Beating the off-season illness: on the mend

Around this time of year, I'd normally be returning to Toronto feeling refreshed after vacation time spent visiting family and then relaxing in Mexico.  I would usually be diving into my workouts, buoyed by the memories of some excellent ocean-side runs in the tropical heat.

Alas, I was thrown a curve ball this year.

Everything started out as it normally would, as I took the train to Belleville to visit my dad and step-mom.  That part of my family vacation is usually spent cocooning, catching up on sleep, drinking some wine and getting in quality strength training at the local GoodLife.  All of that happened and I also fit in three spin classes at the gym.

Coaching through Ignition Fitness has helped me grow much stronger on the bike and in the process, conquer some anxiety I used to have about spin classes.  Now I occasionally do them as a fun way to add a social element to indoor riding, even if they aren't specific to cycling training.

Unfortunately, I suspect I picked up something else while spinning, which didn't manifest until a few days later.  During two classes, a fellow cyclist was coughing quite frequently, as though he were fighting to exercise through a cold.  During the third class, the instructor arrived and told us she was sick too.

The giant fans at the front of the class kept us all cool, but as I cycled, I began to wonder what else they were blowing around the room.  
Simulated photo from spin class. 

Two days later, on December 23rd, following my arrival in Ottawa to visit more family, the body aches started.  The next morning, I awoke coughing and sneezing, congested and fatigued.  I didn't feel normal again until December 31st, making this the longest illness I've had in recent memory.  This was a novel (and at times, uncomfortable) experience, as I haven't taken a sick day in two years.  Nurse mom diagnosed it as a minor flu and suggested that it had thankfully been weakened by the flu vaccine I received in November.

Putting on my athlete hat again, including the three spin classes, I was only able to train five times over the course of a two-week vacation.  My strength and lung capacity are not back to normal yet and that means I am easing my way back into the year.

Why do I share this tale?  I do so as a reminder that even though we may feel invincible at times (e.g., no sick days for two years), we definitely are not.  It is cold and flu season, and Canadian doctors are seeing greater numbers of emergency room visits than is typical.

Shortly after coming down with this illness, I stumbled across a Training Peaks article entitled, "Simple Tips to Avoid Illness During the Off Season."  Author Andy Blow reminds us that moderate levels of physical activity decrease our likelihood of developing an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) but very high levels of exercise - hello multisport athletes - can lead to an above average likelihood of getting a URTI.

As the title suggests, Blow has some straightforward tips for avoiding illness, starting with minimizing contact with people who are sick.  Athletes also need to pay careful attention to their nutrition, not only to properly fuel workouts but to ensure they're getting the variety of nutrients they need to keep their immune system at full strength.

Have a look at this illustration, check out the article and be smart this off-season!