covid19 · Guest Post · health · illness

COVID-19 and the Gym: Building Engineers Weigh In (Guest Post)

by Sarah and Cara

As mechanical engineers who consult on heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, we’ve been closely following the evolving body of knowledge about how the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus (the virus which causes COVID-19) spreads through the air. We thought some folks might be interested to know some of what we’ve learned, and how that’s affecting our thoughts on returning to the gym.

Some of the science so far

So far, we know that droplets in the air we breathe out (and in) are infectious to varying degrees depending on the size of the droplets – and that those droplets have the potential to be propelled for varying distances.

Relatively large and heavy droplets fall on and contaminate surfaces. This is a whole other topic, but it seems to be relatively well-known and understood. Also it can be controlled with frequent cleaning, so it’s less important from an engineering point of view. At the moment, our big concern (and the focus of this post) is with the smaller, lighter droplets known as aerosols. 

Scientists and engineers take particular note of so-called “superspreading” events (such as the ones that were mentioned in  Saturday’s post because they point to clues about how an infection is transmitted in a variety of real-world situations.

In the example of the choir in Washington State one mildly symptomatic person infected 52 of their 60 fellow choristers over the course of one or two 2.5 hour practices. Besides sitting close together, it is thought that the act of singing, itself, might have contributed to transmission, as aerosol emission has been correlated with loudness of vocalization.

The dance fitness classes in Cheonan, South Korea gives valuable insight into what factors which affect the risks of exercising indoors. Sports facilities are generally considered to represent a higher risk of transmission due to the warm, moist indoor air coupled with the turbulent air flow generated by intense physical exercise, which can cause more dense transmission of droplets.

Six instructors who were infected at a workshop went on to teach classes for about a week. Not all of them were necessarily even symptomatic. Secondary cases were identified from fitness dance classes with as few as 5 people in a ~60 square meter (~645 square foot) studio. Notably, an instructor who taught 7-8 person Pilates and yoga classes at one of the same facilities did not infect any of her students. Together, these us some insight as to how transmission risk might be mitigated in the short term for group fitness classes : very small class size, limits on movement to maintain physical distance, less aerobically- and movement-intense activities.

In the long term, engineers and building owners will have to address the significant concern that was raised by another notable case of a restaurant in Guangzhou, China one patron infected eight others who were sitting more than 6 feet / 2m away. It appears that air flow from the HVAC system helped carry infectious aerosols from one table to another.

A restaurant seating plan
with arrows showing airflow direction and circles showing the location of those who were infected
https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/26/7/20-0764-f1

The role of HVAC in controlling transmission

The possibility that a normal HVAC system can carry it through the air over distances greater than the current physical distancing guidelines is a major concern. While we don’t yet know for sure how infectious COVID-19 is in aerosol form, the Epidemic Task Force of the American Society for Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE, the leading industries standards organization) have stated: “Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled.” 

In hospitals, aerosols are controlled by continuously moving lots of air through infectious spaces to dilute them, adding lots of fresh air, careful airflow design, and HEPA filtration.  All the air in a typical patient room is filtered about once every four minutes. While gym ventilation is actually comparable to that of hospitals – gyms need comparatively good ventilation to keep them from smelling bad – the circulating air may have little or no filtration. Even if a gym’s air handling equipment is modified with HEPA filters, to achieve that circulation the HVAC system draws air from one side of the space and blows it on the other side. Just like in the restaurant example above, air exhaled by someone will move through the breathing zone of those nearby.  

When outdoor temperatures permit, it may be possible to make temporary changes such as opening existing windows and doors to encourage wind and buoyancy-driven natural ventilation in order to increase airflow and dilute contaminants in an existing fitness space. The openings need to be large to make a difference : a crossfit gym with a roll-up garage door and a back door propped open will be safer than a studio with a small open window. Openings on more than one side of the room gives better access to cross-breezes; openings high and low in the space will drive buoyancy flows, especially if the gym is warmer than the outside air.  When natural ventilation is working well, the indoor air will smell like outside, and match the outdoor temperature and humidity levels, so the comfort of the occupants will vary accordingly.

