Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 23 Jan 1999 09:46:10 -0500

Sneezin' Season

(from RC 280)

It comes every holiday season, which stretches from Halloween to New Year's. This is traditionally my cold season, and the latest one was doubly so.

It started with the sneezes and sniffles of a cold. I blame that one on watching a cross-country race in the rain, then sitting too long afterward in soggy clothes.

This month ended with a new cold. I blame it on too much travel and too little sleep.

Colds all come for good reasons. You don't "catch" them but EARN them.

Rather than berate myself over the mistakes made, I'll talk about what I do once a cold settles in. In a single word: nothing.

Dr. George Sheehan introduced me to the simplest, and possibly best, medical wisdom for treating a cold. The line wasn't original to him, but he first passed it on to me:

If you do everything you can to combat the cold -- rest, fluids, vitamins, medicines, chicken soup -- the cold will go away in about a week. If you do nothing to treat the symptoms, the cold will last about seven days.

My timetable is a little longer. I figure the cold will be three days coming on, three days heavy and three days clearing up.

During those nine days I pretty much just wait out the symptoms. At most I drink more and suck on Fisherman's Friend lozenges to cool the initial sore throat.

To run or not to run? I've gone both ways, resting and running easily. Neither seems to affect the cold's timetable, so I run... within limits.

Those limits are nothing long or fast, and definitely no racing. George Sheehan said, "The cold is a signal that you're already overworked." Continuing to work too hard can escalate the cold into something more serious, such as the persistent bronchitis I once suffered for six months.

For an uncomplicated cold (no fever, no internal upset or loss of appetite, no serious cough, no exhaustion), easy runs probably won't hurt. They even might help.

Runner's World carried an article on this subject in the season of my sniffling. Marlene Cimons, a medical reporter, wrote "Cold Truths." The part that most interested me was the subtitled section "To Run or Not to Run?"

The writer cited David Nieman, an exercise scientist at Appalachian State University, who said that modest activity probably won't hurt, but avoid running with flu-like symptoms.

"I have a friend who ran a marathon with a fever," said Nieman, "and he suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome for the next two years. He could barely run a mile."

Marlene Cimons added, "If you only have a cold, easy running probably won't do any harm -- and in fact might even help. Exercise releases adrenaline, also called 'epinephrine,' a natural decongestant, which may explain why so many runners with colds find that a run seems to clear their nasal passages."

Sounds good to me. But I still have to sneak past my well-meaning wife during the cold spell to run my few head-clearing miles. Barbara thinks the best way to treat a cold is the one "nothing" that I resist, which is no running at all for the duration.

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