The Corona Virus Scare — What To Do When The Government Shuts Down Your First Official Marathon
What Do You Do When Your Second-In-A-Row Marathon is Cancelled
It’s Saturday, March 21, 2020 at 5:30 in the morning. I have mixed feelings about what I am about to do. I have been sick for three weeks from eating something that contained milk to which I am allergic. Dairy Free groups refer to this as cross contamination or cc. It happens when milk is not listed as an ingredient but appears in food prepared on shared equipment and is always hit or miss when you have a severe respiratory allergy to dairy.
Rewind to three weeks ago when scares of the Corona Virus COVID-19 were just beginning to reach us in the United States. I ate granola from Sam’s Club and shortly after felt a raspy throat and shortness of breath so took an antihistamine tablet, but it kept getting worse so took another. By morning I was sneezing and my eyes itched but I was sure I had caught it in time. I would soon be proven wrong as the infection spread into my throat with constant coughing and difficulty breathing and making me wonder if I had contacted the virus myself, though my symptoms were hardly the same.
Two weeks after the allergy attack I am out running again, but feel drained and can barely run two miles without feeling the need to lie down on the side of the road. I am still coughing, sometimes uncontrollably so run by myself. In one week I am scheduled to run 26.2 miles and am wondering how I am going to pull this one off! The event organizers assure us they still have permission to run the race and it will still happen as long as we stagger the start time so no one has to stand too close to anyone else as if we are all suspect and contaminated. Three days out we are told it will still happen but a little differently with a loop course rather than an out and back. This way there are no course monitors or water tables and less contact with others on the original course which ran through a private neighborhood with lots of cross roads.
A day before the race we discover that this too is not going to happen. We can do a virtual race, where we run unofficially on our own, record our time on GPS and submit it. Many have decided to run the loop course which has already been set up with directional markers. They promise to run safely and follow CDC and state guidelines. There will be bottles of water and PowerAde which were already purchased, left in open boxes by the side of the road, but no bathrooms, so hopefully we either don’t have to go or have a good stash of toilet paper to take with us. We are running on the road next to the woods, so there are plenty of places to dash to take a pee, but if you have more serious business, you may have to hold it until you can get to a more secluded area. Hopefully that won’t happen, but you never know.
Race Day with No Start and Very Little Real-life Competition
It does not get light around here until about 7 a.m. but it also gets hot. The high is predicted to be 85 degrees and there may be rain. You can see why I am reluctant to hit the road, but considering the threats of quarantine, it seems the most logical thing to run off the beaten path away from major populations on the morning the race was scheduled. I drive to the island and as I get closer to the bridge have an open view of the rivers and marsh. I see a tiny gold sliver of an arc in the sky, then the outline of the dark moon around it. The thin slip of light is so delicate yet clear that it takes my breath away. It is rare to see a moon this new in the sky or is it the last of the old moon? As if the moon could actually grow old and new in a matter of weeks depending on how much light reflected from the surface. It was still the same moon, just our imagined interpretation of it. It seems so far away and so low to the horizon that I would have never seen it for the trees around my home. It was worth waking up for this alone!
Most of the people running the loop course are parking at the University Center, but I am irrationally fearful of being arrested or having my truck towed, so I park at the turn-around area which borders the water and some jam-up bike trails maintained by SEGA-SORBA – South East Georgia chapter of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association. Since I will be slow and can run any route as long as my GPS records it correctly, I am planning on hitting the trails when the sun rises and the heat increases, but for now I start out on the road. It is a little before seven. I had planned on starting at 6:30. Even though I don’t plan on running fast today the more time I have to run in the cool of the morning the better. I try to motivate myself by breaking the distance into smaller triumphs and telling myself that at mile six I am almost a quarter of the way through. My math is off a bit, but my motivation is spot-on for the moment.
How Far Are You Willing to Go to Pursue the Sport You Love
Social Distancing —The Things You See and Thoughts You Think on a Long Distance Run
I see what looks like headlights on a golf car approaching but it turns out to be two runners running side by side with headlamps on. They are spaced the same distance as headlights. The CDC would be proud of their initiative. Several more runners follow over the next two to three miles as well as small groups of cyclists with three or less people. Usually they ride 20 or more in a tight bunch so that seemed strange. I plan to stop at the Univeristy Center to pick up a bottle of water and continue my journey, but it is still dark and I have an impeccable record of going the wrong direction and today is no different so end up running behind the only grocery store on the island in the opposite direction of the center. I am still not sure how I did that, but it is extra miles and I need them so I cut through two church parking lots and head back out on the road in the correct direction this time just as the sun makes my puny armband light unnecessary.