Other approaches to improve airflow in gym spaces, such as redesigning the air distribution to direct fresh air directly onto each occupant, will be expensive and disruptive to install – and unfortunately, still not proven to be entirely effective against airborne infection. There are some HVAC solutions that will reduce the concentration of infectious aerosol droplets in the air in buildings, notably increasing outdoor air volumes; HEPA filtration; and UV lights that sterilize air above the heads of occupants.  These solutions reduce, but do not eliminate, the risk of virus transmission.

What are the risks?

As gym patrons, we miss the motivation of exercising together with others, and access to equipment we don’t have at home. As we start to evaluate the risk of returning to indoor activity, there are a number of airborne infection risk factors which must consider in our decision making:

  • Indoor exposure: Whether an office, a store, or a gym, shared indoor environments have inherent transmission risk. Each additional person occupying the space with us increases the risk.
  • Extended exposure: Being the same place with specific other people for an extended period of time (15 minutes or more). 
  • Stationary exposure: Being in the same position relative to other individuals for an extended period of time, especially if the air conditioning system is blowing past the person next so that you are breathing their air.
  • Increased respiratory droplet exposure:  Intense aerobic activity, shouting and deliberate sudden exhalation reportedly increase the amount and spread of respiratory droplets. A low-intensity yoga class represents a lower risk than, for example, a Kiai (shout) filled karate class or high-intensity cardio class.
  • Mechanical system efficacy and state of maintenance: Many gyms and other fitness spaces are tenants in older or repurposed commercial spaces which are not always in the good repair. HVAC systems lose effectiveness as they get older, and may distribute air poorly. Some owners may even shut off HVAC systems due to safety concerns but these actions could actually increase risk if they reduce the outdoor air flow into the space. 

Controlling the risks 

For any given hazard, there are many different possible ways to address or mitigate the associated risks. Those who have taken a workplace health and safety course may recognize this hierarchy which is commonly used to rank the effectiveness of the various controls.

Heavily adapted (by Cara) from The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) guide to Controlling exposures to occupational hazards.[Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health] 

Preventing infection using an engineering control – like the fresh air system inside a gym  – or administrative controls such as cleaning –  is necessarily less effective than substituting a lower risk activity – such as exercising outside in places where physical distancing can be maintained.

Is outdoors actually safer?

Both published research to date and epidemiological consensus appears to indicate outdoor activities are extremely low risk: a recent, not yet peer-reviewed study of infections in Chinese cities outside Hubei province in January and February showed that less than 1 in 300 outbreaks (only 1 out of 7000 individual infection events) could be traced to contact that occurred outdoors. B.C.’s provincial health officer has been quoted going so far as to say “the risk [of catching the virus] would be infinitesimally small if somebody walks [or runs] by you.” 

The evidence is strong that for the foreseeable future, substituting parks, backyards or even gym driveways will be a reasonably safe way to enjoy exercise with others, while indoor workouts will remain high risk until either the risk of exposure to infection can be eliminated, or effective engineering controls can be implemented. We want to support our fitness spaces, and we are hopeful that the summer weather will allow everyone to use the outdoors to bridge the gap until it’s safe to be together inside again.

Pictured: Yoga practitioners in supine spinal twists on colorful yoga mats in a wide, spaced circle  around an instructor in a park on a sunny day:  2018 Madison Yoga Challenge, Lung Cancer Research Foundation (LCRF)(Flikr) Photo from:Lung Cancer Research Foundation (LCRF)

Cara is an active promoter and designer of sustainable buildings, specializing in multi-unit residential and municipal facilities, enjoys dancing, Jeet Kune Do, acroyoga and circus arts, and bikes to get places.  

Sarah specializes in existing residential and commercial high-rises, and the systems that make them habitable. She spends far too much time poking around the guts of buildings and not nearly enough time on road bikes, sailing dinghies, or skis.

We’re both professional engineers.

 

 

 

covid19 · cycling · fitness

Riding safely in pandemic times. Also, OMG, she looks like me!

Machines for Freedom

I thought of going for an actual outdoor bike ride this weekend. The weather was lovely and things are opening up a bit. Restrictions are being relaxed, here in Ontario. There are lots of bikes out on the road.

Earlier in this, whatever it is, I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of riding recreationally at all.

An aside, I think we need more precise language. We weren’t ever in quarantine or lockdown. We’ve always been able to leave our houses for exercise.

