I’ll dedicate this blog to former Edinburgh AC team mate and sub 4 minute miler, Kris Gauson, who gave me the idea after complaining about hay fever on facebook. Hope you’re no longer suffering Kris, looks like you’re ok judging by the weekend results. This blog covers more than just hay fever and is about how to deal with illness and injury when you’re a regular trainer.
The general advice is that if you are feeling unwell or have an injury you should rest until the illness/injury has passed. It is, however, perfectly feasible to continue to train with minor ailments or minor injuries, though it is advisable to ease back on the effort level somewhat. Don’t take this as my personal recommendation, you should always be careful not to overdo your training, but we probably all know people who will train through injury and illness and on many occasions they carry on without any serious implications. Each individual situation needs to be assessed by yourself, or a healthcare/fitness professional, there is no definitive list of when you should or shouldn’t train and I have done it both successfully and unsuccessfully. Also I’ve been advised to continue exercise whilst having treatment on many occasions, from the healthcare professional I was being treated by. The key is to recognise what has potential to cause serious illness and injury and avoid it. The wise man says, if in pain, don’t train. Of course that is a different sort of pain to that pleasurable pain induced by physical activity.
I’ll start with hay fever. I used to get it a lot in London and there was a period when my life was hell as my nose would run and sneeze all day. It was a particular issue standing on the tube in a full carriage, hanging onto the roof of the tube, with my nose running constantly. It also caused me problems sleeping so for about a month I was really tired and grumpy, for the other 11 months I was just grumpy. I actually found that my nose was much better when I was running, it gave me a relief, I probably should have done marathon training in that month. The other thing that seemed to relieve it was an air conditioned office, my favourite time of the year to work long hours. I did try homeopathic remedies, though I don’t really like putting any drugs into my body, but they never really worked for me so I just tried to ride out the storm. It never stopped me running and, although I worried it might do, I don’t think it had any effect on my form. When I moved up to Edinburgh I suffered a lot less, with hay fever that is, the only time I can actually recall suffering from it was when I went for a walk in the Pentlands and passed a rapeseed field. Back now in England and I am suffering again. So far it’s been the odd sneeze and itchy eyes but a couple of weekends ago I was at a Simple Minds concert in Delamere Forest and about half way through my nose started running and it was constant suffering for the rest of the concert. Thankfully, irritating as it was, it didn’t ruin the concert and I rate that as one of the best I’ve been to. So you can exercise through hay fever, however, because the sneezing comes on without warning, I would suggest you need to be careful if contemplating any exercise involving equipment, particularly any heavy lifting.
One thing we all get is the common cold. Colds can range from a little sniffle to the fully blown up flu like ailment. Flu is much worse and you should not consider training when suffering from it. I have continued to train through the minor cold symptoms, though at a lesser intensity, but I always stop if the cold is bad, my way of looking at it is, if I can exercise then I can work, if I can’t work I can’t exercise. Consequently I have a very low sickness record at work. My worst cold hit me in 1996, I’d had a good start to the year and was running into some good form. I was 2nd in the Surrey 5000m and won the 10000m, but the rest of the summer turned into a bit of an anti-climax. However, I remained injury free and continued to train hard. As we approached the autumn my form returned and I produced some good road relay results. At the first Surrey Cross Country League I produced my best result to that point, finishing 13th and went on to my first cross country race win in the South of Thames Junior Championship (more of that in a later blog). I was now in full swing and training hard, my focus was on the Surrey Cross Country Champs, I firmly believed I was a contender to win. Two weeks before the championship the guy who sat next to me at work got a really bad cold, but continued to turn up to work. Eventually it came my way, it had taken a full 8 days to reach me but when it did it knocked me sideways. It was probably the worst cold I can remember. I was desperate, 5 days to race day and I could hardly move. I spent a few days off work and training in the hope it would go away. Come the Saturday I went for a 1 mile jog. I can’t say I felt great but I convinced myself I was fine, big mistake. The race was that afternoon, at Coulsdon, 7.5 miles of cross country. I was still confident when we kicked off and hit the front row straight away, but then at about 1 mile I hit what can only be described as the wall, I suddenly had nothing left and started to fade. I continued to run as hard as I could, dragging my wall with me, but spent the next 6.5 miles watching other runners pass me. Understandably I didn’t win, I probably wouldn’t have anyway as it was won by Gary Staines (European Silver medallist) with John Solly (Commonwealth Gold medallist) in 2nd, but I think a top 5 position was on the cards that day. 15 more guys got the better of me that day, as I faded to 18th position. The one consolation is that I made the 6 man Belgrave team which won the team event for the first time in 30 years. No consolation really when you appreciate what damage I’d done. For the next few weeks I struggled with my training and when I came 34th in the next Surrey League race, in what was quite a weak field, I knew something was wrong, so I went to the doctors for tests. I was lucky, I could so easily have caused serious damage, I’ve heard of Cross Country skiers having heart attacks by training through colds. I had strained my heart, the doctor told me it was just like straining any other muscle, I needed to rest and start back slowly. Ever since then I’ve been more careful about running with colds. Ten years later I got a cold the week I was due to make my debut for Scotland in the British and Irish Masters Cross Country event. I was still unsure if I should run on the day but my heart rate was close to normal so I gave it a go. This time I got away with it but I’m not convinced it was a sensible decision.
