Cold Wars

Exercise can be so addictive. I don’t know whether other people have the same problem. Even when you’re ill, you feel like it’s a wasted opportunity to feel great! So you push yourself to the limit. And do double next time to make up for it. I did it a few years ago when I used to run a lot. On tarmac. Sometimes I’d even take a pain killer and GO! Naughty. Now I’ve got a knee that’s more or less completely busted.  I have a rotator cuff injury at the moment, and I had to pull out of a mini triathlon last minute a few weeks ago (not a real triathlon because a stationary bike is used) because I tried to make it to the competition without resting. What I have is an even longer recovery time thanks to that.

Nick is a mutual friend. I was at a birthday party recently and we caught up. He’s been doing some writing and some running too! I’m definitely taking his advice.

Here’s what he says.

Battling another flu, the third one in as many months. It seems like nature is conspiring against me, in a very unimaginative way.  I finish a round of treatment, modern medicine reinforced with good old honey, lemon, ginger and garlic home remedies, then I end up staying out late, in the cold, and promptly relapse. Twice it has been work that kept me out, once it was a social event. I’m getting sick of getting sick.

I was born in July though; shouldn’t I have a natural immunity to cold, coming into this world at the coldest possible month in the year? Once again I’m crushed between the rock of resting and giving the body time to heal and the hard place of not slacking off my morning runs and gym. Familiar territory these last couple of months. This is a dilemma many fitness enthusiasts face. I lean more towards giving the body adequate rest for it to recover from illness so you can get back to regular training. Training when unwell isn’t a good idea. The training will be compromised and so will your recovery, so you get the worst of both worlds. At least do one thing well.

So, take time off your brutal exercise regimen, and help the body heal. This will also be a good opportunity to rest the sore muscles and revitalize your body. You can take time and do some core training and strength exercises, which you perhaps aren’t able to do as often as you may have liked.

Remember to get back slowly, once you resume training. No need to shock the body – that’s a perfect recipe for injury. If you had to get off training to recuperate from illness, allow the body a couple of weeks of light training to get back to form. This becomes more difficult, but no less important, the closer you get to a big race. Psychologically it feels counter intuitive, if I have a big race coming up, I should be training hard close to the race, right?  The inverse is actually true; it is called tapering, we will discuss it further in a separate post.

If for example you are training for a half marathon and a month to the race you get a terrible flu that puts you down for over a week. It would be better to take a break from training to allow your body to heal properly, and then do a few short runs before race day once you feel better. Just like studying on the last night doesn’t guarantee you will pass an exam, it is the work you put in during the preceding months and weeks that matters.

The writer is an engineer and recreational runner based in Nairobi, Kenya who finds time to work in-between runs. He ran the New York marathon and both the Two Oceans and Comrades ultra marathons in South Africa. Follow him @MutetiNick

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