Winter has hit hard this year and many of us who are triathletes are finding it hard to move our training indoors. Let’s face it, getting stuck with treadmills, stationary bikes and indoor pools, staring at dreary scenery that doesn’t change, are the exact opposite of a what we want to be doing right now. Logically, we know that all this will pay off in the finisher’s photo, but in reality, the winter grind can be a triathlete’s harshest challenge. If you are serious, you have to accept it as just another part of your routine, unless you want to move to Arizona.
What is not part of the routine is sick days. Colds, coughs, congestion, etc. Even an Ironman can be taken out with a microscopic bug. Sick days are certainly coming and just ignoring the symptoms could seriously derail your entire training schedule. Many medical studies have confirmed that people with intense exercise schedules, especially triathletes, are more susceptible to infections than those who exercise moderately. Common colds and flus can knocks us out of commission for 2 or 3 days at a time, sometimes an entire week. What most people end up doing is a) panic and b) work out even harder before they get back to full health. Both of these are very bad ideas and extremely damaging to your body at a time when you need peak performance.
In addition, there is another kind of sick day that is rarely considered in training plans. These are the days when the ones you love are down for the count. Critical training time can slip away when it is up to you to tend to your grumpy patients and pick up the slack in housework. There is no question, these can be the hardest days to get through and still stay on track with hitting your goals. Here are a few suggestions to help you hold it all together through these “sick-as-a-dog days” of winter:
- Get ready, because you know it’s coming. You or someone in your family will be sick every year. Actually, 2-3 colds per years is more common. If you have kids in school, you know how easy it is for a flu to sweep through this captive audience. Plan on it. Connect with a triathlete training group that encourages members to help each other out when families become sick. Identify which workouts you can miss and which ones are absolutely necessary, then start networking early.
- Pay attention to your body’s messages. The whole point of a triathlon is to get your body in peak health. Don’t jeopardize that to meet an arbitrary schedule. Too many triathletes have found out that pushing themselves when they are sick will turn a cold into pneumonia. Rest, recover and get back to peak performance. The race will be here next year but your health may not.
- Hydrate. This is the one piece of advise that everyone tells you but you can never hear enough. Drink plenty of fluids to build your muscles, to boost your immune response and to extend your endurance. Replenishing your fluids will flush out many infections before they can take up residence.
- Get your diet straight. Every body is unique and needs a diet custom tailored to its nutritional needs. If you don’t know what you need, find out now with the help of a healthcare professional. Keep on top of your intake of food, supplements and vitamins everyday. Viruses look for any openings in your immune response. Don’t give them one.
Being sick is going to happen, but you can minimize the damage by preventing it in the first place as much as possible. Start by making sure your body has the nutrients and vitamins it needs. My vitamin cocktail of choice is Vitamin C, Fish Oil, and a One A Day vitamin. This has proven to be a great combo for me over the years. Once you have a cold or flu, a healthy diet, rest and hydration make up the best recipe for shortening the severity and duration of the illness. To help fight an infection from finding a new home, one triathlete I know swears by a tea made from chicken broth, scallions, ginger, and just enough cayenne pepper to give your metabolism a jolt.
What’s your secret. I’d love to hear your antidotes to the inevitable “sick day”. The more we share with each other the more we will learn. Stay well and keep your chin up!