“Abigail Williams, sir… without a word nor warnin she falls to the floor… stuck two inches in the flesh of her belly, he draw a needle out…. ‘Tis hard proof! I find here a poppet Goody Proctor keeps… And in the belley of the poppet a needle’s stuck.”
~Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Act II
I don’t teach composition classes anymore, not at the moment at any rate, but I used to enjoy it a great deal. I taught courses focused on comp both at the high school I taught at in Lincoln and also at the community college, and in many ways the content was similar. One of the things I’d emphasize in teaching young people to write exposition, and to argue, was about logical fallacies. Truth be told, there are dozens, possibly hundreds of logical fallacies, and I’m no expert in the field. But I could point students to the ones that appear most commonly in writing, the ones I saw most often in their work, and thereby help them to avoid those.
Post hoc er go propter hoc is by far one of the most common that I see appear in writing and hear used aloud. In essence, this Latin phrase denotes a false causal relationship born out of the order of events, or to put it another way, just because B happened after A does not make A the cause of B. This is a simple idea, really, but one that many people employ, intentionally or otherwise, in their writing as well as oral argumentation on a very regular basis. In the example above, taken from Arthur Miller’s allegorical critique of McCarthyism, the existence of the needle in the poppet is considered immaterial until a needle is also found in Abigail, at which point they overreact and rush to conclude that this must be witchcraft and not coincidence.
Saturday night Sonja and I went to dinner before seeing Fiddler on the Roof, one of my favorite musicals. Our server was trying her best, but the experience was still pretty terrible. The Cabernet I ordered to go with my steak came at the end of the meal, after I had already choked down the terrible steak, though to our server’s credit she didn’t charge us for it. Sonja’s filet, ordered medium, came out well done and then some, while mine came out in pieces, some well done, some medium rare. We both ordered button mushrooms as a side, but when I discovered a hair in mine I didn’t eat them. Sonja ate hers and by the time we arrived at the theater, she was cramping badly. Sonja spent Super Bowl Sunday in bed, while I cleaned the house, jumped the car battery, cooked, and got things ready for a small Super Bowl gathering. I knew she didn’t feel well, but I didn’t know quite how bad it was at first. Darn those button mushrooms.
Then Sunday night, near the end of the fourth quarter, I got chills. I glanced down and saw the little space heater going strong, yet I was cold. Uh oh. I went to bed feeling a bit off, but woke up soon after and spent the next hour in penitence, determinedly filling the porcelain offering plate which had been passed exclusively to me. Post hoc er go propter hoc; apparently it wasn’t the button mushrooms after all.
I did what I could from the floor of the bathroom at three in the morning to write sub plans and called in sick. I hadn’t felt like this in a decade, since a food mishap in Rwanda many years ago. That I had resolved quickly with an anthrax drug called Cipro (ciprofloxacin hydrochloride) but getting your hands on Cipro requires a scrip and it isn’t something I keep handy. Note to self…
I spent all day Monday in bed, once venturing downstairs to take a bath only to find that I couldn’t get back up the stairs. I laid on the cold stone floor of the bathroom recovering for half an hour, then drug myself up two flights of stairs, a feat that exhausted me so greatly that it was followed by a two-hour nap. Not only did I miss my run or any other sort of exercise Monday, but I also only managed to consumer 280 calories worth of Gatorade all day. I weighed myself toward the end of the day: 169.8 pounds. I haven’t weighed that little since high school. I think I lost close to ten pounds in a day, if such a thing is possible.
I always counsel my runners that “runners talk about poop”. You learn a lot about yourself, and your running, from paying attention to your regularity, your consistency, and what helps you go. The diarrhea began late in the evening on day two. By then, my empty stomach was bloated and so it was a great relief, though I awoke every two hours or so to answer the call of nature. Having eaten nothing, only liquid came out, and I knew I was severely dehydrated, the last thing that a runner—or anyone else—wants to be.
Life had become a series of incessant dull aches: my muscles, my stomach, my eyes. I felt as if I had been fallen two stories and landed flat upon my back. I awoke Tuesday morning feeling incredibly weak, weighing 168.4 pounds. A year ago, I was nearly 200. It was almost like an out of body experience just being myself. Did I feel better? I wasn’t sure.
