Category Archives: Winter

Quick Anti-Illness Tips When Training

Along the lines of my avoiding illness post, I want to offer some additional tips for runners who are seriously training for a goal race during an illness epidemic (such as the current novel coronavirus situation):

Avoid doing endurance workouts in a gym or other crowded place

Going back to previous points about how crowded indoor spaces are full of airborne bacteria and viruses, the gym is full of other people, and the one thing you want to generally avoid is being around other people.

One key component of aerobic endurance workouts is the increased volume of your breathing, meaning you are taking in more of the air around you. Do so in an indoor environment during an epidemic, and you’re increasing your exposure to the illness of the day.

So, as uncomfortably cold or otherwise less than ideal it may be, you should do all of your workouts outdoors if possible. However, if you have a treadmill or other cross training equipment indoors at home or in a space that’s infrequently occupied, like a friend or family member’s house or at a fitness room that no one ever uses… you can also use that.

The key criterion here is the presence and proximity of other people. Avoid enclosed spaces where you have to share oxygen with other people during an epidemic.

Don’t go inside right after an outdoor workout

Following a workout, you’re in a compromised state where you’re taking in a larger volume of oxygen than normal. If you live with other people, this as above increases your potential exposure to airborne illnesses.

Instead of going right inside, go through an extended cool-down outdoors. Take an extended walk around the block or elsewhere. Perhaps bring your recovery fuel with you and ingest it outside. Spend some time getting to a state where you’re closer to normal before you go back inside.

It’s helpful if you drive to a separate outdoor location for workouts alone and can drive alone for some time before you return home or to your otherwise crowded destination. This gives you valuable cool-down time to normalize.

A sound outdoor cool-down typically takes at least 5-10 minutes, but take however long you need to in order to return to a more relaxed normal state.

If you don’t work out in daylight, try to get some sunlight

As Alexander J.A. Cortes has said time and again, bacteria and viruses are photo sensitive and heat sensitive. Sunlight basically (for lack of the scientifically accurate terminology) neutralizes and kills both.

The vast majority of people during a winter flu season spend all their time indoors, offering zero opportunity for the sun to kill the very bacteria and viruses they’re trying to get rid of.

However, if you are (as mentioned above) working out in the outdoors, and you’re not doing so at night or at the crack of dawn, you are exposing yourself to sunlight and helping yourself already.

Barring that, make a point to get outside before, during or after work/school and at least walk in the sunlight for a little while, at least 20-30 minutes if not more. Of course, you don’t want to stay out so much you risk sunburn. But even sun on your exterior winter clothes can contribute to eliminating the presence of an illness.

If you home has humidity, get a de-humidifier

Germs thrive in the presence of humidity. Bacteria and viruses incidentally struggle to spread in desert environments due to not just (the aforementioned) abundant sunlight but also the very dry air.

However, many environments have some degree of humidity. Those in midwestern America and near ocean environments probably have a lot of humidity in their indoor and outdoor air.

Such people should consider investing in a dehumidifier, commonly used in summer to make sleep conditions more bearable in hotter months. Used during a winter epidemic, the elimination of indoor humidity can interfere with airborne illnesses’ ability to stay airborne and spread.

Couple with the use of an indoor electric air filter, and you do yourself a lot of good during an epidemic.

Spend an hour outside before or after work

Those who live in a big city and do a lot of their commute on foot may already do this, if it requires enough commute-walking.

However, especially if most of your commute is on a bus or train, you still want to bank some extra time walking or sitting outside before or after work.

This goes back to the benefits of open air and sunlight during an epidemic. You help clear your lungs while also help reduce the presence of airborne illness on and around you.

If you need to do strength workouts at the gym, do your floor work elsewhere

Some workouts need to be done in a public gym. For many, these workouts include standard strength training.

Thankfully, these workouts don’t require as much oxygen as your endurance workouts. Just make sure to still do your endurance workouts outside or in a secluded indoor location. And of course as always (and this is especially important during epidemics), wipe down your equipment before and after use.

However, save your floor work like self myofascial release (SMR, foam rolling), stretching and other calisthenic exercises (push ups, etc) for elsewhere. The floor is full of germs, and there’s not really any way to wipe that area down. If at all possible try to do some of those exercises on a bench, but I know many of these exercises must be done prone or supine on the floor.

Do these in a separate session before/afterward at home or in a secluded indoor area. It sucks to have to break a workout into separate parts like that, but getting sick sucks a lot more.

