I fell ill. It began in Stockholm. I had a sore throat and a dry, tickling cough. I remember thinking, oh no, no, no. Not this week. Not with the Great North Run on Sunday. On the last run I did, I had to stop and cough a lot, but I was hoping that it didn’t get worse. By “worse,” I mean that it didn’t go down into my chest. The runner’s rule: anything above the neck, you can probably run. Anything below it, don’t. Or, chest equals rest.
On the Friday before the Great North Run on Sunday, I felt OK. I decided to do Parkrun on Saturday as I’d missed a run and wanted to work my legs. I cycled over to Roundhay with my running club-mate Andrew, and I set off with no intentions of being fast. In fact I was a minute faster than I have been for a while, which when you’re running for under half-an-hour, is more significant than it sounds. I don’t do Parkruns very often. I love them, I really do, but I’ve just had other running priorities. And much as I love their inclusiveness and encouragement of all runners of any ability, I do find the wearing of 50 and 100 t-shirts and Parkrun-totting-up to be a bit odd. Or at least, not something I must aspire to, as I’ve only done 11 in three years and I don’t think there’s a t-shirt for that.
After the run, as we gathered at the bandstand, I began to cough. Oh dear. And it was a different cough. This was not tickly and in my throat, but sending stuff up from my lungs. My cough had become what chemists and manufacturers of cough syrup call “productive.” I got home, delivered a marrow to the allotment association show, then lay on my bed and worried. I felt unwell, but how unwell? Was I bad enough not to run? But I had raised sponsorship for the run for WaterAid. I was supposed to be running with my mate Elliot. He was expecting me in Newcastle. I packed my things and set off up north. First though, I called at the designer outlet in York which I stupidly thought was on the way, as I always forget that to get to York from the A1 you have to go sideways. At the outlet, I felt worse and worse. My head began to pound. I was coughing. I phoned Elliot and he said, are you sure you want to run? I wasn’t. I set off in the car, intending to drive to Newcastle and then if necessary, cheer people on if I was too unwell. But then realised I had to take the road heading towards Leeds to get back on the A1 to got north, and it was raining, and I felt crap, and I just kept driving until I got home. I phoned Elliot, I went to bed, and I was sick for a week. I watched the Great North Run on TV, and thought Mo Farah’s victory was pretty suspicious, when it seemed clear that Kigen could have even only slightly kicked and trounced Mo. But I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to run. That’s how I knew I was ill. The thought of running even a mile horrified me.
That’s not like me.
I was unwell for a week. I went through bottles of cough syrup and packets of paracetamol. I couldn’t talk on the phone without collapsing into coughing. But after a few days, I began to feel better. Then I knew I was really better when I wanted to run again. Jenny, my trainer, suggested doing a couple of six mile runs on the weekend. But I was still coughing, and it was still in my lungs. I consulted my running mates, because I didn’t know what else to do. I’d done enough Dr. Google research to know that if I went to my GP, she’d tell me to start worrying when the cough had lasted for more than three weeks. I didn’t have three weeks to spare: the Yorkshire marathon is 26 days away, and my training has already been worryingly hit and miss. I remember at this point in my London marathon training I felt knackered but fit. I was leaner and stronger than I feel now. My club-mates mostly advised caution, except for Laura, who said, do a half hour hilly bike ride and if you feel crap, don’t run. She admitted that probably wasn’t scientific. And Adam, who said he didn’t believe in the below/above the neck thing and if I ran without putting up my heart rate, it might be alright.
But I didn’t. I went to my allotment instead and madly gardened. The fresh air did me good. And on Monday evening I ran. And I loved it. Oh, I loved it. Not necessarily because I was running, but because I was exercising. Afterwards I felt like this:
That feeling continued even into this morning’s training session with Jenny. I usually start clock-watching halfway through. I admit I did look at the clock when she started me on atomic press-ups early on, and I realised how quickly I’d lost strength in my arms. But last night I ran easily and happily. I felt good. Now I just have to work out how to do a marathon.