I’m with Shannon on this,

Remember in France and Italy there were stretches when people could only leave their houses for medical reasons or to get groceries. There were also rules against cycling and against running more than a certain number of kms from your house. Even the UK enacted rules about how many hours of outdoor exercise were allowed. We’ve never done that.

But that’s an aside. Whatever the right term was for Ontario’s state of emergency, it’s true that some rules are being relaxed. Some businesses are reopening.

Maybe it’s still a lockdown just not a particularly strict one, Lockdown Light.

My weekend plan was to not ride too fast or too far and ride with a person I live with. But when Cheddar and I went out for a long Saturday morning dog hike I started to wonder about the wisdom of my plan. For the first time we had a hard time walking and maintaining social distancing. So many people! Also so many bikes. I started to wonder about passing people safely and about stopping at lights with other bikes.

When the day got busy and biking got away from us, I was sort of relieved.

Sunday, I got my Brompton out and rode to campus to pick up an HDMI cable from my office. That felt okay. But I think I’ll wait until a weekday, maybe even a cloudy weekday, to take my road bike out for a spin.

View this post on Instagram

#brompton

A post shared by Samantha Brennan (@samjanebrennan) on

I’ll bring a mask with me in case we do need to encounter other people.

Here are some rules for riding safely in quarantine times, from Machines for Freedom, above.

🚧 QuaranTIPS on How to Ride Safely:
⠀⠀
😷 Cover your face with a mask or buff, especially when in populated areas
⠀⠀
📍Opt for routes close to home and less busy streets or areas
⠀⠀
🏠 Consider staying in on weekends when streets and trails are busiest
⠀⠀
🎒Bring everything you need with you! No gas station snack stops until further notice
⠀⠀
🎶 Ride alone or with people in your household. Bored of riding alone? Try out a new podcast or Machines playlist!
⠀⠀
#machinesforfreedom

I got to know Machines for Freedom from their Swarm rides on Zwift.

I also love that their model, above, looks like me on a bike. A larger woman on a bike. Amazing! It’s worth going to check out their website–this is not a paid endorsement–just for the diversity of their models. If I come into any unexpected money I’m buying a pair of their bib shorts.

And for now I’m sticking with this suggestion, “Consider staying in on weekends when streets and trails are busiest.”

I’ll report back if I make it out their this work week

covid19 · fitness · yoga

My empty yoga mat

On January 1, I greeted this shiny new year with 108 sun salutations on the rooftop of a hotel in Singapore (remember hotels??). Then throughout January, along with half the people I know, I did the Yoga with Adriene (YWA) “Home” sequence, doing yoga almost every day for four weeks. And in the bigger picture, I’ve been doing yoga pretty regularly for 25 years. But since the start of the lockdown, I’ve only found my way to the mat about four times.

What gives? Why have I neglected something I know grounds me in every possible way, makes me feel more human, gives some ease to the physical and emotional knots I’ve found myself in?

It’s not that I haven’t been working out — I’ve done Alex’ virtual superhero workouts at four or five mornings a week, run 3 or 4 times a week, gone for long walks, jumped rope between meetings, perfected handstand shoulder taps and holding crow pose. But that moment where I get on the mat with just me and my body and my full, vulnerable self? I avoid, I distract myself, I wander away.

Last week, someone else posted in our 220 in 2020 community that yoga was making her sad, and every time she started doing a YWA, it made her cry. Others joined in, with their own stories of struggling with introspection and restlessness, especially during yoga. The overall portrait was that even among this community of people — even a yoga teacher! – – among people who value movement, self-knowledge, being in their bodies — right now, even as we are functioning reasonably well, more or less, in the bigger world or in our goals, those moments of truthful quiet, face to face with what’s really present? This can feel like too much.

What is it that’s too much? What am I avoiding?

(Pressing pause on writing this post to go do some yoga and see what I can find)

Okay, I’m back. I did a 20 minute YWA full body flow, the one that came into my inbox with Adriene’s weekly Sunday newsletter today. It was the perfect little flow — a few vinyasas, some lunge stretches, a little tree. I added a few twists, turned the side planks into full side plank with one leg lifted. Did my current party trick, crow. Added some pigeon at the end. What did I experience?

