When Runners Get Sick

I just spent the last week sick with what might have been the H3N2 variant of the Swine Flu. The office had been fairly sick for a while, and it finally got me last weekend.

I hardly ever get sick anymore. I don’t even get the digestive ailments that used to get me from time to time over the previous years.

I want to call it a testament to my healthy eating and my improved commitment to recovery. But then again, I got sick like everyone else last week, so never mind that.


Coughing up my lungs on Tuesday, I had no idea how long it would take for me to get anywhere near back to normal. The good news on Saturday is my cough subsided substantially and, other than recurring sickness-related digestive issues, and being a little rusty on runs (of course, I broke off training for a few days while sick), I don’t feel bad at all. A couple of colleagues mentioned their flu passed rather quickly, even if the cough loosely hung around for a while. So perhaps it’s the nature of the current illness going around.

In any case, I’d like to think the following approaches helped me quickly unload an unwanted flu, and can help you as well:

– Obviously, cancel your regular training plans until you feel ready to run again. If you can run at all then run just a little bit, 1-2 miles or so. I’ve mentioned this before, but the circulation brought along by a bit of easy running really helps with generating recovery. Don’t worry about it if you simply can’t, though: Rest and don’t worry about it until your breathing is somewhat normal.

The Pasta Bomb: This simple, sizable dish provides a load of vitamins, not to mention the anti-inflammatory beta carotene, and it helps flush your system.

Get a jar of organic marinara sauce, preferably one that includes some garlic (or get some garlic and mince that in). If you’re adept at making your own, great: Make about 3 cups worth.

Cook about 2-4 cups of your pasta of choice. Heat the sauce and cook it with the pasta mixed in. Serve. Eat as much of it as you can in one go. If any is left, eat the rest within the next day.

Buy a bag of baby carrots, and snack on them relentlessly. Tomato sauces may have a lot of beta carotene, but when it comes to the inflammation-killing vitamin, carrots are the king.

Sickness brings on inflammation and is fueled by such. Battling the inflammation is the silent killer of viruses, speeding your recovery. NSAIDs are a fools errand and bad for you in the long run. Beta carotene is way better, plus the foods that contain them also have lots of other vitamins you need.

And if you want to cut up and drop some carrots into your Pasta Bomb or your other food, be my guest.

Honey (Side note: Sorry, vegans. Perhaps agave nectar is a decent substitute).

Get a small bottle of pure honey, preferably one with an easy snap-on squeeze top. (read the ingredient list and be willing to pay extra for organic, one ingredient honey, as in “Ingredients: Honey.”).

Just sip on it during the day. Gross, right? Obviously, you’re not going to save whatever’s left over once you recover.

But honey is better for relieving sore throat irritation that produces coughing than any cough drops or cough syrup. In fact, many of those products contain honey as a key ingredient. Cut out the middle man and just use honey.

Plus, honey itself has anti-bacterial properties, which helps deter the growth and survival of your current virus itself within your body.

Garlic. Add fresh garlic to as much of your cooking as you can. I buy heads of garlic and crush cloves into rice and other side dishes.

While garlic salt or ground/minced packaged garlic is alright, and some pasta sauces include a lot of minced garlic… you’re going to get far and away the most value by buying heads of garlic and mincing/grinding cloves of it fresh into your food. Much like how an apple or avocado browns when the interior is exposed to air, garlic’s quality degrades quickly once it’s been cut or ground.

And yeah, you may reek during the next few days. But given you’re already ill, given your body’s natural reactions… you probably already don’t smell that great anyway. And you’ll definitely keep the vampires in your life away!

Be warned: If your illness isn’t already sending you to the toilet more than usual, a lot of garlic certainly will. And unless your work or life situation makes that impractical, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Your virus lives mainly in your gut, and clearing that on the regular will help wipe it out more quickly.

Eating more garlic after work or school, when you have the time to afford the luxury of extra bathroom time, is probably your best bet. If you’re taking sick days, however, then eat it whenever.

Water, of course. Drink a lot of water. If you usually don’t, you might even want to consider drinking distilled or akaline water. Either can be bought over the counter at most supermarkets for a low price (don’t go out and buy an expensive water distillation machine unless you fall in love with distilled water).

