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by Josh Flexman on February 11, 2013
One of the most common and reoccurring battles athletes face is the challenge of bouncing back after illness. It is so important to understand this process, and why it is a crucial part of growth as an athlete. As we train, our bodies become fatigued. There are many different levels of this, and each individual athlete copes with it in their own way. As the athletic training community has come to understand these fitness curves as an unavoidable part of growth, different concepts and strategies have been developed. Periodized training methods are becoming more and more common for even the most entry-level athletes. These programs attempt to keep the body in a constant state of growth, heavily emphasizing training blocks, and rest. A natural part of these training blocks, or curves, happens when your body is broken down and needs to recover. Sometimes we push ourselves so far that our natural immune response is overworked responding to training inflammation, and unable to keep up with the it's most basic job, keeping infection away.
Getting sick is a natural part of life for all of us. Knowing how to deal with it, and how to bounce back properly is really overlooked sometimes. Being able to allow the infection work through your body, not panic, and then bounce back stronger than before is such a valuable skill. Over the course of my athletic life, I have developed some strategies that really work for me.
This year I got hit pretty hard by the flu that was going around. I hadn't been this sick since college when I got the flu after a long indoor track season. This year, I allowed myself the time, and did not panic about lost fitness or days off the bike. I had 5 straight days at home in bed, then 4 more days of off-the-bike recovery. I took some over-the-counter things to help my symptoms, but mostly just stayed laying down drinking about a gallon of water/tea/electrolytes per day. On the 9th day I rode 2 hours easy (zone 1) minimal climbing/descending. Other than some remaining chest congestion, I actually felt good. On the 10th day I did 3.5 hours at a similar pace and style. By the 11th day from the onset of the flu, I felt about 90% recovered, and I could feel free to ride at normal training intensity. This same flu has been keeping people under the weather for 3-4 weeks. Rest cannot be underestimated. Of course it is not always feasible to just stay in bed for 5 days straight to kick a sickness, but scaling everything back can really help. There is an important reason behind every signal the body sends. Being a successful athlete means being aware of our bodies, and listening to all the signals. Getting faster and stronger is hard for a reason; if it wasn't everyone could do it.
- Hot Fluids are great. Viruses like dry conditions, so keeping hot things (yes even coffee, but tea is better) moving through your system is good.
-Go easy on pumping juice/smoothies down your throat. Sometimes they sound good, and you think all the vitamins will help, but they can be hard on your stomach. I have made this mistake. I juiced a bunch of fruit at home and pounded it, only to end up with bubble guts and a couple trips to the bathroom.
-Try some kind of electrolyte formula to help get the fluids down. Sometimes just the flavor can help. Scratch Labs and Osmo formulas are very light on the stomach, and can help make extra intake easier to handle.
-Probably the most important here: Do not go out and put in a huge ride to "make up" for lost time right when you start feeling better. There is no such thing as "make up" training. You missed training time, and it is gone. Now you can re work your program to allow for proper growth from your current point. I have seen so many people relapse into an even more serious illness by rushing a come back. Even though the body might be feeling better, it is still in a weakened state, and your immune system needs to recover to handle workout stress again.
Looking forward, I am very optimistic. I have 3 full weeks of riding before going to Maui for the Studio Velo adventure/training camp. I can't wait to see everyone push him or herself and accomplish new goals. My next post will be about some more specific training goals and workouts leading up to the camp. At the moment I am still just focusing on putting in unstructured miles and enjoying being back out on the bike.