Sonja and I had intended to go next door to visit our new neighbors together, but I wasn’t up for it, so she went by herself. “They’re really nice,” she told me later. “The man speaks very good English.” Immediately I began thinking about what jobs he might have done for the US that got him the SIV he needed to get into the country. That isn’t fair of me, I know, but it’s where my mind went. “They invited me to stay for lunch,” Sonja continued, and I smiled, knowing her stomach was in the same rough shape as mine. “Maybe we can go together sometime,” I told her.
By Tuesday afternoon I was able to keep ramen down, and Tuesday night I slept hard with the aid of some Tylenol PM. I woke up Wednesday morning feeling weak but healthier. I did some light core exercise, ran a few miles at a slow pace on the treadmill—my first miles in four days!—and then got on the bike. I had hoped to run farther, but after two miles my body told me in no uncertain terms that we were finished for the day. I wasn’t feeling good but I was on the mend, and hoped for better the next day.
In school, my students are sharing articles about Afghanistan. There’s a range. They are deeply incensed by the Biden administration diverting $3.5 billion in aid from Afghanistan to families of 9/11 victims, and while I have uncharacteristically kept my opinions mostly to myself on that point, I certainly see where they’re coming from. One great article that came up Wednesday was about the beauty of the national parks in the country. “I never thought of it as a beautiful place,” said one student, and others murmured their agreement. This wasn’t the first time we’ve spoken about the beauty of Afghan culture, but sometimes it takes the right presentation for something to sink in. For this young lady, it was an image of a crystal-clear lake surrounded by mountains where she said she could envision going on a date. I loved that. “Let’s make this personal,” I told my students, who attend an urban, inner-city high school. “How do people respond when you tell them where you go to school?” The responses flowed freely.
“They ask if it’s safe.”
“They ask if there’s gang bangin’.”
“They roll their eyes.”
“They say ‘I’m sorry.’”
“They look at me funny.”
“They ask if I carry.”
“They ask why I go here.”
It continued for some time. I let it. When the responses slowed, I asked “So what’s beautiful here?” Again, the responses flowed freely.
“That bridge over the river.”
“The park by my house.”
“The Malcolm X Birthplace.”
“That new mural they painted.”
“The old downtown area.”
“Jim’s Rib Haven!”
“The sunrise and sunset.”
There wasn’t a student who didn’t have an answer, and there wasn’t a student who didn’t seem to immediately ‘get it’ when these answers appeared. A place can be beautiful and still have struggles, my students concluded, and at a time when I was running on a pretty low battery young people once again gave me the charge I needed.
Wednesday night, Sonja texted me at school and told me her stomach had settled a bit. I picked up some HyVee Chinese food on the way home, rice noodles with chicken and vegetables, and after we put the kids to bed we at them on the couch with a bottle of sparkling non-alcoholic wine and watched a standup comedy special. I’d have preferred real wine, but Sonja is taking a break from drinking, her “dry January” extending well into February at this point and showing no signs of slowing. It’s not for me, but I want to be supportive of her choice. The sparkling Sutter Home NA was passable, and went well enough with the noodles. It was our nine-year wedding anniversary.
Thursday I woke up after another hard sleep, rested, and climbed onto the treadmill after a short core workout. I got seven miles in, the first half coming at an 8:34 pace, the second at an 8:00 for a significant negative split. A negative split is when you run the second half of a race of any distance faster than you ran the first half. It’s a strategy that hinges on knowing your abilities and conserving energy effectively. It’s not easy to negative split a race, when your inclination is often to go out fast (as was the case in my 5K last weekend) but with practice it can be done, so I practice it on the treadmill sometimes where I have greater control.
