The COVID-19 Marathon

I am far from an experienced marathoner. I have only run four of them. Quite frankly, I don’t see myself running any more. However, in my experience, there are four distinct phases of a marathon. As our world drags into its ninth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am noticing that life has been mirroring those four Phases. Let’s take a look at this.

Marathon Phase 1. Miles 1-8

I can not believe this is happening. I know that this is going to suck, but when will I ever be here again? I am going to make the most of it. Look at all these people here. Runners chit-chat and smile as they pass each other “Hey, man! Good luck. We’re all in this together! Looking good!” I feel incredible. I am ready for this. Look at all these supportive spectators with their fun signs. Selfie! I have one pocket full of Gu energy gels that I will eat every seven miles and another pocket with salt tablets to pop every nine miles. I know exactly how much water I should drink every thirty minutes I am out here. I feel great. I can do this.

COVID Phase 1

I can not believe this is happening. I know that this is going to suck, but when will this ever happen again? I am going to make the most of it. We are all in this together. Kids, do not think you are getting extra screen time because we are always home. I have activities planned every day. I’m going to post them all on Facebook so everyone can see how awesome we are. I am working virtually, but I will put on jeans and a collared shirt when I clock in and remove them at the end of the day because boundaries are important. I am going to watch the COVID numbers every day to see the curve. Look at all the fun masks we are making! Might be fun to actually be around my wife a little more. I’ve got myself 365 rolls of toilet paper and an industrial barrel of hand-sanitizer. I’m fine. Let’s do this.

Marathon Phase 2. Miles 9-16

Oh boy. This is real. All the fun of the start is gone and these miles are pretty much just grinding it out. I have trained so it does not really hurt too much but I am starting to feel it. I will continue to check my watch about every quarter mile. Not gonna waste my breath talking to fellow racers anymore. They get a head nod. If nothing else, this is getting kind of boring. I’ve been doing this between 80 – 150 minutes and the end is really nowhere close. Its going to be one foot in front of the other for a really long time still.

COVID Phase 2

So, this is real. Still not crushing my spirits, but it’s getting kind of old. Hey boys, there really is nothing else happening. Go right ahead and put in an extra hour on your XBox. I’m getting tired of getting cleaned up on all of these board games anyway. Tracking the COVID numbers is no longer interesting. More like depressing. The wife and I are starting to struggle a bit for conversation because I am pretty sure we’ve covered anything interesting during the first few months. Facebook is starting to seem less supportive and is really just a bickering ground for everyone who has apparently spent the last few months getting their Ph.D in epidemiology, research methodology and public health. I am not going to talk about COVID at all today. Well, unless I actually see someone. Then I’ll talk about it because, well, that’s all there is to talk about. As for work, at this point, I just keep two collared shirts sitting at my work station. If I am going to be on-camera with someone, I quickly throw one of them on and take it back off as soon as my meeting is done. I can get a week out of those two shirts.

Marathon Phase 3. Miles 17-22

Hell. Everything is out the window and it is really just survival. My body is completely shot. I don’t even bother checking my watch anymore. I am cramping up in hamstrings, quads, buttocks, and calves. In one marathon, my legs actually gave out and I had to army crawl to a mailbox to shimmy up like a squirrel on a bird feeder at mile 21. Oddly, that was the only marathon I cracked the 4-hour mark on. I do not even talk to other runners. Sadly, I just just continue past bodies that have failed and are lying beside the road. I barely even notice emergency personnel running/biking/driving by because its so common. My emotions are a mess and on a couple races that I knew I would miss my time by 5-7 minutes, I cried. Well, I tried to cry but my body was so dehydrated that it refused to waste moisture on tears. Dry-sobbing is one of the weirdest things I have ever experienced. The worst part of this phase is that there is still a very, very long way to go. Every step has become misery and feels like a drop in the bucket. Definitely on the back half of the race and nearing the finish line but it is….. so……far…..away There is absolutely no choice but to continue but I just know that I absolutely never want to do this again.