The latter allegedly helps filter out various impurities, though obviously that’s called into question.

The former, however, has any impurities removed through steam distillation and drinking such sterile water helps avoid introducing any new bacteria that could help keep viruses alive. As for concerns about not getting needed minerals… all the other food you eat contains plenty of the minerals you need. You’ll be fine.

If you hate distilled water, you only ought to drink it until you’ve healed up. Then give it up if you’d like.

Also, even if you won’t drink distilled water, it’s essential for using….

NetiPotThe Neti Pot. Some don’t like this apparatus. You’re basically waterboarding yourself when using it.

But washing out your nasal passages with salt and distilled water during each day will help avoid the nasal problems that often follow with most viruses, avoid the nasal drip that produces most late-illness coughing, clear out impurities and help speed along healing.

The best and most common way to use the Neti Pot is over the sink with one ear down. Whether kneeling or in a chair, pour the water into one nostril so it flows through and pours out the other nostril. Stop after a bit and blow your nose (don’t use tissues or toilet paper! Use paper towels or a cloth).

If desired you can switch sides and pour through the other nostril to even things out, but as long as the water can flow through both nostrils then doing just one is fine.

Again, you want to use distilled water when use a neti pot. All those horror stories of people getting brain eating amoebae from using a neti pot happened because the individuals used regular tap water. Don’t.

No matter how bad you feel, get outside and walk for a little bit each day. 10 minutes of fresh air walking around the block or the back yard will help your diseased lungs. The light aerobic exercise also helps your body circulation and moves along your healing process.

OldIndianWildCherryBarkSyrupOld Indian Wild Cherry Bark Syrup. This musky natural remedy is a more of an immune system booster than a cold syrup, and yes be warned that it contains honey and a bit of alcohol. But a few days of this stuff helps stimulate the digestive tract and fight inflammation.

Given the other remedies mentioned above, using this isn’t vital. Honey and carrots are a more passive version of the same thing. But it does help advance things more quickly. A $10 bottle is harder to find these days since Whole Foods stopped carrying the remedy, so if mail order is your only option you may as well skip it. But if a vitamin or health food store in town carries it, Old Indian Wild Cherry Bark Syrup might be worth a shot.

– And of course, get to bed early, and get as much sleep as you can.

The one time you should take an over the counter anti-histamine: If you have trouble breathing or warding off nasal drip when you lay down. Taking an anti-histamine before bed will dry you up and open you up enough to allow reasonable breathing and a minimum of sleep-disrupting inflammation or ear/nose/throat irritation.

Otherwise, you want things to flow, even if blowing your nose or coughing a bit is annoying. Drying yourself out delays healing up, but it’s not as bad when it helps you sleep a bit better.

Just make sure to drink a good amount of water during the day. And if you wake up during the night… drink some water before trying to go back to sleep.


I did most of the above and I’m astonished at how quickly how I rebounded. Even if this was a quick illness, from past experience the cough or nasal problems would have carried over for weeks beyond the main illness.

But doing all of the above cleared me up in a hurry. And for good reason: I’m running a marathon in 5 weeks, and getting sick halted my training. While I was due for a step-back week, I couldn’t afford to lose more training time with the Vancouver Marathon looming, especially with my peak week approaching.

If you’re training for a race and a virus hits you hard during training, the above remedies can help you quickly bounce back and get on track.

And finally, of course, once you can get back out there… make sure to ease back into training. Unless you only missed a couple days of training… stick to easy, shorter running for a length of time equal to your layoff.

For example, this virus wiped out about five days of training for me. So I’ll stick to easy runs of maybe 4-6 miles max per day for 5 days before getting back to my normal training. And personally that feels about right. In my first couple of runs back my legs felt understandably fresh at the start (having not run much at all), but I got quickly weary within a couple miles and had to grind out the rest of the run. That will subside as I get back into the groove, but the key is to make sure to keep the runs easy and err on the side of keeping them short.

Good luck. If you’re sick, I hope this helps. And get well soon!

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2 thoughts on “When Runners Get Sick

  1. Gosh feel better soon. Feel better soon.

  2. […] mentioned, I got sick with the flu at the end of last month. While I bounced back quickly for such an illness, I did lose over a week of normal training (plus, […]

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