Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Seriously Sick Again

If you've been reading my blog over the years, you know that I have a tendency to get mono or a "mono-like" virus that lasts up to three months.

I officially got mono when I was in college, so I think that all the subsequent illnesses have been re-activated mono or a mono-like virus. The problem is-- my immune system has issues. When most people get a viral infection they are able to kick it in about a week. That's not the case with me. According to the doctors, my immune system goes into high gear when I get a virus and then doesn't calm down for a long time.

Previous episodes with long-lasting post viral fatigue:
I thought that maybe presidential elections or summer olympics had something to do with this but now that it's 2018, that theory is shot! And it would have been nice if this was on a four-year schedule so I could plan accordingly.

All joking aside, it seems like this immune system issue is triggered by running hard in the heat. My doctor told me last week that after you run a race, there is a short period of time in which your immune system is really weak, and if you happen to catch a virus during that time, you won't be able to fight it off. For me, I don't seem to have this issue in cooler temperatures. I was handling 75+ mile weeks last March and felt great. I ran the Boston Marathon in that crazy hypothermic weather and didn't get sick. I've always known that the heat impacts my running performance to a greater extent than most people, but now I also see that it really takes a toll on my immune system. Summer arrived about a month early this year, so instead of getting sick in late June, I got sick on June 1. I'm now on day 12.

This sucks. I mean, this REALLY sucks! Not only does it set me back in terms of my running but I also can't go to work, I feel like complete crap, and I don't have a life aside from sitting at home and resting. 

So what, exactly, am I sick with? The best way to describe it is an over-reaction of the immune system triggered by a viral infection. I had a sore throat for the first three days and now my symptoms are:
  • Dizziness when standing up from a seated position
  • Weakness in the legs and an inability to walk at a normal pace
  • General fatigue, and low energy levels, requiring about 1-2 hours of extra sleep per night
  • Varying degrees of body aches
Progress with this illness is not linear. Some days, I feel almost normal as long as I stay seated. Other days (like yesterday) all I can do is lay in bed and even moving the slightest bit feels like a huge effort. Because I've had this illness in the past I know not to get too discouraged when I have one of the really horrible days. I basically just see it as a message that I need to continue to take it easy. 

Taking it easy means doing no physical activity other than moving around the house as needed. Since getting sick 12 days ago, I've been pretty much homebound. I went to the doctor's office twice and Greg took me to the new Wegman's that opened a mile from our house. I sat in the cafe and ate lunch while he shopped for groceries. Other than that, I haven't gone anywhere.

The second time I went to the doctor was to get blood drawn for tests. They needed 5 vials, and I passed out after just 2. It was a bad scene and I couldn't move or talk properly for a good five minutes after I passed out. To make matters worse, 2 vials wasn't enough blood, so that whole ordeal was for nothing.

I haven't been to work since getting sick, and thankfully the people there have been understanding and supportive. I'm doing some work from home, but I'll probably end up on short term disability. I can tolerate a loss of income but I cannot tolerate the stress of feeling like I have to go back before I'm ready.

As far as my mindset, I'm taking it one day at a time. Yesterday was simply miserable because I felt so weak. I wear a FitBit and I logged a whopping total of 550 steps-- the minimum to go from the bed to the bathroom a few times! The last few times I've had this illness I tried to return to work and running too soon. And I think that's why it lasted 3 months. My plan now is as follows:
  • Return to about 90% of my healthy energy level
  • Ease my way back into work by going in for half-days
  • If I tolerate the half-days and feel 100%, start working full days
  • If I tolerate full days and feel 100%, wait a few days and then start taking walks around the neighborhood
  • If I tolerate the walks around the neighborhood, wait a few days and then run.
I have no idea what the timeline would be, but BEST case scenario, I am running by July 1st. Worst case, end of July.  I've pretty much accepted this. I'm good at accepting it because I've been through it so many times before. I know that I am capable of coming back even stronger and faster than before. And I'm still targeting a 3:15 marathon in December as well as a half marathon PR in November.

Every runner has their strengths and weaknesses. I've always known that the heat was my biggest weakness and now I realize how true that is. Comebacks are exciting. But they aren't exciting until you can actually start coming back. I will need to channel all the patience I have and trust that it will be worth the wait.


  1. It's really interesting how your body just shuts down after hard racing. I don't know if it's the heat as much as how hard you push yourself! Looking forward to your comeback.

  2. Sad to hear that you taken out by that mono or mono-like condition. Another marathon and challenge of a different kind that you will go through, but your the "zebra" and from your history and your past chasing that Boston unicorn, you will persevere thru this and make your comeback.

    Yes...heat is a stressor and it does wham the immune system. Some of what you suffer in symptoms, superficially similar to some of those Alberto Salazar inccured in aftermath of that marathon he duked out in the heat against Dick Beardlsey. In the end, Salazaar ended up having to contend with super high elevated cortical enzyme levels, something that is similar and occurs with those with PTSS. I know your case is different, but the point is that it was the heat-stress induced trauma running 2-hr 9-min in the heat of Boston that was the trigger, breaking down his immune system, opening the door to other, longer-term illness. You might find that book by John Brant, "Duel in the Sun" an interesting read, but if you cue-in on Salazar's story and long haul to recovery, you will find it starts with running the race in the heat. Something I think you will likely change in the future - just don't run long distsance/duration in extreme heat (or high humidity). Hope you find a way to heal quicker from this than in past episodes.

  3. Oh no!! Hope you feel better soon. This sounds dreadful. Rest up and come back stronger. Sending healing vibes your way.

  4. That sounds terrible. If I were you, I would consult with a functional medicine practioner. That kind of stuff always start in the gut. Running in the heat will compromise your gut lining our first defense, creating inflammation and making susceptible to reoccurence of mono symptoms. Just my two cents but it does not hurt to try something new.

  5. I have done some overtraining in my time but I don't think any of that has taken me as deep as you described. Sounds like awful for a runner of marathon proportions. I have found that I did have a tendency to have an upper respiratory infection following a marathon. I read in a book - I believe this is right - and the author suggested taking a multivitamin as soon as possible after an endurance event. I have tried that yet. I still rely on recovery drinks.

  6. Hey - I would love to share with you what I think this might be. It’s called a Mycoplasma pneumonia infection. Call me or email. Happy to pay it forward and tell you what I know. Jackie 714-595-8328