I think that Canadian runners are probably the toughest athletes around. Let me be more specific, Ontario runners- or, at least all the Canadian runners who run in the cold. Despite my love for the West coast, and my eventual desire to move there one day, they do have it pretty easy in the winter months. Right now in BC they are probably enjoying mild weather and able to run up and down the seawall every day. However, here in Ottawa, we get to run in the dark, freezing cold every day in January and probably most of February. Granted, we were lucky this December and we didn't have cold weather, but this past week has been biting cold. So cold- that it brings new meaning to the phrase- chilled to the bone. You felt it right down to your bones and even an extra pair of wool socks didn't seem to do the trick for me.
Friday, at work, I started to feel a little tickle in my throat. I was tired and had an overall chill. It's no wonder. Germs are going around the office and I have been pushing myself really hard at work, and working at the front desk exposes me to lots of potential germs.
I haven't been running outside much (actually at all) recently because of the exceptionally cold weather. The weather last week with the wind-chill was about minus 35 and the wind was horrendous!
But, unfortunately a road race that I decided to race in last weekend meant braving a courageous face and getting out in the cold. The sun was shining on race day, and the wind had thankfully died down on Sunday so I thought I might be okay. Well, I wasn't.
I ran for a bit on the treadmill that morning, so I wouldn't have to warm up outside. I figured even if I ran on the treadmill for 10 minutes an hour before the race, it was better than running for 15 minutes outside right before the race. It was a smart thing to do. Right before the race (I already had my bib number) I jumped into the car and drove to the race, took the last parking space and literally started running out of the car and into the race.
To be honest, I did feel cold right away, but not freezing. The race was an out-and-back course and on the way out I tried to hide behind some of the bigger runners; although, on the way back the race thinned out and I couldn't avoid the headwind. This is when I started to get so cold.
My legs felt like huge chunks of ice and I tried to plow through the final 2.5km. I could feel the warm air from my breath freezing the skin between my noise and my lips. My eyes also started to water.
In the distance, I saw the finish line, and all I could think to myself, that A) I am an idiot for doing this, and B) my fingers are actually frozen. Actually. I have been a long suffer of Raynaud's which means I can lose the circulation in my hands and feel at the drop of a bucket. I couldn't feel my fingers by this point.
When I finished the race, just like I started, I ran directly into the building in order to get warm.
This was the most painful part- trying to get circulation back into my hands. I ran them under water and I jumped back and forth as the tingling in my hands took effect. I started to dance around a bit. I didn't even think of my face. It wasn't until at supper when my dad mentioned that something looked off on my face.
By Tuesday and Wednesday, the red spot on my nose got bigger and a little more painful. On Wednesday, it was looking worse and that I decided to get it check out. My doctor told me that it was in fact a first degree burn and she gave me a prescription for some cream that I needed to put on twice a day. Just to be sure- I put it on about six times yesterday. Then on Friday I started to feel sick, and skipped my run.
Is it bad to run when you are sick?
I was scared when I read the November edition of Runners World that quoted Dr. George Sheehan, "unfortunately when the running is going well, the runner must be most alert. He is on a collision course between his heart's desire and the common cold. Just beyond this workout or race lies disaster." EKK!
Okay, but isn't running supposed to make me stronger? Healthier? The University of South Carolina reported that people who exercise have 20% fewer cold than their non-active peers.
But according to the article in Runner's World, many long-distance runners get colds and upper-respiratory infections after a race. Apparently, during the stress of a hard run, the body stimulates the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses immune functions in large amounts; the more intense the run- the higher the cortisol. This makes sense that I would have gotten sick after a race. Especially when you consider that after the race, all those runners congratulating (i.e. touching) each other, transmission of cold and viruses is inevitable. The article goes on to say that you are the most vulnerable 72 hours after a race due to the elevated cortisol levels.
A recent poll by Runner's World said that 56 percent of the people polled take multivitamins regularly. And only 8% of people skip a run if they are ill. There is also little research done that says that supplements such as glutamine, beta-glucan, and vitamins C or D prevent colds. All the researches recommend is a well-balanced, anti-oxidant rich diet.
Despite what we may think, it is actually false that running in the rain or cold will make you sick. You are more likely to catch a cold when you spend more time inside, where germs spread. However, cold temperatures lower the immune functions but it's actually the exposure to a potential virus that will eventually make you sick.
Also, the body cannot distinguish between the stress from a hard workout and the mental stress from jobs, or school. Therefore, the cortisol level will rise if you are experiencing stress at work or at home. All the more reason to work on your mental balance, says exercise kinesiologist Andrew Johnston. "Studies show that meditating for 20 minutes a day can lower stress." Hmm... should be a little more Zen then to not get sick?
Well, apparently, you also need your sleep. This is something I am trying to work hard on. Research shows that repeated lack of sleep lowers your immunity protection by up to 50 percent. In fact, a study done on German athletes reported that the risk of upper-respiratory infections was highest in those who had less sleep.
Well, with my frostbitten nose, recent race, my stress level, and my lack of sleep it's no wonder I think I am getting sick! I am starting to agree a bit with the people who think I am silly for running- never mind outside.
However, I have developed a tough skin. Despite all the teasing and the Rudolph references to my nose this week at work, it is clearing up. I am sick, but with a few days off running I hope that I will bounce back, more resilient than ever. Soon enough, I will be sweating buckets outside doing repeat miles around Rockcliffe Park thinking back to the day I was silly enough to run that road race back in January. I'll just remember to put sunscreen on- my poor nose couldn't handle first degree sunburn!