I spent the last few weeks of 2017 visiting family in the U.K. for the holidays. I had an enjoyable and restful time there, despite the decidedly depressing, wet, and monochromatic British weather. I returned home refreshed and excited for the new year, my head filled with ambitious plans for upcoming races, adventures, and creative work. I liked the symmetry of the first of the year falling on a Monday–a clean starting point for training for winter objectives.

However, on New Year’s Eve I went to bed at 7:30 p.m., tossed and turned for the next 12 hours, and was barely able to get up the following morning. This fitful night of sleep marked the beginning of a nine-day stretch spent nearly exclusively in the horizontal position. I got the flu on the flight back from England, but it hit me so hard that I cannot recall ever being this sick for such a prolonged amount of time.

The first couple of days, I tried to get on with life as usual, but even a short walk was barely manageable and seemed to only exacerbate the symptoms. To my despair, I couldn’t focus on anything without being utterly exhausted within minutes.

Light entertainment, such as watching Netflix, felt like too demanding of a task, let alone trying to read or write. Sleeping wasn’t much better as I would just shiver, sweat, and ache uncomfortably until the night was over.

I settled on just laying in bed, with a cloudy brain, just being and waiting. This was by far the most challenging aspect of being sick. Of course, the physical discomfort was pretty unpleasant, but after so many days of total mental apathy, I started to question whether I would ever get better. Humans need more to be fulfilled than simply staying alive. I know that might sound overly dramatic, but it’s a strange feeling to not only be extremely physically depleted, but also to be in a state of complete mental limbo.

After nine days, I finally began to see marginal improvements in my health. Any short walk, though, would result in terrible coughing fits and dizziness. On one of these outings, I bumped into Buzz Burrell who suggested that I might have pneumonia, given the symptoms are somewhat similar to the flu. Thankfully, a visit to the doctor’s ruled this out and confirmed that I did have the flu which, however nasty and persistent, was mostly over. He treated a lingering sinus infection and within three days I was finally ready to get back outside.

While I initially had felt that the first two weeks of the year had been a complete waste, as I regained my strength, I began to think of this period of time in a more positive light.

First of all, I had the privilege and resources to check out for a couple of weeks. The bizarre limbo state I experienced that seemed so frustrating in the moment was in retrospect quite freeing. In a roundabout way, it allowed me to disconnect from the busyness and stress that makes up much of our day to day. There is something to be said about taking a brief hiatus from the happenings of the world and just letting yourself exist.

I spent those two weeks gradually rebuilding my body, eating mostly fruits and vegetables, the sickness serving as a catalyst to cleanse myself. While I did not enjoy this period in the slightest, I am thankful for the lessons I learned. Being in such a vulnerable state has its merits. It served as a powerful reminder that my time on this earth is finite and that I am not indispensable. I will not always be healthy and strong, and that even when I am, I should remain humble and appreciative of what I have. Needless to say, I savoured every step of my first run back on the trails.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • When have you found a silver lining in one of life’s rough patches?

Joe Grant - Winter Sunset

Joe Grant - Winter Clouds

Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.

There are 14 comments

  1. Jason

    I am just recovering from the H3N2 or ‘A’ strain of this years flu. Caught on a work trip it definitely took away a couple of planned adventures. Same symptoms as you, but my worst were over in three days, and at five days I’m back to normal. Going to give the body a few more days before I run though as I noticed the same thing… it doesn’t appreciate it!

  2. Josh T

    Thanks for sharing this, Joe. I also came down with the flu New Year’s Eve, mine also lasted 9 days, and totally derailed prep for adventure I had been training for. Thanks for the reminder that it is ok to slow down, and good to remain humble.

  3. Nick

    Thanks for sharing your story. I was in firefighter recruit school when on my time off I fell off my mountain bike and strained my mcl. It was so bad that baring weight on it popped it out of place. I was almost done with FF school and did not want this to spoil my opportunity. It was extremely depressing but I took it as a challenge. I wrapped my knee up as tight as I could stand and went back to school the next day after the incident. I kept on thinking how bad I want this and nothing was going to stop me, even if I had to do it with one good leg. Through all the pain I made it and graduated last October. I am now in the station and back to running in the mountains here in NC! I’ll leave you with this quote which I live by, “Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a hard one.” -Bruce Lee

  4. Michael hodges

    In bed right now and praying for a light at the end of the tunnel. And have to muster the energy the pick my girls from school in 10 minutes. Thanks for these words… hope is restored. Maybe I can go for a walk next week.

  5. Debbie Ivins

    I was forced to take the whole of December off owing to an ankle strain. When all my friends were using the holiday time to do extra runs and go explore new trails, I was stuck at home with my ice pack and thoughts. You do eventually realize you have to submit to the healing process and stop wasting energy fighting it. Feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t get you anywhere. I used the time to reflect why I love to run and rekindle my love of writing too. Inspiring others is my passion and this year I want to focus on that, while on my own journey. I also realized that I must respect my body enough to let myself rest (before I have to) and take time out. As much as I love running, I need to keep developing other areas of my life too, so I am not left with a void if it is ever taken away from me again.

  6. Caper

    Dude, actually all commenters as well, I’m sorry to hear you caught this beast. 5wks in and I still have frequent slight returns of the symptoms. I am a very healthy eater and enjoy taking care of myself, but this one bit me hard. Haven’t had a flu in 15yrs so I suppose my time was due. I am in the, I should get back out there running, but its cold out and I’m afraid of a return bout phase. Really looking forward to being 100% and for those still fighting it best wishes. Next year I’m getting the flu shot!!!

  7. Burke

    It is nice to have the privilege and resources to check out for a couple of weeks, but it would be awesome to check out for a couple of weeks completely healthy. I was down for 9 or 10 days many years ago with it; I hope I never have to use the privilege and resources on it again. Glad you are back. You always have great insights.

  8. Danny

    Greetings from monochrome England. Sorry our parting gift was such a double-edged sword, but thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    My silver lining was what led me to ultras. It was a combination of time on my hands, a desire to distract and absorb myself in something positive and a way to work out my f-u-world anger.

    In 2012 I got divorced. The end of 12 years of relationship and six of marriage. She had wandered, and I was left feeling adrift. I set about a programme of self improvement, to refind some of my self and my self esteem. At that point, it was well hidden under 88kg of mindless living. I quit drinking, of which there had been too much. I started eating right, now I had total control over meal time and content. I pedalled my bike and dug out my running shoes. The weight dropped away, fitness returned and I felt a little better. But not much. I believed in me, but being a scientist by trade, I like evidence. Did I still have ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ was? Having never run much more than a road half marathon way back in 2004, I did the dumbest, most awesome thing and entered a 50 mile race. With hills. Many hills. I had the dubious honour of running my first marathon and double marathon at the same event. But you know what? I trained, I turned up and I finished the thing. And I loved it. Not at the time. At the time I was in the most pain I’d ever experienced, before or since. But afterwards, the feeling of pride and of having taken control was indescribably good. But one of the unexpected gifts came along the way, born not of the outcome but the process.

    I spent a lot of time alone training, which meant a lot of time to think and reflect. And as such, I was able to fairly apportion blame for the situation we had created for ourselves. I know now it takes two to make things work and two to let things break down and apathy in all its forms is corrosive. Boy was I to blame.

    I found myself gradually, run by run, mile by mile and came out the other side intact, a happier, fitter, 20kg (!) lighter guy. And that guy was funny, and quirky and much less of an arse much less of the time, which is probably why I now have a beautiful girlfriend and a beautiful son. I still run. Not as far, not as often but not with anger either.

    Health, happiness and family is one heck of a silver lining.

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