In kindergarten, I memorized a poem by Shel Silverstein called “Sick.” I think I must have known, subconsciously, that its message would resonate with my adult self. Namely, my adult runner self. It begins,
“I cannot go to school today,"
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
“I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I’m going blind in my right eye.”
The poem is the lament of a young girl who is trying to shirk school. It is thirty-two lines of brilliant hypochondriasis. After complaining of symptoms characteristic of—among other things—scoliosis, typhoid, yellow fever, gout, osteoporosis, and, perhaps least concerning, a splinter, Miss McKay discovers it is Saturday. She then experiences a recovery that can be categorized as nothing less than a Christmas miracle.
One might think that such a marvelous onset of concurrent afflictions is impossible. Well, I am here to tell you, my friends…
Oh, it’s possible.
I know this because I am currently suffering from them. All of them. And more.
You see, I am going through an existential crisis. Or it’s a marathon taper. Hard to say, really.
There are few things as disheartening as the way your body feels in the days leading up to a marathon. Several hours after I finished my last long run, I began to feel almost feverish. I say almost because I didn’t quite feel like I had a fever; I felt like I was about to get one. The next day, the airflow in my left nostril felt slightly more restricted than the right one. The day after that, my throat felt scratchy. Within days, I was officially iffy.
That’s when my hip flexors flared up. And my IT band. And my left foot. And the recurrent nightmares. And irritability. And inexplicable outbursts of despair.
My body is breaking. Why is my body breaking? Does my right knee always hurt like this when I go up stairs? Why am I out of breath? How did I gain six pounds in one week? Is that a blister on my pinky toe? I can’t breathe. I think I have bronchitis. How can you tell if your knee is broken?
I knew the hypochondria would come. It always does. You can train for months without a hitch and then BOOM! The week before your marathon, the universe itself turns against you. And then you have to file your taxes.
DO NOT file your taxes during your marathon taper. Trust me on this. (Mom, Dad—sorry about the chandelier over the dining room table.)
I am never more tragic than I am during a taper. Tragic, and nauseated.
That’s the problem with existential crises and marathon tapers: they are remarkably similar. People going through one often exhibit identical symptoms as a person going through the other. In fact, it can be almost impossible to know from which condition you are suffering.
“Do you feel tragic and nauseated all the time or just when you remember that the race is this weekend?” I can hear my doctor asking.
A bad run during training is just a bad run. When I have a bad run during a taper—and isn’t every run during a taper a bad run?—I question every life choice I’ve made since the seventh grade.
I saw a Buzzfeed article the other day titled “What Happens to Your Body When You Don’t Work Out,” and I almost doubled over in guilt. That’s me! I thought. Because, obviously, I equate “reduced mileage” with “sedentary lifestyle.” I began to picture myself in the starring role of My 600-Pound Life. I had already gained six pounds in the past week alone. What am I going to wear in the race? Nothing will fit me!
To counter the conditions accrued during my taper, I have, in the last twenty-four hours, made appointments with my doctor (just in case I have bronchitis), my chiropractor, and my massage therapist. I have also bought bigger shorts. (Just in case.)
Of course, deep down, I am counting on a recovery as miraculous as little Peggy Ann McKay’s. And I’m sure the marathon will be just fine.
Still, how can you tell if your knee is broken?
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.