Getting Sick And Using Technology

Here's a little introspection for you.

I came down with a cold this week, which finally "hit me" on Monday, but which didn't really get going until Wednesday.

As a brief aside, let me make an observation about myself. For most of my life, when I got a cold, I got a cold. It was what it was. A few years ago, however, my colds started behaving differently. Instead of just getting a cold, I'll often have several days of constant post-nasal drip that requires constant "management" in order to prevent severe sore throats and chest congestion. And that's before the cold itself ever really "hits." Why does this happen now? Why did it never happen before? I cannot figure out why the behavior of every cold I get would suddenly change. There must be some medical explanation for this, but I haven't been able to find it.

Anyway, the cold finally got going on Wednesday. I woke up with a massive headache, and my head and ears felt… mushy. In the past, I've used the following analogy: It felt like my head was full of oatmeal. But in this case, my head seemed to be stuffed so full of oatmeal that I could scarcely think. I wandered around in a daze. I forced fluids, slept, lied about on the couch watching movies, drank many several cans of chicken broth, and so on. When I adhere to this kind of regimen, my cold symptoms will usually have subsided by the following morning.

Unfortunately, that's not what happened. I woke up Thursday morning with an even more massive headache and, incomprehensibly, more proverbial oatmeal stuffed into my skull. I was miserable. I was coughing, and each cough was unbearably painful on my throat. My nose was full of congestion. My ears felt infected. I couldn't stay awake for more than a couple of hours at a time. My blood sugar was off the charts. I guzzled a gallon of water well before noon, and kept drinking tea, water, and chicken broth throughout the day. It was truly awful.

Somehow, by about noon on Thursday, my cough had become less painful and more productive, which enabled me to rid myself of some of that oatmeal. I took a nap in a bathtub full of hot water and eucalyptus oil. I managed to take a two-mile walk to get some sunlight and fresh air, and to help reduce my blood sugar. Then I cooked myself a small, low-carb meal and took an extra insulin correction while forcing more fluids throughout the night. By bedtime, I had normal blood sugar again and was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I woke up this morning feeling much better. Not healthy, mind you, but better. Most of the coughing and runny nose is gone. There's still a little congestion, and a prevailing sense of weakness and mental haze, but I can tell that my body is climbing up out of the hole, rather than falling down in it.

As you might imagine, one of the most frustrating aspects of having a cold like this is not being able to work out. I missed my half marathon workouts on Wednesday and Thursday. Today is supposed to be a cross-training day, and because cycling take much less effort than running, I may head out on the bicycle after work. I don't want to over-do it, of course, but it's a balancing act. Too little activity pushes my blood sugar up so high than I cannot fight the illness; too much will prolong the congestion and malaise. A 15-20 mile afternoon bike ride seems like just the ticket to me.

But not being able to do a workout is one thing. Not being able to log a workout on Strava and Garmin is another thing entirely! One of the downsides of "gamifying" your workouts is that if for some reason you find yourself simply unable to work out, you lose the game. This is unlike a traditional game, where you can generally save your progress and leave it until you can get back to it. With fitness games, the more you work out, the more you win; the less you work out, the more you lose. It's a useful environment when all ceteris is paribus, but when you're sick, it sure would be nice to be able to save the game. Meanwhile, all my Strava connections are posting great workouts and look like they're having lots of fun. I'm missing out.

During times like these, it's important to remind yourself that being sick is simply part of the game. No one avoids all illness, all the time. Training for a half marathon takes, in my case, sixteen weeks. It's unlikely that a non-professional athlete will ever find 112 uninterrupted days of training. Life happens. Sometimes you're sick, sometimes you have to meet a family or work commitment, sometimes you miss a flight, and so on.

It's easy to get caught up in the notion that, because you planned your life for 112 days, if your plans become disrupted for some reason, then you've ruined the 112 days. It's a plan, not a reality. The reality is that we intend to do a series of workouts, or meet a schedule of obligations. The best way to meet a schedule is to master the ability of rescheduling when life inevitably happens. Or, in the case of training for a specific event, like I am, accepting that I had to miss a few days of training because I was sick.

What's funny is that when I was at my most competitive level of training, I never felt as though missing a day -- or even a week -- was a compromise to my whole season. It might have been a frustrating setback, but I never thought, "Well, now I'll never be ready for regionals!" It's an outgrowth of this digitized, gamified, social media approach to fitness that missed days start to offset things on the digital experience and mess up your training.

And, to that end, we come to an important truth about the role of technology in our lives. I am an enormous technophile. Whatever the new technology, I say bring it on and let society progress. The more, the better. I love technology. And yet, we still need to be able to draw a line where technology ends and life begins. Technology ought to be a tool that improves human existence, not a constraint that dictates how we live.

It's not as if cavemen invented the hammer and then stopped building things that couldn't be built with hammers. Hammers are wonderful; hammers are important; but hammers are just one technology and if something cannot be hammered, then we need to be able to either choose a different tool or work with no tool at all. The same is true for digital fitness technology. I think this technology has been wonderful for sports like running, swimming, and cycling; I think it has improved the quality of my training and the efficacy of my workouts. But I'm not running for the technology or even through the technology. I'm merely using the technology.

So, if I happen to catch a cold, my various "apps" might not be able to capture that aspect of training; but no big deal. I can take the time to recuperate and then re-join my training schedule wherever it is when I feel up to it again. Just like I did before all this training technology existed in the first place.

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