Do home workouts in a room alone with the window open

When I say secluded indoor area, the vast majority of the time I think this should be in your own enclosed room with no other traffic, where the only germs on the floor are your own. Obviously, make sure you have the needed floor space to do a workout (and having been there, I know many rooms don’t offer a lot of space).

If you live with others, you will want to open the window no matter how cold it might be. This will help circulate some of that diluted (cleaner) outdoor air into your room, and help circulate any possible contaminated indoor air out of the building.

Living alone of course makes this a lot easier. Opening the window is probably more optional if you live alone, depending on whether anyone has visited or how often you get visitors. And you probably have more space, likely enough to do a workout.

After unavoidable situations around other people, do a flush and clean as soon as possible

Whenever you do have to spend time around other people, you should try to do any of the following once you leave that environment and are alone or home:

  • Wash your hands with soap. If the winter conditions are chapping your hands, apply whatever lotion or solution you have that helps with that afterward. But do wash your hands.
  • Take rubbing alcohol, antibacterial cleaner/wipes or any other sort of suitable cleaner and wipe down any surfaces and equipment that was exposed to other people, including any surfaces on which you sat anything exposed to other people.
  • If home, remove/change your external clothes before sitting or laying on anything. Pretend you just fell on poison oak or landed on someone with bad ringworm or something. Anything exposed, get it in the hamper ASAP and get some clean clothes on.
  • If you’re home for the day or evening, consider taking a shower or bath right then and there. No need to take 3-5 showers in a day, obviously, but a 2nd shower or bath might be a good idea.
  • If it’s with you, use your neti pot with distilled water and a nasal-acceptable saline solution. If you don’t have these things, get them, learn to use them and start using them.
  • Drink at least 8oz of some hot liquid, whether it’s herbal liquid, some soup, or just boiled hot water with lemon or something similar in it. Consider bringing an electric kettle to work, some filtered water and whatever tea etc to allow for doing this away from home.

This sounds like overkill, but consider that the average person gets sick one or more times every winter. Doing the average effort is probably just going to get you sick. You’re trying not to get sick because you’re training. You should put in an above-average effort to safeguard yourself.

This isn’t a totally extreme approach (like wearing a HAZMAT suit and fumigating in an airlock). But it’s the least that’s substantially effective.

If you don’t feel well on a key workout day, do the distance without the intensity

I think it’s important to continue training at your normal frequency and volume however much you can during an epidemic. The circulation from your training is a prime weapon in warding off and filtering out illness.

However, some intense workouts may not be helpful if your body’s defenses have been partially compromised and you feel yourself battling an oncoming illness. While you should not totally give into it and take a break from training, you also may be doing more damage than good if you push through hard reps with a compromised immune system.

Instead, as you would if your muscles were sore or you were battling a minor injury, you should keep the scheduled distance while omitting the high intensity. If you know, for example, that a 12x400m workout with 400m recovery would require 8 miles of running (1 mile warmup, the 3 miles of reps plus the 3 miles of cool-down intervals, and a 1 mile cool-down run)… you could just run 8 easy miles that day instead. It’s not nearly as hard on your body but you still get the aerobic benefit of running the 8 miles, most of the neuro-muscular benefit from running the 8 miles (just without the intensity of the reps), and all of the respiratory circulation from doing the workout.

I found from experience that when I felt an illness coming on and just skipped workouts, I got sick as expected and stayed sick for a bit. Whenever I felt an illness coming on and made sure to keep training regularly, it either went away without making me totally sick, or I got sick but minimally so and then quickly recovered.

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Losing Fat Without Losing Sleep

An irony of New Year’s Resolutions driving people to diet and hit the gym in January is that winter is probably not the best time to try and burn fat in colder climates.

You have a more difficult time sleeping when hungry, especially if it’s cool or cold. Your body will kick into a sort of overdrive to burn body fat, which revs your circulation up enough to keep you in a state too awake to get to sleep. In fact, if you have issues getting to sleep, you may want to make sure you’re better fed shortly before bed.

But most of you want to lose weight and this is the time to do it because blah blah bathing suit season etc. You don’t want to punt the golden opportunity, and you certainly don’t want to gain weight during the winter when you want or need to lose fat in the long run. Fair enough.

There’s actually a middle ground, and it works especially well if you prefer to train later in the day. The key is intermittent fasting, i.e. not eating for most of the day, then eating all of your food in a limited time window like 6-8 hours.

