Tuesday, February 18, 2014


In my previous blog I spoke about being Walloped by Winter and what to do about it. The Winter season is also when Cold and Flu season peak. I'm not sure about you, but for me, I am typically felled by one garden-variety head-cold each winter. Seems par-for the course.

For endurance sports athletes, it presents a bit of a challenge. How do you beat the cold, and get back to normal ASAP? There is that gnawing worry about the down-time and the lost fitness.

Years ago, when I was much younger and perhaps not as wise, I used to push things and not listen to my body. I would ignore the early signs of the cold coming on - the body aches, the weakness, the head or chest congestion. Then it would hit in all it's fury - down for a few days, but then I would rush the come back, and the cold would then drag on for sometime with remnant symptoms hanging around for weeks.

Two events changed my views on getting sick in this way.

One time before my biggest triathlon race of the season, I came down with a head-cold just over a week out from the race. It was a doozy - sent me to bed for a few days. I was then wrestling with what to do in the run-up to the race. I chose to do nothing - no training at all. All tolled, when I toed the starting line, I had done no training for a full week. I did not feel that great physically, but that race ended up being one of my best races of the year! The one week sick-with-a-cold taper in full-effect! Lesson: A week of resting and recovery from a cold, does not impact your fitness.

The other event was more sinister. I came down with a really bad chest cold. It was very bad. I thought I had recovered and I jumped right back into training at a high level. I had a relapse, that morphed into full-blown pneumonia. This really knocked me out. Close to being hospitalized. Had to take 3 weeks off work. Two of which were spent at home in bed.

Follow-up x-rays and testing discovered that I had done some permanent damage to my lungs - perhaps losing as much as 25% of my absolute, lung capacity. Disturbing news for an endurance athlete. However, I was advised that the lungs can over-compensate and some of this 25% deficit could be taken back and the loss not noticeable.

Lesson here - listen to the body. Take the time to recover fully, before resuming heavy training!

In summary - when you get sick with a head or chest cold, just take the time to fully recover. Recent, studies have shown that despite what all the cold-medication companies tell you, nothing that you can take will make the cold go away any quicker. The OTC drugs, just make some of the symptoms easier to cope with. In short - rest and relaxation and letting the body fight and deal with the infection as best as it can,  is the best thing to do, and for the endurance sports athlete that means stopping training until you are 100% recovered and ready to go. When you get those early symptoms - the weakness, the body aches etc . . just shut it down and get as much rest as you can. Help your body help, itself!

On the defense front - the old fashioned way of frequently washing your hands, has been proven to be the best defense from getting sick in the first place. It's far better and more effective than many rumored methods that people talk about. Many of the more popular defense methods - over-dosing on Vitamin-C,  taking echinacea etc . . have proven to have little to no effect on cold prevention! Eat a healthy and well balanced diet, and you should have all the natural disease prevention and immunity that you'll ever get. Also, make sure you are getting enough sleep. Recent research has concluded that sleep, is the #1 recovery tool for your body.

Again - wash your hands. And if you do get sick, don't panic. Just take the down-time to rest up a recover well. Know that under normal circumstances your garden-variety head or chest cold runs it's course in a week to 10 days, and there is really not much you can do about that other than doing nothing at all!

Have you been sick this winter? How did it go?

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Walloped by Winter! What Are You Doing?

I saw a map this week online. It showed that  2/3 of Canada & the U.S., ie most of the North American continent, was covered in snow. I know that for almost all of Canada (save for the lower-mainland of B.C. and Vancouver Island) - that's normal. The snow-cover and deep cold has also extended much farther south in the U.S. than "normal" this winter.

We've been walloped by winter, actually. In my area, just north of  Toronto, ON, after a number of rather benign winters, it's been full-on this year with, from what I can tell,  record snow-falls and, the coldest average temperatures in over 10 years. For endurance sports athletes who for the most part train outside - runners, triathletes, and cyclists, it's been challenging to keep the training going. How have you been coping?

I've always had two views on this - you either take it inside, and shun winter as much as you can, or you embrace it, and make the most of it.

For the Shunners, the solutions, are obvious: For the triathlete - swim/cycle/run, can all be done indoors. If you are into this, and have access to the right facilities and equipment, in a perfect world, there can be minimal interruption in your training. True - the cycling and the running, on indoor trainers and treadmills can get a little tedious, but videos can be a great distraction and some of the interactive, computer driven indoor bike training set-ups are truly extraordinary! If you are just a runner or a cyclist, just plug into the above.

For the Embracers - the great outdoors can really open things up. Full disclosure - when I was training seriously for triathlon this was my approach. I was never a fan of the treadmill or the indoor bike trainer. What did I do?

First - I never stopped running outdoors. In fact, winter is when I would lay down the most overall volume of miles running. With the right apparel and attitude, you can run in just about any kind of weather, anywhere. Sure the footing, was lousy, the deep snow sometimes slowed you down, and the wind would force your pace to a crawl. Note the word "volume" back there - that was the focus . . not speed, pace or time. Just get the miles/K's in!

Second - I cross-country skied . . . a lot. Both classic and skating. Nordic skiing is the king of aerobic sports - it works more muscles in the body than any other single activity - upper body, lower body, core etc . . It all get's worked. When I had a great winter of skiing - where I put in the biggest volume of skiing and took my skiing to the highest level of performance, I noticed two things: 1) My cycling and triathlon performance the following summer was always better. 2) Despite very little cycling through Dec/Jan/Feb, come March, after just a few weeks of riding, I could ride 100K at a decent pace with very little ramp up!

Third - I did not eschew the indoor training completely. I would get in the pool maybe ounce a week, just to keep in contact with the feel of the water. I would also get on the indoor bike trainer, and would do one or two very high intensity sessions a week, lasting no more than 60 minutes. As to the latter, they say that even for the cyclist, who just rides, the time on the trainer in the winter, is better spent with a focus on higher intensity, power based riding, than slogging out long sweaty sessions on the trainer. These days, I only ride, and that's my focus: 3 - 4 very specific high quality session on the bike, and never more than an hour. Plus some cross country skiing mixed in.

As a Canadian, I've always had to put up and deal with a winter of some kind. It's part of being a Canadian, in my view - that's why I have always embraced winter. The Winter Olympics are about to begin, and I've found a great deal of truth, honesty and inspiration in the Canadian Olympic Committee official hashtag for the Canadian Olympic Team - #WeAreWinter.  For Canada and Canadians it's perfect!

Do you shun or do you embrace winter? What's your strategy to coping with this real winter we are having this year?

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