By the time I reach the University Center I have about four ounces of water left in my hand-held bottle and refill it with the bottled water there before running off again. There are a lot more people out. Most of them are fast runners – we are talking seven minutes or faster for a mile. I smile and say hi, or wave, but most just ignore me. The only ones who respond politely are the slower runners or walkers. There is this one woman who keeps passing by me and saying, “good job”, which is a pet peeve of mine. It is no one’s business what kind of job I am doing – good or bad and a simple, “hello, have a nice day” will suffice, but I don’t want to seem rude like the other runners who ignored me so grimace a fake smile and keep going. In retrospect it might have been better to say nothing and pretend to be entranced like the elites.
It seems to me that people always say and ask inappropriate things to people they don’t know. Why should I tell you my age, where I work, if I have children or my all time favorite, “What do you DO for a living.” My desired answer – outside of not answering – is, “I breath air and consume nutrients – What do you do to live?” Yes, I am quite good at this social distancing thing.
Running is a Great Way to Commune with Nature and Learn Things About Yourself and Others
I don’t run with music. I thought about it. I even had my cell phone with me but decided to leave it in the truck. I arrive back at the truck at the turn-around and grab a breakfast bar and a bit more water and head off down the trails. It has been about 10 miles now and I tell myself that I am over one third of the way through. This seems to make me happy as does running on the trails, but it seems as if I run a lot slower on the trails which twist and turn and go over bridges and ditches and up and down hills. The salt-water creek is lovely as it reflects the morning sun and hardly anyone is on the trail outside of squirrels, skinks and an occasional bird or snake.
I run fast downhill around a bend and spook a black snake before I can be spooked myself. I hear four legged critters running in the brush that are larger than a squirrel but smaller than a deer. I am not sure what they are but think we are all glad we are running on separate courses and will not interfere with each other’s social space. There is an opening up ahead with a five foot bluff leading down to the marsh and it is filled with Arnold Schwarzenegger buff, golf-course-grass-green dragonflies or at least they look like dragonflies only with slightly shorter muscular-looking bodies and smaller wings. There is a group of about ten of them which fly at waist height and accompany me for a good while. They have a shiny black chevron near their thorax and look like insect police or military planes and I am greatly amused and pleased by their presence.
The trail seems endless but in another two miles I hear traffic noises and people in the distance and soon I am back on the road again and getting more water after peeing three times in the woods. I stay on the road this time and count about twenty five or thirty other runners. Some are quite serious. Some are beginning to struggle as am I. I keep waiting for 14 miles to pass, but it seems like I have been on mile 13 for the last three miles, though that is impossible, right?
It is getting warmer. I have already shed my lightweight jacket. Slower runners are more willing to talk now, but the faster runners seem possessed with a sense of time urgency which curtails human interaction other than the one guy who raises his hand to chest level when we are exactly parallel to one another in a half second salute – no wave – but it makes me smile anyway. Here comes the “good job” lady and yep, she says it again and I force myself to say, “thank you, you too.” It is the right thing to do, but it takes an effort none-the-less.
When I was running down the road earlier in the day I had to jump the ditch to urgently empty my complaining bladder. When on the road, less than thirty feet away from the wood-line I saw no sign of life but the second I stepped six feet in there were three deer which looked as surprised to see me as I was to see them. They were big too – their heads were about even with my shoulders. Off to the left in front of me was an even larger buck that glared at me the same way you would glare at someone who dashed into your living room, dropped their drawers and peed on your nice new carpet. I asked for forgiveness, but he huffed at me and bolted away. I guess he considered himself an elite runner as well and being kind was a waste of his time and mine I suppose, but then again being kind is never wasted, though sometimes unappreciated and I am reminded this applies to me as well.
Run to the Beat of Your Own Drum or Make the Music Up as You Go Along
At this point my mind began to wander. I would sing whatever song popped into my head – Let’s Get Happy, I Would Walk Five Thousand Miles, Greensleeves, The Battle Hymn of the Republic. When I say I am old-school, I am not kidding. It helped me keep a running rhythm though and not go crazy counting, which is another tactic I use to get me through tough miles I really do not want to keep doing.
I finally made it to eighteen miles and thought this would motivate me but instead it did the opposite, so I kept looking forward to mile twenty or to be more exact – mile twenty point two. That would mean I only had six more miles to go before I could finish. I even surprised myself by picking up the pace and trying my best to finish 26.2 in under six hours and thirty minutes.
