill’s snot-tissues under my side of the bed pillows, I thought I might be a goner, but I still clung to hope. Then Eric, who was the next man down, sneezed on me full facial. A day later, I forgot that he was sick (it was light for him) and in a paroxysm of bad judgment on several counts, ate some bites of his spitty-fork prodded waffle. I realized right after I put it in my mouth that this was probably the worst thing I could have done, but I consoled myself, “Well, if I haven’t caught it from Bill by now, I am probably okay.” Ah, the lies we tell ourselves.

By Wednesday I was still in the clear, though, and did a morning run then got ready for my interval session later that night. Wednesday’s intervals were intense. I ran them as hard as I needed to run them in order to make new time goals, breaking personal records at 220, 440, and 880. The two 880s of the workout, especially, were killer. 880s get to me mentally, anyway, which Bill knows and which was why he assigned them. I knew they were coming and intentionally did not ask all day what my interval assignment would be. I went out right as the sun was about to go down and decided to go all guns blazing, no fear. I wanted to break my body, and I did. Getting that pain is the only way to force adaptation. I am gaining speed, as well as mental conditioning.

And then I came home, got some water, and sneezed four times in a row. It was as if my body had waited until the hardest workout of the week was done. Still, I brushed it off: “Probably just allergies,” I told myself. I have several times (in the spring, though) had a sneezy day following runs/intervals if I go too late in the morning or afternoon. I took some allergy medicine and put it out of my mind.

Besides, the next day was a treat: Disneyland!

Faithful readers of this blog have maybe noticed how much time has passed since my last entry. It’s been crazy busy here. We’ve been constantly on the go, and, it feels, schooling/running/reading/extra-curricularing/doing chores every conceivable minute. I have been reminded of the comparison I heard while at Stanford of being like a duck kicking furiously under the water to stay afloat and no one knows how hard we’re truly kicking/working because it looks like we’re gliding on the surface of the water. If we just work hard enough, an elegance emerges and it may even look like it happens with ease; it does not. Or, in my most recent description in my journal: I feel like I have been digging my way up out of quicksand of things to do lately, only to get to the top just about to breathe, when more quicksand pours down upon me again. I know, I know, from lots and lots of experience at this point that if I just keep whittling away and working working working I will eventually get out from under the load of all there is to get done, and I do not mind working hard for long term periods of time, at all… (Because ultimately, that work is rewarding). It’s just when I am in the middle of it, I start to feel the fatigue a bit. In this, life is much like running. It’s what we do when we feel that fatigue that matters. How do we restore depleted energy quickly? How do we martial our resources so that we can keep our bodies working?

Disneyland is a huge boost for me. I think of it as my sub day. My parents offered to take the kiddos last week and let me just have a day off at home, but I knew if I were at home I would just be tempted to keep working. If I really and truly want a day off, I go to Disneyland and bask in the magic there. Knowing that was coming, my body must have rallied from the coming cold a bit. In retrospect, I know I must have had the cold on Thursday but it wasn’t a bother at all, just a couple of sneezes. I had a great day at Disneyland and still didn’t think I was sick so I didn’t believe I was spreading anything around.

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Princess Jasmine was out and about!

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A sure sign of autumn!

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For the first time EVER, Eric reached the 40″ mark at Disneyland! He got to go on Soarin’, Star Tours, Big Thunder Railroad, and Splash Mountain for the first time (there are others, too, but we will do them next time). He had so much fun and loved EVERY one of those rides, asking to do them again and again. We actually cheered at Soarin’ when the lady declared him tall enough, and she was happy for us, too. This trip marked, also, the first time I have been to the park since the 10K at the end of August. It was so surreal walking over parts of the course! So many layers of memories at this special, special place…

But somewhere between Thursday night and Friday morning, it hit. I woke up with our alarm at 4:40 AM. Fridays are run and swim mornings for me, which means a definite early start if I am to be done with all of it by 6:55 AM (when Bill leaves for work). In the dark, clutching my tissue I told Bill, “I have a cold.” He indicated that he thought as much, but was probably just waiting for me to get out of the denial phase and into acceptance. He told me I could miss my running and swimming and go back to sleep. I wanted to close my eyes again so badly… but then, I reasoned, I would just feel psychologically worse and be unexercised to boot. Besides, with no fever there really was no basis to excuse myself, I didn’t feel. Two-plus years ago when I started this journey, I promised myself that I would never again excuse myself from exercising unless the reason was exceptionally valid. During one of my races this year, a guy in front of me had a shirt on that read, “It would take a rocket to make me miss a run.” Yup. Coming from a background of lifelong excuse-making for not exercising, I am very sensitive to this tendency in myself.

