A common complaint uttered by runners is that they pick up coughs and colds really easily. This, when added to the niggles and pains that runners are subjected to, makes our couch-bound colleagues question why we go to the bother of running.
The upside – the feel-good factor, the weight loss, the self confidence and the better general health – should be answer enough but taking simple measures to lessen the chances of picking up illnesses and injuries will also help you to convince others (and yourself) that running really is good for you.
The good news is that runners who run less than 90 minutes at a time do not get any more coughs and colds than non-active people. There is some evidence that marathon runners and those who push their bodies to the extreme, such as elite athletes, may have more susceptible immune systems, but in fact most of us probably just notice the symptoms more because we are conscious that we do not feel well enough to run, although we would be fine doing everyday tasks.
If you have recently moved from 5k training to running 10k, then you may find the increased mileage has had an impact on your health and you are feeling tired or a bit under the weather. If this is the case you may want to scale back a little until you feel completely well again. Runners often ask whether they should stop running when they have a cough or a cold. The rule seems to be that you should not exercise if the infection has travelled below the neck. This will put too much pressure on your respiratory system and could become more serious.
To combat coughs and colds, runners should ensure their diets contain plenty of vitamin C (found in oranges, blackcurrants, broccoli and a host of other foodstuffs), and zinc, found in many foods such as pumpkin, squash, peanuts and meat.
As a runner who has moved from 5k running to 10k running, you are probably feeling much healthier than you ever did in your pre-running existence. Your general health will be better because you will be carrying less weight and your heart and lungs will be in a better condition. You will probably be eating much more healthily, so you will feel more energetic. However, while you might be full of beans and raring to go, don’t go rushing into the next stage of your program before your body is ready for it.
Injuries creep up on runners and you are at a vulnerable stage because if you are enjoying your running and want to keep progressing with your targets then an injury that sets you back is the last thing you need. You have worked hard to build up the discipline needed to follow a training program, and breaking that routine will leave you feeling frustrated and anxious that you might not be able to go back to running. Don’t worry.
Every runner will have periods when they cannot run because of injury or illness but mostly they return to it, sometimes stronger than before.
Here are some tips to help you cope with injuries:
Listen to your body – if it hurting, stop. There is no such thing as running through the pain, if you have pulled or strained something then it will not ‘unpull’ by continuing to run.
Get treatment early – all too often runners hope that the injury will heal itself. Even if that happens it will take time, and you will end up feeling frustrated.
Get advice on active recovery – just because you cannot run doesn’t mean you need to slip back into couch potato ways. Visit the running forums for advice on alternative exercises you can do. Depending on the nature of the injury, swimming and cycling are good alternatives that will help you recover and prevent you putting on weight.
Don’t rush back to the level you were training at – you may find you need to take some steps backwards to go forwards. If you have had a few weeks off then be prepared to go back a few weeks on your training program – your newly repaired injury will thank you for it.
Of course the best thing is not to get injured and there are some steps you can take to minimise the risk of injury.
- Choose shoes that are suitable. You can visit a running specialist to get your gait analysed, and he or she will advise you on shoes that match your running style.
- Always warm up and stretch before you run, and even more importantly, cool down and stretch after your run. This will help remove the toxins from your system and help your muscles recover.
- Doing yoga, pilates or core stability exercises on weekly basis will help keep your muscles balanced and help prevent injury. Visit runner’s forums to discover what is available.
Remember, everyone will experience injury, it is just how you deal with it that will decide how long you cannot run for.