Across the street from the house where I’m riding out my portion of social distancing, there is a tiny trail through the woods. It’s an overgrown double track, a half mile long, and recently I was running laps on it.
I picked my way around a partially frozen mud puddle crunching leaves and frosty sticks under foot, and it sounded like fall. It’s a sound I hadn’t heard in a long time, since I missed the last two fall’s training seasons. My body felt good.
It was all so normal, and I was so relieved. But not for the reason that is on everyone’s mind.
For a moment I wasn’t thinking about coronavirus, I was thinking about Over Training Syndrome. I’ve been active again for long enough that I’m starting to gain back the fitness that is lost in a year of mandatory sedentary-ness. Sometimes I have workouts that feel as good as I used to feel, back before I damaged my mitochondria so badly that they couldn’t support a 5 minute easy run.
Of course, recovery from OTS is not guaranteed. In my darkest moments of the last 20 months I was sure I’d never feel like an athlete again. Even now that I’m clearly making progress, there is no promise that I will regain the capacity I once had. But when I have a good day, I forget about that; I’m sure I’m going to come back from this, stronger than ever.
I shuffled up the hill (even on good days, running easy up hills on New England trails = shuffling) and my mind returned to it’s new normal constant contemplation of the global pandemic. I had forgotten that too, for a moment, in the rush of feeling fit.
We’re creatures of habit, even the most wildly spontaneous among us. Everybody has something that feels normal, and when times of crisis hit we rely on those things. Training is an obvious choice for many of us. As a coach, I’m lucky to be able to support my athletes with a degree of normalcy. As an athlete, I’m relying on my coaches and training to help me feel normal. Normal is a huge relief, and we’re all grateful for it.
I am doubly so, because I’m grateful to be physically able to exercise. If OTS and the coronavirus pandemic had coincided, I would have been in a real pickle. (Not that either on its own isn’t a sufficient pickle.) I know enough about resilience to not say it would have been unbearable, but damn, it would have been close.
In dealing with OTS, I employed many of the same strategies I’m using to now cope with the pandemic. The day my coach and I officially decided I needed to start with 6 months of uninterrupted rest, I called a friend to see if I could stay with them for a few weeks, I enrolled in an online course, and I wrote down a list of other projects I could work on while sedentary. I hoped for a speedy recovery, and prepared for a protracted, painful one.
When it became clear to me in mid February that we were in for a rough ride with Covid-19, I hunkered down with friends, enrolled in an online course, and re-prioritized my to-do list. Everything that I can’t work on right now, I put in an envelope to be re-examined once a month until this is over so I can’t dwell on lost progress. I’m hoping for a swift response (more despondently now, it’s true) and preparing for a long period of loneliness and suffering.
One year ago, I was regretting that 4 months of partial rest and 3 months of complete rest had thus far not made a dent in my fatigue. By April 2019 I had given up hopes of being able to train again by July. And as the months wore on I picked up new habits.
I wrote about the role of yoga and meditation in getting me through OTS last fall, and it is about a third somewhat surprising tool I write next week in
In, Through, & Out
I’ve documented the story of how I got myself into OTS, from the early signs, to the decision to embrace sedentary rest, to the emotional trauma that certainly played a role. Next week’s story is of two tools that came as surprises to me as I got myself through and got myself out of OTS.
Catch it by tuning in next week, or joining the community.