It all started so well. I woke up feeling completely healthy, even if a tad tired because our cats had decided that 04.30 is a great time to invent new ways to annoy us. The plan was to run 10 km before I met up with the rest of the group, run another 15 with them and then roll down the hill home for the remaining 4 km on the schedule.
I had no idea how my body would like skipping a week in the schedule and going straight for a 29 km run, but I was anxious to catch up after having missed so much training. It started off well enough, although I kept trying to dislodge the ball of yarn that was stuck in my throat and made it hard to draw in deep breaths. I had great music in my ears, the sun warmed my face even at 8 in the morning and I was looking forward to spending a few hours on my feet.
I was the first one to arrive at our meeting place in the hockey arena, and as soon as I stopped running, I started coughing. It was the kind of meaningless cough that neither gets rid of the source of the irritation nor provides relief; the more I coughed, the worse it seemed to get. I had thankfully taken some water with me, and that did the trick. But I should have seen this as a sign that all was not well in my body yet.
We ran on roads and pavements and the conversation flowed freely. Spring was definitely in the air, and our faces weren't the only ones getting warm: the snow that covered the streets and fields had begun to melt at places, getting mushy and providing no traction whatsoever on slopes. I tried to take it easy when running uphill, but it became more and more of a struggle. This time it wasn't my throat that was the culprit. My legs were on strike. Being the hard-arsed, sociopathic boss that I am, I tried to bully them into obeying me and get them to move forward, but they refused. When we hit the snowmobile tracks, and, later, a soft snow-covered single track in the woods, they gave up completely and I had to walk.
That's when my stomach joined the party and threatened to throw up the banana I had eaten while waiting for the others in the hockey arena. It was either that, or pass out. I felt like reheated day-old monkey excrement. I was scared, truly scared for the first time in my running career. So scared that I started trying to come up with some catchy last words. I imagined them getting so famous among runners that they would get printed on running t-shirts and inspirational posters all around the world. Something like ”A little pneumonia won't kill you” or ”Not even death can stop me from completing my run”. I knew now that I had pushed my body too far before it was ready to take on the challenge, and right then it felt like I was going to have to pay for it dearly. Runners that had been behind me started running past me and I stepped into the meter-deep snow on the side to let them pass. Then I walked the rest of the trail up to where the others waited. Even that was hard work. I sank several centimetres in the snow with every step I took.
As we ran down the road and past the ski track parking lot, a part of me wished I would see J and get a lift home. He had gone skiing and I knew that he would be done around the same time as I was done with my run. Another, more stubborn part of me, the pig-headed part that is responsible for all the great running achievements of my life, thought the first part was a wimp and that I should suck it up and complete my run. After all, it was downhill all the way home. The second part was louder. It might have had to do with the fact that I could see neither J nor our car anywhere in the parking lot – it gave me no choice but to continue. The feeling of sickness gave way to normal tiredness as I left the others and made my way home. I took short steps, lowered my pace and took it easy, but there was still a battle of wills going on between my mind and my body.
Somehow I managed to get home without dying. This was without doubt the toughest, stupidest run I've ever done in my life, and I've run ultras. The only other time I remember feeling so weak and sick was about a year ago, when I and a friend from the Gothenburg running group ran the Sandsjöbacka trail. The circumstances were very similar: I had just recovered from an illness, I was running on tough terrain and my legs were non-responsive. I suppose I should be glad that I got off easy this time. Last time, I finished off my run by getting a runner's knee.