I watched the minutes tick off away on my Garmin and imagined where I should have been.
It’s 8 a.m. Mentally, I’m sprinting through the Mall St. Vincent parking lot in Shreveport, headed for the first bottleneck of the Firecracker 5K. Two and a half minutes later, I turn right on Ockley to charge up the first hill. At 8:09, I’ve progressed through the rolling hills along Richmond, passed the halfway point, and I’m set up for two quick left turns — Southfield and Fairfield — which take me to the course’s toughest uphill. After the hill takes almost all of the energy I have left, I stumble forward to mile marker No. 2 , the long downhill back on Fairfile and on to the flat finish.
Sadly, mental races don’t end with tangible rewards. No coveted Firecracker mug for me.
Instead of battling the heat with along with almost the entire Shreveport running community, I was in my bed. Staring at my watch and wishing it was calculating my distance, pace and heart rate.
The training setback
I didn’t feel well Friday, but I thought I was simply tired. I had a slight sore throat. I knew I wanted to be fresh for Firecracker, so I didn’t run. Instead I rested all day. Surely I would be back to normal for the weekend, right?
Saturday brought a sharp decline. I had trouble swallowing early in the day. I woke up planning on completing a shakeout workout with my running group, but I felt bad enough to skip out and stay in bed. I worked all day, carrying multiple tables of sale running shoes to the parking lot, and then back inside at the end of the day.
By night, I was trying to figure out what was wrong. I ate dinner around 6:30, but it was really painful. I started having trouble breathing, a scary feeling I don’t think I’ve ever experienced.
By Sunday morning, I knew deep down that I wasn’t racing Firecracker. I also knew I needed help. The pain worsened quickly. Swallowing, including water or even my own saliva, was nearly impossible.
Thankfully I know amazing doctors who are friendly and helpful (I had a bad case of tonsilitis). Having a wife in surgery residency can have its benefits. So, after a visit from an ENT resident, I had prescriptions for a steroid pack, antibiotics, and pain pills. When I was worse at 7 p.m., it was on to the emergency room. After getting saline, another steroid, another antibiotic, and morphine through an IV, the doctor used a giant needle to attempt to drain my left tonsil abscess. Then I got a scope up my nose and into my throat to make sure everything else was OK.
Sad but not mad
After sleeping for most of the night, I woke up this morning able to swallow with just slight discomfort. I’ve never been so happy to feel just regular sick.
I’ve still had a rough day today. But I’m not panicked with every breath now, a huge improvement.
I thought I would be much more upset about missing Firecracker. It’s my favorite local race of the year. I use it as a barometer heading into fall the training season.
But as I watched the steady stream of race photos filling up Facebook today, I wasn’t mad about missing out. I’m sad that I couldn’t be out there, but so many friends had great races. (I definitely creeped the results.) I’m excited for everyone who set out to train for and earn a Firecracker mug; it’s an incredible feeling of accomplishment. I talked to so many people leading up to this year’s race. So many shooting for a first mug or to get one after missing out the past few years. A lot of those runners succeeded. Others came close and will have even more motivation for next year.
What to do now?
My fall racing schedule isn’t going to wait for me. I don’t want to rush back too fast and get sick again. I also don’t want to put myself in a training hole. If I get too far behind, I won’t be easy to fight my way back out in the July heat.
My current goal is to be back running on Thursday. That would make one week off. But I have no clue how my body will react to all of the medicine I’m taking. I could feel amazing by tomorrow morning (not likely, I know). I could struggle and feel terrible the rest of this week.
Staying in bed all day long is already getting old. I’d much rather be out on the roads, tearing up some training miles. Instead I sit here typing, trying to work figure out a roadmap back to high-level training.
I’m sure the answer isn’t complicated. It’s probably something like: “be patient and ease back into it.”
But I’m already antsy. I already have a Firecracker redemption plan. I want to go run the course at 8 a.m. one morning in the next few weeks in an attempt to match a physical effort to my mental 5K race I did this morning.
All of the runners out there who have been sidelined for any amount of time, I know you feel my pain.
What do you do when running, your mental escape and means for feeling alive, is not an option?
My plan: try to relax and use the time off to my advantage. Rest up completely and come back strong. We will see how it goes.