If you’ve watched the film Contagion, based on the premise that if you have a virulent enough set of germs, one per cent of the world’s population (70 million people) may be doomed, it can make you realise how dodging germs is a serious business. More so in a household where children exist. Life can be divided into two distinct periods of germ dodging; pre and post children. Pre children is a simple (and naïve) existence. Exposure to the normal round of germs leads to normal illnesses, recovery and a return to exposure and dodging of other ‘normal’ germs. Children mark the end of this naïve phase, when the normal illnesses are slowly replaced by a host of curious, hitherto unknown health problems: thread worm, head lice, those particularly clever and sadistic germs that produce projectile vomiting.
When I first spotted a head lice jumping around happily in the hair of my oldest child I grabbed it and threw it on the floor in disgust. It was just like that Alien moment when Sigourney Weaver’s character commands the alien mother, hunting down a small girl child, to: “Get off of her YOU BITCH!” Although I lacked the itinerary of weapons to defend myself against alien invasion, I quickly learnt that frequent (expensive) trips to the chemist would now be needed, over a number of years, to wage war against these new visitors to our lives. And so it began. Years of hair checking on a Sunday night, as well cleaning up of various bodily fluids leaves you on permanent alert for the next onslaught. Then, two years of quiet. The children joyfully, unknowingly, brought their new friends to our house, but my body didn’t join the party. Natural immunity, I considered, may have sprung up cunningly along my DNA threads. Two cycles of chest infections, winter vomiting bug and other nasties came and went and I stood standing, not unlike a lone victor in a worthless war.
Yet, this winter we have endured unending cold, and the bugs were assembling, biding their time. The busy Christmas period had me, despite being on full alert for mid-night vomiting episodes or vicious tummy bugs, feeling victorious, even blasé. Then in February I succumbed with a brief period of sore throat, which turned into a fever and crescendoed in a chest infection. For weeks I was unable to exercise, and during this down time I realised that I am a yo-yo exerciser. I get fit, gain some speed, then something will get in the way and I wont get to running for weeks, after which I have to go through the whole process again.
The scary thing is that there are few like me in my club. There are lots of punishers – the types that will push themselves on their 10-mile ‘recovery’ run on a Monday, despite eight consecutive weeks of plus 15-mile runs on Sundays. There are the socialites who always turn up, run the same speed, returning home happy and content. There are the competitives, who train hard, train harder in secret, don’t know what a steady run means, and approach each race like the Olympic Games. The consistents would also never miss a session. They maintain a good standard but realise always being competitive is either a) no longer possible, or b) boring. These special runners neither seek glory nor flattery (they are perhaps the most special club members, to stick with and aim for?). But there are no other yo-yoers. I stand alone.
When my energy is tunnelling through to the southern hemisphere, other runners bounce back from injury, illness, operations, catastrophe. As toxic thoughts of never being able to return to former fitness linger as long as my stubborn germs, I sit and watch other club members pushing themselves as one of our weekly sessions passes my window. I imagine two weeks will be enough to get back to running, but this always turns to four, and sometimes six. It already feels as if a season has almost passed since I last ran, but in truth its little more than a month.
I now have to make my return to running (which will be painfully slow) and to club (where I will be at the back again). Having done this many times I know the process and have to once again embrace the upward journey from feeling like a beginner, to regaining some fitness, to working on speed. If I can just return to this final phase, no germs will be able to catch me, surely.