I am very bad at taking rest days, especially during a pandemic.
Since I’m not allowed to leave the house for more than an hour per day, I get restless. There are only so many times I want to pace around the house. With nowhere to go, it’s always easy to find 30-45 minutes to fit in some type of exercise.
Pretty quickly, all of my suggested Instagram content became at-home workouts (or photos of mountains). I found some great accounts — too many, in fact. And when you go from doing exactly zero burpees and jump squats on a regular basis to HIIT workouts five days in a row, something has to give. For me, it was my back.
On Saturday evening, I did a drop squat and felt a sharp pain in my left lower back. That’s not good. I did have enough good judgment to stop, stretch and call my friend Blaire. She rowed crew for many years, so I figured she knew how to take care of back pain. At her instruction, I took a 20-minute ice bath and searched the house for ibuprofen.
When my friend Tancrede heard what I did, he immediately called our neighbor. Tancrede’s family has spent every summer at their house here in Provence for many years, and they know everyone around here well. Turns out our neighbor Patrick is a doctor.
He came over to inspect my back, which included a very painful massage. Patrick diagnosed me with a sizable contracture, or muscle spasm, and told me to rest for several days.
“No running. I see you go out, but no more,” he said. “And definitely no burpees. Those are the worst.”
Turns out that running hills and doing explosive exercises are a deadly combination for the glutes. And when your glutes fatigue after too many days without rest, it puts strain on your back, which can lead to muscle spasms.
Before Patrick left, he gave me a heat pad and prescription-strength pain/anti-inflammatory medications (drugs are much more tightly regulated in France than in the U.S., and you need to see a pharmacist to purchase even ibuprofen). Much cooler than a typical heat pad, this one is essentially a pillow stuffed with dried cherry pits. You put it in the microwave for three minutes, and the stones heat up. It smells like popcorn and feels absolutely magical. I definitely want to find one for myself after this.
As someone who is very bad about letting my body recover, it’s actually nice to have a doctor tell you that you have to take time off. All the days in quarantine tend to blur together, and I honestly could not tell you the last time I took a rest day before this. Yes, yes, I know. Not good.
All the signs were there. Before this, I felt slow and weak on my last few runs; my average resting heart rate was several beats higher than normal, and I was having trouble sleeping. I know I need to be better at listening to my body, but it’s hard when you’re stuck at home all day.
As of writing this column, it’s been five days since I’ve done any physical activity. It will certainly be a few more. Honestly, it’s probably good for my body. I haven’t taken this much time off in nearly two years.
There’s less shooting pain, but I still can’t bend over and touch my toes without my back spasming. I’m working on my patience. In France, the strictest quarantine measures are being lifted on Monday, and we’ll be allowed to exercise within a 100-kilometer radius of the house — a huge increase from 1 kilometer. After eight weeks, we can return to the trails!
But if my back isn’t better on Monday, I’ll wait. The mountains and the single track will still be around whenever I heal. A back injury is not something to mess around with.
During a pandemic, it is very lucky to live next to a doctor, especially someone like Patrick. He came over immediately when Tancrede called and then welcomed me into his home today when I was worried that I reinjured my back last night by moving weirdly. He gave me more painkillers and said I’ll be fine (no running still!), but that I should probably see an ostéopathe when I get back to Paris. Thank goodness that my health insurance in France covers 100 percent of all treatment costs.
I will be eternally grateful to Patrick and his wife, Françoise. She brings us homemade chocolate cake and apple tart. We’re her substitute children, she says, since their children are with their families in the city. When the local shops ran out of food, Françoise drove us 20 kilometers to the regional grocery store.
With my real family thousands of miles away, it’s comforting to know we’re taken care of. And whenever we return to Forcalquier, we know we have a family here.