Now, a myth with intermittent fasting is that it causes you to lose weight in itself. That isn’t necessarily true. You could still overeat for the day in the 6-8 hours you can eat. It’s very easy to pound a frozen pizza, and then a hamburger or something 4-6 hours later, let alone snack on anything in-between, and end up over the line. Even with 16-18 hours of not eating, you could still end up storing extra fat overall.

Given that, it’s still entirely possible to diet effectively and lose weight, while still going to bed each night feeling satiated after a ridiculously sized meal.

The key is to flip the conventional “breakfast like a king, dinner like a pauper” wisdom on its head. This is actually for most a counter-productive way of eating that has been sustained largely out of forced cultural habit. It makes sense to many people (even alleged experts) because that’s always how they’ve eaten.

Basically, even if your last meal of the day isn’t your largest, you want your last meal to be a large meal, one where by the time you go to bed you’re not in any way hungry. You may even want to top it off with a hearty snack right before bed.

Also, as this infers, you probably don’t want to start your limited feeding window at dawn and then eat your last meal around noon or 1pm, going to bed several hours after that meal. You will almost certainly be hungry at bedtime.

You will want to follow a more conventional intermittent fasting window, where you skip breakfast, eat your first meal at lunch, and then eat regularly until before bed. This allows you to fill your stomach close to full before bed and avoid insomnia-producing hunger.

Now, that doesn’t mean your first meal of the day should be the smallest. You can break your intermittent fast at lunch with a large meal as well. Just make sure any meal or snack you eat between lunch and dinner is not too large.

You probably do want to make sure you eat something a few hours after lunch to avoid any hormonal crashes or temptation to binge-eat any garbage at dinner… unless you have a specific reason you’d want to do so (like a special family dinner). Just make sure it’s around the 400-600 calorie range, bigger than a little snack but not quite a full meal.

Just because you can still gain weight intermittent fasting doesn’t mean your body isn’t burning fat during the fasting period. Moderating your diet just makes sure you aren’t piling on more fat than you burn. The fasting period does its job burning fat without food in your stomach. This process revs up your circulation, which you want during the day when you’re awake but mostly sedentary.

By back loading your food intake later in the day, your body can utilize this nutrition for post-workout and overnight recovery, and allow you to relax and sleep.

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The Hidden Benefits of Hibernating, or Why I Did Nothing During the 2019 Polar Vortex

I run through winter, but I have my limits.

My drop dead low temperature for running is -5°F. Beyond that, any amount of wind creates a sub-30-minute frostbite risk. I don’t want to take any chances by running outside for any length of time, since given icy conditions I will likely have to travel some distance on foot to find a suitable running path.

My drop dead low temperature for any kind of outdoor anything is -10°F. Even if covered up, even with no wind, the temperature by itself begins to pose a frostbite and hypothermia risk, regardless of how well you’re bundled up.

(Much respect to my Canadian, Maritime, Dakotan, Montanan, New English, Mongolian, Siberian, Antarctican, et ceteran readers who regularly experience temps far colder. You also have the benefit of generations of biology that we southerners lack. I have grown to handle extreme cold but despite my best efforts I still have physical limits.)

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Replacing long runs in extreme weather with multiple runs

My soon to be brother-in-law runs multiple half marathons and shorter races throughout each year. Living in the Las Vegas desert, where temperatures top 100 degrees Fahrenheit through most of the year, long runs are impractical.

You can’t run outside in such extreme heat for more than half an hour, not even in the morning (as temperatures don’t drop below 80 degrees many days, and that’s already rather hot for running). And running 10+ miles on a treadmill, if the gym will even allow it, isn’t psychologically feasible for most.

So how does he train for half marathons? He runs them in the neighborhood of 1:40, so he clearly gets in excellent shape for them. But he attests he certainly doesn’t do long runs. So what does he do?

Here’s how he outlined it for me (and I’m describing this some in my words rather than his):

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How to run in snow and ice

Snow finally hit Chicago hard for the first time this cold season. While 4-8″ isn’t anything close to a record, it means runners here finally get to deal with snow and ice.

Walking in snow and ice itself is an acquired skill, which puts running in snow and ice on a whole other level. Being a winter runner, I have enough first-hand experience and knowledge to help you continue to train outdoors in cold conditions.

The standard caveats apply: Layer accordingly, dress as if it’s 20 degrees warmer since you will warm up while running, and of course should the weather get suitably severe (blizzard conditions, massive snow or ice, thunder-snow, and dangerously low temperatures and windchill) you should go ahead and stay inside.

Barring that, here’s some key tips to running in snow and ice.

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