COVID Phase 3

This is where we are and it sucks. Every sniffle and headache is a sure sign of infection. Even the best days are confirmation that I am asymptomatic. Boys, just get back on the video games. I’m sure you dropped in rank and you’ve only played 10 hours today, right? I have not looked at the COVID rate in days. I know it is approximately suckthousand/day and getting suckier. Not changing. I am pretty sure my wife has not closed a cupboard door, or turned off a light since March 13. And when did she start looking up and randomly saying, “Oh, did you see she was doing it?” and expect me to have any idea who “she” is and what “it” is? I am glad I don’t have any annoying habits. Hey, has anyone seen my work hoodie? Not the Lions one, but my work hoodie. You know, the nice one. I’m pretty much over social media. I get annoyed with people I disagree with and frankly, the people I agree with are even more irritating. Every day is the same. Everybody I know is convinced that they have had the undiagnosed virus at least six times. Nobody is having any fun and I am becoming numb to the suffering of others and bad news. There is very promising news with vaccines. Realistically, there is an end in sight. It is out there, but it is still going to be a long time and these next few months may just be the worst.

Marathon Phase 4. Miles 23- 26.2 and Recovery

These miles go kind of quick. At this point, I know if I am going to make my goal or not but I never really care. I am just excited that its is almost done. I am a very short distance from being finished and seeing my friends. I have a night out planned. For some reason, I expect that when I cross that line after 26.2 miles and stop running, it will all be over and things will be back to normal. It never happens that way. As soon as I stop, I realize the race is still with me. Walking off the start line to a recovery area requires new motions and new fits of cramping. I realize that the wet feeling in my socks is not sweat but blood collecting from blisters and tears on my feet that I did not notice. I need help getting my shoes off because I can no longer reach the laces without cramping. Worse, if I even try to bend down to get them, my head swims and I may pass out. I want to eat everything I can find, but have to be careful because, while my body needs the food, my stomach can not really handle much. The race stays with me for days. I try to keep a somewhat light diet for a few days because sitting on a toilet hurts my quads like crazy and it takes forever get my body seated. Gross, but that’s real life. I don’t know how women marathoners make it. It usually takes three days before I can go down steps without bracing my hands on a wall or railing. Crossing the finish line is not like hitting the “reset” button and everything going back to normal. There is a lot of repair and recovery to be done.

COVID Phase 4

I have no idea what this is going to look like. I know it is going to happen. I know that it is in sight. I can not wait to see my friends and families again. I can not wait for a night out. Eventually a vaccine will be safe, effective, and distributed. Or maybe the virus will die out (nope). Or maybe The Child holds the key. Whatever. The current state of the world will end. However, we will not be going back to normal right away. This is going to stay with us for a bit. Jobs, the economy, schools and pretty much everything is going to have adjust and heal. Friendships are going to have to be repaired. I fear that many friendships may be permanently damaged or, worse yet, deemed not worth trying to repair. They’ve just become bodies dropping off the side of the road during the hard miles. Shrug and keep plugging along. I worry that many of us have spent the last nine months throwing haymakers from behind a screen and keyboard and are killing what we have spent years developing pre-COVID. Please don’t.

We are in the hard miles. It is discouraging, frustrating, boring, and can frankly be depressing. Have hope. There is an end. It is a way off and life is going to hurt, but the end out there.

Let’s try to spend the miles supporting and uplifting our fellow life-runners. Everyone is hurting in different ways and the sad truth is, some runners do not finish marathons. Let’s try to spend the hard miles making things a little more enjoyable for each other. Go out of your way for someone. Say something nice. Don’t hurt people. Bring me a donut. Commit to designating a period of time where you say, post, or tweet, nothing but positive news or feelings. Walk away from a fight. Try to make my wife close a cabinet door. Simply put, just love each other. Like it or not, we are still all in it together.