First, I found crinkly noises — in my neck and shoulders, in my knees — like the elastic giving out on a cheap, old pair of pyjamas. Tight shoulders, immobile hips, tight calves. And bruises — mostly on my elbow from where my new hammock hurled me out yesterday, but a few random ones on my legs. Stiff arthritic big toe, and raw skin on the bottom of that same toe, a silly little wound I acquired during that sun salutation fiesta in January and which has never really healed, since I’ve been in my house, barefoot, for the better part of two months. (There were actually spots of blood on my mat after my morning workout two weeks ago from my toe).

But more than bruises… I’m sore. I’m tight. I’m untended. I have all this big muscle strength — I’ve been doing pushups, handstands, wall walks, arm balances, loaded squats, I’ve been running up hills — but I haven’t been caring for my small muscles, the connections, the fascia. I can do crow — hard and focused — but I can’t get my foot all the way up my thigh in tree, because my hips are so tight.

What I have been doing

It’s barely a metaphor.

I think I’ve been avoiding yoga because it slows me down, and slowing down, I feel the wash of the all encompassing experience right now, and it’s … hard. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard. I’m grateful I have work, but doing group work online is a lot of slog without the reward of shared energy and excitement. I’m worried that cases of covid19 continue to spike in my province and our parks were too full of people yesterday (understandable, but worrying). I’m worried that the political system south of the border is so unstable. I’m sad about the suffering in so many parts of the world, including in Uganda where there are so many people I love. I’m fretful about uncertainty. I’m also moved and grateful and inspired and loved and caring, and all of those emotions take up just as much energy as the worrying.

What I should be doing

I have a lot of strength, and I’ve been leaning into it. Challenging myself with handstands and crow, to make sure I can keep the hard balance. But without looking too closely at the impact on my fascia, on my cells, on what’s underneath. I need to surrender, just a little.

Time to peek underneath and give those cells some breathing room. Time to slow down. Thanks again, yoga.

What about you? How are you doing with quiet, introspective practice?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is trying to notice what she needs.

covid19 · family

Mourning the Optimism of March and Staying Active with Kids in May (Guest Post)

by Jennifer Szende

Today, I am mourning the optimism of March 11. The last ‘normal’ thing I did before the pandemic shattered so many parts of our home life was to sign my kids up for summer camps. In a moment of inspiration, I also signed my 5.5 year old up for a ‘learn to ride a bike’ course. I was focused on the future. On planning. On aspirations. I look wistfully back at that day, and I miss the part of me that was able to plan so coherently. Any future orientation is difficult at the moment. 

On March 12, school closures were announced for our jurisdiction. The day after that, parks and recreation programs were shut down. The day after that, most private and indoor recreation spaces chose to shut down (the climbing gyms, the trampoline park, the pools). A couple of days after that, even the playgrounds and most outdoor recreation spaces were covered in caution tape. 

Our family is very active, and also very activity oriented. My kids are 3 and 5 1/2, and in ‘the before times’ we went to the climbing gym as a family every week. Our kids were always in swimming classes. The kids had yoga at school, and physical education every few days. We have the kids in skating classes and circus camp, and our kids are fearless at every playground play structure within a 3km radius of our house. The kids had unstructured outdoor time more than once per day.

Any one of those options feels unfathomable right now. 

The first phase of the pandemic shut down hit us hard. Many of our activities were in spaces that could not be modified to accommodate physical distancing. The kids had a number of birthday parties cancelled, their climbing classes were cancelled, their daycare was closed, and many of their friends disappeared from the neighbourhood. Some friends left the city to help with physical distancing from their front line worker parents, and most others retreated to backyards and indoors. 

Our initial coping mechanism was to head out on long walks and bike rides. Big parks, long trails, and stay away from the main roads. As more and more businesses succeeded in shutting down or moving online, the trails and sidewalks became too crowded. We now tend to prefer alley ways, because they are wide enough to accommodate physical distancing. 5.5 and her dad initially headed out on a 5km bike circuit with her training wheels still on her bike. They did this most days for a week, while the 3 year old and I would head out with a balance bike and a jogging stroller, and would combo bike/walk and push until everyone had received their requisite vitamin D. 

