Sick Runners

When I go to my doctor if I’m feeling ill, whether I think it may be Strep Throat, Bronchitis, or some other malady, I usually say, “… and my other symptom is that my runs feel really hard.” Then she looks at me and I can see her thinking, “well, if you’re still running, you can’t be that sick.”

The thing is, with runners, going for a run is no barometer or indicator of how well everything else is going in our lives. We don’t wake up every day and decide whether we’re going to go for a run or not. That decision has been made. It doesn’t take willpower or mental energy. We don’t consider the pros and cons and then make the decision. We skip all that. We just go. That’s the only way we’re able to do it so consistently every day. We just know we are going. The only question is how the run will play out based on our physical and emotional states and the conditions. Some days obviously feel way better than others, but we don’t pick and choose based on a scale of how ‘good’ it will be.

I liken it to brushing your teeth. Once it’s a habit, you just do it. You don’t consider every night before going to bed whether you will brush your teeth or not. It’s just what you do. Missing a night won’t kill you, and you rationally know you won’t get cavities in one night, but you miss it and you feel more comfortable doing it.

So it is even when we are sick. My thinking process goes like this: “Well, I’m up. I’m making lunches for my kids. I have to get dressed and walk them to school. If I can put one foot in front of the other I may as well run.” No, these are not my ‘best’ runs. They are short and slow. But I’m pretty sure they don’t make me feel worse. Since I don’t have a decision making process, I don’t know how to decide whether to go or not. Unless I physically can not put one foot in front of the other, my default ‘habit’ is to go for a run. I also have to be extremely sick not to brush my teeth before going to bed. It’s the same logic.

I know this may look obsessive and unhealthy from the outside, but it is just two sides of the same coin. I don’t deserve kudos for having the ‘willpower’ to run every day because it takes no willpower, but I also have an ingrained habit which is powerful and hard to turn off. I have a friend who ran the Boston Marathon with walking pneumonia. Unlike some who might have thought he was masochistic and nuts, I understood. He had made the decision a long time ago. He was running Boston. How it played out might change, but the decision to run was not up for question.

So when people say “well, if you’re running you can’t be that sick” I always smile inwardly. They don’t know runners.

Still running…