• Alyssa Clark

A Journey Begun and Ended by COVID

Updated: Jul 22

“If at any time I start feeling sick or injured I will stop immediately.” This was the caption on my Marathon #7 Instagram post. I firmly upheld this promise until Marathon 94 and true to my word, I stopped at 95. 95, just five marathons short of my end goal of completing 100 marathons in 100 days. Only a few days prior, I was certain I would reach 100. But, the virus that began this journey, was the virus that would end it. My daily marathons would be ended by a now confirmed case of COVID.

I share this information with a conflicted heart. I am relieved to have the results and to know my husband and I have escaped the virus with mild cases compared to others. We were tired, lacking appetite, had slight fevers, and for me, some chest pain and mild coughing, but overall, we have both had far worse illnesses. We are the lucky ones.

It took us a couple days to realize our symptoms were not just the result of heavy training in a new environment. We were only a couple weeks off an international move, my husband starting a new career in the Navy, my marathon streak, and a change to Northern Florida notorious for 100+ degree weather and 100% humidity. As many athletes know, particularly those challenging their mental and physical capacity, it can be challenging to recognize a bad day, from a potentially serious issue. Most of the time, we have trained ourselves to ignore the pain and rationalize ourselves onto the next mile. Throughout the marathons, I’ve had strong and weak days. But, every time I would bounce back, having a streak where I felt stronger than ever.

This time though, it was different. I dragged myself out of bed on day 95, wishing the marathon away before it began, something I never do. I love running as much as breathing, and rarely wish I was at home sleeping or laying down rather than being outside doing what I love. But on day 95, all I wanted to do was stop. I pulled myself through, having moments where I believed I was okay, my legs feeling stiff but steady. When I returned home, I realized I had only consumed one Gatorade for the entirety of the marathon. I could barely get myself into the shower before immediately falling asleep having consumed no replacement calories. Only after an hour and a half nap, could I bring myself to try to eat. Again, as many ultra runners and long distance runners know, it isn’t uncommon to be nauseous and tired right after a big run. I chalked it up to my body telling me it was just about at its end point. No more extensions past 100 marathons Alyssa, I need a break. I assumed it was similar to how the last 10km of a 100 mile race can feel like it’s marathons away from the end even though it is a distance we know so well. I believed I could finally see the finishing line, and I was struggling to stay focused.

I was incorrect. “My chest doesn’t feel good and I’ve started coughing pretty frequently,” I told Codi as I stood putting on my running clothes. “You should stop then” he said, “you have nothing to prove.” He was right, I had never set out on this journey to run 100 marathons in 100 days. I was merely seeing how far I could go on a split second decision to try to pass the time of lock down in Italy. I originally thought I would run about 15 marathons, but here I was, 95 in and feeling like I had to reach 100. There were news stations planning to be at 100, friends and local running groups planning to cheer me in social distancing style, bottles of champagne purchased to be popped as I reached the final 26.2.

But, it wasn’t meant to be. I knew my chest wasn’t hurting from normal pain, it was hurting from something beyond my control. I knew I was moving in the direction of hurting myself, my future running career, and possibly putting others in danger. I knew I needed to be tested and quarantine myself from others. I knew 8 miles into day 96 that my marathons were over. And I stopped.

What began quietly on an old treadmill in my home, ended with my last two miles run next to the man who has been with me every step of the way. I stopped my watch at 26.23 outside our home on day 95 and we walked inside, no fanfare, no special event. It was just the two of us, like we’d been from the start. In many ways it was the right ending. The marathon idea came as a response to COVID, to inspire others to keep putting one step in front of the other and to pursue goals in a safe and careful manner. COVID ended my marathon streak, but it was also the reason why it began.

Codi and I are lucky. COVID let us off easy and we are deeply grateful. My heart goes out to the many wonderful and undeserving people who have suffered from this virus and I pray we will have a vaccine soon. The biggest lesson I can take away from this experience is to listen. As Rob said to me, “if you had attempted the last five marathons, you may not be here right now to tell the story.” Be safe friends.

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