Thank you front line workers. Thank you medical staffs. Thank you teachers. Thank you first responders. Thank you Din Djarin, Thank you to those in the service industry, There’s too many to thank. And regardless of whether or not I agree with your decisions, thank you to those in positions of power, at many different levels, who are tasked with making impossible decisions that I would not wish upon my worse enemy. That actually might be Jar Jar Binks and the last time he had any political power, things went south really fast.

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Do not wait until they are gone

This fall I received a message that Matt, an old fraternity buddy, had surgery and had unexpectedly died on the table.  It really shook me that I am at the stage of life that I got a message about a college friend’s death.  Honestly, Matt and I were never close. We hung out a fair share in college, but I had only seen him a couple times since we graduated. In fact, I do not think I had talked to the man in 15 years and realistically probably would not have ever seen him again no matter how long either of us lived. Still, it kind of shook me.

Someone started a “Tell your best Matt memory” thread on our fraternity alumni Facebook page.  For the next few days, I checked in on the thread and watched it blow up.  I remembered a lot of the stories and had been a part of a few.  I found myself chuckling aloud as I scrolled through them and felt nostalgic as names I had not seen for years popped up.  Scattered through the crazy stories, were the occasional posts that started with, “Matt did some crazy stuff, but what I always appreciated was…” or “One time, Matt said something to me and it really helped me” or “Matt changed my life once when he…”

I found myself wondering if Matt had remembered any of these stories. I wondered if he knew that he had changed some lives/perspectives.  Then I found myself wishing there was some way that Matt could read that thread.  I wished there was some way that right before he left, Matt could see the memories he had made and the impacts he had on people. I wondered how it would make Matt feel to hear all the things being said about him. Then I wondered why we wait until someone is dead before saying these things.

Why do we wait until there is an empty body before we say how important someone is? It feels good and helps us grieve, but why not talk to the living? I have sat at many funerals, listened to eulogies and thought, “Man, I bet that would feel incredible to hear those things being said. It’s too bad it means nothing to the deceased.”  Would it not be amazing if everybody got one day when they sat on a stage, their friends gathered, and said, “You are a great person. This is why I love you. This is what you have done, and this is what I will always remember. Thank you.”

It’s not practical and would be pretty weird but I live in an era with unprecedented connectivity. I can do a version of this.  I am committing to every day, for the foreseeable future, sending a text, PM, Facebook message, or Facebook Wall post to someone and telling them something I would say at their funeral.  A memory.  What they did or said. How they impacted me.  Not because I am thinking of anyone’s death but because I think saying these positive things to them now will make more a difference than saying them when that person has left.  Not everything will be profound and that is fine.

When I was in graduate school, one of my professors was talking about the high rates of suicide and mental health problems among mental health professionals. As he finished, he turned around and muttered, “We spend our lives advocating for mental health and seeking help, but the people with the most knowledge of how critical this is are too God-damn proud to see when they are in trouble themselves.”  Twenty years later, I was in the middle of a couple year battle with depression, was laying in bed wondering how I was going to manage the day and beating myself up because I have more knowledge of, and experience in, mental health than 98% of America and yet, I could not help myself. For some reason, I remembered his off-hand comment. I got up. I got help and I got right.  I doubt he remembers me, and I guarantee he does not remember that lecture, but he will hear about it this week.

Let’s be honest. With the virus sweeping our nation, a lot of us are going to have a lot of time on our hands for the foreseeable future.  Give it some thought.  Send a bunch of messages or just send one per day.  Send it to a lot of  people. Deep dive into your Facebook friend list. Simply share a story that you value for no other reason than it was fun.  That is what most of mine will be.  Thank people for what they have done. Tell people they made a difference.  Say all the things you would say if the person was gone.  It will mean more to them now.

The virus is spreading. Panic is spreading. Fear is spreading.  Take a few minutes. Spread love. Spread gratitude. Spread happiness. Spread it faster.

Think about it.

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