Today was my first run in three weeks. I have struggled with injury and illness all summer. It has been very frustrating as I had been running five times a week as I trained towards my target of a 3:30:00 marathon in Dublin this October. The training had been going to plan and my weekly long run had reached the 16 mile marker. I was averaging 40 miles a week and was confident of getting the time I had set my heart on.
All that came to a shuddering halt in late May when I sustained a foot injury that put me out of action for two weeks. I returned to training to run the Lisburn Half Marathon in just under 1:45:00. This was at my marathon pace but I found it a real battle to keep to that speed. At the time I put it down to the heat that evening combined with my foot still not being quite 100%.
It took me longer than usual to recover from the race. I felt utterly drained for days afterwards and could not take on board enough fluids. I recall telling people that the race had taken more out of me than any of the six marathons I had run to date. I kept to my training schedule but felt lethargic and permanently tired. I had also picked up an annoying dry cough that would not go away no matter what cough medicine or lozenges I took.
Being a typical man I ignored the advice of Fionnuala and other people to take a break from running. My times got worse and I grew more frustrated. Tbe cough persisted and I now found myself bringing up phlegm. The tiredness would not lift and I felt as if weights were pressing down on my chest and legs. I eventually visited my doctor who diagnosed a chest infection and put me on a course of antibiotics for five days. I may as well have been taking M&M’s for all the good they did.
At the start of July I had to go on a business trip to England. I felt rotten throughout it and on the return flight endured painful earache during the descent back into Belfast. Over the coming days my ears resolutely refused to ‘pop’ with the left one in particular causing me real problems. It felt as if something was lodged inside it and I could barely hear out of it. I went back to my doctor who prescribed a second, stronger antibiotics.
I stopped running for a week in mid July hoping a total break combined with the new antibiotics would do the trick. They didn’t but I stupidly ran the Dark Hedges Half Marathon in the second half of July. This was a mistake as I was still ill and plodded round in a poor time. My male pride insisted, however, that I run the race. It finished me and exacerbated the illness leading to me taking a total break from running for three weeks and some time off work.
I hate taking sick leave from work as, by and large, I enjoy my job and feel like I am letting down my colleagues. I manage a team of civilian investigators who conduct ‘cold case’ reviews of murders committed in Northern Ireland between 1969-1998 where there have been allegations of police collusion. It is important and fascinating work and I feel blessed to be part of it. The job also involves liaising with bereaved families which is a massive responsibility. I honestly believe God put me in this job for a reason and I always endeavour to conduct high quality investigations in a respectful and empathetic manner.
Those three weeks dragged by. The second course of antibiotics failed to work and a third doctor concluded that my inner ear tube had deflated as part of a viral infection. She prescribed a month long course of hay fever medication and total rest. For once I did what I was told and barely moved from the sofa for a week. I binge watched Netflix and ate waaaaaaay too much ice cream. I put on weight which annoyed me but I refrained from running. And very, very gradually improvement came.
The first ailment to clear was the cough. To the point where I only coughed when someone asked how was my cough! How weird is that? My strength also gradually began to return and my right ear cleared. The left one still continued to cause me problems. It felt as if it had been stuffed with cotton wool so that the only way I could clear it was to tip it to one side in order to allow the air pressure in my inner ear to normalise. I began to do this without even thinking resulting in some very strange looks from passers by.
I made the decision to return to work last Monday. I felt some trepidation as I was still far from 100% but felt I had to take action or I would spend the rest of days growing a beard and eating ice cream straight from the tub. No bowl required. Classy I know. The first couple of days surprised me. I felt light years better than I had been at home. Yes, I think the third doctor had finally diagnosed me correctly and prescribed effective medication; but tbe very fact I was easing back into my normal routine was in itself healing.
My recovery came full circle with my first run in three weeks earlier today. It was slow and tough. Afterwards my legs ached as if I had run thirty miles as opposed to three. But I did it, something that I would have been incapable of even a week ago. It is another small step forward. I am not even thinking about marathons at the minute, just small steps forward. This illness had been difficult and I have thrown many a ‘pity party’ over the last few months. I feel, however, that God has taught me some important truths during this season of recovery.
1. Patience – this has been very hard for me. I always think I know best when it comes to me and I selfishly soldiered on through the illness determined that it would not interfere with my training schedule. In the end I had to raise the white flag and recognise defeat. Rest and recovery were essential. During my sofa time I felt useless and hopeless. God was in control and Stephen didn’t like it. As usual, however, he knew best. I was still. And only then did he heal me. In his time and not mine.
Psalm 46:10 – ‘Be still and know that I am God.’
2. Listen – God loves humour and I regard it as no coincidence that I had to experience temporary deafness in one ear in order to start to listen to him again. During my enforced down time I spent more time studying my Bible and meditating on his Word. Suddenly my head became inundated with blog ideas and the words flew off the keyboard. This time with God has taught me that he wants to use my imagination and writing to glorify him. Tbe running is a worthy sideline but I now know he is not impressed by the strength of a3:30:00 marathon. If I run it then great but if I do not then it is no big deal. 3:30:00 marathons are Stephen projects and not Kingdom projects. He sees strength instead in my writing where I write of my weaknesses and failures and how he has used them to bring glory to his name.
Philippians 4:13 – ‘I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.’
3. Normal is the new Rock n Roll – I once heard a pastor preach about the saying ‘the grass is always greener on the other side.’ He said if you ever felt like that then you had better pay more attention to watering your own garden. He added that we will never be 100% satisfied in this life. We need to focus on the 80% we have as opposed to foolishly chasing the other 20%. Because in doing the latter we can end up with nothing.
Yes I’m not a millionaire. Yes I don’t have an executive box at Manchester United. Yes I haven’t run a 3:30:00 marathon…..yet. But on the other hand I do have a loving and supportive family. Yes I do have a good job and a secure income. And yes today I do have clear ears and lungs. I do have strong legs and I can run in the outdoors. Sometimes God temporarily takes away the 80% you take for granted in order to force you to refocus on it and not the 20% you (a) will probably never obtain and (b) will probably never need. What he provides is enough. Stop chasing daydreams.
Have an 80% day people.
Philippians 4:12-13 – ‘I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.’
Has God ever taken something away from you in order to appreciate its true value?
Are you an 80% or 20% person?
Have you ever had a negative experience chasing the 20%.