Constable: Even marathoners have hit pandemic wall, but they press on
In March I got myself a face mask, learned how to spell "coronavirus," and was actually looking forward to spending a week -- maybe two -- working from home.
Nine months later, as we limp into December, I've hit the wall. What I thought was going to be a simple spring 5K to a healthy and happy nation has morphed into a grim winter marathon with more than 266,000 dead Americans in its wake.
I enjoy more time exercising, walking, bicycling, and reading. But I also drop anchor on the couch to binge-watch everything from "Tiger King" to "The Queen's Gambit."
I gain weight. I lose weight.
I appreciate not having to commute, but I miss the newsroom. I vacillate between loving home and going stir-crazy.
"Oh, my God, I hear you. It's the Corona Coaster. Some days are fine, and other days, I'm having gin on my Cheerios," says Marcia Cleveland, 56, a legendary long-distance swimmer and suburban instructor who knows what it is like to hit a few walls.
Her accomplishments include swimming the English Channel, the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland, Japan's Tsugaru Strait, the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, California's Catalina Channel Swim, the 26-mile Chicago Skyline Swim and more.
"You go into something in good faith and all these obstacles keep coming, and it's up to you if you want to continue to go and go and go," says Cleveland, who has overcome choppy waves, bitter cold, seaweed and jellyfish, and now grapples with the hardships created by this pandemic.
The New York City ceremony inducting her into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2020 has been pushed into May 2021, and that's not set in stone.
"How much longer is this going to last?" wonders Cleveland, a mother of two who lives with her husband in Winnetka.
Lisle native Peter Krzywosz ran seven marathons in seven days in September 2019 to raise money to support families going through treatment for pediatric cancer. But finishing this single pandemic is a different animal.
"It seems like we're chasing this immortal finish line that keeps getting pushed back," says Krzywosz, 26, an account executive with Becker's Healthcare, where he works on business development and is a leader in charity efforts.
"It's hard. I experience the same symptoms everyone else experiences. I'm trying to control the controllables and let everything else play out," he says. "Developing a routine is the best thing to get me through this daily grind we're all going through."
Neither Krzywosz nor Cleveland got to do summer races.
"Everything was canceled for the summer, and now I can't believe it's getting worse. There's a lot of different opinions and there's just no leadership," says Cleveland. She walked a marathon course to fill the void, and Krzywosz has added more strength training to his regimen.
But Cleveland, whose book, "Dover Solo," has become required reading for English Channel hopefuls and aspiring marathon swimmers, found a way to encourage friends at home. COVID-19 forced Marian Cardwell, who grew up in Wheaton, to cancel her ambitious plan to swim across Lake Michigan. But Cleveland helped Cardwell complete a 24-hour swim in Lake Michigan along Gillson Beach in Wilmette to raise funds for Type 1 diabetes. Cleveland also helped friend and Northwestern University chemistry professor Will Dichtel make up for the cancellation of his English Channel attempt by coaching him to a Chicago Skyline Swim time that broke a record Cleveland had held.
"Over the summer, a huge community of open-water swimmers connected with each other. People who never knew each other got to know each other. That definitely held me together," says Cleveland, who cooked up another challenge for the winter.
"The 'ice mile,'" she says, explaining how she and a few other dedicated swimmers, who don't wear wet suits, have been swimming a mile in Lake Michigan in water that is 41 degrees or colder.
"Those connections are so, so important," says Cleveland, who wears a two-piece swimsuit and goggles during the four or five lake swims she does a week. "Some days are still really, really hard."
But Cleveland, Krzywosz and others continue to strive toward their goals.
"That's what counts in these weird times," Cleveland says. "We have to hang in there. We have to keep moving forward."