Friday I had the day off of work. I let myself sleep in. Sleep, I tell my runners, is when your body repairs itself. It’s vital to any runner to get enough sleep. I woke up, had some coffee, read a book, then took Zooey to daycare. I didn’t head out to run until around noon, when the weather had improved. I hoped to log a half marathon, but early in my run it was evident that such lofty ambitions were not within reach. I recalled that I quit playing basketball in my early thirties, right around the time that a sprained ankle transitioned from a minor inconvenience to a medical emergency that would prevent me from running for days, possibly even weeks. The body gradually loses its ability to repair itself quickly as we age. When Titus and Zooey got the stomach bug that knocked Sonja and I out for days on end, they simply told us they felt yucky, puked, and then went about their business—the little buggers! So Friday, three or four miles into my run, it became clear to me that my body was far from fully recovered. I slogged out six, then seven, and finally an eighth mile before dragging my tired body back to my doorstep. Last week, I ran fifty-five miles, and this week by Friday I had logged a total of seventeen. Humbling doesn’t even begin.
Saturday morning, I didn’t feel much different from how I had on Friday. I ate a breakfast of oatmeal with dried fruit, almonds, and honey, then played a game of Ticket to Ride with Titus, Zooey, and Sonja while I let that settle. It was bitter cold outside, below twenty degrees with a windchill that halfed the actual temp, so I changed into appropriate gear and threw together a quick playlist which I titled “LSD” (long slow distance). Often I use music as a metronome and an inspiration, but this list contained songs like “Summer Highland Falls” “Against the Wind” and “Where the Streets Have No Name” and was intended merely to entertain me as I ran, not to move me at any certain speed. I set out the door and told Sonja I guessed I’d be somewhere between half an hour and two hours, depending on how I felt. When I walked back in two hours later, having covered fourteen miles, I felt terrific if a little sore, and it was such a relief to feel as if perhaps the illness was finally behind me after nearly a week. That run put me at thirty-one miles on the week, and I hoped perhaps Sunday I’d feel up for a double digit run. In my head, forty-mile weeks mean breaking two thousand on the year (40 x 52 = 2,080) however that doesn’t account for illness, injury, or even recovery time. My training plan for the marathon in June calls for an eighteen-mile week leading up to the race, and many runners take multiple weeks off after a full marathon which, barring injury, I’m not going to be able to do. Here in mid-February I’m well on my way to crushing two thousand miles this year, but I know how easily that could go away—my illness this week being a keen reminder—and so I’m keeping my optimism at a reasonable level for the time being.
Because I missed Monday and Tuesday completely and could only muster two miles out of my recovering body on Wednesday, I went out for another run on Sunday when I would normally rest. This seemed ok to me—Yasso’s training plan has me running Sundays and resting odd days during the week, and that suits me fine. The weather was amazing, north of fifty and sunny with only a mild breeze; I went out thinking ten miles but snuck in an eleventh for a total of forty-two on the week. I got home and showered, then took the family to El Alamo in South O on a buddy’s recommendation. It was amazing Mexican food and the margarita was perfect. After that we went to enjoy the nice weather at the zoo, and that was where it started to catch up to me. I’d run only a mile short of a marathon in the past twenty-four hours, and suddenly my legs seemed to realize it. This was the kind of tired I’d expected to feel more of this year, and it became a struggle even to walk the sloped pathways of the zoo while paying attention to my children. By the time we got home, I was all too happy to slump down in a chair and rest and write this down.
As a teacher and coach, I often counsel my students and athletes to focus on what is within their control, and to try not to think much about that which isn’t. Illness is largely outside of our control, though getting enough sleep, eating well, washing our hands, and other things can certainly help us avoid getting sick. That said, it’s hard not to worry about it. You invest so much time in training and preparation for these races—what happens if you’re ill? I remember the Chicago Marathon in 2008. I’ll bet I stopped at half the port-a-johns on the route, decimating my pace and preventing me from ever getting into a comfortable rhythm. Was it the ribs I ate the day before? Not the best pre-run meal, I’ll admit, but were they the true culprit of my condition. Post hoc er go propter hoc. Maybe it was just a stomach bug that time, too; whatever it was it sure slowed me down. As I look to run a marathon in a mere seventeen weeks, it’s difficult not to worry about those factors, like illness, that aren’t fully within my control. Then again…what are any of us truly in control of in our lives? Only how we react to things, I suppose.