Within 2 weeks, we started to work on removing the training wheels for 5.5. My partner removed both pedals AND training wheels, and turned the bike into a balance bike. After about 3 days, we put the pedals back on the bike. We pushed the bike up to the school yard (by this point, there was caution tape on all of the playground equipment, and plastic bags covering the basketball nets, but the open concrete space remained open). My partner turned his back on 5.5 while he put his jacket down on the school steps, and he turned around to see the kid pedalling past him. She had figured it out without the requisite parent running along behind the bike, and no one could suppress a smile. 

So much for the ‘learn to ride a bike’ course.

All things considered, we are doing great. We get to spend time with the kids when they would normally be cared for by other people. We get to witness the firsts, and be part of the excitement. They are growing up in tangible and exciting ways. My 3 year old is much more confident on a balance bike and scooter, and my 5.5 year old is working on tricks with her bike. The kids have learned to play together. They are working on throwing balls and chasing butterflies. They are excited to look for weeds in the garden. They re-draw the chalk obstacle course in the driveway after every rainfall. They climb fences, and chase bubbles as is appropriate to their age. Yesterday, they got absolutely soaked through jumping in puddles in the rain – and proclaimed it “The best day ever”. We try to get out every day, and encourage dancing along with any and every viewing of Frozen II. 

Thanks to a recent New York Times article, I now know that the recommendation for kids ages 3 to 5 is 3 hours per day of physical activity. That is a lot, for an age group who sleeps about 12 hours and eats about 6 times per day. I suspect that we make it occasionally, but I doubt that we hit the target more than 3 times per week. But for now, we are doing just fine.

Yesterday, on May 15, the city announced the official cancellation of all summer camps. I am still mourning the optimism of March 11. The future filled with Nature Camp and Learning to Ride a Bike and sending my 3 year old to swimming lessons without a parent in the pool. We are doing okay in this new world where we are forced to live in the moment. I barely look at the forecast these days, because what would be the point? I’m not looking forward to the future, and I am okay with focusing on today. But I play over March 11 in my mind on a regular basis, and grieve the future that was but will not be.

A child, but not Jenny’s child, riding a bike up a grass hill.
Photo from Unsplash.

Jenny Szende is a philosopher, writer, climber, cyclist, and mother based in Toronto. 

#deanslife · covid19 · dogs · fitness · walking

Sam’s pandemic day off and rainy day dog walk

May is usually the month when academics get to catch our collective breath. Grades are submitted. Conference season is about to begin. And even for administrators it’s quieter with fewer faculty and students on campus. But this year isn’t like most years. We’re not on campus. We’re all working at home. For all of us this has been a long semester with unrelenting long days of video conference classes and meetings.

I’ve been reminding staff and faculty of the need to take holidays. We’re all getting worn down. Me too.

Thursday I posted to social media: “I’m taking tomorrow off as a holiday. I’m not going anywhere but I’m also staying off Zoom, WebEx, Teams etc. We need vacation days even during the pandemic. Maybe especially. I just realized recently that I was supposed to have a week’s holiday in California this April, after the conference in San Francisco that was cancelled. I’m going to take Cheddar for an extra long walk. And maybe bake banana bread. Read a novel. Just chill at home. It won’t feel like holiday holidays. But it will feel like a day off and that’s enough.”

How’d it go? Well it wasn’t holiday like exactly but it did feel like a good day off work and that’s pretty good. I slept in. That was an excellent start.

I sat on the sofa and finished Matt Haig’s The Humans which I enjoyed.

It was very rainy and so I was leery of the long dog walk idea initially. Cheddar, however, was not. Luckily it was warm and rainy and so it was actually nice being out there. Cheddar dragged me into the woods to see a dead raccoon. That wasn’t so nice but he didn’t touch it. He just needed me to see it apparently. I have a photo but I’ll spare you.

The nice thing about the rain is that I didn’t have to pay much attention to physical distancing. I think we were the only ones out walking along the river.

While walking I listened to Trevor Noah’s memoir Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. It’s a terrific audiobook. I haven’t been listening to books lately while walking because of the need to chat and coordinate the six feet rule with fellow path walkers. Today was different and I’ve decided I’m going to embrace rainy days.

On our return from the long wet dog walk, Facebook memories reminded me that two years ago I was in Bremen and four years ago I was Innsbruck, Austria.