So up out of bed it was. It didn’t feel good…until I got out that door by 5:00 AM. I ran my 6 miles and then swam my laps at the pool. I don’t need a nose for either one of those activities, and actually, I felt great while doing them. My legs had recovered much more from Wednesday’s intervals (Thursday’s run was horribly uncomfortable and at a slower pace), and I kept thinking to myself, “Oh yeah, cold, watch me torch you” as I raised my body temp.

Katie also woke up with a cold, too. Neither of us felt horrible at this point, but we decided to keep her home from enrichment classes.

And that’s officially when we declared a Sick Day. We do not declare them much, but the timing of this one was perfect.

The magic of the Sick Day is this: there is no longer any pressure to perform. No feeling of having to be on a schedule. Anything we happen to get done feels like a small triumph, like icing on the cake. There’s no worry about being “a slacker” (a concept in myself with which I have an obsession—it’s a bit neurotic at this point, truly). I haven’t remembered this feeling in way too long a time. A Sick Day is almost a tiny miracle. I feel released, a little bit, from my own expectations of what I ought to be doing.

Katie and I laughed several times about how silly it was that we were enjoying our day so very much even though we were sick. We shouldn’t enjoy being sick, we agreed, and yet it was the perfect sick day. Remember those sick days in elementary school and middle school (I never took a single sick day in high school until May of my senior year when I had mono and the doctor said I had to), when you came downstairs and watched Brady Bunch reruns followed by Price is Right? Orange juice with a straw nearby. A paper bag made into a mini trash can for used tissues. Our sick day was kind of like that, except better in the sense that our cold is not a horrible down-for-the-count cold. We could still have fun.

And we did. We did a “measuring gas” lab and baked bread with Eric, and then the kiddos delighted in discovering and playing with static electricity. I stayed in my post-swimming clothes that I put on after I shower in the locker rooms. I always wash my hair and put on lotion, so I didn’t feel workout-scuzzy, but pleasantly relaxed and ready for a day of hunkering down. Boppa came to take Eric out (they worked on sprinklers and projects at my mom and dad’s house), and so then Katie and I really got down to the business of Sick Day relaxation. We read some of our American Girl series together, we made chocolate drizzled bananas and almonds and tucked them in the freezer to harden, and then we decided to totally vege out. Totally, I mean totally. We started streaming Once Upon a Time. Have you seen it? We don’t watch TV (save an occasional Sprout or Disney Jr. program) so this is completely a new series to us. And can I just say? We binged watched it. Episode after episode after episode. We’re so into it now. Sometimes Katie puts the clues about the characters together before I do… We cuddled and I also worked on sewing a bit of her Halloween costume (sewing and TV are a good match, what can I say).

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The beginnings of Katie’s swan costume for Halloween…

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Sick Day shenanigans and science labs, and cozy honey oatmeal bread fresh from the oven—because Sick Days need comfort!

It was the coziest, loveliest day. We learned, we read, we baked…and it all came together without a formal schedule and without feeling like I had to get it done.

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Katie did make this, though! I usually write out our daily agenda/objectives for the McGaugh Academy, so she took over the slate and wrote her own ideas about what we might do. Love it. “First read, next get something warm then watch Once Upon a Time, lern {sic} a little then read some more.”

I was all set to begrudge this cold every second of its life in my body, but I am actually rather thankful for it. I had to take some calculated steps this week to reconnect with my stores of natural energy: started making time for more journaling and blogging again, even if it comes out as borderline drivel; scheduled Disneyland; and made a return to tea over coffee. As a runner, I like the synergy between caffeine in coffee and my training, but I think I was starting to overdo it again. I noticed that coffee drinking was starting to feel a bit like an addiction again, and anything that feels that way (regardless of calories, whether or not it is causing a problem, irrespective of benefits) needs to be curtailed. Running can be addictive, too, which is exactly why I gave my training over to Bill in December. Whatever feels like an addiction to me, is something I need to self-regulate. So, we’re getting back off of coffee for awhile, I think. I might allow it here and there, but it was starting to become daily again and, more to the point, to feel like I must have it. Anything external that begins to feel necessary, I purposely then try to do without; I don’t want anything external to me to have governance over me. Plus, I read recently that, yes, caffeine helps with running performance, but we start to desensitize to it if we build up a tolerance to large amounts of it. If I want the caffeine boost to be in full effect before races, I need not to saturate my system with it.

So the Sick Day came right when it would do us the most good. We’re kind of taking one again today. Katie felt well enough to play her soccer game this morning, but the rest of this day I think is up in the air. I suspect we might go ahead and watch some more of Once Upon a Time and read and just do whatever it is we feel like doing, because even though our nostrils may be partly stuffy, something about a Sick Day allows us to breathe a little more freely.

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