Tales from the LOST GONZO Crypt 1991

This article can finally be written. The author, a Lost Gonzo, held hostage the past 3 years by forces beyond his control, is just now negotiating his release. It may take some time yet, but release is inevitable. Here, in his own words, is his tale.

It all started from a chance conversation with a running arch-rival. "Why don't we run the Halifax Marathon?" The year was 1988 and I was really feeling my oats. I had spent the winter playing hockey for 3 teams, plus doing my training runs, which included some 10-15 milers with Larry and speed work on Thursday nights. The fact that my speed work was an hour before a league hockey game was no problem. I enjoyed the challenge. That, and being able to go out drinking after the game, stay out late and still function at work the next day. The fact that my Sunday night hockey was preceded by a 10-15 miler in the morning just helped prove to myself how tough I was. The other guys my age playing hockey were dying on the vine. I kept my 15 milers to myself. Sunday night hockey was hardly enough to break a sweat.

As summer approached, the hockey stopped, which was good. I was starting to dread the ongoing intense exercise. I picked up more training runs and started to prepare for the racing season. People who know me, know how competitive I am. I will compete or bet at any level. I love it. Road-racing is the best. You get to compete with yourself every time you train or race, and then there's the public competition, as well as the comraderie of racing against your peers.

I had been racing 5 years and was still managing to eke out some small PB's. The speed work Larry and I had started on in 1986 was starting to get more formal and in fact take on a life of its own. Thursday night speedwork was a race in itself. The stamina acquired from the workouts, plus the feeling of accomplishment from continually testing the limits of your speed and endurance was a real addiction.

So the 1988 racing season was very satisfying. I set a PB in Tatamagouche and was putting in consistent 10K races in the low 37's. The idea of bombing through a marathon on 30 mile weeks was very tempting. The person challenging me had a competitive spirit that made mine look like jello. We did run, starting at the back of the pack and doing 9:00 minute miles until halfway around the second loop. We had lots left at 16 miles and continued to increase the pace, finishing in a respectable time. The whole event was fun, and I had my first full marathon in my pocket. I thought that I would like to train for one in 1989 and see just what I could do. I returned to my training after a week of soft running, and started up the hockey again.

While on a Sunday morning run about 3 weeks later, I had an experience which scared the hell out of me. I suddenly felt like the tar had been kicked out of me for no good reason, and I was being forced to run through it anyway. It scared the hell out of me. Little was I to know that the feeling would come to overpower my daily life as the next 6 months wore on. As the winter moved on, I began to feel that horrible sensation every time I ran or played hockey. I dropped out of most of the hockey and cut back on running for a month, but the feeling started to take over all my waking hours, regardless of the activity.

Thus started a 3 month long quest to try and right myself, with visits to doctors, increased rest, tests for an intestinal bug that I had sporadic problems with from drinking tainted water, visits to a nutritionist, and finally, a blood test to check for mono. The test showed high levels of the antibodies for the Epstein-Barr virus. The same virus that causes mono and that common misnomer, the Yuppie Flu. What they told me was that I needed plenty of rest, minimal exercise, and a really good diet. What they didn't tell me was that the virus can last for years and can be incapacitating in many ways.

There was no worry for the health of my family. Most adults carry the virus with them already. In order for it to take hold, you have to wear your body down with a combination of physical and mental abuse for an extended time. My problem was my own and the length of the road back was indeterminate. I was still in OK shape, and had periods where days would go by where I felt OK most of the time and so the thought of this continuing for say, the rest of 1989 and fading all the time didn't seem so oppressive. I did a lot of sleeping and fought the concentration lapses at work, but I was mentally strong. I would do what I could for this problem and keep my spirits up until I was recovered.

I am writing this article to help relieve the frustration built up over the last 3 years. But also to plant a little thought in the minds of everyone reading this article. Look at your training schedule and match it up with the stresses you encounter in your work and social life. Are you riding a thinning line in which the tasks you have to accomplish each day/week/month seem overwhelming at times? Perhaps they are. No one has a specific reason for this virus starting up. In my case though, no doubt the warning signs were there. Check your warning signs. I wouldn't wish the last 3 years on my worst enemy. I would gladly give up all memories and good times of racing from 1983 to 1988 to be able to skip the utter, overwhelming physicalness of the last 3 years.