I was in Innsbruck for the Austro-Canadian Medical Ethics Workshop, “Man at the Heart of a Modern Medical Ethics: Challenges and Perspectives” and my talk was,
“Making Decisions for Children as if Childhood Mattered: Reflections on Medical Decision Making and the Goods of Childhood.”

These days I’m spending some time racing in Virtual Innsbruck as it’s one of Zwift’s cycling worlds. It’s remarkably realistic. Sadly, especially, the hills!

Oh and 12 years ago I was in Canberra, Australia where I was a Visiting Professor in the Philosophy Department at the Australian National University where I also spent some time riding and racing my bike.

Here’s me on the Stromlo Crit Course.

Thanks Greg Long for this photo of women’s C racing.

So Germany, Austria, and Australia. So much travel, all impossible now. As academics begin what’s our usual summer conference season, it feels extra odd not to be travelling. Usually I head out to the west coast once or twice and go to a conference or two in Europe as well. This year I’m pretty settled in Guelph. It’s all been cancelled.

But I am also feeling happy to be home, with family and Cheddar, the dog. I’m enjoying our rainy day walks. I’m impressed that my knee is holding out. These are longer walks and more regular walks than I’ve been able to do for a few years now. I notice that in my post about Bremen, two years old, I was talking about being unable to walk to campus from the hotel.

I’ve been nervous about my knee surgery being put off in these Covid-19 times. But it looks like that will be okay. I’m doing fine. It’s not all bad news. And it’s good for all sorts of reasons, the climate chief among them, to get used to less summer conference travel.

Cheddar, for one, is happy to have me home.

covid19 · fitness · habits · yoga

Towards a new “routine”?

I don’t know about you, but two months into lockdown I feel like I’m starting to settle into the “new normal”. Getting up in the morning and “going to work” across the hallway doesn’t seem outlandishly strange anymore. People at my workplace are settling into automatically logging their intermittent visits to the office on our online building log without me chasing them, which pleases me no end (I’m responsible for coordinating our Corona measures at work). Even as we ease lockdown measures where I live, at least partially remote work will stay with us for another while, so it’s just as well.

Bettina’s current universe: a red yoga mat and her home office workstation

I’ve also started noticing a few things that are missing and rather than it feeling too much, I’m doing something about it. (I realise that I’m incredibly privileged to be in that headspace right now.) One of these things is a way to work out my arm muscles. In the before time – which to me right now means both before Corona and before pregnancy – I bouldered (stopped first because pregnant) and swam (stopped later because Corona) regularly. Now that I’m not doing either of those things, my poor arms are definitely noticing the lack of a challenge. That’s why I’ve started doing a bit of arms exercise with dumbbells almost daily. It’s not much, just some sets of biceps curls and some shoulder and triceps exercises, but it’s something. I won’t lie, I don’t enjoy it. I find it a bit boring. But I keep telling myself that I’ll have to carry a baby around soon and I’m reliably informed they are heavy, so I’d better prepare!

Last week, I’ve also started doing prenatal yoga every morning, except on the days I have my online Iyenga yoga class. This is more enjoyable than the dumbbells! I like getting into the movements as my body wakes up, and it’s very peaceful and quiet around me. I’m still trying to understand why it’s taken me this long to get into that routine, and my conclusion is it’s a mix of things both pandemic and pregnancy-related that has messed up my day-to-day.

Let’s see how long it lasts. The one thing both the Corona crisis and pregnancy have in common is that they evolve daily. Soon I’ll be too big to cycle, at some point I’ll have to stop running. But for now, I’m pleased I’ve found a groove.

How about you? Have you found a way of settling into things?

covid19 · fitness · injury

Injury-free, at last!

Image description: running shoes, yoga mat, metal water bottle, and resistance bands.

Like most people, I have experienced some benefits I hadn’t predicted from the pandemic isolation (e.g. more time with my parents; the transition from asking “what’s sourdough starter?” to churning out perfect loaves on a regular basis; regular family gatherings on Zoom). But the benefit that has snuck up on me the most is that after over a year of struggling with injuries, I am now, suddenly and happily and unexpectedly injury-free.

