If you’ve ever read that one of the best examples of feature story journalism began with the sentence, “Frank Sinatra has a cold,” you’ll love this intro. Because I had a toothache. Well, first, I had a cap on my back molar come loose, then fall out. I went to the dentist, and he replaced it, not gently. Fine. A week later, an old filling on the other side fell out. Now, come the fuck on. Starting to feel the burden of unfairness seeping in, I made the hour drive back to the dentist, rescheduling interviews and working later to hit deadlines. Surely, this would be the end of it. Of course, it wasn’t. A raging tooth infection on the back left, a still sensitive and likely root canal-ready tooth throbbing on the right continued for a month while my dentist was on his annual vacation. I don’t begrudge him the vacation days, though my teeth sure as hell did. I was on antibiotics, popping Tylenol regularly and cursing the gods who blessed my mother’s side with particularly soft teeth.
In short, I was as fit and healthy as I’d ever been, yet suddenly, I was reduced to a quivering mass of grumpiness. Eating is my favorite thing to do, if I’m being honest. I love my husband, I love my dog, I love running and riding bikes. But I really, really love eating. And suddenly, eating had become a chore because my mouth hurt. It hurt so much that I was struggling to sleep and getting sinus headaches. I had a date circled on the calendar for when the dentist would return and finally fix my teeth (hopefully for the last time), but it was a week away. I didn’t have a fever, but I did have a full course of antibiotics to get through, so I didn’t have a reason to call the emergency dentist who could take his place—and I was afraid to anyway, truth be told. The only thing worse than needing dental work done is needing dental work done by a total unknown person.
So, I suffered through the week—well, month, really. I felt like a different person, honestly. I’ve had mystery cramping in my legs, I’ve had bouts of irritable bowel and other unexplained health issues crop up over the years, but this one really knocked me for a loop.
Funny enough, a couple months earlier, I’d been dealing with some knee pain and that had already lowered my mileage. But the knee pain didn’t bug me nearly as much as the dental issues did. The knee pain, I understood. I was running a lot, some knee issues were nearly inevitable, and more importantly, I had some self-efficacy in terms of treatment. I could do the exercises, go get massage and go to physio, and dial my training back and slowly up again. There was a way forward.
With dental work, there are only the experts, and you have to both wait for the appointment and trust them implicitly. My ‘I’ve got this’ mindset didn’t compute this. In the tiniest way, I think I understand what it feels like to get a bad diagnosis from the doctor, or to know that one is coming. You feel a certain sense of helplessness, and for someone used to a take-charge “OK, let’s make an outline and a gameplan” style, this is the worst scenario.
I likely wasted hours sitting on the internet trying to self-diagnosis my dental issues, despite knowing after 5 minutes of scrolling that “phone your dentist and get in ASAP” was the only answer I was going to get.
To add insult to injury, the costs I knew were coming thanks to no dental insurance were almost as stressful as the work itself.
But at least I was learning two valuable lessons:
First, my mileage and training didn’t necessarily equate to overall health. After all, I had a tooth infection requiring antibiotics and I didn’t even know about it! I was running just fine, but barely able to chew. Eating a Sunday roast at my in-laws reduced me to tears later that night.
And second, I was learning that if my overall health wasn’t dialed in, it simply didn’t matter how fast I could bang out a 50K run.
You thought that all the training you do would armor you from illness. But then, the flu struck and knocked you for a loop. Dental work forced a week off. Mystery fatigue is sending you from one specialist to the next and they still don’t know what’s going on. And through it all, you’re still not off the hook for all of the other life stuff happening, in addition to seeing your training calendar slowly waste away. It’s infuriating… And it’s part of life for almost all of us. More than regular sport injury, for many women, illnesses and other health issues will plague your ability to race and train. (We’re not even taking into account illness that your partner/child/parent/pet is experiencing and how that can impact you!)
So, here’s your reminder to take your health—your full body health!—seriously. It’s better to lose a bit of training time now to get that dialed in, rather than waiting until the situation becomes an emergency, which could potentially cost you a ton more time away from training, risk your health, and cost a ton.
If you want more on coming back to training after illness, make sure you check out our podcast this week on the topic!
Before you go, check out our book, Becoming A Consummate Athlete, right here: