Friday, October 7, 2011

Attack of the EARLY Taperworm!!!

OCTOBER 2010 - I first knew I was infected as I sat at my desk, gazing down at a small bag of microwave popcorn that, with its seductive, distinctive scent, promised to soothe the hungry monster roaring plaintively from my stomach.

It had been a bad morning to skip breakfast. With hours to go until the close of the commodities markets and the only time a day trader can catch a few bites to eat before diving back into the numbers, the only thing able to drown out the insistent crescendo of gurgling from my midsection was--


His eyes watering, my coworker rubbed at his already red nose with a Kleenex. He dropped it on top of a steadily growing pile in his trash can. "I think I have a cold!" he announced to no one in particular. I sighed, picked up a fork, and began to spear kernels directly out of the protected environment of the bag. When I stood up, I sealed it carefully before walking away.

Having never eaten popcorn with a fork before, I wasn't sure what compelled me to do so, I only knew if I'd dumped it onto the surface of my desk and eaten it with my hands, like I usually do, that something awful was going to happen. My shoulders, already tense from awkwardness of eating in such an unusual way, tensed even more every time he sneezed. I noticed he turned MY direction as well, instead of sneezing facing forward or to the left. Every fiber of my being itched to tell him so, but I was (mercifully?) distracted when another coworker dropped a completed position sheet on my desk for review. Her nose was red as well, and she rubbed at it with her fingers.

I spotted a fingerprint on the sheet, dropped it, and ran to the kitchen, searching frantically for the Lysol bottle. It had begun - my week-long war on germs. Real and imaginary.

Let the record show I am not a hypochondriac, nor am I especially susceptible to cold and flu germs. I'm blessed with an excellent immune system and haven't thrown up (from an illness, anyways) since I was very young. But for whatever reason, with a week to go until the Kansas City (my first) Marathon, I was seeing germs in the air the way Neo saw digital numbers in the end of "The Matrix." I could taste them on my food, I could see them on the papers I shuffled through during the day, I could almost feel myself breathing them in I was so hypersensitive to their presence. I knew it - I was going to catch a cold prior to my first marathon and all that training was going to be for nothing.

When I didn't get sick and had successfully completed that first marathon, I thought maybe it was just first-timer stress and unfamiliarity with the whole taper process. I affectionately labeled my mania my "taperworm" - because it started in my stomach as an insane hunger, then went to my brain and made me crazy - and didn't think I'd see it again. But I was wrong. Two weeks out from the Illinois Marathon, I started feeling the germs crawling their way across my face again, towards my nose and mouth, and wondered why the bosses at work, in their infinite wisdom, had sat the heaviest smoker in the room directly behind me. I speculated with friends about whether or not she could feed herself on all the lung butter she coughed up and continued to handle her position sheets carefully, by the corners only. Then she caught a cold, and out came the hand sanitizer.

"Why don't you just go HOME?" I asked.

"I can work, I'm fine," she said. "I just have a cold, that's all."

I bit back the "I'm not worried about you, I'm worried about ME!" reply. People don't seem to take too kindly towards your pointing out how disgusting they are when it's not a comment borne of loving concern for their health and well-being.

Now I know what to expect, but I also expect my third taperworm to be my worst yet. For one, it's already kicked in two weeks prior to my official taper period - a late allergy season has made everyone around me hacking, sneezing snot machines, and while I know allergies aren't catching, a part of me wonders if maybe it isn't just allergies...maybe they have a cold. And if they have a cold, it's one of those month-long varieties, and if it's a month-long cold and I catch it, I'm screwed. And this is the first race I'll have to fly to - and planes are notorious breeding grounds for germs, as anyone who's read "The Hot Zone" knows all too well. I doubt I'm going to catch Ebola from a Kansas City-to-New York City flight, but a nasty flu would have the same effect, as far as my race is concerned.

There's a lot riding on this one. If I, for whatever reason, had to drop out of the race this year, I could always defer to the next year, but I'd disappoint the donors who've given so generously to my cause and expressed such enthusiasm for "seeing" me finish the race. Ten people (Brian, Dad, Alex, Max, Hanna, Jen, Shane, Beth, Megan, and Tom Baddeley) are making the trip to see me run and still more are joining us once we get to New York City. There are flight reservations, hotel reservations, and vacations hanging in the balance. So not only am I shying away a couple weeks early from all the coughers and sneezers, I'm listening very carefully to all the aches and pains and twinges I feel in my muscles. I ran last night and my back hurt - was that a reaction to the awful time I had wrangling the dogs the night before, or was that a sign that something's about to break down? Should I take Advil, or will that just compound the problem? And why in the hell does my shoulder hurt this morning? And why in the hell did I just touch my face?

DEEP breath.

I had a conversation a few weeks ago with a couple of my running buddies, and we all agreed - run-stopping injuries come and go, but the paranoia of being what-feels-like-permanently sidelined persists forever. It doesn't matter if you've had an exceptionally successful training period, like I have for New York City - until you cross the finish line, that fear is always there. For me, it's intensified since my last marathon finish was stolen from me by an unexpected IT band flare-up. So many things could go wrong...but all I know is, as long as I'm conscious and able to keep moving forward, I will. This race is for Mom and I'm NOT giving up. Even if I'm the absolute last person to finish, I will. I guess I'm just hoping for something a little more spectacular than that.

Condition: Taperworm (var: elizabethus marathonosis hypochondrius)


  • Originates in stomach with urge to consume everything consumable in sight.
  • Excessive dependence on Vitamin C (note: distinctive rattling noise emanating from all handbags)
  • Carrying of Lysol bottles
  • Dry, cracked hands that smell strongly of hand sanitizer
  • Marked aversion to eating with hands or touching face
  • Compulsive hydration

Onset: 2-3 weeks from marathon race day. Occurs during "taper" period of training, hence the term "taperworm."

Treatment: Palliative. No known cure. Symptoms will immediately fade on morning of race, once event has commenced.

(Note: This post is a dramatization. Sort of. I DID eat popcorn with a fork, though.)


  1. Love your post. Don't worry. It's a common condition and it goes away after the marathon.

  2. LOL elizabeth :D i am also run down but i think that's because i haven't been sleeping well. and then when we really taper...oh boy! i also get suspicious of people sneezing in a square foot vicinity around me and imagine droplets of germs landing in the air that i would be breathing. LOL!!! anyway, great training so far - I'm so excited for you to come to NYC!