Following on from the 1996 cold story, I struggled to regain fitness for the rest of the winter, but only on the relative scale as to where I’d been in November. My heart recovered, I didn’t have any further issues, and still haven’t. So I was still fit but annoyed that I’d been in such great shape and thrown it away over one race. So what did the less sensible version of Roger Alsop do? Yep that’s right I drove myself hard to get back to that level of fitness. I remember I went for a week’s holiday to the Lake District and before I went walking I’d do a really tough hill session or a flat out run over a 5 mile undulating loop, no rest days for me I had races to win. It worked, I got my fitness back, but I was putting my body under too much pressure. I managed a 3rd place in the Surrey 5000m, irritated that it should have been a victory if only I’d been in shape. Over the next three weeks I noticed a dull ache at the top of my foot, near the toes. It didn’t stop me running so I just kept training. It was getting gradually more painful but I’d had pains before and run through them. Then on 31st May I ran a 1500m at Tooting Bec. It was a tactical race, with some good runners in it but I wasn’t looking for a win I wanted to reassert myself and run a good time, so I hit the front to push the pace on. Entering the start of the 3rd lap I was still in the lead, with a bunch right on my shoulder. It was at this point that the biggest long jumper I’ve ever seen, got out of his sandpit and without looking stepped onto the track, right in front of me. We hit hard and I was stopped dead in my tracks, this felt like a thicker wall than the one at Coulsdon. I don’t know how many runners behind me were also affected but nobody fell over. The race continued and I finished a disappointing 5th in 4:12. I hadn’t felt any pain during the race, but as I walked back to my kit I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my foot. I hobbled home and went to the hospital, nothing showed up on x-ray so I sought help for what I suspected was ligament damage. Two weeks later I was still in pain, another trip to the hospital and the tell tale deposits confirmed that I had actually got a very fine fracture to my metatarsal. 9 weeks off running, unfortunately not 9 weeks off work, but actually that was a godsend as my boss sent a computer home for me to work on and that kept me sane as I sat cooped up in my flat.
But it’s not all doom and gloom I’ve been running for 22 years now and most times, I recognise when I shouldn’t train and usually seek out expertise when in pain or ill. However, training at my level I always get niggles and it’s sorting out the niggles from the problems. I’ve often run with niggles and they’ve eventually gone. Earlier this year I took two months off to get rid of a persistent knee problem. When I started running again I was ok for a couple of weeks but then my knee started niggling. I identified what caused the pain and adjusted my training accordingly. After a while the pain went and now I’m able to train properly again.
Tiredness and stress, whilst not an illness, needs to be managed as it’s very easy to run yourself down. During my first year in Scotland I worked nightshifts for the first time in my life and I was also under a lot of pressure to perform for a job that clearly wasn’t suitable for me. Consequently I was under a lot of stress. I was still training hard and, surprisingly, running quite well. I headed down to England for the BMAF 5k in Horwich and remember being on the start line feeling like I was going to faint. For a moment I was worried I’d have to pull out or drop out. Then the gun went and I was away. I ran 15:44, still my fastest 5k since I turned 40. A few weeks later I didn’t fare so well over the half marathon distance.
That’s all I’m going to say at this point, regarding training with illnesses and injuries. Obviously there is a lot more that could be covered, such as training after recovery from a serious illness or pregnancy but that would make the blog quite long and take away subjects for other weeks. I would say that I have continued to train on many occasions, with minor ailments, and I haven’t suffered any long term issues, usually if there is a real problem it will become apparent early, however I would advise that you take care if you think you may be ill or injured, and get yourself checked out by a professional.
To finish off a quick update on what I’ve been up to. If you’ve been following my blogs, weekly, then you’ll know I’m now getting myself into some good form by gradually increasing the intensity levels of my training and the mileage. I’ve got my Australian client, wwwthegirlthatruns.com following a similar programme, if a little less intense than mine. I’m now able to run for longer than an hour without getting any pains in the knee. I’ve also noticed that I’m running quicker, comfortably, in my steady runs, and I’m loving the grass reps, which are mentally stimulating and right on the cusp between speed and endurance. Last week I did 18 of them and I felt like I was running each one as hard as the others, though there is no scientific fact to base that on as I don’t track the times, that way it doesn’t shatter any illusions, if I feel I’m running fast and hard then there’s no point in trying to dent my confidence. I have to say, though, that as soon as I finished there must’ve been a lactic switch turned on, because I could barely move. It reminded me of a training session I did with Richard Nerurkar, but that’s another story. I’ve used the same grass session for Carole and she loves it too, less reps of course. Tonight it’s Ray’s turn to sample it. Last Saturday I decided to run Pennington Flash again. I didn’t really want to but Carole was keen, so I mentioned it to Ray (getting Ray’s buy-in makes it harder for either of us to change our minds). I woke up feeling tired and still didn’t want to run, but at the end of the day it’s just training and at least it’s out of the way early. It had been raining for a couple of days so I was anticipating the ground to be soggy, in fact it wasn’t too bad but there was a strong wind. As we parked up, who should park next to us, only Jeff Whittington, my rival for age group victory. It was the first time I’d actually spoken to Jeff and it was nice to find out a bit more about the character behind the man. It was a good attendance at the race, 59 completed the course. Once again I was allowed to take the early lead and set my own pace. I knew I wasn’t going to set a blazing time, with my tiredness and the wind but I pushed all the way, reluctant to ruin my average time around the course. I actually thought I was pushing to avoid running in the 17:50s so was amazed when I crossed the line in 17:20, my 2nd fastest around the course. Ray ran great to improve his pb and, although not setting a pb, Carole was 3rd lady and 1st in her age group. We went for coffee in the Ranger’s hut and it was nice to chat to some of the other runners. So that’s 5 runs completed at Pennington Flash, I’m not sure when I’ll next be back, but I will be.