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Dealing with winter colds as a runner

This winter Tara has been struggling with illness. It seems many runners across Canada have been doing the same. To battle it, she had to self evaluate and make an appointment with a dietitian. 

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The “doer” gene runs in my family. When a cold or flu strikes (which has happened far too often this winter) my instinct is to push through it. Days off don’t make me happy. However, over the past couple of months, there have been times when either myself or my coach has had to lower the intensity or call it off entirely. I recognize that this is a part of training as it’s not possible to be healthy all of the time– but this year has been a real zinger.

Here in Saskatchewan, winter illnesses have been hitting one person after the next. The story is: who is sick, with what, how long it lasts and whether or not it comes back. And it doesn’t look to just be a Saskatchewan problem. It seems the entire country has been dealing with a nasty cold/flu season.

I’m sure many runners are questioning some aspects of their training routines, diets and lifestyles in attempt to understand what’s causing all the sickly interruptions. I myself have found some answers through self-evaluation and professional advice.

In terms of self-evaluation, I know how important sleep is for me. Typically, I’m in bed early and up early. I aim for seven to nine hours of sleep a night. As soon as I get under six hours of rest, I seem to lose my ability to fight off even the mildest of germs and boom: insta-sick. Fortunately, this factor is fairly easy for me to control.

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Professional advice though is also important in understanding how to stay healthy. So this week, after deciding enough was enough with the guesswork, I had an appointment with a registered dietitian. My coach, along with my PhD partner are great, in many ways, for this kind of advice but it’s not their job to have all the nutritional answers — that’s what sports dietitians are for.

It turns out that I’m doing a lot of things right, but there are some tweaks I’ll be making to better my immune system. I’m going to be increasing my calcium and vitamin D intake with supplements (I’m allergic to dairy), adding in either almond or coconut milk and varying my proteins. For that, I’m including red meat twice a week and protein powder smoothies.

Runners who have been experiencing a similar winter to me also might want to be aware of including protein as recovery snacks no more than 30 minutes after a hard or long run. Personally, I’m sometimes guilty of having a shower and stretching before eating, even though I’ve been told me to get it in quickly. This is problematic because the immune system is compromised during training and therefore needs to be immediately jacked up with the proper fuel in order to do its job.

Dealing with multiple colds and flues this winter has been frustrating at times– I’m sure many other Canadian runners are with me. I for one am starting to see it’s simply been a part of the process of learning how to get the best from myself. I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had over the past 11 months to learn more about myself and what makes me thrive.