In April, 1989, I started keeping track of everything I ate, how much I slept, how much exercise I got and essentially how bad a day it was. This virus affects each person in a personal way, but basically it's like a low-grade flu. Everyone knows how that feels. It's the constant every day, always in your face, never going to go away fatigue that sets us Yuppie Fluers apart. The virus mucks up your immune system which is such a complex beast. There is no start or stop, nor rhyme nor reason to the effects a monkey wrench can have on your immune system. I have had 3 month periods of frozen feet, 3 months of swollen, itchy feet, 3 months of sore joints all over. I know other chronic fatigue sufferers who go through a lot more daily pain than I ever had to endure. There are no pills to take, tests to endure, time off to recover, casts to scratch. Just rest and time and your body and your headspace.

In my case the effects of the virus waxed and waned over 2-3 week periods. On a good day, you were aware of the effects, the general fatigue, the legs with a hate for any stairs, the desire to sleep. But it was possible to put a lot of this in the background and function as a relatively normal adult. These good days could come in singles, or be strung together in clumps of days, with little dips. If this was the worst the virus could do, and it was going to fade, it wouldn't have been such a curse. It was the bad days that defined this problem and no amount of words on a page will ever put that feeling across. Overwhelming is the only word I can put on it. Physically and mentally overwhelming.

There was no place to hide, no hospital to go to. No one to understand the depth of the fatigue, no pill to take to make it all go away. Not today, not tomorrow, maybe not this year. This year! The effect this has on your life, your wife, your kids, your job, you moods, your attitude, your spirit, is intangible. You sit and you wait, and it hurts to wait. The calvary isn't coming today.

On top of the pain and frustration that comes with just getting out of bed each day, there is the fact that ongoing exercise is not only no fun, it is extremely difficult. I used to view my life through the eyes of a runner. I sincerely hope to get back to that point again in the near future. But the ultimate frustration is the embarrassment of being "TIRED ALL THE TIME" How many times have you heard that, and what's your impression of the person who says that. Yeah, pal. Me too. What's your gripe?

How many times do I have to endure my well-meaning kids saying "Are you really tired again, Dad"; "Don't bother Dad. He's really tired again". How many phone calls into work saying "I can't come in today. I'm TOO TIRED". What a lame excuse! And to use it for 2 years!! Give me a F---ing break.

On the upside of all this is that 3 years have past. I missed 16 days, one at a time. due to fatigue, in 1989, and again in 1990. But from Sept./90 to Sept./91, I did not miss any. I consider that a personal triumph to match up with anything I've done so far in my life. In 1989, I was running 2 miles a week at 12:00 min/mile. In 1990, I was up to 4 miles a week at 8:00 min/mile and some doubles tennis and sporadic hockey. In 1991, the miles are up to 10 and the pace is around 7:30. Add in some singles tennis and some consistent hockey, and I'm a new man. The 3 month runs of assorted weird aches are gone. I stopped keeping track of my daily status in April this year as the variations weren't dramatic enough. I started waking up in the morning feeling that I had enough energy to last the day, even with the regular exercise.

I used to have a set of priorities, family, health, career, etc. The past 3 years, the number one priority was: How much energy do I have today, will this week last forever, will I make it to work tomorrow. My entire life, and most of my waking moments revolved around fatigue. If you think I'm overstating this, that's you're prerogative. I'm just trying to relate my experience as best I know how.

So I have been patiently waiting to write this article. If it seems whiney and self-indulgent, you should have seen last year's draft. I wanted to wait until the cloud had lifted enough so that hopefully I would come across as upbeat. I love to pick and nag and complain, but I hate to whine and that's all I've been doing the last 3 years. Thank you for your time. To all those friends, Gonzos and acquaintances who have shown concern in the past, thanks from the bottom of my heart. It was very lonely being inside this head and any concern was like a little bit of downhill in a long uphill race.