My half time was slow, around three hours and three minutes and that was depressing too. Normally I can do a half in about two hours and seventeen minutes, but with little long-distance training for this race and having to cover another 13.1 after that, I supposed I was doing pretty good. If I were running the official race, I would have seven hours to finish before being disqualified, so I was on track and doing okay despite wishing I was more of an elite runner and feeling like there was something wrong with me because I could not do much better than a ten minute mile no matter how hard I tried and I had tried. Today my fastest pace was closer to an 11:30 mile but that slowed down considerably the further along I went.
I kept having to remind myself I was doing okay for me and not to lose hope, but at the same time I had to get on to myself to try a bit harder and not slow down too much. It would be terrible to run 25 miles and have your time disqualify you because you had a mile left to go when the seven hour time limit was ten minutes prior to your finish.
The Last Few Miles Are Always the Hardest and Put the Most Pressure on You to Focus on the Job Ahead
The last four miles were the hardest. I ran past a couple letting their very vocal hound dog out the car and telling him to calm down before they would let him out. I don’t think he ever calmed down. I could hear him braying a full thirty minutes later as I circled past them on the road and went back out on the trail. They thought I would be offended, but it was funny and I like the braying of a big hound so it made my day almost as special as the green dragonflies which apparently had a territorial hold on that one spot on the trail and surrounded me again as I passed in the opposite direction this time. I ran by one couple as the man was explaining to his wife/girlfriend that it took over twenty years for a palm tree to reach even a short height. Another couple was camped out on an embankment with their young daughter overlooking the creek. Our local beach shut down and made it illegal to even walk there according to what we’d been told but here people were still finding a way of getting out and enjoying a more secluded outdoor life rather than staying locked indoors living in fear and watching television for a month before shops and businesses might be allowed to open again and people could return to work.
You Never Know What You Will Find When You Run Through the Woods
As I ran past a more secluded area, I saw two young adults sitting on the edge of the water. The young man turned and look startled. At first I thought they were afraid I would give them the virus, but when I got downwind a few feet I realized they were smoking pot and probably thought I would turn them in. There was actually a police officer when I reached the road and I wondered if someone had reported the couple or he/she was just taking a break in the shade by the water. At this point I had 2.2 miles left to go and barely got them in. It took me six hours, thirty five minutes and three seconds to run/walk a marathon. My first official/unofficial/virtual marathon distance run all in one day at one time
My Luck With Completing Marathons Has Not Been Great But Safety Comes First
My first marathon was cut short when people started passing out from heat exhaustion and overwhelmed the emergency medical staff. My second marathon was over a two day period where you ran a 5k Friday night and then a 10K, Half, 2.8 beach run and 1 mile fun run the next day. I had survived that and even placed first in my age group for the half and second in the 10K so decided I was capable of running a full marathon all in one day but things kept getting in the way and preventing me from training. Sometimes it is frustrating to have a plan and not be able to complete it and it often feels like the world is doing it to you on purpose – especially when it happens often. Three days before the race I actually slammed my knee into a fence when I did not lift it high enough to step over and it hurt so bad it felt like my knee cap was broken, but that had healed and here I was with no one to celebrate my success – no medal, no photos, no bragging rights. I could live with that. It reminded me of all the couples who had set up elaborate weddings or friends who had loved ones die and were not allowed to have large gatherings of people. It was not just me who was being impacted by this virus and their events were a lot more meritorious or somber than mine.
Proving You Ran and Reporting Your Time on a Virtual/Live Run
I did take a photo of my watch to prove I had run the full 26.2 but true to just-my-luck, when I saved it from Fitbit to Strava – Strava cut off .03 miles so it showed I only ran 26.17!!! Oh well, the race directors allowed it to be counted anyway going by the Fitbit so my life had not ended in crushing defeat as I imagined it would.
On the last lap of the course the sun was temporarily blotted out by what looked like pterodactyl shadows, but it was actually two very big and very beautiful Wood Storks flying side by side – I’m sure the CDC would disapprove alarmingly of their closeness. All-in-all it had been a nice day. I got to see people enjoying nature and enjoyed it myself. I drank over a gallon of water and discovered that Spanish moss makes a pretty good toilet paper if you have to go number two and it was messier than the one paper towel and tissue you had with you. I saw lots of oysters in the creek and might have to come back in the kayak and take a closer look if the boat ramp is not shut down. Heaven forbid anyone should enjoy nature and not cloister themselves in their homes awaiting the end of the world as we know it.