On the blog, I’ve been fairly quiet about my injuries (one reason for that is that I had a long good-bye late last summer where I more or less left as a regular contributor, and since then have only written a handful of posts). But also, I’m not big on widespread sharing of my own pain (not that I never have), and I have a personal aversion to dwelling on what’s wrong (not that I never do). People who know me were aware of my Achilles’ injury because it interfered with my regular routines. Most seriously, it took me out of my regular running routine for more than a year. Since I ran the Around the Bay 30K last March, the furthest distance I’ve covered was 10K. I did that maybe 2-3 times. Despite feeling good immediately after the event, I experienced debilitating back pain a few days later. And then, within a short time of the back clearing up enough to take a gingerly approach to running again, my left side Achilles started to bother me in June, and by July I had backed way off. Mostly, I’ve been running between 3-5K or not at all.

The thing is, I’ve been continuing to try. Despite my physiotherapist’s advice and other people’s insistence on the risks of running on an injured Achilles, I spent many months backing off and then easing in again. Really, what I needed was to back right off and take a long break. When I was in Mexico for a few months from January 1 to March 18, I settled into some short running for a few weeks and then brazenly added mountain hiking. If you’ve ever had an Achilles issue, you know that uphills are the worst thing for it. So let’s just say hiking in the mountains was ill-advised. I inflamed my Achilles to the point where I had to stop running and hiking again by mid-February. I continued to walk a lot, covering 8-10K on flat ground most days, sometimes limping. My Achilles wasn’t exactly getting total rest and I was still aware of it all the time, but at least I’d stopped stressing it out.

The other part of my regular routine was yoga, modified so as to put no extra strain on my left Achilles.

When I got back to Canada on March 18, I had to go straight into quarantine for 14 days. I was in the country at my parents’ place (we had travelled together), so I could safely go for very short walks without running into anyone. When the 14 day quarantine ended, I added some very short runs, but I walked on the uphills (it’s hilly around here, but I was adamant that I would respect the Achilles). When the quarantine ended, I was able to extend my distance a bit, but mostly I’ve kept it to a walk or a run most days, plus yoga. A couple of weeks ago I added resistance training classes on Zoom.

I’m giving this little rundown of what’s happened since March 2019 because it’s really only since the pandemic (almost a year from the event where this all started) that, without planning it, I have done exactly what I needed to do to tend to my injury. And since I didn’t plan it, I didn’t “design” my approach with the Achilles in mind. Instead, I have stuck close to home and only gone out for shorter periods of activity because it seems (to me) like the right thing to do.

I’ve kept to my commitment to daily yoga because more than ever I’ve needed a way to feel grounded–morning meditation and daily yoga are two ways I manage to do that. Yes, they are grounding in themselves. But along with my daily walks or runs, they have helped me establish a sense of routine that I absolutely need during the pandemic. I don’t know about you but sometimes I feel as if each day just spills into the next and time has taken on a weird quality where it is on occasion almost meaningless.

Because of the weirdness of time lately, I can’t tell you when exactly it happened. But some time during the past two or three weeks it occurred to me that I hadn’t been aware of my Achilles at all of late. One marker of an injury is that it never completely escapes awareness. It’s hard to believe that just a couple of months ago, around the time when I had to stop the hiking, my Achilles was throbbing and aching all the time, even when I was just lying in bed.

Now, I finish a walk or a run and the Achilles just worked the way it was supposed to work. When I’m doing yoga, I don’t have to back off of pushing my heel all the way down when doing Warrior I. In a Zoom workout, I can keep my heels down during the squats and not worry about pain in lunges or chair climbing or anything I’d usually approach with caution.

Because of the pandemic and my inclination for the foreseeable future to stick fairly close to home, I feel pretty confident that I am not about to “overdo it” despite feeling as if I am good to go. Instead, I can enjoy my new injury-free-again state without putting it at risk (as I might normally be tempted to do). It’s amazing and wouldn’t have happened without Covid-19 forcing such major changes in our expectations on all of us. By the time this thing is resolved (I am not optimistic that it will be within a few months), the foot will be strong and be able to support me in a new training plan that can include distance and intensity. Pretty exciting!

So that’s my story of recovery from injury and of one of the good things that pandemic isolation has brought me. If you have an injury-recovery story and/or a good thing you want to share about pandemic isolation, please leave it in the comments.

Meanwhile, may you all be safe and be well.