It’s that all-too-familiar feeling. Scratchy throat, aching body, and so congested I think my eyes are going to pop out of my head.
These days, I seem to get sick after every endurance event. It happened after Philly Half, Shamrock Marathon, and now, after Capon Valley 50K, I’m sidelined again. To be fair, I should be grateful that my immune system hangs with me until the actual event, because I rarely get sick prior to a race. But I think it’s already packing its bags by race day, and has completely checked out by the time I cross the finish line.
I sometimes wonder if this is my body’s way of saying “don’t you even contemplate doing THAT again!” or at least protecting me from overdoing it in the week after the event. But I’m sure there’s some scientific explanation for repeated illness after a hard effort, so I did a little research to find out if this is a common problem among endurance athletes and if there’s anything I can do to prevent it.
I came across this article: The Infection Connection: Running Can Boost or Dampen Your Immune System, by Sara Latta. Latta states that it’s not unusual for the immune system to crash after an endurance event. According to David Nieman, professor of health and exercise science at Appalachian State University, “after about 90 minutes of running, blood glucose levels begin to drop (assuming the runner hasn’t been taking in adequate amounts of carbohydrates), triggering the release of stress hormones, particularly cortisol… These hormones, in turn, suppress and stress many components of the immune system.” Nieman has run 58 marathons and ultras, so that’s nothing to sniff at. 😉
And of course this system is suppressed at a time when you’re surrounded by lots of other people, which is the last thing you need. According to the same article, “one in seven runners comes down with an upper respiratory infection after taking part in a marathon…Take part in an ultra event such as the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run, and your chances of getting sick are more like one in four.”
So I’m not alone. Still, it would be nice to know ways to possibly prevent this from happening every time I run a marathon. I’m beginning to feel like a broken record. I consider myself a healthy person in general, who isn’t prone to a lot of illness, so I wondered if just taking some extra vitamin C would help. in fact, when I started feeling a little under the weather on Tuesday, I did start to pop a bunch of C. As it turns out, that was too late, and maybe not even worthwhile anyway. Latta indicates that, while “some studies found that taking vitamin C (about 600 milligrams/day) for three weeks before an ultramarathon reduced postrace cold symptoms,” other studies, including Nieman’s, “have found that vitamin C supplementation made no difference.”
According to Latta, I need to ensure I consume enough carbs during the event and enough protein in general, since “even moderate protein deficiency can result in impaired immune function.” I’ll put that in my plan for next time. Since the window of reduced immunity is supposedly 3 to 72 hours after the event, I should also lay low during that time. Mind you, I did that after Shamrock and still got sick. I certainly lay low after Capon Valley, as I swam Monday evening, did strength training on Tuesday, then swam again Wednesday. Mind you, I’m glad I did because I’d be feeling really rotten right now if I hadn’t done anything for the three days I felt fine.
On the bright side, being sidelined has enabled me to finally finish reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and get caught up on The Office, so it isn’t all bad. 🙂