I am sure there are a lot of people who are worried about the pandemic and think healthy people should still be cautious about where they go and who they see, but none of the people I saw today, even the pot smokers, was doing anything that would harm themselves or the public at large and we all kept a safe distance though I touched my own face so many times to wipe the sweat and pollen off that my fingers looked like I had been eating Cheetos with a yellow-orange tint that seemed dyed into my skin. I could even feel the grit over my eyes when I wiped the sweat off my eyelids though I could not see the pollen falling and it made me think of how germs and viruses can easily invade your life without you even being aware of it.
The Return Trip Home Was As Revelatory as the Race Itself
On the way home I took a shortcut past the Sweetfield of Eden Baptist church. It is a small historic African American church with it’s own small cemetery. As I drove closer, I saw a well dressed woman exiting a car and several other cars parked and thought, “Hmmm, they must be having a service today. That is strange since everyone else is live streaming services now.” Then I saw a large crowd fanning themselves and trying to escape the sun in their Sunday dresses and suits and ties. A funeral tent was set up over a casket draped in the American flag and several marines in full dress uniform stood at attention. I was actually kind of proud of their rebellion in gathering to honor someone they held dear rather than videotaping the funeral or only allowing ten people at the graveside. Still, you wonder if it was politically, socially or medically correct to do so. That is the way life is. Sometimes when you rebel it is for a good reason or purpose and other times you get hurt or hurt others. You never really know what the outcome will be, which is why, one supposes, that people rebel to begin with. Because there is hope something greater will come from it than living in fear and submission. Still…
As I drove slowly by, trying not to pass judgement, I saw an EMS vehicle with a gurney and what looked like a Scottish plaid design mattress on it. The gurney was set up with the headrest facing toward the funeral and for a moment my crazy brain thought, "wow, they didn't waste any time getting that guy to the funeral", but then I saw the hearse and wondered about my thought processes.
I don’t know who is right or wrong sometimes. I think most people have enough sense to do the right thing and to limit their exposure to bad influences the same as bad diseases. Some of us flirt with disaster, but even if we don’t get hurt, if the danger to others is too high then we have to back off and accept that sometimes things will not go the way we planned them and that’s okay.
I had a lot of time to do some thinking today. I was faced with a challenge and the odds were not good that I would make it through, but I did. No one was hurt by my actions, except maybe the “good job” lady when I fake sneer-smiled at her the second time. I kept my social distance this time though last week I hugged a friend and didn't care as everyone gasped at our audaciousness. I am not making light of a serious situation, I am simply questioning whether it has to be so serious that we give up friendships and socializing in person, but still order food cooked by strangers and go to grocery stores and touch and buy products touched by strangers as if only people can pass the virus to others, not objects that have come into contact with people, but who am I to say and it would be wrong to tell people to ignore the advice of the government and do whatever they feel is right, so for now I am following orders, but still doing some of the things I love in as limited a capacity as I am allowed.
If you are faced with an overwhelming challenge or feel like you can’t win for losing, let me tell you that you have to keep trying. Definitely follow safe guidelines for yourself and others and don’t recklessly roll over anyone who gets in your way, but think outside the box and learn new skills and have fun and try things you thought were impossible for you. I have waited forty years to run a full marathon where you actually receive a medal at the finish line and technically I have yet to do that! This means I have to give it at least one more shot, but not any time soon. For now, I am happy to stay home and browse social media and only make necessary trips to the bank, grocery and feed store and hope that this Corona virus runs out of steam long before it gets any worse.
We live in challenging times. Life is not always what we expect, but when you have setbacks it gives you a good reason to try harder to obtain your goals, even when the world seems bound and determined to take your joy away. I guess if it were not for tough challenges, we would be too complacent and not try difficult things. So it looks like I still have to try for one more official Marathon, but at least now I know I can run/walk it in the time allowed. It is just a matter of wanting to run it at all that has to be dealt with and accepted!
What challenges have you faced and overcome? Is there something you want to do but did not think you were capable of doing? What are some steps you could take to come closer to your goals? If you can’t run a marathon, try walking a mile or running a 5K. If you want to lose weight but always regain it, trying eating healthier food choices so you feel better first and then work on dropping a pound or two. Little steps forward can lead to big steps over and over and over again! Trust me – my feet are tired!!!
Stay healthy and follow your community guidelines to stay safe even if they interfere with your plans. If you can safely and legally work around being forced to have no fun or freedom – be innovative. Have a picnic in the yard, build a fort in the house, create a new game, learn a new skill and hold on to your dreams. Hopefully the world will go back to normal or better than normal and we can all make new plans for a better and brighter tomorrow. Right now I am just hoping I can walk straight and take the stairs tomorrow – baby steps – literally and figuratively. We got this folks!